November 12, 2014
Book author Luna Signe Hørdum Nielsen lives in the Nørrebro neighborhood of Copenhagen. In May 2014, she issued the book ‘Bag de gule gardiner’ about Nørrebro’s bodegas. “This is where I live and where my world begins, how the Danish writer H.C. Andersen put it.”
Writing about my relationship with Copenhagen has proved to be much more trying than anticipated. After several attempts I’ve realized that I must start somewhere else. First of all, I’m a newcomer to the city.
It all begins in a little Copenhagen suburb where I grew up in a concrete high-rise block with fourteen floors built in the late 50s. It rose up high from its green surroundings and put the nice single-family houses in the area at its feet. It wasn’t exactly pretty, my home, quite dull in fact and literally grey. A funny thought – back in the days those high-rise blocks were intended for the upper middleclass with a reception, a laundry service, a restaurant and B&O TV-sets. But that wasn’t how life was in the 90s, though. Our neighbours were mostly socially vulnerable families that had gotten their apartments through the local government. And the B&O televisions, well, they were long gone.
As a block-kid you get used to people that are different. ’The odd characters’, as my grandmother called them. I particularly remember the man who was afraid of other people, and who would always start running when we met him in the long corridors. And then there were the druggies, who at one point used our bike-cellar as their public fixing space. They would lie there feeling great but trip out in a really bad way. But, in our apartment on the fifth floor, all these things seemed distant. Up here, I could see until the end of the world – over the rooftops, over the trees in the woods and all the way to Copenhagen. At New Years, we could even see Tivoli’s spectacular fireworks if we stretched up on our toes out on the balcony.
Growing up, I never doubted the fact that I would move to Copenhagen. I just needed to get old enough – even though I tried living in Barcelona once and often dream about the streets of Berlin. With my childhood friend Monica, I even planned where to live in Copenhagen: Around Nørreport Station, of course, which would never enter my mind today… way too many people. As a kid, the best thing was the trip into the city in those old red S-trains with clouded smoker’s wagons, dirt in the corners, and a generally rancid and weird odeur in the air. I looked out of the windows, trying to absorb every impression; the graffiti along the tracks, Palads Cinema in its colourful splendour, and the free town Christiania as the trippy alternative to its surrounding society. The city drew me in. It made me curious.
Today, the city’s northern frontier is my home. This is where I live and where my world begins, how the Danish writer H.C. Andersen put it. I really love Nørrebro, Copenhagen’s former working class neighbourhood. Throughout the last 100 years, it’s seen massive changes, from a hedonistic rural society outside Copenhagen’s city gates to a poor working-class neighbourhood and then the gaudy melting pot it is today, where Turkish coffee meets the traditional Danish Madam Blå teapot. The area has so many stories to tell and I have discovered that this is where I want to live, where I feel at home.
I have just written my first book – inspired by my city, of course. I’ve never really thought I would start writing, something my teachers would probably agree with me. The book is my journey through Nørrebro’s bodegas and their stories, an account of the everyday life and a blurry portrait of the local customers. It’s a small, intimate glimpse behind the misty windows and the yellow curtains. I have always loved Copenhagen’s bodegas, as we call them, for their homey and informal atmosphere. They are a relic from the past and keep Danish traditions and old cultural heritage alive. And they still do. In these Copenhagen bodegas, time seems to stand still – everything is as it was yesterday. It’s the historical aesthetics that you can’t buy, the generations after generation that’s worn down the seats of the chairs, and it’s the traditions from an old time – before my time, anyways. I could go on…
As you might have discovered by now, I’m quite the history nerd when it comes to my city. Nerding around with my book has just given me appetite for more. I see the city with new eyes, and it keeps unfolding new historic and poetic layers to me. It feeds my mind with sensuality, inspiration and crazy ideas. It tells me stories. The more I dig around, the more I familiarize myself with it. I see its scars and understand its soul. It’s attractive, raw, old and ugly, and everyday it’s outside in the nighttimes getting wet. My city unveils a life that’s lived, with fallen kings and promiscuous ladies, with rough slum clearance, area-redevelopment and changing governments. My city was here a long time before I was born, and it will remain here a long time after I’m gone.