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DISCOVER DENMARK

Eight places in Copenhagen that are loved by locals

Did you know that Copenhagen has a savannah? Or disused rail yards that will soon disappear forever? Local photographer and author Allan Mutuku Kortbæk shares his top hidden gems from the Danish capital.

Winter bathing at La Banchina in Copenhagen
Winter bathing at La Banchina in Copenhagen, one of the city's hidden gems. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

This article presents some of Copenhagen’s hidden gems, as experienced by local photographer and author Allan Mutuku Kortbæk as part of his newly-published book, “Like a Local, Copenhagen – by the people who call it home”. 

Beyond the well-documented facades of Nyhavn and the picture perfect cherry-blossoms of the Bispebjerg Cemetery in Springtime, Copenhagen is a city teeming with surprises at every corner. In a place that’s constantly reinventing itself, these may seem few and far between, if not hard to find amongst the more well-known aspects of the Scandi capital of cool. Here are eight things about Copenhagen known only by its locals.

Winter bathing feels even more special by La Banchina

The quaint spot by La Banchina, on the island of Refshaeleøen. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

Winter bathing has become common practice for many a Copenhagener, myself included, over the past years of lockdowns and interruptions to everyday life. Of the numerous water holes in the city, the quaint spot by La Banchina, on the island of Refshaeleøen, stands out as a stunning place to take a dip, particularly early in the morning when you’re likely to have it all for yourself.

Check out badevandet.dk (or download its app) to see if the water quality permits swimming (which it usually does, except after prolonged downpours.)

Copenhagen has a savannah

Alpacas can be found in Copenhagen if you know where to look. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

Thorny trees, shrubland and long, wispy grass may trigger associations of the African Savannah, if only the temperature wasn’t a few degrees below zero. You won’t find lions nor gazelles here, though – herds of alpacas and sheep are the only beasts that roam this hardened terrain but given that Sydhavnstippen is only 10 minutes away from Vesterbro by bike, the whole place does seem quite special.

The best way to see the city is from the water

Sydhavn: a Nordic, modern-day take on Venice. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

We all know Copenhagen from its bike lanes and roads but sink a level lower and see it in its full glory from its vast waterways. A canal tour or a rented boat could do the trick – or better yet, rent or buy a stand-up paddle board and see it all at your own pace. A suggested route would be to start off in the modern-day Venice that’s known as Sydhavn – passing through the sluice (Slusen) and veering round Sydhavnstippen to the newly-opened Valby Beach in Valby Park.

Autumn can be amazing

The alleyways of the Vestre Kirkegård Cemetery. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

Copenhagen’s long, rainy, dark winters have been well-documented in many a description of the city but it’s not all doom and gloom. The peak of the autumn, despite being brutal on the hands and feet, is a great time of year to wander through the parks of the city and see them draped in a kaleidoscope of warm shades; from blood red to screaming orange and everything in-between.

The alleyways of the Vestre Kirkegård Cemetery, just north of Vesterbro, are particularly vibrant during this fleeting time of year. 

The train yards by Vesterbro won’t be around for much longer

Make the most of the decommissioned train yards while they’re still here. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

The grungy train yards that flank the train tracks that run parallel to Ingerslevsgade, starting at Dybbølsbro are one of the last bastions of space unconquered by Real Estate. That’s about to change though, as the Danish Train Operator, DSB have decided to sell 22 hectares of this undisturbed oasis of quaint yellow houses which, in all likelihood will become another modern housing or property development initiative that won’t quite do justice to this historical, well-kept secret.

Take a stroll around the area to take it all in and stop by the newly-opened Banegaarden – an outdoor space in a ranch-like setting that combines stalls selling mostly organic produce, an outdoor cinema in the summer and a leafy area populated by berries, a hen coop and shrubbery (most easily accessed by the pedestrian / bike only tunnel that links this verdant space to Enghavevej.)

Bike further out for the best experience

It’s easy to reach wetland areas just outside Copenhagen city limits. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

While it sounds like a no-brainer, the experience of biking in Copenhagen is definitely amplified by a ride beyond the city limits – in clean air, amongst natural surroundings. One of my favourite routes is to leave Copenhagen through Sydhavn before veering right and along the water by Kalvebod Fælled (Kalvebod Common). Some of the route traverses water on both sides (the sea on your right and wetlands teeming with birdlife on your left.)

For a potent dose of architecture, check out the area around DR Byen

One of Copenhagen’s impressive architectural spots. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

Copenhagen is a paradise for architecture lovers who can feast their eyes on everything from archaic coloured row houses to modern glass buildings that give off the most futuristic of vibes. One of my favourite areas to explore is the landscape around the DR concert house, the home of Denmark’s national broadcaster, before moving further along to the epic underground bike parking space just before you approach the colosseum-like structure that is Tietgenkollegiet.

Next time you’re near the round tower, make sure you also check out the old tannery

The Old Tannery in Copenhagen’s Inner City. Photo: Allan Mutuku Kortbæk

The Round Tower has no shortage of admirers and with good reason. Not too far away, however, on your right –  in an inconspicuous yard just after the junction between Skindergade and Købmagergade, you’ll find a slice from the past that is an absolute treat for the eyes as you look up at it from below. Four generations of tanners have practiced their trade in this orange ochre-coloured, panache -oozing building.

About the author/further exploration

Allan Mutuku Kortbæk is a Vesterbro-based marketeer, freelance photographer, travel journalist and author.

Follow him on Instagram for more tips and tricks from Copenhagen and around the world and check out his newly-published book, Like a Local, Copenhagen – by the people who call it home, available locally, here, or via Amazon.

You are also welcome to listen to his podcast episode about Copenhagen, teeming with more insider info about what to see and do in the city, here – or simply join him on his perfect day through the city in this short video.

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DANISH HISTORY

New Danish museum wants to ‘tell the story’ of country’s refugees

Built on the site of a camp for German World War II refugees, a new Danish museum opening Wednesday shines fresh light on personal stories of forced migration, past and present.

New Danish museum wants to ‘tell the story’ of country’s refugees

The new FLUGT (“flee” in Danish) Refugee Museum of Denmark, in the small town of Oksbøl on Jutland’s west coast, focuses primarily on German refugees, as well as others who have come to Denmark over the years.

Exhibits include personal items — from a tent to a teddy bear — that tell the intimate stories of people who have fled war and oppression in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chile, Germany, Hungary, Iran, Lebanon, Russia, Syria and Vietnam, among others. 

“We want to tell the story that is behind these numbers, there are actual people,” museum director Claus Kjeld Jensen told AFP ahead of Wednesday’s opening.

But for some, the museum’s open philosophy contrasts with Denmark’s approach to refugees, with successive right and left-wing governments pursuing one of Europe’s toughest immigration policies.

ANALYSIS: Why is Denmark treating Ukrainian refugees differently to those from Syria?

As World War II drew to a bloody close, roughly 250,000 Germans fled to Denmark as the Russian Red Army approached.

Around 35,000 of them found their way to the refugee camp in Oksbøl, instantly making the site Denmark’s fifth largest city by population size.

The camp, in operation from 1945 to 1949, had schools, a theatre and a workshop, all behind barbed wire.

Nowadays, little of the camp remains, aside from two former hospital buildings and a cemetery, hidden amid a thick, green forest.

“We have got this part of world history actually taking place right here where we’re standing. But then there is an actual situation today,” Kjeld Jensen said.

“We have far more refugees worldwide than we had by the end of World War II. So, I suppose the issue is far more relevant today than it has ever been.”

Denmark's new museum for refugee stories FLUGT

Denmark’s new museum for refugee stories FLUGT in Oksbøl. Photo: John Randeris/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II attended the museum’s official inauguration on June 25 with Germany’s Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck. The German state contributed around 1.5 million euros to the 16-million-euro project.

“None of us would have thought it would be so sadly current to talk about refugees and fleeing,” the 82-year-old monarch said.
In 2021, the total number of people forced to flee their homes due to conflicts, violence, fear of persecution and human rights violations was 89.3 million, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sparked fresh movement across Europe, with more than six million refugees fleeing across the borders, according to the UNHCR.

The new museum was designed by world-renowned Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, who recently finished Google’s new Silicon Valley headquarters and is set to design a new US museum about slavery in Fort Worth, Texas.

Ingels’ design links the two surviving hospital buildings with a new, circular rusty steel-clad construction. Indoors, towering timber frames stretch into the sky, creating a large, open foyer, from which visitors explore the exhibits.

“When you come here from the outside, you see this kind of closed undulating wall of corten steel,” explained Ingels.

“But then, when you move inside, you realise that there is this oasis or sanctuary that opens up towards the forest, which in a way is what the fugitives hopefully found here — a sanctuary from the war and a glimpse of a brighter future.”

In mid-2020, Denmark became the first European Union country to re-examine the asylum cases of several hundred Syrians from Damascus, judging it safe for them to return. It also plans to open asylum centres outside Europe where applicants would be sent to live.

READ ALSO: EU politicians criticise Denmark over return policy for Syrian refugees

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In 2021, only 2,099 people sought asylum in Denmark. 

UNHCR representative Henrik Nordentoft admitted there were “challenges” with Denmark’s refugee policies.

“These are very politically-driven and we hope, of course, that there will be a way of changing that,” he said.

The museum’s inauguration was attended by 82-year-old Jörg Baden, who fled Germany for Denmark in 1945 at the age of five, as well as more recent arrivals, including a 16-year-old who fled Syria in 2015 and a group of Ukrainian classical musicians who arrived earlier this year.

It’s a reminder, as Baden put it, that “Flugt is not only a topic of the past, it reaches into our lives today.”

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