I have always found it easy to disappear into the idea of something, often easier than keeping my attention on my immediate surroundings. For that reason I am a notoriously bad companion on safaris. In a matter of minutes, I have performed a mental Houdini, and my attention, which should be aimed at locating lions in the shrubs, has disappeared into the world weave. I lack the discipline or maybe the desire to be present. Sometimes a place has a way of jumpstarting my imagination. The place itself is not necessarily spectacular, nor is it likely that others see it the same way. But something awakens, my eyes cloud over and I disappear from one reality into another.
Now I have found a new place, a peculiar one. Unlike other favorite places in the city, this one is neither grand nor beautiful. Actually, it is sufficiently mottled to tickle my curiosity and imagination. It might be one of the most crowded areas in Copenhagen yet there are no people, or at least very few people. You do not see them, these people, but they leave behind crest upon crest as evidence of their presence. It is best to visit the place when it is dark. A shrill, yellow light that bathes the vaults in an indefinable mist brightens it. I always move too quickly through the place, so I cannot find what I am looking for, which is further proof that am in just the right spot. The entrance to the city beneath the city. A gateway. A hub. A door between dimensions.
The place does not want to get caught, and every time I try, I end up with a photograph of myself and only a hint of the mysterious. I never really see it, because I move too fast, and I cannot stop. But maybe it is always like that with peculiar places. I found it on my way to work, and I was surprised that I had not noticed it before. Not really noticed it. After having lived in Copenhagen for 15 years, I should not be surprised, though. Every time I think I know the city, it reveals new dimensions.
It is a love story, really. I love riding my bike across Knippelsbro and flying down towards Børsen [The stock exchange] and Christiansborg [The Danish Parliament]. Or walking up Bredgade to Marmorkirken [The Marble Church], which looks gloriously squeezed, as though the city cannot quite get itself to make room for anything but the people living there. The church is at once grand and clumsy – a bull in a china shop.
And then there is Bibliotekshaven [The library garden] on the way to work – a bench, a sister, a cup of coffee, conversation and Kierkegaard. Next stop – Marmorbroen [The Marble Bridge] – where the possibility of prolonging an always interesting and important conversation by escaping to the forest is argued upon, before the inevitable capitulation and the final march to work.
And it is not merely the places, but also the passage of time. I think the city is changeable, but it tricks me. I am changeable and it is steady. Its borders move, it is pushed and shoved, but we are the mass floating through the streets. The blood. And the streets resonate with our memories. A kiss on the corner, a fight, fires and bombs. A collective imprint of people, but Copenhagen does not belong to us. We belong to it.
But I loose myself. Back to the peculiar place and the mysterious. There in the dark on the S-train track between Copenhagen Central Station and Vesterport, I see the literary heroes and demons of my childhood. I see Momo escaping the grey time thieves, and I see Blåfolket [the blue people] peeking out above the surface of the earth for the first time since the giant rats took over world domination. It is a place where such things happen, where fiction overtakes reality. And just as I am thinking of Momo, a passenger count card is being shoved into my hand by DSB, because it is their annual count-the-passengers day, and I know without a doubt that Momo would say that the grey gentlemen were back in business. Just as I am allowing myself to disappear, they yank me back to a reality, where work and passenger statistics awaits. But this afternoon I will go back through the peculiar place, where I shall willingly disappear once more.
du er kun alt jeg har
når dine tusinde øjne lukker i
og mørket maler dig uendelig
-Ulige numre ”København”
you are but all I have
when your thousand eyes shut
and darkness paints you never ending
-Ulige numre “København” [my translation]
[The photographs in this series were shot by my darling sister, who travelled back and forth between Copenhagen Central Station and Vesterport many, many times to capture the mysterious darkness. From a peaceful bench in The library garden to the city beneath the city and little men with eyes of fire.]
Note: Michael Ende’s Momo or The strange story of the time-thieves and the child who brought the stolen time back to the people was written in 1973, and some might claim that the time nightmare described in the novel has striking similarities to an ordinary day in Denmark in 2015. Momo is a peculiar little girl with a special gift – she can listen. The fight against the grey gentlemen is epic, and Momo one of the best children books ever – but scary, and therefore not suited for the youngest. It is, however, suitable for adults as well, perhaps as a substitute for a mindfulness-course. It works wonders.
Bent Haller’s Blåfolket [The blue people] was published for the first time in 1986 and is about small blue creatures, who in ancient times were driven from the surface of the world by giant rats. They live deep underground and dream of one day seeing the sky.
Vesterport railway cutting was renovated in 2010. The municipality of Copenhagen is looking into the possibility of covering the railway cutting to make room for a new green city space. Copenhagen is talking to Banedanmark, who owns the railway cuttings and DSB, who owns the right to build in the sky above it. But when you build above, you build beneath. This expansion of the city beneath the city should make more room for Momo and the blue people in the years to come.