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Posts Tagged ‘Assistens Cemetery’


Yesterday as I was returning to our city apartment from a week in the holiday home – and the garden – I got off the bus early to walk home through Assistens Cemetery which our apartment overlooks.

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It’s a stunning urban space of trees, lawns and – of course – tombs. Part of it is still a functioning community cemetery, but large sections have been reassigned as a recreational green space, though obviously within the cemetery context. So no ball-play allowed, but picnics and topless sun bathing is acceptable – though you don’t find many sun bathers in the snow.

Assistens Cemetery

The cemetery has some amazing mature trees, and the space is just so peaceful. Even in summer when there are picnics and sunbathers around, people somehow seem to remain respectful of the space and be more calm than in other parks; it invites a more tranquil state than some of the more classic parks around the city, and I think it is so beneficial to have an urban green space that is calm and reflective in its nature.

Assistens Cemetery

The best part about the cemetery, though, is that it is just across the street from our apartment. We can watch the sunset across the tree tops from our living rooms, and it’s an amazing privilege to live in the city – 15 minutes on foot from the very centre of Copenhagen – and have such a view as well as such a relaxing place to go for walks just outside your apartment.

Assistens Cemetery

It looks great in the snow, but to be honest it looks great at all times of the year, and there is not a single day when I don’t look out the windows and feel grateful for being able to live with a view like this. Imagine this view in spring, or summer, or autumn… You come home through the city, make your way up the stairs to the fourth floor and then when you enter the sitting room you see this sort of view, consisting only of trees and shrubs and lawns… -And even perennials on some of the graves.

The part of the cemetery in front of our windows is the historical cemetery, also referred to as the “museum cemetery”. This means it has not been a functioning cemetery in 50 years or so, and some of “the Great and the Good” of Denmark have been buried there, including the world’s first existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. The fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen is further to the left, and the Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr is also out there, as well as loads of artists, musicians, writers and so on. They are a pleasant and calm lot to live across the street from.

Also, I love this view. I really do. I love the garden, but there is no way I could ever produce anything like this cemetery. It’s amazingly beautiful, and the maintenance is wonderfully done; decay is obvious on many of the old tombs, but that is part of the place’s identity. Some headstones have tumbled over and been left like that, and perennials and wild flowers are used to accent certain graves so it’s not just a lawn studded with beautiful trees.

And now, in December with snow all over the place, this is the main Christmas ornament of our home. No amount of baubles could compete with that view.

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We are fortunate to have a stunning garden right outside our 4th-floor Copenhagen apartment. The Assistens Cemetery is immaculately maintained, with sections of it listed and no longer used for burials.

There are mature trees en masse, the odd patch of perennials in summer and lovely memories of people who lived and died in Copenhagen hundreds of years ago. And there are young people sunbathing in the summer (and yes, there is the occasional topless woman among them), families going for picnics – as has been the tradition ever since this cemetery was located in the countryside beyond the old fortified city and people would go to visit their departed family members on a Sunday and make an outing of it – and runners going for a jog on the many criss-crossing paths.

The cemetery is a living place, an integral part of our neighbourhood and in no way a gloomy or sad place. And it’s a whopping great view to have; from the warm yellow wall surrounding it, scanning upwards across the headstones and tree trunks to the canopy of tree crowns that form our horizon.

On the other side – from the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom – our view is less stunning, but to me it is actually also quite charming. We can look down into the courtyard garden below, with barbecues, tables and chairs and even a swing hanging from the branch of a medlar tree. And we can look across to a roof-scape of chimneys that reach up to the heavens, with frequent visits from seagulls and crows. It might not be conventionally beautiful like the view over the cemetery, but it has an urban charm to it; a sense of Baudelairesque retreat to a place above the city.

It reminds me of Baudelaire’s poem Paysage, where during winter the narrator retreats to his Parisian garret to write his pastoral poetry and

De tirer un soleil de mon coeur, et de faire

De mes pensers brûlants une tiède atmosphère.

“To pull a sun from my heart and to make / from my burning thought a tepid atmosphere.”

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