Podcasts, Stories about life in Denmark

On the Road: Copenhagen Northwest, beyond the cherry trees

It’s springtime, and the cherry trees are about to bloom in Copenhagen Northwest, which is usually the only time people who live outside Northwest bother to go there.

Northwest is a working class neighborhood, so much so that the streets are named after working-class occupations.

While other Copenhagen neighborhoods have streets named after kings and queens and generals, Northwest has Brick-maker street, and Book-binder street, and Rope-maker street, and Barrel-maker street.

But there are other things to see in Copenhagen Northwest besides the cherry trees, which have become a bit of a crowd scene since they were reported on by a national news network.

Old city, new neighborhood

Like many industrial districts in a post-industrial society, Northwest has become a bit of a trendy neighborhood. I live here, and when I first moved here ten years ago it was hard to find a café to meet up in. Lots of cafés and restaurants now, lots of young people, lots of activity.

Copenhagen is a thousand years old, but this neighborhood is fairly new. A hundred years ago, it was mostly farms. There are still a few old farmhouses from that era, tucked in between the factory buildings that came later. Most of those factories have now been converted into offices and living spaces and gyms, some of them owned by Danish MMA fighters.

Copenhagen Northwest

Nude above doorway, 1930s worker housing

Around the 1930s, building associations started putting up a lot of worker housing here, and it’s all at human scale, about 4 or 5 stories tall, and has been kept in pretty good shape. Some of the apartment blocks have small nude images above the doors, a leftover from the body beautiful movement of the 1930s.

And then, in the past 10 or 20 years, chic, upscale architects have started designing for Northwest. You can check out the five-story wood facade apartment building by celebrity architect Bjarke Ingels Group, BIG. Or the very curvy Bispebjerg Bakke, sometimes called the snake building, an enormous housing development with no straight exterior walls.

Copenhagen Northwest is a fun, eclectic mix.

Playing Justin Bieber on the church organ

If you’re in Copenhagen Northwest to see the cherry trees and have some extra time, I can recommend crossing the street to see Grundtvigskirke, or Grundtvig’s Church.

Copenhagen Northwest

Interior of Grundtvigs Church

This absolutely huge church – it has room for almost 2000 people – is almost entirely white inside. It’s surprising if you’re used to elaborate churches with a lot of gold and pictures and stautes. Inside it’s very minimalist, with just simple straw chairs to sit on.

As I often tell my followers, you’re always welcome to come for a service for a Danish state church as long as you sit quietly and don’t start taking selfies in the middle of the sermon. You don’t have to be a Christian. Just go in and sit down – they won’t make you pray or do anything you don’t want to do.

Grundtvig’s Church also looks great from the outside – like a giant organ. There is also a giant church organ inside. Personally I’m not a fan of it, it makes everything sound a vampire movie. When they have events for teenagers there, they insist on playing Justin Bieber songs on it, or occasionally a version of the Pharrell Williams song, “Happy.”

This is definitely a unique sound experience, although not necessarily a good one.

Murals and marshes

Copenhagen Northwest

Murals on Møntmestervej, Copenhagen Northwest

Another thing you can do in Northwest is to head over to Møntmestervej (“Coin Maker Street”). One of the worker’s housing developments has put up a lot of colorful murals on this street and on Rentemestervej (“Tax Collector Street”) next door from 16 different artists. Very good for filling up your Instagram feed, and there are several cafés on the street where you can order a coffee while you sort through all your photos.

If you still have time, and it’s a lovely day, I recommend finishing up your day at Utterslev Møse, which is a very large marshland which has somehow been kept intact inside a modern Western capital city. Lots of wildflowers and wild birds here – you can either walk around it or take your bike.

Some of the lakes and islands you see are actually artificial and human made, designed to give the birds a good place to nest, but that doesn’t make the landscape any less pretty.

Copenhagen Northwest is a nice place to live, but it’s also a very nice place to visit.

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