by Tim Anderson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
At the moment, Vesterbro, the area of Copenhagen in which I live with my girlfriend, happens to be my favourite area of the city. Biased, perhaps? Sure, I’ve lived in this part of town for 4 of the 5½ years I’ve been in Copenhagen. Obviously I like it. That said, I have lived in other parts of Copenhagen long enough to gain an ‘outsider’ perspective on Vesterbro. There are also other areas of Copenhagen that I quite like too.
While in recent history Vesterbro was always the workers quarters, now what was once the old worker's club building (designed by the Danish architech Vilhelm Lauritzen back in the 50’s and used by the labour movement for various events for many years) is now (arbuably) one of Copenhagen’s cooler nightclubs, Vega. Which is pretty much where the rest of Vesterbro is at, in relation to decades past.
There are two main veins running through Vesterbro – Istedgade and Vesterbrogade - streets running almost parallel to each other. A third parallel vein, Gamle Kongvej, is just one step outside of Vesterbro (in Frederiksberg). Historically, these three veins are very much social progression of each other, as much of a geographic one - they are a little less so today. They tell quite a bit about Copenhagen’s modern history.
While Gamle Kongvej begins near to the bottom of ‘the lakes’ – a series of 3 man-made bodies of water connecting the east and west of the city – then runs into the heart of old Frederiksberg (home to many of the weathier families of yesterday), Vesterbrogade and Istedgade are quite the opposite – at least historically. I have lived on both of these two. It Copenhagen terms, these are noisy streets that are full of life - day and night. It is Istedgade that is the more famous – widely known thanks to its seedy reputation not only around Copenhagen, but the whole of Denmark, though Vesterbrogade is probably noisier (at least in certain parts).
Istedgade is not a bad place to start if you are a newcomer to the city, though admittedly it will give you a rather skewed perspective of Copenhagen. The first part of Istedgade, the part that lies close to the central train station, the part of the street from which much of Istedgade's reputation stems, is hardly indicative of the rest of the street (nor the rest of Vesterbro).
By in large, the apartments constructed in the Vesterbro over the last decades (and centuries) directly reflect the history of the area – they are workers apartments. My own apartment is a typcial example – a very small 40 sq metre, 2 room apartment in an older building. So frustratingly typical it is, that to this day the shower remains in the basement – shared by all in the building.
Few apartments in Copenhagen were fitted with proper plumbing at the time of their construction (decades ago) and somewhat surprisingly for a city so supposedly modern and proud of it’s design traditions as Copenhagen, quite a number have yet to be fully ‘modernised’ so as to accommodate a shower inside the apartment.
Then there are Vesterbro's side streets, filled with the unexpected - given that what one expects to find there is basically flats, flats and more flats. There are these, but there is much more.
Take Oehlenslægersgade. Disguised as another residential street, in fact it is home to a number of design shops, a specialty beer store, a handful of galleries, one of Vesterbro cooler bars, and a tasty take-away chicken joint (not too mention a horribly seedy bodega).
Saxogade is another case in point. Made famous by the 1968 children's TV show 'Sonja fra Saxegade' that most Danes have heard of, if not seen, it's another street with its interesting points. Part immigrant ghetto, but also home to a handful of less obvious restaurants, shops and cafe's.
In fact, there is a surprising amount of tucked away randomness hidden down Vesterbro's sidestreets - some of it well known, restaurants such as Cofoco, while much remains largely unknown and undiscovered to but a few.
The upcoming series short series of (sometimes lengthy) articles, starting with a five part series exposing the many faces of Istedgade, are going to explore Vesterbro in some detail. The first one is: A stroll down Istegade (Part 1)