A stroll down Istedgade (Part 1): Is this the seedy or trendy heart of Vesterbro (or even Copenhagen)?

by Tim Anderson (timothyanderson2005@gmail.com)

Sometimes seedy, with it’s graffiti and hookers, other times trendy with it’s design shops and cafés, Istedgade is a street of complex character. It’s not so easy to put a finger on just what Istedgade is and where it is heading in the future - which makes it a fascinating spot on the Copenhagen map. But the next several articles (yep, this is the first of five of them) will try to.

Allow me to make a slightly abstract comparison between Woody Allan movies and Istedgade, the street in Vesterbro with, well, many faces. I love Woody Allen movies. Istedgade, like many a character in many a Woody Allen film, happens to be of a slightly neurotic temperment. This is pretty evident when strolling along the street and perhaps that’s part of the reason why I like it so much.

despite the street art, it's hardly scary...

Of the two main (almost parallel) roads that transverse Vesterbro and infuse the area with life, Istedgade and Vesterbrogade, it is Istedgade and its colourful history, that is most known around Copenhagen, but also around Denmark. As home to trash, treasures, junkies and hipsters, truly it’s got a bit of everything. You could say. Perhaps it's missing a few things.

fitting right in on Istedgade...

If Istedgade were a person, it would be schizophrenic with a few personalities. One personality would be a lover of design objects, another surely a hooker and still another most certainly a self-styled hipster (with a few tattoos). There would also be the anti-hipster, a lover of all things kitsch. The self-styled hipster would in all likelihood be the favourite guise these days.

need some ink done? choice abounds around Istedgade...

So just for fun, let’s imagine this schizophrenic person really exists, an allegorical character. For simplicity, let’s call them ‘Istedgade’, shall we? And just to make it really fun, let's also assume this person ('Istedgade') happens to be a character in an upcoming Woody Allen film. And let's imagine there is quite a buzz surrounding this 'Istedgade' character - that is, this character is attracting a lot of attention. Sound interesting...

Our ‘Istedgade’ character, with this complex personality, should fit in just fine into the said Woody Allen movie. Admittedly, it wouldn’t be an entirely typical Woody Allen-type character (most aren’t schizophrenic, after all), however as many Woody Allen characters do, Istedgade would surely have an analyst. That is, Istedgade would be in therapy.

In particular, the 'hipster' portion of Istedgade's multiple personalities would be greatly disturbed by a few things - in particular the temperment of the other personalities with which it must co-exist, as well as by thoughts of just what the future holds for it.

Back to the real world, for a moment.

One can't help wondering, when wandering through Vesterbro and then along Istedgade, just how long things on Istedgade will remain as they are. After all, Vesterbro as a whole (and particularly the street Vesterbrogade) has transcended it’s ‘worker quarters’ past, even if bits of evidence still remain (like the many identical and rather small two room apartments, some still without showers). Housing prices have risen rather wildly over the past 10 years (as they have all over the Copenhagen), plenty of big chain stores have moved in (Blockbuster's 7/11's, national chain stores), while fashion and trendiness remain the current buzzwords, particularly in Vesterbro's less obvious corners. Still, entrepreneurial enterprise of all sorts thrives everywhere.

Yet within Vesterbro, Istedgade has thus far taken a different direction. It seems even quirkier still - more independent.

On Istedgade, the bigger chain stores and pretty much any serious corporate presence remains conspicuously absent. With the exception of a lone Nordea bank branch (not even a single bank machine elsewhere along the road) and a small outlet of a national appliance chain (Punkt), both at the farthest reaches of the street, and a lone 7/11 at the start of Istedgade near the train station, corporate presence is minimal.

Perhaps it is that old lingering fear of 'Istedgade the Hooker' and 'Istedgade the Junkie' (both of whom who will be introduced in an upcoming article) that is keeping the chain shops, chain restaurants and chain coffee shops and cafes away?

In place of Blockbuster, there’s an independent video shop ('Yvonne's'). In place of fast food outlets, there are numerous schwarma shops and a few pizza joints (everyone has their favourites, but I would suggest one of the best being Konya Kebab, owing to its a charcoal barbeque – something very rare for a Copenhagen schwarma shops). In place of dominating corporate chain store clothing shops in other areas of Copenhagen, such as H&M, Istedgade hosts plenty of more independent and oftentimes nearly anonymous design and trendy clothing and gadget shops - some rather expensive, others less so. There are a few excellent restaurants, a good number of interesting cafes and a handful of independent bakeries.

a kebab straight of the barbeque...

random funky stuff...

yes, it is...and you can buy the sign...

But Istedgade is no longer keeping quite the same low profile it once was, and it's former reputation as a seedy place (though still alive in well among those who haven't ventured into the area in recent years) is quickly fading away (once you leave the train station area, that is).

In any article focussed on Vesterbro, attention is increasingly focussed in particular on the perceived 'trendiness' of the Istedgade - at least the upper portion of Istedgade.

the local skateboard shop

To return to our schizophrenic Woody Allen character 'Istedgade', and in particular the 'hipster' slice of its personality. The current trendiness of Istedgade (the street) is largely the sort of trendiness that eschews the mainstream - and that's the sort of trendiness that makes 'Istedgade the Hipster' (this schizophrenic persona of our Woody Allen character) tick. In fact, it is why 'Istedgade the Hipster' exists at all. So the fact that this perceived trendiness is attracting ever increasing attention tends to make 'Istedgade the Hipster' feel, well, threatened. How long can it last?

Istedgade - is it really just another typical street in Copenhagen?

But all of this is just a sort of introduction. This (imaginary) Woody Allen character 'Istedgade' (and it's threatened 'hipster' persona) will be the focus of the next entry. Along with another slice of its schizophrenic personalities, 'Istedgade the Kitsch'.

It's right here - A stroll down Istedgade (Part 1): Is this the seedy or trendy heart of Vesterbro?

And for a bit more of an introduction to Vesterbro in general, At the heart of Vesterbro.

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