I was in Copenhagen a few weeks ago for a meeting to do with my day job. It also happened to be the day of the Danish General Election. I had two hours free in the afternoon between work commitments and so, being a huge fan of the Danish political thriller ‘Borgen’, wandered towards the famous Christiansborg Palace, the parliament building which provides the main backdrop for the series.
Because of the Election, the imposing castle was the scene of frenetic TV production activity with outside broadcast trucks, camera crews, security personnel and producers galore. Having recently worked on TV coverage our own General Election here in the UK, it was really quite something (for a telly nerd) to be at the Danish parliament on the day of theirs. I wandered around in the drizzle taking hurried iPhone photos, trying not to trip over the miles of electrical cables, soaking up the tension and wondering what shocks the polls would reveal later that evening.
My guide book (Rough Guide – Pocket Copenhagen) mentioned a garden that also featured occasionally in the making of ‘Borgen’. The garden, Det Kongelige Biblioteks Have (Royal Library Garden) provided a shady, serene oasis amid the chaos and conniving of coalition. A location where the main character, Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg held clandestine meetings with some of her political opponents and shared secrets with friends she would later betray.
It took me a little while to find the garden but I was gleeful when I did. Squeezed, and somewhat hidden, between Christiansborg, the Royal Library and The Tøjhus Museum, it is sited on the former naval harbour. Designed in 1920 by landscape gardener Jens Peder Andersen and the architect of Christiansborg, Thorvald Jorgensen, the garden is formal and the planting simple, mostly minimalist, with neat, clean lines. Thoroughly Scandinavian.
Walking across the cobbles from the parliament buildings and through the low entrance arch into the garden, I was entranced. The elegant symmetry of the red brick Royal Library (built in 1906 and the largest library in the Nordic countries) and the beautifully pleached beech trees in front of it provided wonderful dramatic structure to the garden. To the left, a dense swathe of rhododendrons in delicate pale pink, lilac and mauve nestled beneath the shade of towering, slender birch. Along the central paths, neat lines of yet-to-bloom red roses stood sentry over gentle clouds of white candytuft. Around the edges were beds where bright kniphofia rose from clumps of golden hostas and salvia and yellow flag iris added bolts of richer hues. But it was the wide, shallow pond and the eight metre copper sculpture, which spouts and cascades water on the hour, that were the stars of this space. Oh, and the cute duck house. Which, hopefully, is less scandalous than its infamous UK counterpart.
It’s a calming, contemplative spot. The perfect foil to the frenetic activity surrounding it. The ideal place for politicians (real and imaginary) and weary TV producers to sit and ponder their present, their futures and mull over that important question – how many Danish pastries is too many?
Opposite the pond, on the right hand side of the garden, sitting serenely amid more tall birches, is a 1918 bronze statue of philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (by sculptor Louis Hasselriis) absorbed in his own thoughts and with his gaze allegedly directed towards the home of his fiancee, Regine Olsen. Widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher much of his work focusses on the importance of concrete human reality over abstract thinking. Living life, really experiencing life, was important to him. One of his most pertinent aphorisms goes thus:
“What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I should do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is a truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.”
You and me both, Soren.
The beautiful Royal Library Garden is open daily 0600-2200. There is also a very nice cafe where one would be foolish not to nibble just one more wafer-thin Danish pastry…