Prospects of the City: The concept of Copenhagen – The Post

Prospects of the City: The concept of Copenhagen

As the author of the 1995 essay ’Victim of Welfare. An Essay on State and Individual in Denmark’ and 2011 novel ’Wagon 537 Christiania’, Per Smidl is no stranger to controversy. After 12 years of self-imposed exile in Prague, he is back in his native Copenhagen, a city he will always have a unique perspective on.
April 11th, 2015 7:00 am| by Per Smidl
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In which the prospector takes a stand and attempts to give meaning to the word or name or sound or concept of ‘Copenhagen’.

No need for introductions
It is now a few months since I first introduced myself, not to Copenhagen, but to the readers of the Weekly Post. I happen to be introduced to the city of Copenhagen, and so are you who are reading this at this moment, some place in this, the capital of the state of Denmark.

You and me may not have much in common except that for one reason or another we’ve both been introduced (or reintroduced) into the indefinable and nebulous concept that goes by the name of ‘Copenhagen’. Here the rain and sleet falls on both of us, and here, for better or worse, we’re challenged, if not forced to make the best of it.

Here now, again and still
This, then, is where we find ourselves. I can’t speak for you, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m here now and again and still. In May 1993, unable to live with the Danish state’s tax system – which would bully me into either taking a job or accepting its social help (kontanthjælp) because “everybody must pay taxes” – I went into self-imposed exile in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Instead of granting me the liberty to live at my leisure and express myself freely (this happened while I was working on my novel ‘Chop Suey’), my own country rejected me as a social delinquent and … ejected me. Instead of the liberty it had promised me at elementary school, it had bequeathed me disillusionment and … the ubiquitous axe to grind that goes with it.

Axe grinding
If my native Denmark left me with an axe to grind, my adopted city Prague gave me plenty of opportunity to grind it to my heart’s content. Not knowing what was going on and thinking the grinding was necessary as an act of resistance, I ground away for dear life.

It was only in the nick of time that I realised it was not I who was grinding the axe, but rather the axe that was grinding me. Grinding an axe in reaction to injustice and tyranny blinded me to the dangers of my activity – i.e the fact that we’re influenced by and perhaps formed by the objectives we fix our minds on achieving. If liberty was what I had been promised, and had once as a green youth set out for, obsessional denial had now become my sorry lot.

This fire is out of control
Not so any more. Today I’m pleased to announce that the axe I was grinding for so long has been not just buried but destroyed. It is no more – even if I’m back again in my native city.

However, this Copenhagen I’ve returned to is not the Copenhagen I left. Nowadays it is mine and only mine; it is a spiritual dimension unbeknown to anyone but myself; it is my last stand from where I’ll set out for the territory ahead. In my new year’s resolution I vowed neither to budge an inch or flinch. Last time Copenhagen burned was during the Napoleonic Wars. This time I’m here to see it and report.