Prospects of the City: Trading in today for tomorrow – The Post

Prospects of the City: Trading in today for tomorrow

Sometimes it’s good to kick back and let city life pass you by (photo: iStock)
October 17th, 2015 7:00 pm| by Per Smidl
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In which the prospector has relocated to Christianshavn Square. With his pen and paper he has taken up position and is preparing to file a report on the spirit of the place.

Just a perfect day
What a day this is. It is a quarter past ten in the morning, and the early October sun is shining warmly from a clear blue sky. I am sitting on the bulwark with my back to the canal and the sun in my eyes. I put on my shades and congratulate myself because I decided to take such a fine day off.

Let me see. Who is here and what is going on? It depends on which way I turn my head. Across Torvegade a worker is sitting on the side of a hole in the pavement he has dug.

Behind him a generator supplies a menacing background growl. At other times it might have bothered me. But this morning I realise that a little generator is really something to be grateful for at a time when Copenhagen is one great construction site where ‘today’ is systematically traded in for a tomorrow that is never going to be and yet is still heralded with a deafening din of anticipation.

Problems all left alone
Across the cobbled Overgaden oven vandet five people who look like they might be homeless are sitting in their rags on the iron grating that serves as ventilation for the Metro. They are smoking cigarettes and hash and either drinking beer from cans or some other mysterious beverage from plastic bottles.

And … surprise! In striking contrast to the depressing buzz of busybodies all around them, they appear to be enjoying themselves. With a little help from their friends they manage to laugh and smile to the person next to them who they know from so many ragged mornings. Except for your prospector, they are the only people on the square who are just sitting and sunning themselves.

Everyone else is a person of passage: tourists and locals all with distinct destinations, moving by foot, bike, automobile or the Christiania box bike. Thirty years ago there were perhaps a fifth of the bikes there are now. Copenhagen has indeed become the city of bikes that some of us used to dream of and never thought would be.

Just keep us hanging on
The faint melody from the bells of Vor Frelsers Kirke brings me back, reminding me of the no less faint melody of the hopes I used to have for myself, for my city and for us all. My youthful naiveté and subsequent disappointment is taking its toll: the melancholy tolling of church bells … it all turned out so differently than I imagined.

Today, nay at this moment, practically the entire city is in the process of being dug up. All over the place this present we are living is tortured in the name of a future that will be equally tortured in its turn. Who can testify, and who can say? I can. I am here to see and hear and report.

Per_Smidl_web

Per Smidl


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.