Prospects of the city: A modern fairy-tale: The Princess in the Cesspit

Mæneds hjem in Istedgade becomes the climax of an unlikely fairy-tale

In which the Prospector hatches a plan, gets his hopes up and is disappointed.

Searching for Cinderella
She, Mathilde, had forgotten her black hair clasp in my taxi cab. Or maybe she’d left it there on purpose? And because she’d told me she volunteered at Mændenes hjem (the men’s home) on Istedgade, I thought she might want me to return it to her.

I saw myself bringing it to her along with a hand-written letter extolling her beauty and charm, reminding her of how on New-Year’s morning, after partying all night, she happened to be standing on the pavement badly in need of a taxi at the precise moment when I (the cab driver to end all cab drivers) happened to be floating by in my warm and cosy and ‘free’ Mercedes Benz.

Carl likes fairy-tales
Only trouble was that my old friend Carl (a naturalised American originally from South Africa) had announced his arrival – and since we’d not seen each other in 30 years and he was going to stay in my flat, we’d be too busy telling each other our lives to deliver lost clasps to bereaved young ladies.

Besides, Mændenes hjem isn’t exactly what you’d call a tourist attraction. Of course I could ask Carl to come along, but as he’d never visited the Little Mermaid, Glyptoteket and Amalienborg Castle, perhaps he’d baulk at the

As it turned out, it just happened. Being the pathological skirt-chaser that he is, Carl loved the prospect. “When a man wants a woman,” he declared. “He does not let a bit of squalour get in his way. If she’s as pretty as you say, it’ll be like picking a princess in a pigsty. Just like in a Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale.”

The forbidden forest
However, when we got to Mændenes hjem and Carl saw the ragged human squalour clustered in and around the corner entrance, it was clear this was a bit more than he had bargained for. He obviously did not want to press into the dense crowd and enter.

With my mind fixed on the image of the blonde woman in my cab on New Year’s morning, I was however feeling less squeamish. I pressed right ahead, and in less than a moment’s time, we both found ourselves inside the ‘vestibule’.

Over against the wall, a body lay sprawled out, half in and half out of an armchair. Dead or alive? Hard to tell. In the hallway at the back, a young female employee was being bawled out by some old junkie in his late 30s. While he was hissing, I noticed that most of his teeth were missing and there was drool on his chin.

Seeing us, the young employee came over. I told her the story and showed the clasp. ”Sorry,” she said. “But there’s no-one here by the name Mathilde.”

No princess in the cesspit
Back on the street again, Carl started muttering as if to himself: “A guy comes all the way from America. He doesn’t know Copenhagen. And what does his old buddy show him! A human sewer squalid enough to make Christ himself lose all hope.”

I said: “Well, 30 years ago it wasn’t yet here to show you. People weren’t so down and out – not in such great numbers anyway. Back then Danes weren’t yet rated the happiest people on Earth!”