The graveyard was awash in the sound of happy dogs. I wandered in and perched on a pine-painted bench, waiting. It wasn’t long before a man appeared, tennis ball launcher in hand, with his joyful, bounding yellow Lab. And moments later, a puppy barreled up a lane, wanting to play. The owners acknowledged each other wordlessly and went on about their business.
Copenhagen is like that. Everyone is pleasant–yet perhaps not what you would call overtly friendly. I was speaking to a Taiwanese transplant (she’d married a Dane), and she blames it on the value placed on individual freedom. Maybe, maybe not (certainly that same value manifests differently in the U.S.), but everything about Assistens Kirkegård screams that she’s right. To start with, the graveyard is the least crowded boneyard I’ve ever seen. There are some sections where graves are lined up, one right after the other–but most of it is spread out and serene, and the whole place is very, very manicured (yet also has wildness to it). I can see why it used to be a popular place to picnic and party: in the early 1800s there was a law passed to prohibit the consumption of food or drink, the playing of music, or engaging in any other kind of “cheerful” behavior on-site. Alas, no frolicking in the place were Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard are buried.
Apparently the locals ignored the edict, the same as they currently do with prohibitions to biking through the graveyard. While I didn’t witness anyone partying on-grounds, I did witness dozens of people whizzing down the paths and even three people giving a guided tour by bicycle… more specifically, by giant tricycles with seating mounted to the front for full-grown adult tourists.
There is a particular feeling in Assistens, which immediately engaged my writer brain–so I do believe you’re going to see the kirkyard in an upcoming novel. Like Assistens, my kirkyard will be overrun with red squirrels. They don’t exist in the U.S., but they will in my project… but only inside the graveyard walls. I sketched out a quick plot while still in Copenhagen, and I’m excited to get started. Something to look forward to!