Two women on bikes in a park.
Utterslev Mose, 1941. Going downhill on a bike: You can almost feel the wind in your hair. Photo: Copenhagen City Archives.

Going through archives and searching the internet, I look for defining elements of the park Grønningen, as it stands out today. However, not being a historian nor born a Dane, what follows below will be a temporary collection of quite basic aspects of the area. In March 2021 I hope to replace this info with a dialogue with historian Christian Sandbjerg Hansen from DPU, University of Århus, offering a more historically correct and detailed image.

But for now, each aspect is given its heading. You can use the menu on the left, to jump between the headings. I add links to my sources, for further readings.

A map showing the height of the hills in the Copenhagen area. The darker the red color, the higher the altitude. The area marked by blue is the district of Copenhagen, where the park is. Link to Copenhagen City Atlas.
A map showing the height of the hills in the Copenhagen area. The darker the red color, the higher the altitude. The area marked by blue is the district of Copenhagen, where the park is. Link to Copenhagen City Atlas.

The landscape

People have lived in the area since the stone age. The hills are high in comparison to the surrounding area of the region, and from the highest hilltops, you could see Sweden, making it an easily defendable area. But the hills are not too steep, making it possible to cultivate wheat in the clay-rich soil. For a long time, a windmill towered over the fields from the highest hill, attracting commercial activities. Travelers with a more heavy load could still pass through the area, using a flatter route located just below the hills.

Part of a village

 

Two of the local farms,  around 1900
Two of the local farms, around 1900
The local miller's house with the mill in the background. Photo: Copenhagen City Archives.
The local miller’s house with the mill in the background. Photo: Copenhagen City Archives.
To the left the map of General Staff from 1850, taken from the Copenhagen City Atlas. To the right is a map of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg from 1955, taken from the Copenhagen Municipality's City Archives. Is it possible that you can still see the borders which once separated the plots of land between the old farms?
To the left the map of General Staff from 1850, taken from the Copenhagen City Atlas. To the right is a map of Copenhagen and Frederiksberg from 1955, taken from the Copenhagen Municipality’s City Archives. Is it possible that you can still see the borders which once separated the plots of land between the old farms?

Peder Feddersen

By the mid 17 th century, a sale of one of the farms in the former village – Utterslev Gård – indirectly opened for the subsequent urbanization of the area.  The new owner, Peder Feddersen, decided to mount a second residence, away from the rest of the small village, and a lot closer to Copenhagen. He never gave this new home a name, so it became known as Nameless. It was located at the very spot where today the two main roads through the area, Frederikssundsvej, and Frederiksborgvej, meet. After his death in 1845, his heirs asked the city for permission to sell off parts of Nameless to retailers, horse coachmen, and renovation workers.

Shortly after, the factories and production units of Copenhagen were moved to the area. This gradually gave the urban area the mixed character it holds today.

Thugs in the Shit District

Throughout both the 18th and 19th centuries, and ongoing, the Nordvest urban area consistently has been linked to low income, high crime rate, and unhealthy living conditions.

The initial production of new housing of the area in the early 1900s was driven forward by steady migration from rural areas to the capital.  Nørrebro, the neighboring urban area situated closer to the old city center, was decidedly built to house migrating workers moving to the city. But by then, it had already become too expensive to live here for the new arrivals. Only the highest paid skilled and unskilled workers could afford to pay the rent in Nørrebro. The less fortunate thus had to move elsewhere, and many ended up in Utterslev Mark.

When you walked from Nørrebro out to Utterslev Mark in the early 1900s, you would be made acutly aware of passing adistinctive social border; A bridge crossing a pit of waste from the latrines of Copenhagen –  a giant, stinking landfill of human excrements. Around this landfill, an area of high vegetation served as hiding for groups of thieves and prostitutes. Further beyond the neighborhood would become increasingly rough, and streets with bad or non-existent lighting. The North West neighborhood has since been deniominated the “Shit District” and its locals are often called “thugs”.

The sewage system in Copenhagen in 1876 – 18 years after construction on the system was initiated. All sewers ended in the harbor. Intended for rain only, as initially planned, in 1892 it was estimated that more than three-fourths of the yearly excrements from the city's inhabitants ended up in this system. Illustration: Hofor.
The sewage system in Copenhagen in 1876 – 18 years after construction on the system was initiated. All sewers ended in the harbor. Intended for rain only, as initially planned, in 1892 it was estimated that more than three-fourths of the yearly excrements from the city’s inhabitants ended up in this system. Illustration: Hofor.

Propretarians in the 1800s were not very enthusiastic about paying for a new sewage system. They were eventually persuaded that it was better than the alternative  – throwing the wastewater directly out of the window and on the street,  creating a breeding ground for all sorts of illnesses.

 

You may wonder, why is this relevant for Grønningen in our time? Because the sewer system more or less is the same today and still is not equipped to deal with modern-day cloudbursts.  The risk of the copious amounts of water mixing with human excrements and overflowing the streets of Copenhagen, is evident, and forms the reason for the cloudburst protection project in the park today.

Cholera

The urban development of the area in the early 1900-s, had a direct link to the cholera epedemic. Like many illnesses, cholera thrives where people live close together in with poor hygienic conditions. In the 1850s, around 220.000 people lived on the 32 acres that made up Copenhagen at the time. This equals around 6000 people per acre. Furthermore, the only drinking water available  came from leaky wooden pipes. These pipes were polluted with the mixed wastewater from the streets.

A doctor, Emil Hornemann, was put in charge of dealing with the epidemic. He claimed that fresh air would help the patients to recover, and therefore relocated the sick to tent camps outside of the city. It seem to work. Even though the illness kept coming back every year, it faded. The success of this approach initiated a series of hygienic reforms, such as preventing people from living in basements, or attics, or prohibiting children under the age of 10 from working in factories.

Additionally, some of the highest populated districts of Copenhagen were demolished, including the district in the picture above. Out of the many, many people dislocated from the city center, some would become the very first inhabitants of the area of the park, as some of the first newly invented social housing areas would grow around Grønningen.

The actual shape of the park, the isolated green surface without intended use , in itself is a trace of the concept of the social housing, concieved from early 1900. Access to a green open area was the core of this concept and reason to move the large, challenged population out of urban areas like in the image above.

An aerial photo from 1949, showing the area of Grønningen before the park is built. Note the mass of small sheds south of the road. THis was non-insulated ten square meter sheds, that were sold and used as permanent housing. Photo: The Copenhagen Museum.
An aerial photo from 1949, showing the area of Grønningen before the park is built. Note the mass of small sheds south of the road. THis was non-insulated ten square meter sheds, that were sold and used as permanent housing. Photo: The Copenhagen Museum.

Industry

Around the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, most of the factories moved out of the city. Many established new and big production facilities, squeezed in among the residential housing in Utterslev Mark. These were a toy factory, a soap factory, a perfume factory and several chemical factories, many of which had a foul-smelling production, further cementing the existing identity of the area.

This industrial district is now gradually being transformed into expensive private housing.

A documentary from 1939 that shows the everyday life of children in the city.
A documentary from 1939 that shows the everyday life of children in the city.

A movie from 1939, aims to argue for giving children from challenged families in the central parts of Copenhagen, a vacation in the countryside. The film also offers a glimpse of their everyday environment, before the areas were demolished.

 

The massive effort to establish new and high-quality dwellings for the non-privileged class, dramatically affected the identity of the urban area North West.  Formerly known for its unsafety and poverty, it became associated with good childhood life, green areas, light, and fresh air. Qualities like the ones, doctor Emil Hornemann had advocated for, all those years ago.

 

TBC