Unless you have some sort of obsession with visiting the final resting places of famous people, most folks don’t find themselves with a visit to a city’s cemetery on the top of their city to-do list. As someone not particularly interested in famous people, their eventual final resting place, and with a general aversion to cemeteries it took me a long time before I finally heeded the advice of my Danish friends.
In general Danish cities tend to be extremely well manicured. The streets are clean; free of the usual dog crap, gum, and trash you find in most cities. Even after a street festival or rowdy Saturday night, a veritable army of street cleaners surface in the pre-dawn hours to sweet up trash, broken glass, and to restore the city to its pristine form. It all happens so regularly and seamlessly that it almost becomes invisible…easily taken for granted. Danish cities are also overflowing with green spaces, lovely parks, and small rose bushes that line similarly well-maintained cobblestone streets. This makes Danish cities and Copenhagen in particular absolutely spectacular in the summer. Flowers are everywhere and those flowers come in a plethora of shapes, sizes, colors and species. It is this same dedication to keeping the city beautiful and its greenery well maintained that leads to the Danish cemeteries being immaculately kept, vibrant spaces that blend traditional solemn cemetery with the caring touch of botanically inclined groundskeepers paying homage to the dead by fostering miniature botanical gardens that exude color and life.
In Copenhagen a strange thing has happened. Locals have begun to re-purpose several of the city’s largest cemeteries to use them not only for paying homage to their lost relatives, but also as parks to be enjoyed. These once sad, abandoned places of death and sorrow have been transformed into places of life, remembrance, and light. In these parks, the two largest of which are Assistens Cemetery and Bispebjerg Cemetery, it is not uncommon to see couples on a romantic stroll, Danish parents pushing baby carriages, joggers on their morning jog, and even groups of friends with a blanket or a beer relaxing and conversing all mixed in with locals paying homage to lost loves ones. And why not? I’ve come to realize that Danish cemeteries, especially those in Copenhagen, feature some of the most gorgeous and tranquil greenery in the city. One of, if not THE most impressive cherry blossom walks in Copenhagen can be found deep within the heart of Bispebjerg Cemetery. A spot so gorgeous. So romantic. So charming, that in Spring when the blossoms are in full bloom it is the site of weddings, photoshoots, and was where we filmed my spur of the moment dance videos. Similarly, the botanical diversity in the Assistens Cemetery in the heart of Norrebro is equally stunning. From blooming tulips to sprawling trees overflowing with multi-hued blossoms the cemetery is a must visit – particularly in spring. As you might imagine, not everyone is completely happy about this transition. Others are unsure where the line should be drawn. But, for now, as long as people are respectful it strikes me that this more multi-use approach to cemeteries is actually much more in line with their original purpose. In modern years we have grown to fear and separate ourselves from death and the dead. What were once places for remembering and monuments to the lives people lived, have now become places almost completely abandoned, overgrown and forgotten. Thanks to the tireless work of Danish groundskeepers, I can’t help but feel that is beginning to change in Copenhagen.
So, while I always suggest people take the time to visit Copenhagen’s wonderful botanical garden, it is also well worth adding the city’s gorgeous cemeteries to your list. Visit them with an open mind, hunger for floral beauty, flared nostrils to take in the sweet scent of blooming flowers, and a relaxed but still respectful approach to what a cemetery can and should look like. Just make sure to remember while caught up in the beauty of spaces that you are still in a cemetery. Respect the graves, respect the flowers, and make sure you leave the spaces as good, if not better than when you found them.