On our last morning in Copenhagen, Jorge and I followed a long mustard-coloured wall to an open gate that marked one entrance to Assistens Cemetery.
It had been raining all morning, so the pathways were shiny wet, droplets of water clinging to the grass.
The scent of moist earth floated up from beneath our feet.
Drips of rain hung from stone angel’s faces like tears.
I was instantly in awe of this place and could easily have spent hours there.
Lush and tranquil, I can see how it influenced Swedish Poet Karl August Nicander to write, “It is certainly one of the most beautiful graveyards in Europe. Leafy trees, dark paths, bright open flowery expanses, temples shaded by poplars, marble tombs overhung by weeping willows, and urns or crosses wrapped in swathes of roses, fragrance and bird song, all transform this place of death into a little paradise.”
We started with the obvious – a hunt for one of the cemetery’s most famous residents – “the pioneer of the modern fairytale”, Hans Christian Andersen.
His stories were some of my favourite while I was growing up: The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Princess and the Pea, and of course, The Ugly Duckling, which I narrated for our class play when I was 5-years-old.
We followed some signs that led us through a maze of gothic looking gravestones and some that were engulfed in nature.
Eventually we found it. It was quite humble; there was nothing extraordinary about it.
Buried nearby is the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. This year marked 200 years since his birth.
As the Telegraph puts it, he was “the father of existentialism, the philosopher of anxiety and the scourge of the church. A man who preferred the shade to sunshine, in the popular imagination he was gloomy and hard to please.”
Kierkegaard was a big fan of walking to was away the troubles of life, and walk we did. Assistens is a huge plot of land, the biggest cemetery in Copenhagen, and there’s a lot to explore.
One of my favourite parts was the long avenue lined with beautiful trees that runs from one side to the other.
It was a chilly time of year to be in Scandinavia, but the Autumn leaves were scattered across the grass, some still clinging to the trees, others blown into colourful clumps of foliage tucked between gravestones. Red squirrels scampered up trees.
The cemetery was outside of the old walled city when it was inaugurated in the 1700s.
It was an “assistant” cemetery that took on the overflow from others that were inside of the walled city.
These were typically poor people.
Over time, more wealthy and famous people were buried in the same grounds and its popularity as a final resting place grew.
About a month ago, it was announced that the cemetery has dedicated a burial plot for the city’s homeless, which, intentional or not, in some ways reaches back to its roots.
Though others like Père Lachaise in Paris and Brompton in London are still up there on my list, this is quite possibly my new favourite cemetery.
It was different in a lot of ways.
It was both natural and manicured. It also had no toys or balloons or other sentimental objects placed on the graves like you see so often in London.
I thought it was appropriate that Hans Christian Andersen is buried here; walking through Assistens Cemetery feels a bit like walking through a fairy tale.