Old European cities were centered around the city, the richer you were the closer you lived to the city. The more ‘wretched’ you were, the further you lived from the city. Copenhagen’s geography provided a natural demarcation – everything around the city centre (Indre By) was for the poor labourers and working class. This was of cause a very long time ago, and as Copenhagen has grown and the city limits expanded, things have changed significantly.
Today, the districts around the city have shed their once squalid image to become some of the most fashionable places to stay in Copenhagen. It is in fact one of the most happening cities in the world, one that many people profess a love for, and that reputation is not simply because of the fairy-tale like tourist sites in the centre of the old city. The districts outside Indre By, those of Nørrebro and Vesterbro (bro is Danish for bridge, hence, North Bridge, East Bridge and West Bridge respectively) are some of the coolest places to be in the world. One of the capstones of hipness is Distortion, a city wide 5 day festival of music, alcohol and dancing.
But unlike a purely gentrified district, these places still retain a bit of an edge, that’s what makes them raw and authentic. The best way to package a seedy district is to sell it as an experience, and that’s something the tourism officials themselves do even today.
Its time to Know Your Copenhagen Bros 😉
Nørrebro, where Hipsters and Squatters live
Hipster locations in most cities are usually gentrified, but Nørrebro in Copenhagen keeps it real. It was the first part of town that boomed with new workers flooded into the city to seek their fortunes (after the geographic limits of Copenhagen were expanded. It therefore has become, and remains, the most multicultural part of Copenhagen with a glut of languages spoken in the area. It is in a way Copenhagen’s response to Kreuzberg in Berlin.
This is where you get the best kebabs in the city, where you go for a night out on the town. where you get vintage stuff and hygge in cool cafes. It isn’t always this way, Nørrebro’s edge shows up with the occasional flair up and clashing with law enforcement.
In the last 30 years, Nørrebro has been a site of consistent run-ins with law enforcement. In the 1980s violent clashes took place between the police and a militant group of squatters known as the BZ. In 1993, Copenhagen voted against joining the EU, against the rest of the country. A slight majority across Denmark prevailed and the yes vote to the EU won 56.7%-43.3%. This led to massive protests in Copenhagen, and most violently in Nørrebro. The most recent major riot in the area took place between 2006 and 2007, when the far-left (not the far-right) fought against the police over the fate of Ungdomshuset, an underground music scene and a rendezvous point of the Danish far left.
A decade on Nørrebro is still a political-left stronghold,
but as many would argue, take politics out, it is also one of the coolest parts of town to be a (here, here and here), and you can find some of the best dining in town, including the Michelin Starred Kiin Kiin, the only Thai restaurant with a Michelin star outside of Thailand.
ON THE MAP (Nørrebro)
Vesterbro, the meatpacking district with a little edginess
“Yo man, you want so good stuff, girls, weed, I got them all,” said a man in a hoodie as we walked past on our way towards Tivoli.
To be fair though, so as not to do a disservice to Istegarde, what is rough by Danish standards is not rough by global standards this is not Baltimore for example. The city has been cleaned up to so much that it does not feel dangerous, but merely edgy and many people are moving into the area because it is prime real estate location. Even the red-light district of Istegarde with its hidden brothels and sex toy shops is just that and does not match up the assertiveness that is seen in Amsterdam. Prostitution is a dangerous and stigmatised job, and the prostitutes do face abuse, although some good Samaritans are doing things to help.
Just like Norrebro, little was built in Vesterbro until the 1850s, when the city limits of Copenhagen were expanded. The places that were built before and after however have come to be some of the most popular sites in the city for within the confines of Vesterbro include Tivoli Gardens, Tycho Brahe Planetarium, the Copenhagen Museum and the Carlsberg district (where Carlsberg was born and brewed for sale).
Copenhagen is one of the pork capitals of the world and most of the preparation of the pork was done in the Kobyn, Meatpacking District, located also in Vesterbro.
There are no more abattoirs in the meatpacking district today, the sites where pigs were butchered now replaced by restaurants and diners, including for examples John’s Hotdog Deli, which is one of the best places to get a proper Copenhagen Hotdog.
While the meatpacking district is being increasingly gentrified, you can spy at some corners the edginess that is hidden from plain sight – poor people sleeping in the open, hiding at out at the back of the still un-gentrified parts of town.
It was the presence of these bloody industries such as meatpacking and the harbour that brought the workers to the area, and it was the presence of that demographic that gave Vesterbro its seedy reputation (when viewed by the snobbier parts of society). This reputation has begun to be shaken, with young professionals moving into the area.
If Norrebro is where the hipsters congregate, Vesterbro is where the classy/flashy make their place. It is here that you can find some of the most fancy restaurants in town, as well as the most fancy people.
ON THE MAP (Vesterbro)