What's Up, Dock?
Copenhagen's postindustrial waterfront is turning into a nice place to spend an afternoon—or longer.
It's Sunday around 3 p.m. at Halvandet: Dance music wafts through the thatched-roof open-air bar, coworkers play miniature golf on a sand-strewn course, and young Danes in jeans and dresses lounge about in beach chairs, sipping bottles of Tuborg. No one minds that Halvandet is a "beach bar" without an actual beach.
Like many cities with industrial ports, Copenhagen built docks and warehouses along its harbor, turning it into an area that tourists and the vast majority of Danes never visited. But over the past decade, the shipping industry has shrunk and naval bases have closed, and the city has been transforming waterfront warehouses and docks into parks, cultural centers, restaurants—and even seasonal bars and swimming pools.
Copenhagen straddles two islands, and its harbor runs along the edges of both in the northeastern part of the city. Prominent sites, like Tivoli and the Strøget shopping drag, are on the west, while the best-known part of the east is the Christiania community. In addition to several bridges, municipal "water buses" connect the two sides, shuttling between the Royal Danish Playhouse, which opened in February, and the Copenhagen Opera House, north of Christiania, built in 2004.
Not far from the opera house, sidewalks disappear; urbanness gives way to meadows and small lakes dotted with herons. "This whole area used to be a military base blocked off by a big fence. No one knew what was behind it," says Camilla Roslind. She and her partner, Jan Flemming, bought an 18th-century ammunition warehouse when the Danish navy abandoned its Copenhagen base and started selling off its holdings. Last June, Camilla and Jan opened Krudthuset, a kid-friendly, organic restaurant, in the space.
Krudthuset—along with the theater and the opera house—is actually part of a second wave of development in the new harborfront neighborhoods. The first was less official. "Where the opera house now stands, people had just tossed out sand and opened beach bars," says Birthe Bertelsen, a development consultant for the city of Copenhagen. "There was a time lapse between the old use ending and the new use of the space beginning." Indeed, Camilla and Jan held underground parties in another warehouse that they've since converted into apartments.
Those bars closed when construction on the opera house began, but others, like Halvandet, have cropped up elsewhere along the harbor. After being in operation for more than five years, Halvandet finally received a temporary license from the city last summer. "I invested 4 million kroners [$800,000] into this bar, so it was a huge victory," says owner Jens-Peter Brask. Rasmus Pors, founder of one of the original beach bars, is now behind Kulturkajen Docken, a cultural center and beach bar that opened last summer in the northwestern harbor area of Østerbro.
Established developers are also getting involved. In late 2006, British design guru Terence Conran transformed an abandoned customhouse-cum-ferry terminal near the Royal Danish Playhouse into a complex called Custom House, home to three restaurants. Custom House has since added an outdoor terrace overlooking the opera house on the opposite side of the harbor and now sells packages that cover dinner, post-opera drinks, and the five-minute water-taxi ride to and from the performance.
The city liked Custom House so much that it's using it as the anchor for a new waterfront area with a restaurant, a promenade, and an outdoor event space; the first phase is under construction.
The harbor's first waterfront park was in the Islands Brygge neighborhood to the south, on Amager Island. The city set up a temporary swimming pool in the harbor in 2002; public support was so strong that the following summer, the city replaced the pool with a permanent structure, Havnebadet. It has five pools, one with two high dives. "Areas get popular when there's something to do there," explains Nanna Sørensen, manager of a waterfront cultural festival, Kulturhavn, that takes place every August.
The original Havnebadet pool was towed across the harbor; it sits near Copenhagen Island, a hotel that opened in 2006. For those who want to actually stay on the water, not just on the waterfront, there's a 12-room houseboat hotel, CPH Living, debuting this month about 100 yards north of Havnebadet. Rates were initially set to be around $175 but are now projected to start at $300—a sure sign that the demand for a harborfront experience is only on the rise.
Kalvebod Brygge 53, 011-45/3338-9600, copenhagenisland.dk, from $200