In order to enjoy another softer, quieter celebration, I walked out one evening through Nørre Port (the North Gate) to the so-called Assistens Cemetery. 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.
Having woken up one morning and unable to sleep (adjusting to those long Scandinavian nights), I decided to have an early breakfast and enjoy a brisk walk to see Assistens Cemetery, which opened at 7 am. Except for the occasional early bird stroller or cyclist, I had the grounds to myself and enjoyed admiring the details of each individual monument and their plantings. My experience was an reenactment of Nicander’s pleasant stroll through Assistens Cemetery.
Assistens Cemetery has much in common with Massachusetts’s Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first rural cemetery in United States. Both subscribed to the romantic notion of death and afterlife when previous cultural perceptions were otherwise melancholy and heavy. Their funereal monuments are set among leafy trees and shrubs and grassy swathes, not cramped uncomfortably in traditional graveyards. Assistens and Mount Auburn Cemeteries emerged at a time when picnicking was a popular recreational activity in these places of mourning. They were the rare tranquil greenspaces where urban dwellers could find respite amidst greenery. Both cemeteries have the privileged distinction of having celebrated individuals interred on the premises. One of Assistens Cemetery’s famous burials is that of Danish writer Hans Andersen Christian who wrote ‘The Little Mermaid’.
Assistens is partitioned into several sections organized by letters such as ‘A’ or ‘Q’; hedges or walls either signify the sectional changes.
Here a beautiful old wall divides two sections; behind one can see a beautiful weeping Fagus sylvatica and a Gingko biloba.
A central walk made prominent with a poplar allee transects two-thirds of the cemetery’s length.
Everywhere you walk, you cannot help notice how the cemetery’s serenity comes from the beautiful trees and shrubs, its charm from the hand-forged railings and monuments, and its atmosphere from the contrasting dark and light.
Mature trees are crucial to making Assistens a cooling buffer from urban heat and pollution, as well as filtering light to flatter the monuments.
In some areas, the greenery seems to swallow threateningly the statuary and tombstones, giving a natural and romantic mood.
In a modern culture that emphasizes youth over age, instant gratification over patience, and materialism over emotional fulfillment, Assistens Cemetery reminds us that death can be a peaceful experience because the mystery of one’s afterlife will stay a perpetual one, the outcome of which eternally feed imagination and speculation. It is a detour that will bring unexpected contemplation and introspection. ~Eric