For some reason, going to cemeteries is a tourist activity. This is pretty strange, considering that travel brochures for most towns – except perhaps New Orleans – generally don’t mention all the great cemeteries that you can visit while staying in such and such town. Yet, I always seem to end up going to cemeteries when I visit European cities. This past weekend, when Heather and I were in København, we stopped in just one cemetery: Assistens Kierkegård. As some of the photographs on that Wikipedia page will reveal, Assistens has somewhat more of a park vibe than a cemetery vibe. Though we didn’t see any sunbathers, we did come across some wildlife:
But, aside from chasing magpies through a park full of graves, we actually stopped at Assistens to see the graves of a couple of famous Danes: Hans Christian Andersen, Niels Bohr, and Søren Kierkegaard. (That last of these, ironically, has a surname that means cemetery.)
While the locations of these graves is public knowledge – and the cemetery provided a convenient map to help locate them – they didn’t seem to have the same extravagant appearance of some other graves I’ve been to in Europe, like those of Beethoven and Mozart that I saw in Vienna in 2006. (Note that despite the pattern of cemetery-related behavior, I still find it weird that graves are tourist attractions.)
Indeed, the pictures of the gravesites of Andersen, Bohr, and Kierkegaard, show that these incredibly famous Danes have relatively modest graves that are hardly prominent or excessively decorated with flowers, candles, and the like. Indeed, Kierkegaard doesn’t even have top-billing on his own gravestone. Assistens was actually surprisingly nice and had little of either the awe-inspiring characteristics of large American cemeteries nor the creepy, haunted vibe of some European cemeteries (i.e., those in Prague).
Instead, the cemetery was – as would be appropriate for anything Danish – cozy. Full of trees, shrubs, and flowers (though they weren’t really in bloom at the moment), the cemetery was just a nice place for people to walk their dogs, chat with friends, or spend a somewhat chilly afternoon. I guess that coziness is what makes Danes want to visit cemeteries. And tourists, as well. I still find it strange that cemeteries seem to always fall on the travel agenda, but this cemetery really exceeded expectations.