The Prophet of Copenhagen

Yesterday, my wife, Pam, and I, returned from a 12 day cruise of the Baltic. As you might imagine, we’ve seen some amazing sights, from palaces and cathedrals in St. Petersburg, Russia, to the fairytale-like Tallin in Estonia. But the highlight of the trip for me, was to seek out anything relating to a thinker I’ve long admired, Soren Kierkegaard, who lived in Denmark in the 19th century. Last Sunday, 20th July, our ship docked in Copenhagen, Kierkegaard’s home town, and we set out to explore; I with great excitement clutching a list of the things I should see and Pam trying to look as interested as she possibly could.

After a couple of hours, during which time we’d found one sad looking statue of Kierkegaard and failed to find one of his dwelling places, we arrived at the City Museum. When I enquired as to the location of the ‘Kierkegaard Room’, the receptionist at the main desk gave a strange little smile as he pointed the way. When we found the room, I understood why: it is a tiny place measuring maybe 3 or 4 square metres. In the room are two pieces of furniture; Kierkegaard’s writing desk and a cupboard he was fond of. There are some glass fronted cabinets containing a few artefacts and a sign on the wall pointing out that; ‘Most of Kierkegaard’s possessions have been scattered to the winds.’ Although I felt disappointed, I also felt deeply moved, and, as I stood beside his beloved writing desk, I knew that somehow, this small, inadequate exhibition was right; it was enough.

We left the museum and walked the mile or two to the Norrebro cemetery, where Kierkegaard is buried. As we entered the graveyard in the hot sunshine, we were soon greeted with signs pointing to the grave of Hans Christian Andersen. These were numerous and beautifully painted in a rich green and we soon found ourselves standing before the grave of the celebrated children’s author. The headstone is surrounded by beautiful topiary and the site is covered in a profusion of fresh red and white flowers; a wonderful and tasteful memorial to the great story-teller (who is, I am informed, a hero of the gay lobby). But still, no indication as to the place I was looking for.

After wandering for quite a while, we eventually came across a little black sign which simply said ‘Soren Kierkegaard’, with an arrow pointing off to the right.  After walking for several minutes with no further signs, we came to a junction of several pathways. There was still no indication as to which way we should go. A couple of gardeners were working nearby, so I asked one if he spoke English and he nodded. I simply said (as a question), ‘Kierkegaard?’ The gardener spread his hands indicating the ground around him and said ‘Yeah; this is kierkegaard.’ Foolishly, I’d momentarily forgotten that ‘kierkegaard’ is the Danish word for ‘churchyard’. I explained further and the gardener directed us off up another pathway, though I wasn’t at all sure that he’d understood me. However, eventually, through some trial and error, we found the grave.

Soren Aabye Kierkegaard is buried in a family grave, his name appearing fourth down the list. The site is untidy, the stones and railings uneven and the grass which covers the grave long and untended; there are no flowers. Again, this somehow felt right.  Kierkegaard himself would not have been at all surprised at the Danish nation’s scant recognition of his genius. And I’ve no doubt that he’d be unsurprised and unperturbed to find that the greater honour should go to a writer of children’s fairy stories.

  1. I understand Soren was a hated man and that his name, Soren, became a major major insult.

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