Bakken then and now
Dyrehavsbakken is the oldest amusement park in the world, and has been a firm favourite with the people of Copenhagen since it opened for the first time in 1583. Today, Dyrehavsbakken – or “Bakken” as it is known locally – is the finest example we have of genuine Danish popular culture. Kirsten Piil, the woman who discovered the spring of water in the Dyrehaven Park in 1583, could surely never have imagined that she was sowing the first seed of the amusement park we know and love today.
The water of health
The discovery of the spring in 1583 was an important event. Pure water from ancient natural sources was a big draw for people of the time. And with good reason. In 1583, clean water was highly prized and difficult to find within the ramparts that encircled Royal Copenhagen. The water in the city was known as “Eel soup” – and its taste is best left to the imagination! Therefore, pure spring water was revered and even considered to have curative properties – especially around Midsummer’s Eve, when tradition held that spring water was at its most potent. This naturally drew large crowds to the spring. In rickety carts, in carriages and on foot, people from every level of society flocked to the spring in the search of a cure for various ailments.
Naturally, large crowds of people always draw hawkers and entertainers. One story relates that a crockery smashing stall was set up by the spring after a potter came up with the idea of telling people that the healing powers of the water could be increased by drinking it from a newly made bowl. Not all the bowls turned out quite right, however, and the chipped and deformed efforts were set up in rows – and the local lads then paid a small fee to use them for target practice.
The spring has not always been open to the people. Jægersborg Dyrehave, where the spring is located, was actually on royal hunting grounds for centuries. Had it not been for a king 300 years ago who was particularly fond of hunting, Dyrehave park would not have been as large as it is today. In 1669, King Frederik III decided to set up an animal park, which he called Stokkerup Dyrehave. This was only small, a situation that his son – Christian V – rectified when he became king in 1670. As the crown prince, Christian V had visited King Louis XIV (the Sun King) in France, where he was enthralled by par force hunting – a form of hunting for deer or foxes performed on horseback and involving large numbers of dogs and beaters. The quarry was hunted until it wilted from exhaustion, and the king was then summoned to administer the coup de grâce with a long, thin dagger. Exercising his newly acquired regal authority, Christian V ordered the immediate extension of Dyrehaven park to 3–4 times its existing size, i.e. to around 1,500 ha. In the centre of Dyrehaven park lay the village of Stokkerup; from where the villagers were driven to take up residence in farms further afield that had lain abandoned since the Swedish Wars. A woven fence of hazel and juniper encircled Jægersborg Dyrehave, which was officially named in 1671. Some sections of this old fence can still be seen near the red gates.
The animal population originally consisted of red and fallow deer, but was expanded through the introduction of white stags from Württemberg. The descendents of these animals can still be seen today, and the animal population in the park numbers approximately 2,000 red, fallow and Sika deer.
In 1736 the magnificent rococo palace “Eremitagen” was built on the orders of Christian VI, and this architectural treasure has nestled beside the Eremitage Plain ever since.
Street entertainers and Pjerrot at Bakken
During the reign of Christian V, Dyrehaven park had been closed to the general public, and it was not until 1756, during the time of Frederik V, that the area where entertainers and innkeepers had set up shop by Kirsten Piil’s Spring was opened to all once more. It was also at that time that the popular Midsummer festivals were revived. The hastily erected tents started to spread from the area around the spring to the nearby hill, where travelling players, line dancers, bear tamers, equestrian performers and mechanical wonders became a fixed part of the amusements on offer.
The reputation of the hill in Dyrehaven park spread throughout Europe and attracted a stream of artists and entertainers. Beneath the tree sat Lewin the Jew, who became a famous troubadour, and in 1795 James Price arrived with his troupe of artists and line dancers. James Price received Danish citizenship and went on to become the pater familias of the famous clan that has launched many a famous Price to stardom in the world of theatre.
The year of 1800 saw the arrival of Pjerrot, who went on to become one of the best-loved characters at Bakken. The Pjerrot figure is around 4,000 years old and originally hails from Turkey. The figure gradually reached all parts of Europe and 500 years ago underwent something of a renaissance in the Italian Commedia dell’ Arte, where he appeared as a playful apprentice miller who was hopelessly in love with the beautiful Columbine. The Pjerrot figure also had a large mouth at that time, but whereas today the big lips are painted on, back then the poor artist actually had his mouth cut larger. The first Pjerrot at Bakken was Casorti, the Italian artist, who performed pantomime. Since then, Pjerrot transformed into a tow eating character whom primarily performed magic tricks and puppet theatre. The tradition of the magic tricks and puppet theatre lives on but Pjerrot no longer eats tow. “Far too unhealthy,” explains Bakken’s Pjerrot.
Steamships and railways
The Napoleonic wars at the start of the nineteenth century put a stop to the immigration of foreign artists for a number of years, but the fun and frolics at Dyrehavsbakken continued unabated. Bakken blossomed as never before and was popular with all layers of society. This was probably due in large part to the fact that it became a tradition for the authors and poets of the time to describe the bliss of Dyrehaven park and Bakken.
Bakken also became more accessible. Strandvejen road was considerably improved in 1808, and in 1820 the first steamship in Denmark started to ply the route between Langelinie and Bellevue. Later on, in 1864, the railway reached Klampenborg.
In 1840, Dyrehavsbakken received official permission to extend “spring time” by three weeks, so it could open for an 8-week season. The spring itself had almost lost its significance and it was Bakken itself that drew the crowds. More and more of the tents were replaced by wooden booths that housed a veritable cornucopia of waffle bakeries, eateries, skittle alleys, flea circuses, steam carousels, street entertainers and dance halls.
The entertainment world of Copenhagen was developing at an explosive rate, and 1843 saw Carstensen open Copenhagen’s Summer Tivoli on Vesterbrogade. The new fairground soon began to draw on its big brother’s – i.e. Bakken’s – centuries of experience. And its public. For example, it was N.H. Volkersen, the Bakken Pjerrot, who brought pantomime to Tivoli, where he stayed for 50 years.
The Dyrehavsbakken Tent Owners’ Association formed in 1885
The booths at Bakken were owned by “tent owners”, a term that is still used today. On 10 June 1885, 16–17 of Bakken’s 100 or so tent owners joined forces to found the Dyrehavsbakken Tent Owners’ Association of 1885. The primary goal of this association was to improve the primitive conditions at Bakken. Before that time, wastewater and rainwater were channelled away through ditches that criss-crossed the area, and toilet facilities were unheard of. Drinking water was collected from the spring, and washing up water came from the Kildesøen lake. Rubbish piled up behind the booths and electricity was an unknown concept.
The association set up large wooden containers for solid waste and organised special areas for burning paper. In just a few years, a decent refuse collection system was in place and all rubbish was taken away. The next project focused on the water. The volume of water in the spring was dropping dramatically, and the newly dug wells were failing to keep up with demand. In 1908, Bakken was linked to the Lyngby-Taarbæk water main. Things went a little more slowly with electricity, which did not reach Bakken until 1911. The association also took responsibility for a shared marketing campaign and the accounts for 1906 show that DKK 84,95 was spent on advertising the season in a variety of journals and local guides. Bakken’s sewers were not completed until the 1920s. Today, all tent owners are required to join the Dyrehavsbakken Tent Owners’ Association of 1885.
Amuse yourself – or others
Bakken was the place to go to have fun. And there was no shortage of entertainment. Booths with names such as Kramers Varité, Den Glade Gøgler and Rosenhaven paraded Hottentots, legless ladies and escape artists like never before.
The first cabarets arrived when J.L. Andersen – also known as Andersen the Jew – opened Sansouci in 1866. It was a roaring success from the start and a light-hearted addition to the life of Bakken. Sansouci achieved fame and notoriety in equal measure through the outspoken singer Julie Westermann, one of the first women’s libbers of the age. Sansouci introduced the popular Danish sing-along song “I skovens dybe, stille ro” (In the deep and peaceful quiet of the woods) which is still going strong to this day.
In 1877, J.L. Andersen opened his second cabaret, Bakkens Hvile, which still exists as the only establishment of its kind in the world. Bakkens Hvile soon became famous throughout Denmark for its wonderful chorus girls – tall, short, tubby and thin – who performed in daring costumes, delighting the men and shocking the women. Many delightful singers including Cleo and Käthe Vogelius have sung at Bakkens Hvile. Today, the chorus girls are still as popular at Bakkens Hvile and indeed throughout Denmark, with the famous duo of Dot and Tina often going on tour in the winter months. Bakkens Hvile is a cultural treasure that proudly celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2002.
Kirsten Piil’s spring had long since dried up, but another crowd magnet appeared in the early 1900s. Over the years, the Circus Revue, which opened in 1935, has gladdened the heart of many a visitor to Bakken. And it is still going strong. Poul Guldager, the actor, and Osvald Helmuth originally dreamt up the idea for the Circus Revue. The concept was matured and implemented in collaboration with Oscar Holst, the director, Herman Gellin and Carl Petersson. After a rocky start, ticket sales began to pick up. Success – and healthy balance sheets – soon followed. Since then, success after success has passed through the big top at Bakken, and many of Denmark’s leading actors have trodden the hallowed boards here. Classic performances that Danes recall with affection include Elga Olga’s “Solitudevej”, Dirch Passer’s “Op å då” and Daimi in “Hvem har du kysset i din gadedør”.
Out on Bakken itself, things were really moving, too. Rides were becoming increasingly popular and in 1931 work started on the Roller Coaster – Bakken’s hallmark. It was completed in 1932 and attracted so many people that the ticket booth was literally trampled underfoot. The Irish engineer, Walter Quinlan, built the track. The Roller Coaster is still one of the most popular attractions at Bakken, even though many other and more modern attractions including Mine Train, Ulven and TårnGyset have been added over the years.
There was also plenty of outdoor entertainment, and at the Open Air Stage, people gathered to watch everything from daredevil human cannonballs and clowns to musical performances by Danish and foreign artists.
The Great TRIBINI – party president, entertainer, professor and more – flawlessly implemented one crazy idea after another. These included parades through the streets, hunt-the-needle games, and fancy dress parties. TRIBINI lived from 25 August 1915 until 13 November 1973.
The history of Dyrehavsbakken is long, and its traditions many
And Bakken cherishes its traditions. Bakken has always been a place where everyone could feel welcome, irrespective of standing, status or dress – and so it will continue to be. A walk in the woods, a trip around Bakken … as the Bakken Waltz so often sung in Bakkens Hvile poetically relates: “Let’s go to the green woods, the fine woods, yours and mine woods; If fun and games are the order of the day, no-one at all will stand in your way. Dyrehavsbakken is where we’ll meet. For all we need, a real treat”.
And Kirsten Piil’s spring is still flowing – although with a little help from the Lyngby-Taarbæk water company…
Dyrehavsbakken – the oldest amusement part in the world – welcomes 2.5–2.7 million visitors a year. This number puts Bakken firmly in second place on the list of the most popular attractions in Denmark – and tenth in Europe, in competition with giant multinational theme parks. But this is where all comparison ends.
Bakken has 160 businesses packed into an area of 75,000 m2 in a unique location surrounded by green, green woods. 57 self-employed business operators who are still known as ”tent owners” own these businesses. They run their businesses in accordance with traditions that date back centuries – as well as a set of more formal regulations – on pitches leased from the Danish Forest and Nature Agency.
This unusual organisational structure gives Bakken a special, non-streamlined character distinguished by a relaxed atmosphere and an ambience marked by the tent owners’ strong personal commitment and the multifariousness that they and their “tents” represent. True Danish popular culture at its very best.
So there is good reason why Bakken has a large pool of loyal visitors for whom a trip to Bakken is a natural part of the summer season.
No matter why they come – for a meal, for a dance to live music, to enjoy the rides and other amusements, or simply to take a stroll, soak up the atmosphere and be entertained – admission is always free.