Enghave Plads: The Heart of Vesterbro Revived
Does one of the best squares in the city still have room for vagrants? This question needed answering as Enghave Plads prepared for a new Metro station.
In the not too distant past, Enghave Plads was a gathering place for the city’s vagrants and other vulnerable people. They used the square as their living room, and left a clear mark on the urban landscape. But in 2019, the renovation of the old square from 1897 was complete, and now the city’s drifters have been given their own little urban space at the far end of the square – behind a daycare playground and high beech hedges, secluded from the rush and bustle of everyday life.
The square has been revived as a Metro forecourt – possibly the most social forecourt in Copenhagen. One architecture critic went so far as to call it a conversational therapy urban space. Here there is plenty of seating, greenery and a beautiful little fountain. And surrounding the square, one café after another has opened its doors. A number of specially designed benches have been strategically placed around the square. An example of successful design, they are a natural fit in the colorful neighborhood.
“Istedgade will never surrender!”
Building something new in Vesterbro has become something of a balancing act, and history has proven time and again that the locals will not accept just anything. Enghave Plads is no exception. Before the renovation, the square was home to a 114-year-old chestnut tree. When the tree was to be felled, the residents put up a strong fight with demonstrations and petitions. The chestnut tree was eventually felled, but not before a promise was made to plant a new tree. Locals can probably still see the old tree and recall the lives that were lived under its splendid crown.
Both the tree and the debate about the vagrants at Enghave Plads are “classic Vesterbro”. This urban district prides itself on its tolerance and solidarity. The area around the square is home to, among other things, a women’s shelter, the Arkona drop-in shelter for vulnerable Greenlanders, and the Salvation Army’s shelter. Today, however, the streetscape is dominated more by well-off urban dwellers and their cafés and clothes stores. But the Vesterbro spirit still lives on in the slogan: “Istedgade will never surrender”.
- The slogan “Istedgade will never surrender” was coined at the end of WWII, when the Communist Party dropped fliers down on Copenhagen during the general strike of 1944. The quote in its full length read: “Rome and Paris you might take, but Stalingrad and Istedgade will never surrender.”
- Many food critics have passed through Copenhagen since the new wave of high gastronomy was kick-started by Noma back in the early ’10s. One of the more interesting is American rapper Action Bronson, who in his VICE documentary “Fuck, that’s delicious” was left speechless by the fancy restaurants Noma and Amass, but also by the simple kebab joint Kebabistan at Istedgade 105.
In Saxogade, you will find Settlementet, which runs a number of shops and cafés as social-economic enterprises. Grab the “dish of the day” at Café Sonja, and support a meaningful joint venture, or visit Fredes Woodshop, where people carrying all kinds of personal baggage meet to do woodworking together. The products are sold in the neighboring green shop: Grønne Kræfter.