Last day for the old chestnut
Vesterbro residents acknowledge an old friend and the end of an era A wake is to be held this afternoon for a century-old Vesterbro resident who isn’t yet dead. Kastanjen (‘the chestnut’) is a 114-year-old horse chestnut tree that has...
A wake is to be held this afternoon for a century-old Vesterbro resident who isn’t yet dead.
Kastanjen (‘the chestnut’) is a 114-year-old horse chestnut tree that has held centre court on Vesterbro’s Enghave Plads Square, serving as a meeting place and playground for five generations of Vesterbro residents. On Wednesday night the old tree will be cut down to make way for a new subway station.
But before the chainsaws are started, the neighbourhood will hold a wake for the tree; poems will be read, toasts will be made, and beer will be drunk (‘gravøl’ – the Danish word for ‘wake’ – literally translates as ‘grave beer’, afterall).
For 114 years, while Vesterbro changed from workers’ neighbourhood to junkies’ slum to artist’s enclave, to family district, Kastanjen grew in height and breadth and history. In its final years, its leaves reached higher than the four and five story buildings that surrounded it on Enghave Plads Square.
When citizens learned that the city’s Metro Cityring subway plans called for Kastanjen to be cut down, they rallied to save the old neighbourhood landmark. But they lost the fight. The subway must be built – and besides, it was learned, the old tree was showing signs of rot.
Realising that Kastanjen would soon be history, two writers, Louise Albers and Stina Mott, interviewed long-time Copenhagen residents about their memories and experiences around the old tree. Their book, ‘En Ode til Kastanjen’ (‘An ode to the chestnut’) was published last year. In it you can read about a golden anniversary couple who met each other beneath Kastanjen, about people who grew up swinging from its branches and playing chase around its trunk, and about friends who continued to gather beneath its leaves in rain and shine for a beer and a sausage, a coffee, and a conversation, until subway construction began.
Throughout spring and summer 2011, Enghave Plads Square was fenced off and excavations for the new subway line went on around the tree. When the excavation phase finished in August, and the construction fences came down, the neighbourhood took up its usual place – drinking beer, picnicking, playing and talking – around the chestnut tree.
But the reunion was short-lived. It’s time for Kastanjen to come down. While construction on the subway station does not begin until February, the bats that sleep in its branches go into winter hibernation in October. To avoid disturbing them, the tree must be taken down before the bats bed down.
Following Wednesday’s wake, the tree-felling crews will come in. By Thursday morning, Kastanjen will be cut down and Enghave Plads Square will be a very different place.
The wake for Kastanjen, with readings, a DJ, and beer on tap will be held from 4:30 until 6:30 pm today at Enghave Plads.
The Danish Arts Agency has granted artists Kristian Bartholin Holm, Petter Brandberg and Sigurd Elling funds to transform the felled tree into a public art piece for Vesterbro.