A declaration of love to 100 meters of city street

A declaration of love to 100 meters of city street
Essay | Written by: Bo Jessen | Translated by: Malte Joe Frid-Nielsen | Wednesday, October 31, 2018

I’ve stood there so many times on my way home. A place that had been a foreign, maybe even hostile land throughout my youth at the other end of Odense. A place that was outside the sphere of my understanding – a gateway to a whole other world inhabited by doctors, local football legends and other fabulous creatures whose existence I could barely imagine.

On the corner of Hunderupvej and Læssøegade, under the enormous oak that – I always note – quite meticulously twists and turns each of the yellow tiles placed over its giant roots. A sort of slow wrestling match between civilization and nature, where nature decides to move another brick every time the mason turns his back, just to see if he’ll keep coming back to sprinkle the sand again. Sprinkling sand and righting the lines.

I’ve stood there again and again – waiting for green at the crosswalk. The time is never so long that my thoughts untether from my senses, but just enough that impressions become something other than clear-cut observations. A grounded dream world.

I look up along Hunderupvej. It’s a damn good space. I think that every time. A space for people.

If it is a warm evening – regardless of the day of the week – the windows at Carlsens are slightly ajar. Often helped along by a shoe or a shirt instead of the traditional clasp. As if to somehow skirt the fact that the closest neighbors can hear everything that gets said, shouted or laughed inside. The windows are dappled with pearls of steam and a soft light shapes the sidewalk and the hundreds of bicycles that have brought night-roused beer enthusiasts to the pub. On the stoop that faces the city there are often a couple of men smoking, or friends, waiting for other cyclists to arrive from one of the other corners of the world. Arms are thrown aloft, hugs clog the sidewalk, smiles are shared.

When I’m standing there waiting, there’s just time enough for irritation. About Barfoed’s ugly zinc pennant logos, which – infuriatingly – have appropriated the space and the history swaying over the two distinguished buildings on the corners of Hunderupvej and Læssøegade.

The light turns green and I walk up Hunderupvej. I look up at the roof of the street, where the false acacias - or Robinias, I think they are – tower. These are trees that green late and shed their leaves early, but regardless of the season present a picturesque crown that grants the urban space a roof and an even more human character. When I walk there in the early summer, I am overwhelmed by the sweet and lightly perfumed scent from the trees’ giant clusters of white pea-flower looking blooms. An aroma that is even more present because I know its time is so brief. Then the flowers are carried away by the wind and down onto the street. Here, they comprise a fine white runner, which frames the street’s dance, where the stories of passers-by are briefly woven together. It reminds me of Jane Jacobs’ image of the good city’s streets, where people meet one another in an improvised ballet:

"This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations."

I walk past Carlsens and arrive at the crook of Hunderupvej. On the right, the sidewalk is wide and the buildings shaped by everyday necessities – simple, but relatively nice, with high basement windows, each telling its own story. Most are rental units. On the left side are the majestic, decorated perimeter-block buildings – both sides engaged in a quiet conversation about red bricks. Successful integration without assimilation.

I think about the Hunderupvej of days past. Back when the cable car carried cheerful weekending Odensians up the street to Hunderup Forest. Back when front yards filled most of the now-broad sidewalks.

And it reminds me that the tall cellar windows are on the right side because it was here that the noises and smells of trade abounded, only troubling the commoners upstairs. Like J.P. Jensens Butchery and Meats on Hunderupvej 23, which later housed a camera shop. Or the little greengrocer’s that sold milk for Sanderum Dairy in number 29. Back when day-to-day life was the street and the street lived day-to-day.

The left side of the street was free from this sort of thing, because it was populated by the upper class (it probably still is). The left side of the street, where every single building still manages to strike an almost symphonic harmony between unique, beautiful ornamentation on the individual units and an architectural sense of wholeness throughout the block. Noblesse Oblige. Old money that doesn’t shirk its responsibility to the town that made it. Like Anton Rosen’s protected building from 1902 at Hunderupvej 34, erected in tile, sandstone and cement. Perhaps a bit too decorative, I think. Though still with a copper pennant which reads 1902 instead of Barfoed.

And on the highest balcony, I sometimes see a couple of young men hanging out in their work clothes. Drinking a beer and talking about girls, I imagine. They really don’t belong there on the left side, I’ve often thought, and wonder if they live there, if they know that they are sitting on a balcony that was designed by one of Denmark’s finest architects? And then again - it’s kind of a moving thought, I think.

My gaze drifts back to the right side. Maybe history isn’t so far away, or maybe it moves in circles. In the basement of number 29, some of the inhabitants have opened a little shop where they sell their own art and will sharpen your knives for you on special fine-grained whetstones and leather straps. They also have a little table and a couple of chairs where they sit when the sun approaches noon – where they join the dancing street. They don’t understand why so many people choose to sit in their back yards, they’ve told me – and they’re quite right. Here on the street there’s room to be yourself and become a part of others at the same time.

100 meters of street where people meet. A ballroom with a green roof for pedestrians. A portal between two worlds. 100 meters of street that tell stories about the daily life of past times and perhaps about the future. Maybe this little patch of street is a reminder about possible futures for other streets in Odense, where it will be possible to live, exist, trade, meet and drink a drop of fellowship on a warm summer’s evening. Where high and low can live side-by-side. A street where life is lived in urban spaces, built for people.

This is the endpoint of my journey. This is my home. Even though I still tell people that I live by Carlsens, and not on Hunderupvej.

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