Copenhood pt. 3: Vesterbro
Some of my fondest memories of Copenhagen involve biking to & from school and through the industrial heart of the city and it’s residential core that borders it. The daily routine of returning to my temporary home never became monotonous due to the canal and chiming bells in this area that indicated an hour had passed. Over the past 6 months, I learned to call this heavily biked area home. It’s named the Western borough, or Vesterbro in Dansk, a neighborhood situated in the Southwestern part of Copenhagen.
Historically, Vesterbro hasn’t been known for being a family-friendly residential area. Rather, it’s served as the city’s red light district (lovely..) for the past 300 years or so after it was moved away from the city’s core in Nyhavn. However, the area has been recently gentrified and it is now home to one of the most happening scenes in the city. Even though Copenhagen supposedly has one of the largest prostitution scenes in Europe, families don’t seem to mind as they just avoid a street or two at night and look the other way at the sight of a sex shop. The weird thing is, I haven’t really seen that many ‘ladies of the night’ when walking through this area even though I’ve read about it in school..anyways, I’m just rambling at this point so let’s move on to what really matters in Vesterbro – food, cafés, & nightlife.
If you’re looking to get some grub in Copenhagen, Vesterbro’s two main streets, Istedgade & Vesterbrogade, are the places to go whether you’re classy (and therefore eat classy food) or if you’re like me and live on a shoestring budget, which leads to a diet composed of kebab, shawarma, & falafel. Sorry Seattlites – the pho here generally costs around 100 Danish krone/ $20, so even that’s out of the equation. Vesterbrogade is littered with pricey hotels, trendy restaurants and overpriced ethnic food. On the other hand, the edgy, gritty Istedgade has some of the best shawarma joints every other building, primarily due to the large immigrant population in Vesterbro – most of which are from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt & Somalia. Their next-door neighbors are often baristas who serve up some of the best coffee in the city – Bang & Jensen, or as I liked to say, “Bangin’ Jensen”, was where I spent multiple long nights working on my grueling 25 page final essays when I wasn’t being distracted by the crazy conversations of drunk Danes. It ended up being one of my favorites.
Just east of Istedgade along the train tracks you’ll find Kødbyen, or the Meatpacking District – which is exactly what is sounds like in the day but come nighttime, the hanging cow hides are locked in the freezer and the white square-shaped combine turns into an adult playground. Built in the 17th century to be the center of Copenhagen’s large livestock industry, it has since been turned into a multi-use venue in 2000 with bars, clubs, restaurants, packing complexes & art galleries. At night, dance music leaks from the clubs that line the complex and intoxicated Danes stumble from bar to bar until the sun rises (which is at 3:30 in the summertime). Meatpacking is incredibly pricey but often worth it – the music selection at the clubs are miles better than the painfully awful pop rave tunes that drown your eardrums in Indre By (city center). To make things better, a well-known Meatpacking club by the name of KBIII brings big international names from the electronic scene such as Nicolas Jaar & Just Blaze among others. If you want to swap the touristy bar scene for a truly Danish nightlife, Kødbyen is for you.
Vesterbro occupies a special place in my heart considering it was where I was woken by chirping birds on a daily basis. It became a morning routine to stand by my window, cup of tea in hand, and look out to the entrance of the lovely little cemetery name Vestre Kirkegård as joggers came and went. The cemetery was only a short stroll from my front door, and it became a good place to unwind from a long day; taking a walk past the centuries-old tombstones and through the tree-lined pathways has a certain sense of tranquility to it. It’s not a bad place to spend time – I’m sure the politicians and Danish figureheads that are buried there would agree.