Friday Sketchbook: Hans Christian Andersen Slept Here

Attic room with alcove bed, a tiny corner stove, a window, two dormer skylights. Eight by ten feet of rough pine floor space, a window shelf for a writing desk. Andersen's garret for the year of 1827, when he was 22 years old, studying for school entrance exams, impoverished but optimistic. Pencil in Moleskine 5" x 8" sketchbook.
Hans Christian Andersen’s Magasin du Nord attic room with alcove bed, a tiny corner stove, a window, two dormer skylights. Eight by ten feet of rough pine floor space and a window ledge for a writing desk. It was Andersen’s garret for the year of 1827, when he was 22 years old, studying for school entrance exams, impoverished but wildly optimistic. Pencil in Moleskine 5″ x 8″ sketchbook.

Magasin du Nord in Copenhagen is Denmark’s oldest department store, founded in 1870. They have the best scarf selection in town (my opinion), their housewares floor is a near-museum of Danish design, and their basement’s a wonderland of fancy foodstuffs. But 144 years ago, Magasin du Nord was Hotel du Nord, and there’s a secret literary museum concealed in Housewares, Third Floor. It’s tucked back behind the Miele vacuum cleaners and Bodum coffee pots, just past Gift Wrap Services.

Bodum coffee press pots and tea strainers. Nice colors.
Coffee press pots and tea strainers. Nice colors. They’re only there to deflect attention from Magasin du Nord’s mysterious Hans Christian Andersen Room.

That’s how you find the Hans Christian Andersen Room- by going through Gift Wrap. Make a sharp right at Blenders and follow the green carpet through a small door. Bypass the busy wrappers on your left and enter the hallway. It’s the first door on your right.

Flatware as art.
Flatware IS art.

In 1838, established writer Hans Christian Andersen could afford two comfortable rooms at Hotel du Nord, but when he was an impoverished, dreamy, lonely 22 year-old in 1827, he lived here in this spare attic room. It must have been a tight fit. There is hardly space for the 6′ 1″ Andersen to stand up: the ceiling slopes inward along the length of one wall, and he would have had to really watch his head. A short narrow bed fits into the low alcove at one end of the room; it’s heaped with a feather mattress covered in green-striped ticking (perhaps from Magasin du Nord’s housewares department?). A small iron stove and a box of firewood stand in another corner. There’s one earthenware pitcher, two rickety chairs, and on the window ledge, a set of writer’s tools: goose-feather quill pen, bottle of ink, sheaf of paper, and a candle in a brass candlestick.

The light from the one window illuminates a (photocopied) manuscript, a bottle of ink and a quill pen. A candle provided light after sundown, which, right now, is before 4 pm.
The window sheds light on a (photocopied) manuscript, and the 19th Century equivalent of a laptop. Pencil on Moleskine 5″ x 8″ sketchbook.
Andersen's room, north end.
Andersen’s room, north end. It’s possible, by the way, that that isn’t a pitcher.

There are not a lot of bells and whistles in this little museum/shrine to young Hans Christian Andersen. But you get a sympathetic picture of the tall awkward boy dipping his goose-quill pen in the ink bottle, banging his head on the ceiling, and scribbling poems in fading light from the casement window. He might have then lit the stove and candle and studied his Latin lessons before folding up his long stork legs in the alcove bed for the night.

At the south end, eight feet away, Andersen's bed.
At the south end, just ten feet away, Andersen’s bed. From this window he would have had a view of farm fields and windmills beyond Copenhagen’s then-city limitsToday it looks out on a less-poetic parking garage.

The little room exudes a Dickensian poignancy, more Oliver Twist than A Christmas Carol, and while I was there the sensation was further enhanced (or depending on the song, demolished) by piped-in Christmas music. When I walked in, the heart-tugger “Little Drummer Boy” was playing. The rustle of gift-wrappers at work in the next room could have been the sound of starving orphans weaving brooms from straw.

What was most surreal, though, was stepping from the dim light of the Andersen Room into Magasin du Nord’s fluorescent holiday brilliance. On my way out I walked past lines of shoppers teetering under bags and boxes, waiting for gift wrap services.  Hans Christian Andersen, in my opinion, would have loved what Hotel du Nord has become. The older, more successful writer was dressed to the nines at all times, and he’d surely enjoy the selection in Fine Menswear, Second Floor. In fact, he’d be right at home.

Happy Friday.

Stelton coffee carafes.
Stelton coffee carafes. Must have.


4 thoughts on “Friday Sketchbook: Hans Christian Andersen Slept Here

  1. clearspaces60 says:

    This is fabulous. I have loved Hans Christian Andersen since I was a little girl. This was a trip through time and your sketches and words described everything so vividly. What an amazing place to visit! Thank you.

  2. Marci Heslov says:

    I am thinking that you could rival most children’s fairy tale authors if you wanted to! I love your voice. I feel that I am at your side. So happy you have shared this experience with us! Hugs!

  3. 100swallows says:

    It’s hard to think of an author whose stories, and so many of them, are known to more people. Who hasn’t heard of The Ugly Duckling, the Emperor’s Clothes, the Chinese Emperor and the Nightingale, the Mermaid, the little Lead Soldier?-and I’m sure I’m forgetting some others that absolutely everyone knows! And anyone who has actually read a collection of his works will also remember the strange story about the man without a shadow. Other authors, great as you are, despair: you will never reach as many people as Andersen!

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