All we had was a map, hand-drawn and uploaded onto an artist’s website. It showed the edges of Copenhagen, curled around Køge Bay, and the western neighbourhoods of Rødovre, Hvidovre, Vallensbæk, Ishøj, Albertslund and Høje Taastrup. We were in Ishøj, and had just erected our tent between two campervans, in sight of the striking ARKEN art museum on the edge of the water.
This was nothing more than an overnight stop, a place to rest a while before we crossed the bridge to Sweden. But we had chosen our resting point carefully. After all, we had the map.
From the campsite we followed a steady stream of people heading from the car park to the beach, and then took the path along the spit of land that separates the lagoon from the open water. Our map showed a kind of island in the middle of the lagoon, linked to either side by bridges. An ‘X’ marked the spot, with the number 3. Elsewhere on the map, across these western suburbs of the Danish capital, were five other crosses. Each was numbered and each represented a work of art. These were the locations of the Forgotten Giants we had come to Copenhagen to search for.
We found number 3 as soon as we reached the bridge. Oscar was lying down, reaching up to grab the railings where strollers and cyclists made their way back and forth to the beach. He had unruly hair and a wide smile, and seemed pretty relaxed, lying there in the sunshine. He didn’t seem to mind the attention. The artificial click and whir of a smartphone camera. The children clambering up his legs and onto his head. If anything he seemed happy, as happy as we all were to see him.
Oscar, and the five other Forgotten Giants, are the work of sculptor Thomas Dambo, who built them with the help of locals and other artists from scrap wood and recycled materials across the western edges of Copenhagen. He placed them in areas of natural beauty, but deliberately chose spots that were off the beaten track, away from the main tourist destinations. He marked them on his map, but he kept the exact locations slightly vague. You had to go and search them out, exploring corners of neighbourhoods that even other Copenhageners would not necessarily go out of their way to visit.
“The project,” Dambo wrote on his website, “wants to bring art out of the museum, show the beautiful and often overlooked nature spots, and at the same time give an exciting and different experience.”
Oscar – named for a Chilean artist who had helped Dambo build him – was made out of scrap wood from a torn down watermill and broken pallets from local industries. With his proximity to the beach and the popular museum for modern art, he was probably the easiest of the six giants to find. The next morning, we would try and search out a few more.
The map showed two in close proximity to each other, in the area of Vallensbæk Mose, an area of wetlands and woods bordered by motorways, the railway lines and housing estates. There were very few vehicles in the car park when we arrived, but there was one other family getting ready as we arrived. Soon they would be our partners on the trail, searching out Little Tilde, who was hidden away in the woods looking out from between the trees.
From the main footpath it was impossible to see her, and together with the other family we took different trails into the woods until we found her. Later, we would spot her from the other side of the lake – visible but unreachable across the water. Like Oscar, Tilde was made from scrap wood and named for one of the volunteers who helped build her. She also contained within her structure 28 little birdhouses, offering winter shelter and nesting possibilities.
That Dambo gave some of his sculptures an extra purpose became even more apparent when, on a hillside not far away, we found Thomas. Lying down in the forest, Thomas was designed as a resting place, his long legs stretched out to provide benches for even the largest walking group. Another, Sleeping Louis, had been created with a space inside where kids could play or a wanderer, in search of shelter, could spend the night. On this weekday morning though there was no one resting with Thomas on the hillside, we had him to ourselves, sharing the view from between the trees out across the football pitches as a raptor hovered overhead in search of breakfast.
We only had time to meet three of the giants in Copenhagen, but Dambo’s idea had certainly worked on us. On our walks through Vallensbæk and Ishøj we had not only discovered corners of the city we never would have visited otherwise, but we came into contact with others on the same exploration and spotted all kinds of wildlife, from birds of prey to an otter in the shallows.
Dambo’s Forgotten Giants reminded us that there are wonders to be found in unlikely places, and that we don’t need to go far – even if we live in a big city – to enjoy the outdoors and everything it holds. As we headed for the bridge and the crossing to Sweden, we made a promise we’d return. After all, Sleeping Louis is still waiting for us to visit, along with Trine and Teddy. We just have to search them out.
Photographs: Katrin Schönig
Words: Paul Scraton