• “Went to tivoli, went on dodgems, not much kop. Nufin’ else done except eat, drink, eat, drink & eat”
Despite opening as early as the year 1843 Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens was not the world’s first ever “theme park”!
That accolade is actually held by Dyrehavsbakken (1669) – now known more simply as “Bakken” – in Klampenborg, also in Denmark.
However, Tivoli is the one which has survived the more admirably, retaining its past style and grace whilst always updating itself.
Tivoli’s founder, Georg Carstensen came up with the park’s concept after he twisted King Christian VIII’s arm advising him that “when the Danish people are amusing themselves they do not think about politics”. For his candidness Carstensen was rewarded with a 5-year charter to create the park just outside what was then the city of København (Copenhagen).
The park – which was eventually incoporated inside altered city limits, and now located directly opposite the town square – included a variety of attractions right from the beginning; Oriental-style buildings, theatres, bandstands, restaurants, gardens and small mechanical rides. Small river walks were set up alongside man-made streams and small ponds, all lit up beautifully with coloured lanterns at night. Paddle boats were – and still are – a major draw for the city’s residents and visitors.
The pantomime theatre opened in 1874 and is perhaps one of the park’s most famous images, its original resplendent curtain – a huge peacock’s tail that folds open – still in full working order. On its stage the same Italian pantomimes that entertained folk back in the 19th century are performed on a regular basis, with the familiar characters of Cassander, Columbine, the Harlequin and the iconic Pierrot.
Whilst the basics of the park have remained relatively static over the years, Tivoli’s rides have (I suspect reluctantly) adpated to the times. However, the merry-go-rounds are still in abundance, as are the old-fashioned sideshow games. The park’s roller coaster – known as the Mountain Track – is one of the world’s oldest wooden examples, and whilst its speed and twists & turns are unlikely to scare today’s thrill-seekers it is nevertheless regarded by enthusiasts as a classic.
New rides have been added more recently, one of the latest being 2006’s Himmelskibet, an 80-metre high carousel offering fantastic views over the city.
All this in a mere 15 acres.
Needless to say, as a kid, any trip to Tivoli was a major event. Even for a kid of 15!
When I was even younger the scenic railway and the viking ride was always a hit, and I can also remember my grandfather (Morfar) taking me to one of the sideshows where you threw big heavy wooden balls (rather like baseballs) at piles of white household china stacked up at the back of the tent. He and I stood there for ages trying to unsuccessfully topple and shatter one of the piles before turning our attention to a new full dinner service the attendant had just put out. Morfar took out a saucer whilst I took out a side plate.
Evidently, not having had enough of the dodgy dodgems at Eastleigh fair I decided to chance my arm with the ones on offer at Tivoli, obviously deeming them sub-par.
Tivoli is usually only open in the summer months – April to September – so it was a very pleasant surprise for me and my wife when we visited Copenhagen one Christmas a few years ago. The park was open a few selected nights we were there, and although many of the rides were closed for maintenance, and the ponds etc were all frozen over, we were allowed to walk round its entirety. My wife was open-mouthed at how pretty it all was for the time of the year, whilst I silently held back the tears in remembrance of times gone by spent inside its walls with my late Grandmother, Grandfather and Mother.