Tivoli Gardens - Issue Two
I’d be lying if I said I knew exactly what Tivoli Gardens was before planning my trip to Denmark. In fact, up until the day before I went, I just assumed it was a really big park in Copenhagen. Kind of like Central Park except more European?
Boy, was I wrong.
I followed the Google map directions on my phone and approached a ticket counter, paid my fare and entered a world totally apart from anything I’d seen before.
How about a little background? Opened on August 15, 1843, Tivoli was named after the now closed Jardin de Tivoli, a park in Paris. On paper, Tivoli sounds like an average amusement park filled with rollercoasters and stomach-churning rides, but the detailed artistry and historical buildings take the experience to unexpected heights. In fact, the oldest building is a pantomime theatre whose curtain is a large mechanical peacock with a tail that folds and unfolds to cover the stage. What? This place is so magical that Walt Disney visited Tivoli Gardens multiple times to get ideas for Disneyland.
My sister and I walked through the gates and were immediately greeted by a wall of finely-crafted giraffe heads on a large, mirrored wall and, looking at my information packet, I saw that a play was about to start at the nearby pantomime theater. We found a bench and sat down to enjoy the show, snacking on some baby carrots and salmon spread.
The peacock’s tail folded up and we were greeted with the players: a rich jerk, a sweet ingenue, a hot but poor underdog, and a slightly creepy comic relief clown for comic. After a few mishaps, the young woman and kind hero end up together. A fairly predictable story but there were quite a few Lucille Ball-esque comedy sequences that really made the show fun. As is the nature of pantomime performances, no words were spoken, but the play was accompanied by a sweet soundtrack written specifically for Tivoli by the original music director, Hans Lumbye.
All of the families around us started packing up their broods as the show ended and my sister and I set off on our next Tivoli adventure.
We were trying to keep this trip as cheap as possible, so we decided to skip the rollercoasters and brilliantly-lit carousels and in favor of just one ride: the Star Flyer. This giant, circular swing ride takes you 260 feet in the air, allowing riders to see the most gorgeous views of Copenhagen’s historical center. The sun was just starting to set and we thought we would get the most for our money. Who wouldn’t want to see this gorgeous city at twilight?
We got in line behind about forty blond-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian children and started talking about the other sights we wanted to see in the park. At this point, I realized that a chubby twelve year old was staring right at us as he talked to his friend. He was obviously talking about us but I don’t understand a word of Danish, so all I can do is give him a biting stare.
“I know what you’re saying so you’d better stop it right now, twerp,” my eyes screamed at him. Looking back, it probably looked more like I had an unfortunate eye twitch.
Our turn came to get on the ride, so I tried to rise above this little hooligan and, with head held high, I walked over to a nice looking swing and hopped right in. I struggled a bit with the seat belt, but if those little monsters could get their belt fastened then, by God, I could too! I didn’t hear the familiar click that indicated I was safely fastened. Maybe they don’t have loudly clicking safety belts in Denmark, I thought to myself. Of course, being the only adults in a crowd of toe-headed babes, the ride conductor skipped over us as he checked that everyone was safely strapped in.
Our feet left the ground and we began our flight over the beautiful twinkling lights of Copenhagen. I can’t describe how unreal it felt. Tivoli is the most magical place I’ve ever been. I mean, Disneyland is great and all, but Tivoli is like its classier, more sophisticated, older sister.
Just as we made it to the top of the ride, swinging freely over this wonderland, I felt it: a quick release as my safety belt unattached. I couldn’t believe how quickly my feelings plummeted from over-the-moon to deep underneath the spooky viaduct on the edge of town where the clown lives. I realized, to my chagrin, that the only thing keeping me from certain death was a little metal bar across my lap which I could easily slip under. I re-evaluated my entire life. Was I a good person? Did my pet rabbit know that I loved him? Who would water my plants when I was gone? My knuckles became a hard white as I clutched to the swing’s chains. Unfortunately, I couldn’t focus on the once in a lifetime views surrounding me and all I could do was pray that we would start our descent soon. After what felt like an hour, we reached the sweet, sweet ground and I slipped out of my swing prison as quickly as possible.
I don’t even think that little jerk saw my legs shaking in an uneasy gait to the exit.
After my close call with the nightmare swings, I finally began to relax and take in the beauty around me. As the evening sky darkened, a different Tivoli showed its face. Warn paths were lit up with hundreds of tiny lights and we found ourselves in a secluded garden full of fountains and gorgeous autumn flowers. The melody of rollercoasters full of screaming children faded away and was replaced with the hushed whispers of hand-holding couples strolling through the promenade. An enormous wooden ship sat silently in a man made river. Each billowing sail was covered in twinkling lights. Our reverie was only broken once when an overly-friendly duck approached us, begging for food scraps. The crisp fall air prodded at us until we decided to head back to our hostel. Walking back to the park entrance, we passed fancy restaurants filled with middle-aged double-daters, eating their fill of Danish seafood and quietly laughing over wine. How could a place so full of energetic children and thrill-seeking rides still keep such a quiet, classic atmosphere?
This charming and calm energy are just some of the reasons I loved Tivoli so much. There is a real, genuine magic coursing through the paths of this Copenhagen park. A magic that will make your an iced-over American heart beat again with the warmth of innocent fun and gorgeous excitement.
… Even if you almost fall to your death.