Death is terrifying. The idea of becoming obsolete, ceasing to exist, is not a pleasant thought. We die, we’re buried and we can only hope to live through the memories of those who knew us well. Cemeteries reflect this ideology perfectly. While each cemetery is unique in its own sense there is unmistakably a common thread winding through them all, they are places to go and grieve. But how often do people actually visit cemeteries? And what becomes of the grave when those who remember die? Cemeteries are dead spaces for dead people.
Assistens Cemetery turned preconceived notions on their head. While Copenhagen shines on many levels, it is quite odd that a cemetery in the middle of the city could warrant such buzz. This place is not just for the dead, it is for the living. People filter in and out unfazed that they are in a graveyard.
A place where the flowers bloom while people picnic and parents take their children on afternoon strolls – the “park” seems to be plucked out of a fairytale dreamt up by the late Hans Christian Andersen, who coincidently happens to be buried in Assistens.
Why is this cemetery different, why does it function this way? The answer may seem cheap, but sometimes a phenomenon has an answer as simple as people do what people do. I biked through the cemetery because it was a nice escape from the street AND because I had seen people biking through the cemetery before. My friends and I would also walk and picnic there for leisure. Why? Because we had seen others do it.
One day I asked a woman walking with her infant why people used the graveyard this way. She shrugged and politely told me she had no idea. She had recently moved in across the street and saw others walking their children and dogs through the space, so she too began to walk the grounds. There is no sign stating: This is a park! It is people using it and inadvertently saying, this is a park too.
Why give the deceased a forever home and then abandon them? Can cemeteries reintegrate themselves into the city? Assistens Cemetery reminds us that there is life after death and celebration in remembrance rather than mourn and forget. The living using the park brings life to the dead, they are connected. Let’s stop making dead spaces for dead people. I would much rather die, be buried, and then have a child run atop my grave with a huge smile than lay alone forever because there is nothing worse than dying and being forgotten about.
All images by Nicole Stankus
Nicole Stankus happily finds herself as an architecture student at the University of Texas at Austin. Her interests lie past academia, expanding the idea of an architecture of buildings to include the architecture of society and people. How people interact with the city they live in is of particular interest to her and her writing. Seeing the world passionately and always seeking moments of urban ecstasy, Nicole looks to highlight the magical moments of great cities.