I am standing on the most dangerous street in Copenhagen and I’ve never felt safer.
Istegade, a one kilometre-long street just north of Copenhagen Central Station has long been notorious and continues to be defined by its indelibly rough past. Porn shops, prostitutes and migrants are the words commonly associated with the area even though all I saw were fancy hotels and trendy cafes with a bohemian bent that would not be out of place in Berlin.
I am here, as ignorant as my fellow English-speaking companions, to embark on a walking tour of Danish television program, The Killing. None of us know a lot about this country apart from the addictive nature of its pioneering Scandinoir miniseries; and, of course, that it is home to a statue of the Little Mermaid.
This is why we are so shocked, some even outraged, when our guide tells us with a suppressed smile that an American travel piece advised visitors against coming to this area.
“It looks like the good parts of London!” I say, and this makes her laugh.
This street and the surrounding area were used to film much of The Killing, a show which had most Australians – myself included – addicted. The third and final series concluded in 2012 with an ending so electrifying I can still feel the hairs rise on my neck when I think of the closing scene. Its protagonist, the mulish Sarah Lund, is forever on my mind and it has nothing to do with her woollen jumpers.
Most Danes, the guide goes on to say, cannot understand why we are still so interested in the show, or how it is that we ever came to care about it at all. Even the actors here catch public transport or ride their bike; many of those that move to the UK complain about being recognised and return. When it is just the two of us, the guide tells me how she saw the killer from season one take a canal tour of the city one day.
“He chose the cheapest tour operator,” she says.
As we continue walking, a drizzle faint as a lamb’s breath falls over the city and we joke that it’s appropriate for us to experience rain when we are trying to step inside a television show that was always dark and the only light was the wan glow of a police station.
“It’s cheaper to film without much light,” the guide explains. “Back then, they didn’t know that The Killing was going to be so popular and they didn’t have a high budget.”
Many of us are surprised that Copenhagen is not shrouded in a perpetual black shawl, as television would lead us to believe. True, it’s October: summer has long gone and winter feels just a whisper away; fog has moved in with the resistance of roaches but it only makes this city seem all the more beautiful. Autumn sees the gardens burst into explosions of blood-orange and cornflower leaves and even the mist appears friendly.
This is my second trip to Copenhagen. The first, many years earlier, was drenched in sunshine. I hadn’t watched The Killing then. This time, I came in search of back alleys and empty streets that can and will reveal anything, and in a sense I succeeded in finding what I was after.
At 11 p.m. on a Friday night, I go for a walk, restless, and find that the entrance to the grounds of Christiansborg Palace is open, so I step inside because how often is it that you get the chance to have a palace entirely to yourself? It turns out I am not alone. A group of young Danish boys skulk on their bicycles, managing to balance the handlebars with one hand and a bottle of alcohol in the other. This is as close as I will get to Copenhagen’s gritty underworld.
If there is any danger in this city then it eludes me. In the Meat Packing District, where many of The Killing’s chase scenes were shot, people sit calmly, wrapped in blankets provided by the bars and restaurant owners so that they can eat, drink and smoke without freezing.
As for Sarah Lund, it may surprise many to learn that her apartment in Østerbro is in fact walking distance from The Little Mermaid. I fought the urge to ask the mermaid sitting atop the rocks – so close and yet still a world away from land – if she knew where Sarah was, but her gaze, still focused on the water that holds her captive, meets the eyes of no one.