Danes Mark Tivoli's 150 Years of Delight

Perhaps nothing captures Denmark's spirit like these gardens - part amusement park, part county fair, part botanical exhibit

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IN an entry from his 1843 journal, Hans Christian Andersen wrote, "was in Tivoli today ... started my Chinese fairy tale."

So there it is: proof, in one brief and rather enigmatic reference to a visit to Copenhagen's Tivoli gardens, that the legendary storyteller was a true Dane. He went to Tivoli, and it inspired him.

As the Danes themselves will tell you, nothing captures the Danish spirit quite like these gardens - part amusement park, part county fair, part architectural museum, and part botanical exhibit - with their fountains, theaters, bright lights, restaurants, ice cream and pastry stands, all packed into one big block in the center of Copenhagen.

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Nothing better defines this country than this 20-acre expression of genteel pleasure, orderly nature, simple fun, and worldly exoticism tamed by the rather unworldly homogeneity that is Denmark.

Even the most phlegmatic Danes become rhapsodic about their Tivoli. Take a stroll around the park, and the normally serious and trustworthy Danes start telling wild, button-popping tales of great-grandfathers who really originated the idea for such a garden.

Tivoli now ranks as the world's seventh most popular amusement park - after the Disney parks, among others, which were themselves the fruit of a visit to Tivoli by Walt Disney in the early 1950s. That Tivoli was the "seventh something" had one Danish woman insisting to a recent first-time visitor that the garden "must be one of the seven wonders of the world."

Every year, the opening of Tivoli symbolizes the arrival of spring, a welcome moment in Scandinavia. But this year Tivoli's opening in late April gave the Danes even more to celebrate - 1993 is the park's 150th year.

Tall tales aside, it was Georg Carstensen (a Danish journalist who had grown up in very different surroundings in Algeria) who got the go-ahead from King Christian VIII for an amusement park just outside the Danish capital's 19th-century ramparts. According to legend, the king, an absolute ruler with little tolerance for frivolity, nevertheless took a keen interest in Mr. Carstensen's argument that "people engaged in fun do not engage in politics." Tivoli opened in 1843 to 175,000 first-year visitors. La st year, 4.1 million visitors - 60 percent of them Danes - stopped in before the gates closed for the winter in mid-September.

To commemorate this year's jubilee anniversary, Tivoli planted 134,000 bulbs, completely refurbished the belle epoque brownstone entrance, added a ride based on the Andersen fairy tales and a restaurant (the park's 28th) on an 18th-century model frigate, and fashioned a summer entertainment lineup that includes Danish-born Victor Borge, Jessye Norman, a week of performances by the New York City Ballet, and 144 classical concerts.

Tivoli also created a little local controversy, which never hurts any attraction's notoriety and popular success. The cause of the tempest was this year's Tivoli poster, taken from a whirling fantasy of a painting by British artist David Hockney.

Tivoli customarily commissions a poster to mark each new season, with tradition calling for a Danish artist to do the work. In past years, posters have drawn on one of the park's motifs - a merry-go-round horse, the park's sumptuous flowers, the young Harlequin of Tivoli's famed commedia dell'arte theater - but this year's poster is an abstract, taken from a 1992 Hockney work "24th V. N. oil painting."

The 150th-anniversary poster was too much for many local artists and intellectuals. "The Tivoli poster communicates but one message - the snobbery that is at the heart of all provincialism," wrote Danish artist Per Arnoldi in the Copenhagen daily, Politiken. Showing, by way of an accompanying picture, that the poster was actually half of the Hockney painting, Mr. Arnoldi joked about "rumors" that Copenhagen's Dyrehaysbakken park, a less classy version of Tivoli, was furiously negotiating to make a poster

out of the second half.

"We simply decided to do something a bit different, and since it was a special year, we asked Mr. Hockney if he wouldn't provide something," said Orson Nielsen, Tivoli's director of information. "We think this year's poster is marvelous," he added, "and if there is this fuss about it, maybe it's because we have never asked Mr. Arnoldi to do one of our posters."

Such talk may not send Arnoldi running to Tivoli, but with or without him the park is expecting 500,000 additional visitors this year. Many of them will be foreigners, but most, as in past years, will be Danes - including many seniors, who take advantage of specially priced season tickets to visit the park nearly every day.

That is just part of the Tivoli charm: the Danish ladies, some in sturdy walking shoes, some wearing fancy hats, who come to have an ice cream cone and watch the world, or at least a certain vision of it, from the comfort of their own park bench.

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