When I lived in a tiny German town and would make comments about the smallness making me uncomfortable, I used to tell people that I am a city girl. That’s somewhat of a lie though – I grew up as a child of the suburbs. For as long as I can remember I’ve always lived in a neighbourhood outside the big city, meaning I had access to all the amenities that come with a large population but I was still relatively secluded from city life. So even though I pride myself on the tolerance that I gained from growing up (relatively) urban, it was still a shock when I moved into my first apartment in Copenhagen.
Nørrebro is slightly off the typical tourist map of Copenhagen, despite being home to a famous cemetery. This map describes it as “a vibrant multi-ethnic neighbourhood of exotic restaurants, antiques shops, funky stores, stylish bars, and one very special cinema”. Before moving here, the only prior experience I’d had with Nørrebro is that I’d been drunk there twice, at Distortion in 2013 and 2015. So as I walked through the neighbourhood on my way to see the apartment I was going to rent, I was experiencing a strange combination of “oh yeah, that looks kind of familiar” and “wow, there are a lot of places to buy shawarmas here”.
Other than my exchange in Sweden and visits to my dad’s place, this was the first time I was living in an apartment since I was a child. I experienced paper-thin walls that were obviously just for decoration, since I could clearly hear the people in next building. Every morning I would head outside and be right in the middle of bustling city life. It was exciting but also terrifying for someone who had been sheltered in the quiet suburbs most nights.
Nørrebro definitely has its quirks. The aforementioned antiques shops are rampant; I think there were three just within a block of my building. Every day I passed restaurants that I knew I wanted to try out (once I had enough money and someone to go with). You can really get a kebab pizza or a shawarma anywhere – in fact, there are so many options that Nørrebrogade has its own shawarma championship. Artwork covers the sides of buildings and any other open space. The streets are filled with colourful bikes.
As I started cycling the same route to work every day, I would identify my own landmarks and give them quirky names. My favourite was “Moscow, Ghana”, a square that is home to Nørrebrohallen. The pavement is red, a giant light-up sign reads “Москва”, and the posts are painted with the flag of Ghana. I later realised there were also signs written in (I believe) Chinese, as well as a restaurant across the street called Café Castro. The whole area is the epitome of the multicultural nature of Nørrebro.
Now I’m living in my second home in Copenhagen, and I found my way back to the suburbs via a room in a house in Herlev. It’s snuggly, familiar (I stayed at an Airbnb here when I first came to Denmark), and I know all the city amenities I’ve missed since I left Canada are just a short bike ride away.