Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen

This is a review of the content of the Kierkegaard in Copenhagen course, including some of the many places we visited.

Academic Content

In 2023 we worked through the old Bretall A Kierkegaard Anthology, supplementing with some further materials from Concluding Unscientific Postscript and The Concept of Anxiety. I chose the Bretall anthology because I like the flow of the Swenson-Lowrie translations better than I like the more recent (and more accurate, in some ways) Hong translations. However, I did become frustrated with some of the idiosyncracies of Bretall’s selection of texts. If we do this course again, I think we’ll use The Essential Kierkegaard.

I begin the course with some historical lectures, to set the context of Kierkegaard’s work. I discuss the history of philosophy leading up to Kierkegaard, especially the early modern period (Descartes, the Empiricists, Kant, and even a bit of Fichte and Hegel). Since this class has both students with a strong background in the history of philosophy and students with little background in the history of philosophy, it is a challenge to bring everybody up to a similar level.

I also discuss some of the history of the culture that Kierkegaard lived in. Non-danish students tend to know very little about what was going on in and around Denmark in the early 19th century. It even comes as a surprise to many that Kierkegaard was a contemporary of Hans Christian Andersen.


  1. Walking tour around Vor Frue Kirke.

Our classroom this year was located at Fiolstræde 6, the old Metropolitanskole that lies just across from the original University of Copenhagen building and Vor Frue Kirke. It’s a perfect place to set out for a walk to see locations that were important in Kierkegaard’s life. (Fiolstræde is a lovely pedestrian street that also boasts of the Paludan Bogcafe and Vansgaards Antikvariat.)

We walk down to Gammeltorv, where the Kierkegaard family’s house stood until it was torn down in the early 20th century. There is a plaque (in Danish) on the new building. I also point out that two other famous Danish philosophers lived on this very square: Poul Martin Møller (Kierkegaard’s teacher) and Harald Høffding (Niels Bohr’s teacher).

We then walk back up Nørregade, where Kierkegaard once had an apartment, but whose character is much changed over the years. We turn right into Frue Plads and look at the busts of famous professors at the University of Copenhagen – noting that Kierkegaard is not among them (as he never had an academic job). I then tell the students about Kierkegaard’s burial service at Vor Frue Kirke. We will have to wait a few days to see his grave at Assistens Kirkegaard, which is a few kilometers away.

  1. Gilleleje

Some of Kierkegaard’s earliest journal entries are from the small town of Gilleleje, about 40 kilometers north of Copenhagen, on the northern coast of Zeeland. We take the train from Copenhagen to Hillerød, and then from Hillerød to Gilleleje. In Gilleleje we pick up our boxed lunches, and then proceed to walk up the Gilbjergssti to the Kierkegaard memorial stone – which stands very near where Kierkegaard looked out over the sea. We eat our lunch there and discuss the relevant journal entries. We walk back down to the town of Gilleleje and get some ice cream by the harbor.

  1. Assistens Kirkegaard

Assitens is one of the most unique “cemetaries” in the world. It is misleading to call it a cemetary, since it’s a park where people frequently picnic or even sunbathe. The atmosphere is one of celebration of life rather than one of sadness.

Most of the famous Danes are buried in Assistens: besides Søren Kierkegaard and his parents, H.C. Andersen, Niels Bohr, etc. There are plenty of nice paths for a walk, and plenty of grassy places to sit and talk.

  1. Schønnemanns Restaurant

It’s not likely that any of the restaurants that Kierkegaard visited are still open – despite some claims to the contrary. However, Schønnemanns Restaurant has been open since the late 1800s, and it does lunch in very much the way that it has been done for hundreds of years in Denmark. Everything revolves around the Smørrebrød – the Danish open-faced sandwich. At Schønnemanns the toppings are so generous that you might be surprised to find the bread underneath.

  1. Walking on the Ramparts (Voldene)

When Kierkegaard was alive, Copenhagen was surrounded by earthen mounds that had been build in the middle ages to keep invaders out. The top of these mounds had footpaths that were popular for strolling, and Kierkegaard loved a good stroll along “Voldene”.

Most of the ramparts were torn down in the late 19th century, but one can still find remnants here and there. At the bottom of Ørstedsparken there are some remnants, along with a bridge that used to sit over the North Gate (Nørreport). More elaborate remnants of the ramparts can be found at Kastellet (near the little mermaid) and down on Christianshavn (near Christiania).

  1. Søerne

The lakes are northwest of the old city (Indre By), and are encircled by gravel paths. These lakes used to lie outside of the city walls, and were also a popular place to go for a stroll. Some detailed descriptions of the lakes can be found in The Seducer’s Diary. On a sunny summer day, the paths and the bridges over them will be packed with pedestrians and sun-worshippers.

  1. Christianshavn

The artificial island of Christianshavn has changed enormously over the past couple of hundred years. When Kierkegaard was alive, it was not a place where the fine people lived. Instead, it was populated mostly by very poor laborers, and was known to be a place of “bad repute”. Nonetheless, Kierkegaard describes walking down that way to get some time out of the city. One of Kierkegaard’s letters to his fiance, Regine Olsen, has a drawing of him standing on the bridge (Knippelsbro) to Christianshavn. In those days, it was the only bridge to Christianshavn. Today it’s also possible to cross over from Nyhavn on a pedestrian bridge. And don’t forget to stop by Broens Gaddekøkken to get some lunch.

While Kierkegaard never lived on Christianshavn, other notable Danes did. In particular, both Harald Høffding and Vilhelm Hammershøi lived on Strandgade. See Hammershøi’s painting “Moonlight, Strandgade 30”.

  1. Slotsholmen

Slotsholmen is the island where the original Castle of Copenhagen stood in the middle ages. That castle had a rough history, as you can learn about in the basement museum below Frederiksborg. Below Frederiksborg there is a beautiful garden with a statue of Kierkegaard, and from there one can walk to the old royal library and “the black diamond”. The state archive in the black diamond holds most of Kierkegaard’s original manuscripts, but these are not available to the public. We were fortunate to find a contact in the state archive who gave us an exhibition of some of these original manuscripts. In particular, we saw the handwritten letter from Kierkegaard to Regine Olsen where he drew the picture of himself on Knippelsbro.

Just across the canal from Slotsholmen is Gammel Strand (the old beach). Here you can also see a plaque on the mansion where Niels Bohr was born — it was owned by his grandfather, David Baruch Adler.

  1. Danish Design Museum

The Danish Design Museum at Bredgade 68 was formerly the Royal Frederik’s Hospital, and it’s here where Kierkegaard died in 1855.

  1. Kierkegaard’s Apartments

It’s possible to locate most of the apartments that Kierkegaard lived in over the years, and many of them still exist. Some of them even are even still apartments with people living in them.