19th-century shop fittings in Købmagergade


Then & Now, a pop-up exhibition of photographs of the city, was in a shop at Købmagergade that must have been empty for that short period after one tenant moves out and a new tenant takes over.

The building is on the west side of what is one of the two main shopping streets in the centre of the city. Købmagergade runs down from the site of the north gate of the old city at Nørreport and Strøget or The Walking Street - the long pedestrianised street that runs east west from the site of the old east gate to the city at Kongens Nytorv to the site of the west gate near the city hall. The two streets meet at Amager Torv and this shop is just north of that old market place in a long continuous line of historic buildings between Amager Torv and Valkendorfsgade.

My guess would be that 99% of the people walking along the busy street are either looking in at the shop windows or they are hurrying past on their way somewhere but if you look up you can see  from architectural features such as windows or roofs that these buildings appear to date from the late 18th or the 19th century but explore a little and behind are courtyards and light wells and evidence for outbuildings that tell a more interesting story. Shop fronts and the shop interior are invariably the most modern or most recent part and, too often, of dubious design and quality, and the façade above the shop front and the roofs the last major expenditure on the building itself while buildings behind the street range and often the upper rooms of the street range show evidence for a much more complicated history.

history / background

Going into the left-hand shop at number 7 there is evidence for what is a remarkably common story in the city.

You now go into the shop directly off the street and the shop is just a couple of steps up from the pavement but the space is curiously high with an ornate gallery around all four sides supported on narrow columns that is reached by a tight spiral staircase in the back corner.

It is clear that this was a fairly standard Copenhagen town building. It includes, on a single plot, the adjoining shop to the north with a main doorway between the two shops for access to the upper levels of the building. There must have been an earlier house on this plot - as it is right in the centre of the city - but documents show that it was rebuilt in 1729 for Oluf Hegelund and J Pedersen - so immediately after the fire of 1728 * - and the building work was undertaken by the famous architect Philip de Lange with a master brick layer called Simon Sørensen.

Then, in the 1790s, the street range was heightened with a whole extra floor added and with it a new roof.

Through the 18th century the rooms on the main floor would not have been at street level but six or seven steps up with low windows, at pavement level, lighting a lower floor half below ground with steps down from the street. The building next door to the left - number 5 - again has shops on either side of a central doorway but there the left-hand shop has retained these original floor levels.


Købmagergade 5 - the shop to the left is at the original level - up from the pavement by seven or eight steps - with a shop below half above the pavement and half below the ground with seven steps down into the shop from the pavement - the shop to the right has a 'modern' ground-floor level and entrance door directly from the pavement with the inserted floor cutting across the top half of the original basement space

Købmagergade 7 is to the right and the shop that was redesigned by Kaare Klint is next shop but one to the left

When the shop at number 7 was remodelled, presumably in the middle of the 19th century, the floor was dropped down to pavement level but the position of the ceiling - immediately under the floor of the first-floor rooms - was left in place. Presumably the gallery and its storage space compensated in part for the storage space lost in the basement which, after the alterations, must have been half the height.

Why does any of this matter now?

Well it is all evidence of the complicated history of commerce in the city and, with the inevitable demand to strip out any and every space and put in modern lighting and false ceilings and, with the fast turnover of tenants, interesting and, in some buildings, important historic fittings are too easily lost.




I'm  curious … has anyone recorded systematically the names of the owners and tenants of these shops in the centre of the city through the 18th and 19th centuries to show how the commercial area expanded to take over more and more houses?

Copenhagen has a long and successful history for trade with many small and independent businesses and also, of course, before the 20th century, much that was sold in the city would have been made in the city so, as many of these shops have been stripped out to make larger and larger retail units that stretch back into the plot, what has also been lost is the workshops and outbuildings that could have told us so much about the craftsmen and traders of the past.

How many of these buildings were residential and when did they become commercial properties - at least on the street level? How many craftsmen simply traded from a front parlour without shop fittings, as we would recognise them, and do any workshops survive in back courtyards?