Søndermarken, the cisterns

Copenhageners flood to glass museum

PHOTO: Henrik Jarl Hansen
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Look at the grassy lawns of Søndermarken in Frederiksberg and you'll have trouble spotting a glass museum. That's because it's hidden away underground, in three huge water cisterns originally built for Copenhagen water supplies in 1856-59 as part of the modern water supply system. A water tower was too ambitious but Frederiksberg hill was an ideal height for giving the water enough pressure to reach the city. Only during the night, though, when water consumption was low. A steam-driven pump station was therefore built on the corner of Gammel Kongevej and Saint Jørgen Lake in 1898-91. The cisterns were covered and used as clean water reservoirs until 1933.

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Copenhagen, well a very dirty town" (Hornemann 1847) "

That is how Copenhagen was described in the mid-1800s – quite literally. The city had no drains, just open gutters where filth piled up or flowed directly out into the harbour or canals. For centuries, human waste had been buried in pits in the ground. From there it seeped down, polluting the surface water that flowed underground through hollowed out tree trunks to the inhabitants of the city. Hygiene in the city had fallen to a harmful level and the danger of epidemics loomed. In June 1853, a law for the first designed plant was passed. Not soon enough. The first cholera cases were recorded soon afterwards. The epidemic had already broken out. That summer alone, almost 5,000 Copenhageners died. This was a strong incentive to complete the new drain and water supply network, which was extended and renovated significantly during the last half of the 19th century.