Behind the Tivoli gates - fairy tale atmosphere created by hard work
Written by Anders Nørland
We have all experienced the adventurous and cosy atmosphere of Tivoli on a busy summer's day, but what does the garden look like when the gates have closed, and the season is over? What goes on behind closed doors in the run-up to the opening, and how naïve is the notion that the garden is just sitting there, waiting for us, through the low season? Today, we'll go behind the gates and get a sneak peek on what's going on in the garden when no one is looking.
It's early morning on a Monday, and we are at the back entrance of Tivoli. Busy workmen in yellow vests, the noise of various machines and vehicles are overwhelming, and the hectic atmosphere reminds us of a construction site, more than the idyllic and magical amusement park we all know and love. On a concrete block in front of one of the garden's many hidden workshops, we meet the main person of the day, who will show us what goes on behind the scenes in the old garden.
Her name is Louise, and she has been working as a painter in Tivoli for more than 10 years; she knows better than anybody about the extensive and detail-oriented work that goes into maintaining and preparing the garden for the opening of the season. We are moving through the garden towards the paint shop, past The Demon and up the small stairs, sneaking over and past piles of gravel, a forklift, and a wheelbarrow. And although the garden is still recognisable, we are getting a somewhat different impression of it today. The magic and childlike notion that Copenhagen's fabulous theme park, when the gates close, is still as beautiful, flower-covered, and candyfloss-scented as we know it is a little challenged.
An army of painters, carpenters, and blacksmiths
We are greeted with smiles and "good morning Loui" from everyone we meet before reaching the small workshop, which, despite its central location in the heart of the garden, we have somehow never noticed before. We push the sliding door to the left and enter a small room filled with paint cans, a white piano from the Tivoli party, and a Christiania Bike used to transport paint and cans around the garden.
"There are three of us painters working permanently in the garden, but, when we are closed for visitors, there are ten, including the outside workers we use. In total, I think we have about 50 regular gardeners, who are working here every day of the year. And then, when we're closed, we hire a lot of outside contractors. I don't dare to give you a figure on how many people are working here right now."
From chaotic construction site to fairy-tale garden in 24 hours
"You can sense how things are getting a bit hectic here in the run-up to the opening, because I have to keep track of all the outside painters working. But, as soon as we open the garden, it's just me again, and I can pop out and get a lot of things painted myself. The last two days before we open, everything is so hectic, and my phone is being blown up by one project manager after the other, who all have something that needs painting.
The day before the opening we always think we won't be able to make it in time: it still looks like a massive building site, and we’re afraid we've demolished too much. But then, suddenly, one hour before we open the gates, it all starts to look good, and everyone is helping each other get rid of the last rubbish, sweeping the paths and so on. Everything just falls into place, and the garden looks exactly as we had hoped for."
After a little chat and a tour, Louise gets the machinery up and running in the workshop, as paint needs to be tinted and mixed for the first job of the day.
"Every task you can think of is going on in here. From heading over to Nimb and painting some of the stylish rooms, to running over to the workmen and washing down mold, to renovating 100-year-old carousel horses, or cleaning graffiti off the toilets. It's really a wide range of painting jobs you can find here compared to just painting white walls at Mrs. Jensen's. We all know how to do that, but working here is a lot of fun."
The King of Tivoli and The Underground Labyrinth
We trudge through the gravel and into a room filled with old slot machines and one-armed bandits. The smell of cigarettes is thick in the air and leaves us a hint of the atmosphere in the old gambling hall. We move through the staff door to yet another workshop. The room is filled with everything from tools, computers for managing the slot machines, boxes and gear, to all sorts of gadgets and equipment. On the table in the middle of the room, we are greeted and stared down by a half-meter-tall king from The Flying Trunk. He needs a little touch-up to look sharp for the garden opening.
"I've been working in Tivoli for almost 10 years, and one of the best things is that you keep coming across places and things you never knew existed. I can still come across places I haven't been to before. There's a basement below most of the space in here. When you're walking on the asphalt, for example, you can also be pretty sure that there are basement rooms underneath you. We make sure to utilize every square meter here: we can't grow any bigger than we are, because we're located right in the middle of the city. So, our alternative is to either build upwards or downwards."
We are interrupted by the sound of Louise's phone. One of the outside painters needs assistance, so we must be on our way again. We turn off the lights and leave the king in the dark before we trot out into the cold again.
We go back another way, passing the Viking ships, and we stop in front of the white castle where the Nimb restaurants are located. And where you can normally enjoy the view of a sea of flowers in all colors, the beds are leveled, and the square is filled with construction debris, containers, machinery, and workmen in yellow vests, swarming around like ants in an anthill. There's an empty carousel in the background, and behind it you can see the stage where The Friday Rock concerts are held.
A trip to The Demon for breakfast
"It's impossible not to come here in your spare time because your family is eager to go, but I don't feel the need to come here myself, since I experience Tivoli when I'm at work. Should I want to try out a ride, I ask the blacksmiths in the morning if I can have a ride when they are testing them anyway. It's very refreshing to start off the day by having a quick ride on The Demon, or one of the other rides before work starts."
A master conductor among painters
We walk down past The Orangery and cross the bridge onto the garden lake. The lake area, otherwise bustling with people in small rowboats, seems strangely empty, except for a sea of different birds that seem to have seen a chance to hijack and conquer this idyllic part of the garden. When we reach the caravan, a young man in work clothes is waiting for Louise. He's in need of a task to take on, and it only takes a few seconds for Louise to find him one, delegate and set him to work. There is hardly any doubt that the scope of painting in the garden is both versatile and inexhaustible.
Renovation of the Classic Carousel.Photo:William Himmelstrup
Back in the small paint shop, while tinting and mixing paint, Louise coordinates and delegates tasks to a few other painters. As the morning progresses, it becomes gradually clear to us how important a role Louise plays in the large and complex machinery of preparing for the opening of the garden.
"The animal carousel is a real gem to us. It's so old-school and has been here for so many years. It's being renovated, and, as you can see, Michelle is giving it a touch-up right now. It's the heart of Tivoli and one of our coolest rides because it's so old. That's probably why we employees love it so much."
The craftsmen's rooftop bar
As a final item on the agenda, Louise will take us to the roof of the Hans Christian Andersen castle, to show us the view of the garden and the highest spot she has painted. We move through various meeting rooms and up narrow stairs until we find ourselves in the attic under the roof of the old building. Through a small door, we step out into the sun at the top of the castle.
The view is unbeatable, and, as we fantasize about enjoying a cold refreshment in the sun, Louise cheerfully tells one anecdote after another. Actually, almost everything you can think of in the garden, from The Sky Ship to the mountains in the old rollercoaster, needs a loving touch-up from time to time.
View from the rooftop of the H.C. Andersen castle.Photo:William Himmelstrup
"We have this unwritten rule that there can't be any raw wood visible in Tivoli, because nothing should look so new that it seems unfinished. It always needs some color, or at least some oiling, or something to give it some lushness," Louise says, pointing. "There's our beloved pirate ship that we're actually trying to sell. So, if you know anyone who is interested in buying it, just let me know. I think the price is about 10 million. It'll have to be hauled out by crane across the lake and then on to the road."
An enchanting and fairy-like oasis in the city
Yet again, it's back to work for Louise, and, as we reach the end of the road, Louise is accompanying us for the last time through the garden, back to where we started. We got a small glimpse into the massive amount of work that goes into getting Tivoli up and ready to open, as well as seeing a previously unknown side of the beautiful old theme park. It has to be said that the atmosphere and sight behind the closed gates are far from the idyllic and magical atmosphere that otherwise prevails in the garden.
Tivoli is a completely different place outside opening hours. A place where work, construction, painting, drilling, screwing, cleaning, and planting are carried out to the highest of standards. And, after a day behind the scenes, it's clear to us that the feeling of magical perfection you experience as a guest in the garden in summer is all linked to the massive preparation and hard work Tivoli's staff put in when the gates are closed.
It's difficult to imagine how the hectic and messy construction site we've seen today can come to look flawless in a few weeks' time. But we have no doubt that, from the 8th of April, despite this behind-the-scenes construction site we’ve seen today, we will once again be impressed and enchanted by the beauty, rides, and atmosphere of Copenhagen's fantastic urban oasis, Tivoli.