Walking around Copenhagen I was intrigued to notice several Art Nouveau style structures. Some were selling coffee; others were abandoned. Surely, I thought, there must be some story behind them? I later discovered that these were the former telephone kiosks of Copenhagen, survivors from a bygone age.
What Were the Telephone Kiosks of Copenhagen?
Although Copenhagen has had a telephone company since 1882, at first very few people had private phones. So it was necessary to create places where people could send and receive their messages. Between 1896 and the 1930s around 30 telephone kiosks were installed, each with a phone, an operator and a messenger with a bike.
The inspiration for the boxes came from Paris. They were influenced by the then-fashionable Art Nouveau style and were often intricately decorated with wooden carvings of items of contemporary or local interest, such as ships or aeroplanes. They also doubled up as advertising columns, with posters pasted onto the outside.
The Telephone Kiosks Today
Of the eight kiosks that remain today only one (at Poul Henningsens Plads) is in its original site. The others have been moved to new locations, including one in the Tivoli Gardens. I have marked them all (apart from the Tivoli Gardens, which has an entrance charge) on this map.
Some of the kiosks are now coffee shops, although they were not all open when I visited. The liveliest, as befits its proximity to the tourist trap of Nyhavn, was the one at Kongens Nytorv. This has an impressive selection of wines and beers, as well as coffee, and seats and tables outside. When I was there lots of people were enjoying the hot weather, but the pile of furry blankets in a basket suggested that the café is well used at all times of year.
Designing Copenhagen’s Telephone Kiosks
The kiosks seem to come in two different styles. The earliest ones were designed by the architect Fritz Koch and were hexagonal, with copper roofs, lanterns and four clock faces. The kiosk at Christianshavn Torv is an example of this style. The kiosk at Kongens Nytorv is a later design by Martin Jensen. It was similar to the original, but larger, and with patterns of the sun and moon in place of the clocks.
The kiosk outside the Museum of Copenhagen is of the earlier design. Although now disused, it is of interest for the old adverts plastered on the side. It is located on Absalonsgade, known as “Museum Street” because of its collection of old street furniture, including lamps and fire hydrants. Like the telephone kiosks, they are a reminder of past times.