By Emily Harman
Trail writer Emily Harman is studying in Denmark this semester, and graciously agreed to write back to Tacoma about her semester abroad.
As I walk down Nyhavn towards the sidewalk trampolines of Copenhagen, I can’t help but doubt that there will be anyone there on this blustery, bone-chilling afternoon. The sky overhead is ominous at best, a threatening uniform grey hanging heavy on the horizon. I nestle deep into my scarf, wrapping it tighter around my neck and burying my nose in the comforting softness as I turn right, directly into the wind. Eyes watering from the cold, I focus on putting one foot in front of the other, fighting every urge to run into the nearest cafe for a cup of coffee. I lift my gaze when I hear excited voices rising above the noise of the city, smiling when I see a teenager and a small boy jumping on several small black squares in the middle of the sidewalk.
Commissioned by the City of Copenhagen as a part of The Havnegade Harbour Promenade, the sidewalk trampolines were built in 2011 for the sole purpose of turning the industrial harbour of Copenhagen into a pleasant (and fun!) public space. In addition to the trampolines, the project installed football and basketball courts, a playground, and additional walking and cycling lanes. While these things can be found in many major cities, the sidewalk trampolines are, at least to my knowledge, unique to Copenhagen.
From my own American viewpoint, the very existence of the trampolines speaks to the city’s understated yet playful attitude. My first thought upon hearing of the trampolines was, ‘won’t someone get hurt and sue the city? Why would the city pay for such a liability risk?’ Yet in all my research into the project, I have never come across such a situation. I am immediately struck by how different this city is from any city in the United States, all of whom would never risk building such a public and potentially dangerous installation.
The five sidewalk trampolines are located several blocks from Nyhavn along the Havnegade Harbour, in a strip of boulevard between the road and the canal. The trampolines themselves are built into a patch of gravel and sand, surrounded by bike racks, benches, and garbage cans. Individually they are small, probably three feet by three feet and separated by the surrounding cement. It is possible to jump from trampoline to trampoline, or to stick to one. Today almost all are empty, save for the very end where the two boys are leaping around and shouting to each other in Danish.
I cautiously make my way in their direction, suddenly self conscious and intimidated by their carefree confidence and typical “Danishness.” Both boys are lanky and dressed in head-to-toe black, their understated jackets and tucked in scarves reflecting the casual-yet-put-together look common of many Danes I’ve seen in the month I’ve lived here. There is something true, I must admit, to the warnings often given to me that Danes can seem cold and unapproachable. While I’m sure it isn’t intentional, the casual-yet-chic uniform and coarse language does give off an air of indifference that can be off-putting to a foreigner. But at the same time, I have yet to have a negative encounter once I work up the courage to engage in conversation with a local. I try to reassure myself of this fact as I inch towards the boys on the trampolines. Suddenly the older boy pauses, taking a momentary break from bouncing to pull his iPhone from the pocket of his black wool coat. With his free hand he pushes back his chin-length, windblown hair and uses his teeth to tear his glove from his hand as he squints at his phone.
I decide this is my moment, and catch his eye as he finishes texting. Nervously I introduce myself, and when he responds in English with a grin I ask him if I can talk to his brother and him for a little while. I learn that his name is Jesper and he is seventeen. He likes to bring his brother Thomas here after school some days. I realize that the boys do look strikingly similar as I notice their blond hair and matching backpacks, thrown to the pavement alongside one of the trampolines.
Thomas is 10, and is jumping on the trampoline with an intensity unmatchable by anyone past puberty. I watch Thomas bounce furiously as Jesper enthusiastically tells me about the several “jumping times” they have had before, and about the scar on his elbow from when he tripped jumping and hit the gravel a few months ago. Thomas has shorter hair than his brother, but the same sandy gold color, and his cheeks are flushed from the cold and the force he exerts on the rubbery surface of the trampoline. His coat is unbuttoned, and his grey gloves threaten to tumble from his pockets where they are stuffed, empty fingers fluttering with each leap.
Jesper agrees with me that the trampolines are special. They are kind of a hidden gem, I’m realizing, a spontaneous playground you have to stumble upon to fully appreciate. I ask Jesper if he has ever seen sidewalk trampolines anywhere else, and he shrugs and shakes his head. “I think it is just here,” he says. “I think they just thought it would be a fun thing to do.” This statement is reflective of my earlier findings — that the only purpose of the trampolines is purely for enjoyment, an example of the quietly carefree mindset of the city.
After a while of talking to the boys, the sky finally lets go and I take the freezing mist as my cue to depart. I thank Jesper and Thomas for talking to me, and we walk together for a block or so before they turn down a side street and say goodbye, backpacks slung over their shoulders and gloved hands raised in twin waves.
I head back in the direction I came, and can’t help but think of my own younger sibling at her college in California. As the rain starts pelting down harder, I give in to my earlier cravings and step into a coffee shop for a cup of hot chocolate with fresh whipped cream. I think I’ll give my sister a call, and tell her about my day. Copenhagen may be cold and dark compared to sun and palm trees, but it does have something California doesn’t. I’m willing to bet that at least for now, Los Angeles is empty ofmagical sidewalk trampolines.