The history of Bakkehuset

In the first decades of the 19th century Bakkehuset (The Hill House) resonated with conversations of the married couple Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek and their illustrious guests. The couple owned the house from 1802 until 1830. In this time they opened their home to the authors, opinion formers and scientists of the age.

Bakkehuset is an authentic Golden Age home. The historic house museum and its surrounding gardens provide an authentic insight into the way of life of the 19th century, its atmosphere and style. A visit to Bakkehuset is a visceral experience of one of the most central periods in Danish cultural history; the period that would become known as the Golden Age. In the Rahbeks’ time the house was a home to luminaries such as Hans Christian Andersen, the poet Adam Oehlenschläger, the scientist H.C. Ørsted, the writer N.F.S. Grundtvig, the hymnist B.S. Ingemann, the dramatist Johan Ludvig Heiberg and many others. All of them contributed in their own way to the place’s unique atmosphere and history.

Many of Bakkehuset’s visitors described the Rahbeks as hospitable and down-to-earth. Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek’s home was dominated by an atmosphere in which great ideas, dialogue and creativity flourished. Today we still maintain this atmosphere, this spirit and tradition, through our many activities. Bakkehuset continues to be a welcoming cultural meeting-place. On the museum’s first floor visitors can experience changing exhibitions and readings, workshops, lectures, long table dinners and much more. Here ideas are exchanged, and space is made for creative intercourse in the same way as in Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek’s drawing room 200 years ago.

Hans Christian Andersen, Adam Oehlenschläger and the other Golden Age Icons

Bakkehuset is an icon for the Danish Golden Age. Large parts of Danish cultural life took place in people’s private homes in the first part of the 19th century and this is one of the many things that one can experience at Bakkehuset today.

Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek moved into a ground floor apartment in Bakkehuset in 1802. Even in the early years of their residence an intellectual circle began to coalesce around them. In the beginning the inner core of this group was made up of the couple themselves, the poet Adam Oehlenschläger and Kamma Rahbek’s brothers and sisters, Christiane, Carl and Steffen Heger as well as Steffen Heger’s wife Eline. This august intellectual group soon expanded to include the linguist and hymnist B.S. Ingemann, the scientist H.C. Østed, the philosopher and scientist Henrich Steffens, the academic and poet Poul Martin Møller, the poet Christian Winther, the playwright and literary historian Johan Ludvig Heiberg and of course Hans Christian Andersen who, along with many others, spent some time at the Rahbek’s home. In the following decades Bakkehuset became one of the most important literary meeting -places in the Copenhagen area.

Knud Lyne Rahbek (1760-1830) was a writer, literary and theatre critic, professor of aesthetics, theatre director and editor of a number of periodicals, including “Minerva” and “The Danish Spectator”, which contained news, scientific articles, fiction and poetry. Rahbek sympathized with the philosophy of the Enlightenment, and throughout his life his goal was to disseminate knowledge and culture. His works are rarely read today, but in his lifetime, he was an important arbiter of taste, and his role as a networker was of great importance for the generation of writers after him.

In 1798 Knud Lyne Rahbek married the 15-years-younger Karen Margrethe Heger, known affectionately as Kamma (1775 -1829). Kamma Rahbek was both creative and intellectually gifted, spoke seven different languages and was deeply versed in astronomy, music, botany and much else. She shared her husband’s great interest in literature and together they created a cultural meeting-place for the writers, artists and scientists of the day. Although she never became a writer herself, she engaged in long correspondence with family members and close friends such as the poet Adam Oehlenschläger, the theologian J.P. Mynster and the librarian Christian Molbech. Kamma Rahbek channelled her creativity into the making of boxes from card and paper, and in the years 1825-1827 she founded a little painting school, ”Kunst Commerzen”, which supported her work of manufacturing boxes with professional drawing lessons.

A lazy image
The young poet

Hans Christian Andersen

Even as a very young man the budding young poet Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was a visitor to Bakkehuset. Today in the museum one can experience the same atmosphere that inspired Andersen himself. Andersen described Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek in his memoirs. In these he recounts that Kamma Rahbek had welcomed him warmly. Like several other young poets and writers of the age the young man read his pieces aloud for Bakkehuset’s hostess in order to hear her opinion. According to Andersen’s own account Kamma Rahbek was the first to confer upon him the title of “poet”. This finally convinced him to make poetry his calling in life.

In 1822 Hans Christian Andersen wrote two tragedies: “The Robbers of Vissenbjerg” and “Alfsol”, which he submitted anonymously to the Royal Theatre. Knud Lyne Rahbek was the theatre’s censor and he rejected the plays. Despite this, Andersen’s encounter with Rahbek and the Royal Theatre was a turning point in his life. Rahbek, along with his colleague Jonas Collin, recognised Andersen’s talent as a writer and they encouraged him to study further. Andersen later completed upper secondary school in 1828. The same year he made his debut with the novel ”A Journey on Foot from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of Amager in the years 1828 and 1829”. Later he would begin to write the fairytales that made him world famous.

Bakkehuset’s famous Corner Room

”Here was undeniably Bakkehus’s centre, -– the room that more than Rahbek’s study – at least in the later years – made Bakkehus a literary celebrity.”

So wrote the author, folklorist and art historian Just Mathias Thiele (1795-1874) when describing Bakkehuset’s yellow drawing room. Personalities of the Danish Golden Age assembled around this emblematic table. Gatherings in the corner-room could develop into fully fledged literary symposia where the guests played with classic texts, juggled with rhyme, verse, form and content. Round the table the participants figuratively manoeuvred, joined in the cut and thrust, and young Romantic poets read aloud from their works before they were published. During these meetings, where guests came to discuss, read aloud and critique each other, a fantastically diverse and creative community developed which did not confine its discussions to the arts but also science and the state of society in general.

This corner-room, with its table, was not just used by visitors; it was a practical space where Kamma Rahbek would sit in the course of a day and write her correspondence. She drew, painted, put together her boxes and arranged flowers from her surrounding garden. Occasionally these materials would have to give way for tea accompanied by sweets, preserves and Christmas biscuits and later a modest meal. Food was the foundation of the community, creating a sense of ease and belonging.

A lazy image
The national anthem

Adam Oehlenschläger

Adam Oehlenschläger
The poet Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850) was one of the earliest visitors to Rahbek’s home in Bakkehuset. He became acquainted with the Rahbeks even before he became a published writer. In the intellectual climate of Bakkehuset his literary ambitions were stimulated. Here he met Kamma Rahbek’s younger sister Christiane Heger, to whom he became engaged in 1800. He made his literary debut in 1802 with a work entitled “Poems”, which was soon followed by his successful play ”Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp” in 1805. Oehlenschläger wrote a large number of tragedies, based on historical Danish themes; these were performed at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre. Starting in 1819 he began work on the poem “There is a Lovely Country”, that would later become the Danish national anthem.

Oehlenschläger enjoyed a particularly close relationship with Kamma Rahbek. In the years 1805-1809 he made the Grand Tour of Europe’s artistic and culturally important sites, and during this time he wrote many letters to Kamma Rahbek. Some of these letters were laid out to look like a spoof newspaper, and were given the name ”Hundeposter” [The Dog Posts]. After the completion of his Grand Tour in 1810 Adam Oehlenschläger married Christiane Heger, and they had four children together. Many items belonging to Adam Oehlenschläger and portraits of him can be seen today in Bakkehuset.

Den danske guldalder

Bakkehuset’s heyday at the beginning of the 19th century takes place at the same time as the Danish Golden Age. The Golden Age, lasting from 1800 until 1850, was a period in which Danish intellectual and cultural life truly flowered. To modern eyes this time often seems bright, rich and harmonious, but if we look at the socio-economic and political realities of the early part of the 19th century, it was a very tense time. In 1801 the Danes suffered a significant military defeat at the hands of the British and the country lost its naval fleet. Copenhagen again suffered greatly during the British bombardment of the capital in 1807. The Danish state went bankrupt in 1813 and Norway ceased to be a part of Denmark in 1814. From once being a vast kingdom, the country was significantly diminished during the Golden Age.

Despite the adverse conditions at the beginning of the period, creativity reached new heights – in science, art, literature, and philosophy. A significant influence in this period was the spread of German romanticism. Copenhagen’s upper classes were the ones who had the means to support art and culture, and they allowed many artists to travel in Europe to find inspiration and develop the domestic art scene.

At the beginning of the 19th century the old-world view was re-interpreted through the lens of the poets and philosophers of the German Romantic Movement. From their viewpoint poetry should permeate the world; man should be in harmony with the universe, and art and science should reflect this vision. Inspired by German writers the scientist Henrich Steffens introduced Romanticism to a Danish audience in 1801, and the poet Adam Oehlenschläger began immediately afterwards to convert Romantic philosophy into Danish poetry. Oehlenschläger became an important source of inspiration for the new generation of young Danish writers.

Along with Oehlenschläger the names of several other famous Danish authors are strongly associated with the Golden Age such as B.S. Ingemann, N.F.S. Grundtvig, Johan Ludvig Heiberg and Hans Christian Andersen. Science and philosophy flourished with the scientist Hans Christian Ørsted and Søren Kierkegaard respectively. Hans Christian Ørsted’s name is primarily linked with the international history of science through his discovery of electromagnetism in 1820.

One name is especially connected to the Golden Age, regarded as one of its defining artists, the painter and professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg. Eckersberg was a devotee of landscape painting where he favoured a particularly realistic artistic vision. Among Eckersberg’s students were people who in turn went on to be leading artists such as; Wilhelm Bendz, Christen Kjøbke, Martinus Rørbye, Constantin Hansen and Wilhelm Marstrand.

In Rome, the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen set up a home and workshop, and it was here that Danish artists gathered as they conducted their “Grand Tour” around Italy seeking artistic inspiration. In the world of music, composers such as J.P.E. Hartmann, H.C. Lumbye and Niels W. Gade became prominent and the ballet master August Bournonville developed a uniquely Danish ballet tradition.

Bakkehuset – Frederiksberg’s oldest house

Bakkehuset is regarded as Frederiksberg’s oldest building. The house was erected around the year 1674. At that time the house was close to a road that went from Copenhagen to Roskilde, and on the other side of the hill lay the village of Valby. At the time Bakkehuset was in a rural location and the house itself lay on a large piece of land. Today Bakkehuset is regarded as Frederiksberg’s oldest building. In 1776 the road between Copenhagen and Roskilde was moved and this had enormous consequences for Bakkehuset. With the road gone, it was no longer possible for it to function as an inn for travellers. Bakkehuset, which was a freestanding site of four buildings set up around a central courtyard, was instead rented out to guests in the summertime. Bakkehuset’s location proved to be ideal as a rural summer residence. Such places became all the rage among the more cultured and well-healed of the 18th century. Bakkehuset with its rural setting, on the rise of a hill and commanding excellent views of the landscape represented an alternative – a haven from the busy, crowded, and stressed city life behind Copenhagen’s city walls.

crowded, and stressed city life behind Copenhagen’s city walls.

In 1780 Knud Lyne Rahbek himself moved in as a tenant for the summer and by 1787 he decided to become a year-round resident. At this time a small group of students and authors began to form around Rahbek and his home. In 1798 Rahbek married Kamma Heger and she moved into his modest bachelor flat, where they lived for the first four years of their marriage. In 1802 Rahbek bought the entire house and the couple moved from the small flat on the first floor to more spacious rooms on the ground floor, which today is the site of the museum. In the three following decades Bakkehuset developed into an epicentre for Danish literary and cultural life.

Following the death of Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek Bakkehuset was sold in 1830 and the building went through a period of changes. In 1855 the site was bought by a committee who intended to establish a “Curative Institution for Imbecilic, Feeble Minded, and Epileptic Children”.

At the beginning of the 20th century Bakkehus had become very rundown, two of the four wings had actually been torn down. In 1903 permission was granted to hold a small exhibition on the ground floor with a focus on the Rahbeks. The exhibition evoked renewed interest in Bakkehuset’s historical importance, and work was begun to turn the place into a museum. The idea was realized in 1925 when a museum was officially opened on the site of Bakkehuset on June 3; inaugurated under the name ”Bakkehuset. De Rahbekske Mindestuer” [Bakkehuset. The Rahbekian Memorial Rooms]. In the beginning the museum consisted of four rooms on the ground floor. Since then it has been expanded a number of times. In 1935 historiographer Louis Bobé presented Bakkehus to Frederiksberg Municipality, and in 1954 curator at the National Museum Tove Clemmesen renovated the historical rooms.

In 2013 Bakkehuset became part of the Frederiksberg Museums and has since been revitalised and renovated. In 2017 the historical garden was inaugurated along with the octagonal orangery.

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