More background info: The name of the museum in Danish, “Frihedsmuseet”, would translate literally as “Freedom Museum”, but in English it is officially rendered as “Museum of the Danish Resistance” but is also known as “Danish Resistance Museum”.
The original museum was actually put together by members of the resistance themselves, with an initial exhibition “The Fighting Denmark” that opened shortly after the liberation of the country in 1945. It then became a “gift” to the Danish state, made in 1957, when it moved to the present address. It’s affiliated with (actually owned by) the National Museum of Denmark.
In April 2013 the museum was the target of an arson attack and largely burned down. Luckily the irreplaceable artefacts in the exhibition could be saved. But the building was so badly damaged that it was demolished the following year. Who the arsonists were – they were pictured in blurry CCTV footage – seems to be unclear or is not being disclosed (I’ve found no reference to their identity). If the attack was politically motivated then one has to fear that it could have been neo-Nazis. But that remains pure speculation on my part.
Anyway, with the help of generous donations made that same year (2014) a new museum was conceived and construction work began in May 2017. It was still over three further years in the making, but finally opened in July 2020. Unlike the above-ground old museum, the new exhibition is entirely subterranean – so that you literally “go underground” to visit it. At street level there’s just a small oval edifice with the ticket office, museum shop and a café.
Apparently, the approach of the new museum is also somewhat different from that of its predecessors in that the resistance is not presented as a uniform and anonymous mass of “patriots” but is much more individualized and makes clear that there wasn’t just a single movement, but very different facets and that it ranged across the entire political spectrum, (far) left, centre and (far) right.
What there is to see: Once you’ve found the entrance to the small above-ground museum building and purchased your ticket, you descend down stairs to the museum proper, past a first subterranean level with a cloakroom and toilets, then another flight down to the second, even deeper underground floor where the permanent exhibition is located. There’s a certain “Tardis effect” in that the underground exhibition is much more spacious than the rather small above-ground museum building would suggest.
The exhibition kicks off with a short intro
section about the anxious mood in Denmark
at the beginning of WWII
. As the prospect of a possible occupation of Denmark, despite its declared neutrality, loomed larger, so did the question of whether to resist. A number of individuals are introduced at this point whose stories are woven into the exhibition, these range from communists to an active Danish Nazi collaborator.
Among the first exhibits are a medal posthumously awarded to one of the few soldiers and border guards who were killed in the very brief fight against the Nazi German invasion force. There’s also a Danish steel helmet with a bullet hole. Then we get to the core parts of the exhibition.
All texts are bilingual, in Danish and English, and the translations are generally good. The mood is quite dark – literally even, as lighting often just picks out individual items or projections while the rest of the rooms remain rather gloomily dark. The exhibits are a mix of original artefacts, texts and photos, projections on to the walls and a few interactive elements. It somehow feels very modern but also old-fashioned at the same time. And I mean that in a positive sense.
The exhibition progresses mostly chronologically, with the year numbers from 1940 to 1945 projected on to walls each introducing a new section. Another recurring element is mock news stands with paper sheets with headlines (some Danish, some English) pertaining to the main events in each of those years.
Covered is the initial compliance of the Danish government and large parts of the population during the first half of the occupation, in which life could largely go on despite shortages, censorship and German soldiers in the streets. But at least Denmark was not at war as such.
Still first forms of resistance developed and several thousand Danes also volunteer to serve in the Allied Merchant Navy and took part in the transatlantic convoys.
Yet there were dyed-in-the-wool Nazis
amongst the Danish population too, and a few thousand of them went into active service with the Wehrmacht and especially the SS
. These sections and the details about the Danish Nazi party D.N.S.A.P.
are quite revealing and contain many remarkable artefacts.
The year 1941
brought a toughening of the occupation in that after Germany
’s invasion of the USSR
, the Nazis started arresting Danish communists and putting them into camps – others go into hiding to avoid arrest.
One section has numerous household items and a kitchen, representing one of the characters introduced earlier, namely the communist, housewife and mother Musse Hartig. The difficult decisions such people had to make are thus illustrated.
The resistance, small at first, began to grow in the year 1942
– and activities mostly consisted of operating underground printing presses
producing anti-Nazi flyers. There are interactive elements in this section and printing presses with screens dishing out “flyers” as you turn the handle. Another interactive element is a station where you can try your hands at deciphering messages encoded with the legendary Enigma
machine. (I remembered from my visit to Bletchley Park
that I have no talent in this regard so didn’t bother having a go.)
The growing resistance movement turned increasingly to sabotage. There are interactive screens that detail the various acts of sabotage. (For me that was a bit too much detail and so I didn’t use the screen much either.)
As sabotage was rising and at the same time the fortunes of the German military waned after Stalingrad
, the occupying forces step up repression
and introduce martial law
and the death penalty
for saboteurs. So in 1943
the Danish government ends any compliance with the occupiers and ceases to function in August 1943. The Danes were also called upon to go on a general strike, which the Nazis failed to crush.
It was also in 1943 that the Germans began to round up Danish Jews
to deport them to the death camps
of the Holocaust
. Famously, though, large numbers of Danish Jews were taken to safety
in neutral Sweden across
the waters of the Øresund
. It’s this context into which the museum’s largest exhibit falls: a full-size wooden fishing boat
used to evacuate Jews (see photo above).
, the Germans stepped up their efforts to hunt down members of the resistance. Those caught were often tortured and many sent to concentration camps
. There were also break-ins by the Gestapo
with the resistance. Some of the grimmest exhibits in the museum illustrate this by displays of jackets and hat with bullet holes and blood-soaked jumpers.
The Danish Resistance had support from Britain
and its SOE
(the secret ‘Special Operations Executive’). One significant event was the bombing of the Gestapo HQ
with the help of the resistance. The precision bombing was successful but unfortunately some of the bombers mistook a nearby school for their target and bombed that instead.
The British SOE also air-dropped containers with weapons and supplies on parachutes. A large interactive exhibit is about such nightly operations where you can use a torch to simulate the signal for air-drops which, if successful, triggers an animation of such a parachute operation on a large projection.
One side section elaborates about Danes in concentration camps
, and on display are, amongst other things, inmate jackets from Neuengamme
. The Ryvangen barracks in the north of Copenhagen
also gets a mention. This was a place used by the Nazis for executions of captured resistance fighters – see Mindelunden
Yet by 1945
it was clear that Germany
would lose the war and in Denmark
the resistance swelled. There were also German refugees coming over the border and Danish concentration camp
prisoners were rescued and brought back to Denmark.
Then on 4 May 1945
the news came that German troops in the north, from Holland
to Denmark surrendered to the British. Thus Denmark
even before the general unconditional surrender of all of Germany
a few days later (see Reims
The museum’s last section is a kind of epilogue
, covering the reprisals against Nazi collaborators or women who had had affairs with German soldiers. The collaborator trials are briefly mentioned (see 1947-1950 execution site
) as are general political developments of the early Cold War
years and the division of the world by the Iron Curtain
. And again, the story gets personalized by reference to the same individuals encountered earlier in the exhibition.
All in all
, I found the museum quite convincing and certainly educational. The interactive elements occasionally felt a bit for the sake of it, but some are also quite imaginative (like that torch signal for SOE air-drops). The plethora of authentic artefacts balances out such approaches well, so the overall concept works excellently. This is thus probably the No. 1 dark-tourism attraction in all of Copenhagen
at the northern end of the inner city of Copenhagen
, namely in Churchill Park, just south of the historical citadel (Kastellet); address: Esplanaden 13, 1263 Copenhagen.
Access and costs: quite easy to locate; a little expensive, but not too seriously so (going by Copenhagen’s general standards)
Details: From within the inner city and neighbouring districts, it’s walkable, head up Amaliegade, Bredgade or the waterfront and head for Churchillparken on Esplanaden. The nearest public transport option is actually the water bus, which has a stop at the eastern end of Esplanaden called Nordre Toldbod less that 250 yards away. The closest road and rail public transport options are the metro station Marmorkirken, ca. 600 yards to the south-west on Store Kongensgade, or Østerport train and metro station just west of the citadel a bit further away to the north-west.
Opening times: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., daily in high season (May to August), closed Mondays the rest of the year (except for a few special dates); closed Christmas Eve and Day and on New Year’s Eve, but otherwise open on public holidays.
Admission: 110 DKK (ca. 15 EUR); free for under-18-year-olds.
Time required: the museum’s website advises two hours; myself I spent just a little under an hour and a half in there, but then again I gave a couple of the interactive exhibits a miss. If you want to do and read everything you may actually need a bit more than two hours.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Copenhagen
The nearest other dark attraction is the Medical Museum
, just a five-minute walk away on Bredgade.
Even nearer is the old citadel (Kastellet), but although a historical military site there isn’t much dark about it these days. But en route you pass an old sea mine on the eastern edge of the lawn of Churchill Park and a bit further north a sombre soldier statue that serves as a war memorial.
A lot further away but thematically closer to the Frihedsmuseet is Mindelunden
, the national shrine to the resistance, located in the northern district of Hellerup, reachable by train from Østerport (or the main train station).
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The famous Little Mermaind statue is just a short walk away. This is Copenhagen’s most popular tourist attraction, the one everybody wants to see (even if they’re then a bit disappointed by the sculpture’s small size). To get there from the museum head north-east past the Sankt Albans Kirke (St. Alban’s Church) and the pompous Gefion fountain towards the Langelinie waterfront. In high season you simply have to follow the tourist crowds …
- Frihedsmuseet 01 - above-ground building
- Frihedsmuseet 02 - going underground
- Frihedsmuseet 03 - subterranean exhibition
- Frihedsmuseet 04 - and here come the Nazis
- Frihedsmuseet 05 - Danish Nazis too
- Frihedsmuseet 06 - 1941
- Frihedsmuseet 07 - daily life affected
- Frihedsmuseet 08 - a housewife perspective
- Frihedsmuseet 09 - 1942
- Frihedsmuseet 10 - interactive screen
- Frihedsmuseet 11 - printing press simulation
- Frihedsmuseet 12 - hollowed-out book for smuggling documents
- Frihedsmuseet 13 - petrol was scarce, so wood-fuelled converters were used
- Frihedsmuseet 14 - 1943
- Frihedsmuseet 15 - yellow star for Jews
- Frihedsmuseet 16 - boat used for evacuating Jews to neutral Sweden
- Frihedsmuseet 17 - 1944
- Frihedsmuseet 18 - hat with bullet hole
- Frihedsmuseet 19 - multiple bullet holes
- Frihedsmuseet 20 - news
- Frihedsmuseet 21 - freedom fighter with jumper
- Frihedsmuseet 22 - blood-stained jumper
- Frihedsmuseet 23 - bullet-hole-riddled street sign
- Frihedsmuseet 24 - sabotage
- Frihedsmuseet 25 - interactive aerial supply installation
- Frihedsmuseet 26 - rubble
- Frihedsmuseet 27 - concentration camps
- Frihedsmuseet 28 - 1945
- Frihedsmuseet 29 - occupation over