Family life afloat on Copenhagen Harbour
“We were going to name him Storm… but he’s just been too sweet and gentle for such a name.” Jette was holding her baby boy in her arms, explaining why, at two weeks of age, he was still without a name. The baby stared quietly up at his mother while she spoke. “His sister is called Sol, like the sun, and she is not always so sunny.”
We’d just landed in Copenhagen from Paris. A quick taxi ride, a walk down a crumbling pier, counting down a row of modified old barges and tugboats. Fourth from the end we found Jette and Jesper, Sol and little baby boy. Sol was sitting at the kitchen table with us, sweetly sharing her honey and rye bread. The sun was bouncing off the water outside the windows of this converted river barge, filling the room with light.
We read about Jesper and Jette in an article on the best Airbnb’s in Copenhagen. The charm of staying on the water and the unique and thoughtful renovation make it an enchanting place to spend the night. Their boat is built in two halves, one for the family and one for guests. They are eager hosts and so far their only complaint about Airbnb is that they’re too curious about their guests. They want to chat, to share their life, their city, their meusli. But most guests get the keys and quickly disappear.
Over thick toast and sweet Danish cheese at their kitchen table we learned about life on the water, the history of the harbor and family life in Copenhagen.
Jesper moved their ancient barge to this pier in the post-industrial section of Refshaleøen a few years ago. Its 100-foot iron hull is wrapped in a thick coat of countless layers of bottom paint, year after year another layer added to keep the iron safe from the saltwater. As the owner of Genbyg, Denmark’s largest recycled building material company, Jesper was the perfect man to rebuild the living areas. Two levels each with skylights built into the floors, huge windows, modern, straight lines of recycled wood. It’s bright, even in the lower decks, and wonderfully livable. The boat mirrors the dance of modern and classical design found all over Copenhagen. Clean, white-washed walls with ancient wrought-iron portholes.
The water is always cold and dark, dredged deep right off the wharf to allow the long draft of the ships that were once built here. Jesper’s favourite moment of the day is the leap he makes from the bowsprit on his return from work. Like a daily rebirth, a clean and complete transition from the stresses of business to the different, sweeter stresses of home life on the boat. When Jesper resurfaces, his family waiting for him, he feels clean and free, ready to hold them.
Lying in bed, listening to the sprinkle of spring rain on the skylights and the lapping of water against the hull, feeling the boat move slow and soft, tugging at its moorings then bumping gently against the dock, it’s easy to imagine you’re drifting free on an open sea. That this ancient barge with its modern refit, will carry you safely, while you sleep, to some new adventure in a bright new morning. And just as imagined, when you wake, Copenhagen is waiting for you.