The Rundetaarn is an inconspicuous creature. It sits central to Copenhagen and features widely on lists of places to visit. But to look at. Well. You could probably walk right by it.
Copenhagen has so many buildings in a similar age category that they begin to fade into the background. Most Europeans live side by side with buildings just as old, often more so and while historic architecture is always intriguing, often it’s just not that notable.
But the Rundetaarn…
A 17th century astronomical observatory, the Rundetaarn is actually an impressive tower once you take the time to look up at it from the streets around.
The magic of this tower isn’t its exterior though. Not by a long shot.
Walking a helical corridor
The Rundetaarn has an equestrian ramp. You’d be forgiven for having to look that up – I did – but it’s as simple as it sounds. It’s designed for horses to be able to climb great heights.
The ramp begins the moment you walk through the door and, after you’ve paid your 25DKK (£3) entrance fee, it continues on its way.
It’s immediately arresting.
Helical corridors mean that you are immersed quickly under their spell. A few steps allows you to lose the people behind you and be lost by those in front. And without stairs, the Rundetaarn’s helical corridor doesn’t even feel like an effort.
The pure inside
One of the things that allows you to so easily lose yourself in this tower is that the walls and ceilings are white and the beautiful, almost cobbled floor, is pale. Even on a cloudy day light pours in and bounces around the circling corridor from the many windows.
It feels pure. There’s no art on the walls to clutter it, nothing extraneous at all. Just whiteness and light.
You become so absorbed in the hypnotising spiral that not only does it feel like it goes on forever, but you lose track of the distance you’ve covered until you look out of a window. Then you see how high you are, that now your view is not of shop fronts but of rooftops.
And still the helix goes on.
The Rundetaarn’s seductive curves
And herein lies the existential heart of the Rundetaarn.
The top is going to be good, you know that. The viewing platform will give you 360 vision over this charming city.
You can power up, mesmerised by the leading equestrian ramp so wholly that you are practically being carried along by the current of its curves. You do not exist outside this single path, so captivating is it.
But without stopping, you’d miss your own progress.
The top is not the whole story.
So often we see select views. We stop when we’re forced to. We look around at buildings when waiting for a bus. We notice cracks in plastic moulding when standing on the tube, waiting for our lives to continue when we step onto the platform and move on with our day.
The Rundetaarn demands no pause but pause we must. Because the tower is almost as much windows as it is a path up.
Stop and look, stop and see
The windows aren’t huge and the old mullion almost obscures the view. But only by stopping at the windows do you get to see Copenhagen’s streets and buildings from the most unique angles.
Only from the windows can you see what you have so far achieved.
Each window offers a different perspective from the last. Further round than the last and a little higher than the one directly below. Sometimes they look out down the rambling streets, sometimes they face the walls of buildings opposite and sometimes they look out over roof tiles.
When you look out from within the Rundetaarn, you are both in the kaleidoscope and looking out from it. You separate yourself from the flow of the path and its pre-determined direction.
You stand and see what you would usually miss. You can see the distance you have come and do not know how far you have to go.
The distance between what you know and what you don’t
The journey to the top is long, the curves seem endless at times. Its beauty is so brutally simple.
The final push is a narrow spiral staircase to the platform in the cool Autumnal air. The city is indeed impressive from up here.
It’s a maze of rooftops and spires and chimneys and tiles. You can see for miles in this flat country. But you can’t be up here for long, because the white helix isn’t done with you yet.
Descending the Rundetaarn can only be done the same way as the ascent. The same spiral but this one downward.
It takes no time at all.
Where the journey up was long and illuminating. The journey down is somehow compressed, as though the tower is only a few storeys high.
It takes little time to descend from great heights.
If life were a building. It would perhaps be the Rundetårn.