The minutes from the tour to the Danner House and the Woman’s House in Copenhagen on the 25th of May 2001.
When we arrive it is hot and sunny. We had made our way along the side of the lake, talking about the birds on the water. One woman was waiting there already with her small blonde son. Already there is a question about whether he can go into the building. It is usual in these kind of ‘Safe Houses for Women’, not to allow any men. Boys under a certain age are however permitted.
Slowly some other women arrive, they know each other mostly, apart from one lady who works for a larger organisation related to helping women who are abused by men. The other women are artists and an art historian. We wait for a while until Ruth from The Danner House comes out to collect us. Ruth keeps reminding us that the house is very clean, I should probably comment on this later, before I leave. We go into the basement where there are some flasks of coffee and cookies. We sit at a long table and Ruth begins the story of The Danner House, she gives me a leaflet in English to read. The talk is in Danish, but I know it is about the woman who established the house and then how in the mid seventies over 300 women squatted the building to prevent it from closure. I am day dreaming about the kind of demonstrations we could get involved in, and the different objects that I have that I could paint the feminist symbol on, it fits well on the front of this house. Occasionally they all start to laugh or discuss something, then I feel a bit sorry that I don’t understand danish at all.
Katya points out that many of the pictures on the walls are made by men. Ruth who works at the Danner House expresses that she did not really think about it before, and says that some men are good, but what about these ones. I don’t recognise their names. Our group is mostly artists so they really notice these kinds of things. Perhaps they should make some work to replace these pictures. We do start to talk about the video documentary made about the Danner House, Ruth says they have copies for sale, and we agree to buy it collectively, each of us puts in some Kronas, and agree to meet and watch it on Sunday at the ‘Copenhagen Free University’.
There is one area for arts and craft activities in the basement, it is sealed off with a cage door, inside we can see signs of activity, a drawing on an easel. Earlier upstairs there was a room for sewing. In that room was a notice board with some examples of different designs for knitting or embroidery. There was a postcard that was made for the 21st birthday celebration of the Danner House, depicting a beautiful cake. There are some children’s drawings and a toy pinned up, the kind of toy you can write messages on and then wipe them away quite easily, it says ‘write to me’ in Danish, a woman in the group translates this for me.
We go up to the top of the house, there is a display of magazine covers from the early 70’s and four Lp record covers, which I am told are particular feminist anthems in Denmark. One woman recognises the face on one cover, not who she is, but the kind of woman she is, her spirit, she imitates her a bit. They also point to a picture from a woman’s summer camp and a banner that has a slogan, it says something about a lesbian, or being a lesbian tomorrow, it is a joke.
When we return to the basement we all sit near the door where the women who squatted the building over 20 years ago first gained access. Somebody in our group props it open to let the air in. If this is a shelter, a ‘Safe House’, I wonder should doors be propped open? We sit and compare countries, U.K and Denmark, I make sweeping generalisations about the U.K, and the others point out that the U.K has a more advanced system for dealing with Domestic Violence and how Shelters work with the police more effectively. In Denmark the children are offered a lot of support. For me the main difference in Denmark seems to be about a race issue as well as women’s issues, that in London these things are inextricably linked, I don’t see that here at all.
When we leave, we go through the special door. Back out in the sun again, some people leave for other appointments, others collect their bikes to walk to the Woman’s House, some of the women in our group have tops with no sleeves and sun glasses.
Eventually when we arrive at the Woman’s House Lynn is there waiting with a patch on her eye. She proceeds to ask us who we are and what do we do, then she goes on to describe her life in quite personal detail. It is inspiring to hear her story and what her hopes are for the work she is doing at the Woman’s House. If I remember she was an editor for Cosmopolitan in New York when she was 22 years old, much of what she is talking about is related to fashion, but more how to understand it, than follow it. I am looking around the shop, there are all these striped knitted dresses that are so familiar to me. She then explains that the dresses are made from recycled yarns, and from a woman in London. I realise I know this woman, she sells these clothes at a market on Sunday mornings, near where I used to live, and where Henriette, Jakob and Solvej used to live. Later I tell Jakob and he remembers his mother bought something from her. Lynn also runs a workshop for young women to come and make clothes. She believes in recycling and second hand clothes, and encourages young women to make something from the materials she has recycled. The clothes are beautiful and all have their own individual stories.
Lynn gives me two posters from a Woman’s festival in 1975, it has the slogan ‘The Woman’s struggle is the class struggle, the class struggle is the Woman’s struggle’ and a child like picture of a woman calling, laughing or screaming I am not sure.
Eventually two women from the library come and find us, they are the real ‘Red Stockings’. They take us first to the cafe, there is nothing for sale, the cafe is only open every two weeks. They try to describe the different groups that are using the centre, they must all be ‘Feminist and Socialist’. We take a tour of the building, there are several social rooms and then offices, one is for a group of women against ‘forced hetrosexuality’ it is an impressive and diverse community of women who use this building.
In another room are a collection of magazines. Are these the same magazines that were displayed at the Danner House? I think so. We are encouraged to take some, and all of us do.
We end the tour in the Library, this is Lisbeths’ project. I like the way she tells how the collection is made from books that really are now out of fashion, that women have given away. One woman in the group says that she thinks they are coming back into fashion, earlier they were saying that some of the clothes in the shop were coming back into fashion. It is a wonderful library, but you can’t take things away, you have to read the books there, or you could then go to another library and get the book to take home.
At the end of the tour Henriette and I join the two women from the Woman’s House for a coffee and cake, in a nearby cafe. One of the women describes how she was at the Danner House when it was first squatted. She was very young, her sister called her in the night and said “Get your sleeping bag and some candles, we are going to the Danner House”, at the time she was upset, now she is proud to be part of that historical action.