Børsen Fire: Denmark suffers from the destruction of Notre Dame

  • Written by Adrian Murray
  • Copenhagen

Video explanation, Watch: The historic Dragon Tower was engulfed in flames and then collapsed

Alarm bells first rang early Tuesday morning as a fire broke out in Copenhagen's historic former stock exchange building, Børsen.

In short order, the inferno destroyed large parts of the 400-year-old structure and toppled the ornate tower known for its distinctive dragons.

Brian Mikkelsen, who heads the Danish Chamber of Commerce which owns Borsen, pledged to rebuild it “no matter what.”

Comparisons have been made to France's Notre Dame Cathedral, which was destroyed by fire in 2019.

Danish officials are now hoping to see what lessons can be learned from the cathedral's rapid restoration.

Mr Mikkelsen was riding his bike to his office when he first heard about the fire and arrived to find dozens of firefighters tackling the blaze. “I was riding my bike there. Then I saw the fire,” he said.

He, along with his colleagues and emergency workers, ran several times into the burning building to rescue some of the hundreds of centuries-old artworks stored inside.

“We were running in and out. Sometimes the fire department said we had to get out because we were right next to the fire,” he recalls.

“I didn't think, I just reacted. It was a gut feeling that we have to save this.”

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, Mr. Mikkelsen and his colleague rescue one of the paintings inside Borsen

They climbed on each other's shoulders to pull down the artworks hanging high on the walls. One hundred soldiers, museum maintenance officials and even members of the public joined the rescue efforts.

Except for the bust of King Christian IV of Denmark, which weighed two tons, most of the historical items have been recovered.

“We got almost everything,” Mr. Mikkelsen told me. “So that's a little bit of hope for disaster.”

Fortunately, the decorative metal tip of the tower also survived and was handed over to him.

“It's one of the worst days of my life,” he said. “It is truly a disaster for history and culture.”

Watch in horror

Danes have been shocked and saddened by the loss of the iconic Dragon Tower from their picture-postcard city skyline.

It's a scene where many regularly walk or ride bikes, and there has been a public outpouring of support as people shared photos of Borsen on social media.

“I could see the flames,” resident Sheri Christiansen told me. “I burst into tears, because it is our heritage. It will never be the same. But I hope they can rebuild it.”

Another resident, Mohamed Ibrahim Zaid, said, “It was a very sad feeling because it is a very historic building.”

Victor Stable-Ovro, who also lives nearby, agreed: “I could see it from my apartment. It was devastating to watch.”

Børsen, adjacent to the Danish Parliament, was built in 1625 by Christian IV, who was one of the country's most powerful kings, as a trading facility for northern Europe.

Later, it served as a stock exchange until the mid-20th century.

With its red brick, teal-colored copper roof and rich interior decoration, it was one of the few remaining Renaissance buildings in Copenhagen.

“I think this is part of the identity of Copenhagen and Denmark,” MP Henrik Müller told me outside parliament.

“Of course there are comparisons with Notre Dame Cathedral. It's a kind of Danish Notre Dame that we saw here.”

France's famous cathedral is set to reopen again next December, after just five and a half years of restoration work, while the immediate vicinity will be redeveloped by 2028.

Image source, Getty Images

Comment on the photo, People react as Borsen burns on Tuesday

Copenhagen Mayor Sophie Historp Andersen told the BBC that it was horrific to see 400 years of Danish history burned.

“We just lost an essential part of the city’s spirit and history,” she said.

Ms. Andersen is among those who gathered to see the reconstruction of Boursin and spoke with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo to hear about the restoration of Notre Dame.

A team from Denmark is scheduled to visit the cathedral next month.

Kent Martinussen, CEO of the Danish Architecture Centre, said lessons could be learned from new 3D technologies and artificial intelligence to help recreate ancient materials.

Like versus like

From the square outside Parliament, I spent Tuesday watching orange flames and billowing smoke engulf the stock exchange as fire crews armed with hoses battled the blaze.

Tim Ole Simonsen, head of emergency services operations in Copenhagen, told the BBC: “You only see an incident like this once or twice in your career.”

He added, “The fire was very intense at first and spread quickly.”

The first pictures from inside showed burned and waterlogged rooms, littered with charred wood and black ash.

Image source, Getty Images

Twisted scaffolding is now unstable and large sections of the outer wall have collapsed, while 40 shipping containers filled with concrete have been placed around the rubble as support.

“The walls are now very unstable,” Simonsen said, adding that extreme temperature changes, drought and waterlogging had weakened the structure.

Pockets of smoldering embers continue to burn, and on Thursday I could still see smoke.

“There will be a lot of work until Monday morning, and then there will be a review,” he said.

Police said it could take months to determine the cause of the fire.

Renovation work has taken place over the past two years, in preparation for Børsen's 400th anniversary celebrations later this year.

The architect behind the restoration, Leif Hansen, told Danish newspaper Politiken that all the work had been lost, but he believed Børsen should be rebuilt. “It has to be so, and we can do it,” he added.

Thanks to the restoration project, many of the building's features are well documented, which will help, Hansen said.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen visited the site on Friday, thanked the firefighters and expressed her support for the reconstruction. Architect Kent Martinussen said it could be done within five years.

Mr. Mikkelsen wants the renovation to be true to the original. “For me, the vision is that we will build it as Christian IV built it,” he said.

The work is expected to cost more than 1 billion kroner (£115 million; $143 million). How that amount will be paid has not yet been determined, and the insurance assessment is still pending.

Some of Denmark's largest foundations and companies have already pledged significant donations and the public response has been overwhelming, Mikkelsen said.

He added: “I have never felt so much love from ordinary Danes in my life. I have received thousands of emails.”

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