Copenhagen Stock Exchange: Passers-by save art treasures from the fire

Large parts of the historic Copenhagen Stock Exchange burned down. A shock for many Danes, as the “Børsen” has cultural and historical significance. Thanks to the courageous intervention of passers-by and employees, at least valuable paintings were saved.

Had it not been for them, many valuable paintings would have been lost forever. The historic Copenhagen Stock Exchange was already ablaze on Tuesday morning when a few passers-by rushed inside. They saved a number of old paintings – and in doing so saved a piece of Danish history and Danish identity from destruction.

Shortly after 7:30 a.m. the emergency services received the alarm: the “Børsen” was on fire. A large contingent of firefighters and police arrived. Copenhageners who bike to work and pass the landmark daily stopped and watched in disbelief as a monument to the nation was enveloped in thick smoke. Denmark experienced its “Notre Dame moment”.

Passers-by run into the “Børsen” and become art rescuers

The “Børsen” was built in the 17th century at the instigation of the then King Christian IV. He wanted to make Copenhagen an international trading center with the commodity exchange. The building, an example of the Dutch Renaissance, became a meeting place for the upper bourgeoisie. People came here to see and be seen. The heyday as a commodity exchange ended around 1800, and in the 1970s the Copenhagen fund exchange also moved out. Today, the almost 400-year-old building houses the Danish Chamber of Commerce – and a large art treasure that was suddenly in danger of falling victim to the inferno.

While the fire brigade began extinguishing the fire and passers-by watched the fire’s destructiveness in shock, other spectators took heart. They rushed to the “Børsen” together with emergency services. A bold, crazy decision? Pictures of the Danish Radio DR showed men and women rushing into the building with backpacks and handbags under their arms; the police had already cordoned off the scene of the fire. The brave rescuers would emerge a short time later with several paintings, some of them so powerful and heavy that they had to be carried by several people.

One of the people who rushed to the “Børsen” is Klavs Lockwood. The newspaper “BT” He says he ran to the scene of the fire because his car was parked nearby. “Suddenly someone shouted to me: ‘Come and help’. I ran there and to the Børsen, where we had to save some of the paintings.” After taking one of the pictures to the neighboring Christiansborg Palace, he wanted to return, but the “Børsen” had already been cordoned off by the rescue workers. He doesn’t know where his car is now. “My car is a trivial matter.”

A lot could be saved – “but not everything”

One of the rescued art treasures is the painting “From the Copenhagen Stock Exchange” by PS Krøyer from 1895. It shows a number of the most important stock market people in the room at the time, including the businessman CF Tietgen.

The head of the Danish Chamber of Commerce himself, Brian Mikkelsen, is one of the Copenhagen art rescuers. “I cried this morning,” he told the newspaper “Berlingske” on Tuesday. It was probably the most tragic day of his life.

Brian Mikkelsen (l.) lends a hand himself

Brian Mikkelsen (l.) lends a hand himself

© Ida Marie Odgaard / Ritzau Scanpix / Imago Images

After getting over the initial shock, Mikkelsen sat down on the stone floor to leaf through a ring binder full of documents. He tried to identify the most important works – not an easy task even for experienced art connoisseurs.

Then the director of the Chamber of Commerce intervened himself, with a crowbar and in conjunction with others. “We rushed in and took some of the most important things that are important to the story. From Christian IV and the Krøyer paintings.” A lot could be saved, “a lot” in fact – “but not everything”.

Rescue plan for art treasures in the historic Copenhagen Stock Exchange

Among the art objects that could not be brought outside is a large statue of Christian IV – the Danish king who commissioned the “Børsen”, writes “Berlingske”. To many Danes it must have seemed as if the captain had sunk with his ship.

On Tuesday, the experts from the Danish National Museum who rushed to the scene had difficulty getting a precise overview of what was spared from the smoke and flames – and what was likely lost forever. The fact that a lot of things could be saved is not only thanks to the intervention of passers-by, but also to a rescue plan that was specially developed for such cases.

“For buildings with valuable cultural heritage, there is a value rescue plan in which evacuation takes place according to the highest value,” explained Camilla Bastholm from the National Museum of the “Berlingske”. “People went into the building first and took what they could.” According to her, the work “From the Copenhagen Stock Exchange” was at the top of the rescue plan.

"A horror" – Copenhageners mourn the loss of their historic stock exchange

“A horror” – Copenhageners mourn their historic stock exchange

01:16 minutes

“A little light in the darkness”

Several hundred works of art – including mirrors, candlesticks, sculptures and clocks – were brought to safety on Tuesday afternoon, Bastholm said at a press conference. Her team will try to restore the works damaged by water and smoke.

The fire has been under control since Tuesday afternoon. However, the fire department expects that the extinguishing work will take at least another day. The cause of the fire also remains to be determined. On the occasion of the upcoming 400th anniversary, restoration work took place in the “Børsen” which may have played a role.

There was some good news on Wednesday: Although the iconic spiral tower, the so-called Dragon Peak, collapsed during the inferno, the undamaged peak was able to be handed over to Brian Mikkelsen. Actually, according to the story, the four dragons were supposed to protect the “Børsen” from fire. They managed to do this for 400 years. Until yesterday.

“A little light in the darkness,” Mikkelsen wrote about the rescued peak on the Platform X. “That gives me a glimmer of hope. Because she will decorate our beautiful workplace and Copenhagen again.”

Sources: Denmark’s radio, “Berlingske”, “Politics”, “BT”, TV2DPA news agency

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