Original engraving of 
the tower, as included in the novel
Axel and Lidenbrock on the Vor Frelsers Kirke
(I mirrored the original engraving, because Riou had drawn the tower spiraling the wrong way.)
Photo of me on the Vor Frelsers Kirke
Me on the Vor Frelsers Kirke

Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, has a lot of monumental buildings, including the Vor Frelsers Kirke. This church was built in the late 17th century. In 1747 the royal architect Laurits de Thurah started the building of the remarkable tower, which has winding stairs around it. The copper steps lead to the top of the tower, ca. 80 m high. Here is a ball, 2.5 m across, which carries a statue of Christ. The whole tower reaches a height of 90 m.

In Jules Verne’s novel Voyage au centre de la Terre, professor Otto Lidenbrock attempts to reach the centre of the earth through a volcano in Iceland. While he is waiting in København for the vessel that will take him to Reykjavik, the professor strolls around in the city with his nephew Axel. None of the attractions can draw his attention, until he sees the Vor Frelsers Kirke. He drags his nephew with him, and forces him to climb the tower. When Axel finds himself on the stairs in the open air, the wind blowing in his face, some 60 meters above the ground, he gets sick with acrophobia. He can hardly make it to the top, but his uncle insists that he should look down, to get used to great heights and depths.

While driving through Denmark’s capital, on the way back from a Sweden holiday, in 1996, the idea occurred to me to see if the tower of the Vor Frelsers Kirke could be climbed. In the book, Lidenbrock has to get the key from a porter, so I did not expect too much of it. Moreover, the tower was being renovated. It was worth trying anyway. After some erring through the centre of København we reached the church. We went in, and there was a lady selling tickets for an ascent of the tower! You can imagine how glad I was to be able to follow Lidenbrock’s footsteps so closely. At first there were just normal stairs in a brick tower. Then, after some 30 m, the brick made place for wood. Here one had to walk carefully, for the passages were quite low, and there were wooden bars everywhere. We had a look at the beautiful old clockwork, and went on. We passed a door and we were outside.

Climbing the tower was entirely at the visitor’s own risk. The winding stairs have a golden railing, artfully sculptured, but not very high. We climbed on, admiring the view of the city and the sea rather than looking straight down. The steps got narrower and narrower as we neared the top. At the highest point they were only 30 cm in width. There was a rather vigorous wind, and the entire tower was swaying to and fro. I can say that I am not often scared of heights, but now I could imagine how Axel felt. The sky was cloudy, and we could not see as far as the Swedish coast, but a magnificent panorama of København stretched out below. We could see the royal palace, Tivoli and the old harbour. At the other side the Danish countryside was vaguely visible. We took some photos and after a last look around us, we went down again, a great experience richer.

Later I found out that Jules Verne’s brother Paul has climbed the Vor Frelsers Kirke as well, together with his son. He writes about it in his story De Rotterdam à Copenhague à bord du yacht à vapeur Saint-Michel. He says that “you need a good portion of cold blood to make this ascent. (…) As we, my son and me, were climbing up, the weather was nice and clear. Far away the wonderful view over the Sond stretched out, in its full length from the north to the south; unfortunately a rather sharp wind was blowing from the east, which made the look-out difficult. Hardly both our hands sufficed to keep us straight against the violence of the wind. (…) Many times the whole tower seemed to shiver under the howling shocks. (…) As much as I am used to climbing down small mountain paths, I have to admit that these corkscrew-like stairs were a painful experience to me. (…)”

Photo of the old clockwork
The old clockwork, dating from the late 17th century.
Photo of the clock
The clock itself. Clock and clockwork are in the wooden part of the tower.
Photo of a poster showing architectural specifications
Some architectural specifications. This is inside the lower part of the tower.
Photo of my mother on the stairs
My mother on the stairs of Vor Frelsers Kirke.
Photo of the city
A view of the city.
Photo of the harbour and the sea
A view of the harbour and the sea.