I’ve long wanted to go to the infamous Black Museum in London, but as I’m unlikely to join the police force any time soon, it’s probably not a practical option. However, Copenhagen has a police museum that is open to the public, so it seemed the obvious place to visit on my birthday. In case you couldn’t tell from the opening picture, this post has some slightly gory themes/musings towards the end. If you’re unusually squeamish or delicate, consider yourself warned. Now, onto the museum!
The museum is located in what is evidently the Nørrebro quarter – all I know is that it was a fair walk from our hotel near Tivoli. Some information that is possibly more helpful is that the museum is only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays from 11-4, so plan accordingly. I missed out on seeing the Medical Museum due to their similarly limited opening hours. Admission is DKK 40, which I think is about 5 quid, so positively cheap by Danish standards! (Seriously, everything in Denmark was insanely expensive.)
None of the captions or signs are in English, though the man working there kindly let us borrow a couple of the English guidebooks from the shop, and gave us a bit of background information on the museum. It is housed in a former police station (circa 1884), and has been open to the public since 1993; it has been a museum since 1904, but was only used for training officers prior to 1993, rather like the Black Museum.
The museum opened with a room holding a collection of old police and watchmen’s uniforms, and detailing the evolution of the police force in Denmark. There was a most intriguing picture depicting all the forms of punishment under early modern law, which included various modes of execution and torture. Unfortunately, we quickly realised that though the museum was absolutely packed with informational signs, the guidebook only bothered to translate about 10% of them, in addition to providing a brief overview of each room, rife with typos. I did try to puzzle through the Danish, in hope of cognates, but it was just too bizarre to make anything of it. Because of this, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out, a feeling which would only intensify as I made my way through the museum.
Other rooms on the ground floor included a replica police station, one with a chair set up for mug shots (which I really wanted to sit in, but I didn’t know if the sign said, “Please sit down” or “Don’t sit here under any circumstances!” as it was in Danish, so I stayed away), a motorcycle room, and one filled with riot gear. I’m pretty sure you could sit on one of the motorcycles, as some Danish youths were doing it when we passed by.
Another wing housed the old jail cells, most of which are now filled with displays, though there was a soiled mattress in one for that “authentic” prison experience. There was a pretty neat collection in here of things the prisoners made, many of them composed of partially masticated bread, as I suppose they haven’t got many other building materials. I enjoyed the jumping jack, and the bread flowers, as well as the story of a famous Danish escape artist who rather stupidly sent a postcard to the warden from a post office near the barn where he was hiding and was subsequently re-arrested.
Having finished with the ground floor, we made our way upstairs, which was where they were hiding all the really good stuff. There was a section on prostitution, sex crimes, and, a bit oddly, gambling. Highlights here included a homemade wooden penis that some man forced his wife to use, and some kind of tube-like masturbatory device (which can be seen in the right picture at the top of this post, toward the lower right of the case). I don’t know, perhaps I’m coming across as too flippant, but finding homemade sex toys in a case devoid of context since I couldn’t read most of the information makes it difficult for me to take them too seriously. There was also a collection of special coins given out to Danish prostitutes that they could redeem for medical care, and some illegal gambling machines from the years before casinos were legalised in Denmark.
Another room was I think mostly on bank robbers, and possibly on assassination attempts, but it’s hard to say as the guidebook didn’t offer much help. However, the best was yet to come, in the form of the murder room, which even had a special warning outside the door about the grisly nature of things. The space was dominated by a case running the length of the wall full of various apparatuses used in sensational murder cases, and the drawers beneath held fairly gory pictures of the victims. Everything was numbered, so you had to match up the numbers on the drawers with the ones on the objects to find out what was used for each murder, which I did whilst providing a running commentary for my boyfriend on the methods chosen. I feel like my obvious delight in this is making me seem like a horrible person, but I think most of us must be interested in the seamier side of life, or places like this wouldn’t even exist. That said, I can’t even watch horror movies unless they’re cheesy ones like the original Evil Dead because I get too freaked out, so I’m not sure why stuff like this doesn’t bother me, but somehow just looking at pictures after the fact makes it less horrible.
Once again, due to the scanty info in the guidebook, I was left with more questions than answers. The one that plagues me the most has to do with the sausage grinder in the case. The accompanying crime scene photo showed a woman lying bloodied on her kitchen floor near the grinder, and the grinder was circled in the picture, but as the guidebook didn’t discuss this crime at all, I have no idea if the grinder was actually a murder weapon, an attempt to dispose of the body, or just happened to be in the room at the time. I don’t know why this bothers me so much, but it does. I even googled “Danish sausage murder” but it just took me to a bunch of Danish cooking blogs (Danish food is gross, but it’s not THAT gross, though I suppose Pølsemix is borderline…). There was a 19th century sausage maker in Chicago who dissolved his wife’s body in an empty sausage vat, and a Serbian serial killer who ground up one of his victims to try to dispose of the body, but even they didn’t actually turn their victims into proper sausages. I need to know, especially since every Danish kitchen seems to have a meat grinder knocking around in it, due to their inexplicable love of hotdogs.
The last room was dedicated to forensics, but again, the guidebook didn’t have much to say about it, and I was so fixated on the role of the sausage grinder at this point that I couldn’t pay proper attention to it anyway. I suppose I should have asked the man at the admissions desk about the grinder, but I didn’t know if my weirdness would translate well, and I didn’t want him to think I was some kind of psychopath (though I apparently have no issue with coming across as a goon on my blog).
So, because I wasn’t able to read about 90% of the museum’s contents, I’m only going to give it a 3/5. I thought the things I was able to learn about were fascinating, and I obviously enjoyed (if enjoyed is the right word) the murder room, but I was honestly sad that I couldn’t learn about everything there. I don’t want to sound like an obnoxious American tourist, but I wish they would have some English captions, or at least a more professionally put-together and comprehensive guidebook (I’m even willing to offer my editing/proofreading skills, which are obviously excellent), because I think then it would easily score a 4 or maybe even a 5. Despite this, I am very glad they are open to the general public, and it’s still worth seeing if you share my sick fascination with the darker side of humanity!