Bakkehuset seen from the courtyard, watercolour painting by Viggo Dahl in 1925
Bakkehuset has a long and varied history; in its time it was a country inn, an outpost of salon culture, a lunatic asylum and eventually a museum. The house today is considered to be Frederiksberg’s oldest and has been the setting for various epic tales through its history. If you wish to know the story of the house, read on.
THE OLDEST HOUSE IN FREDERIKSBERG
Firstly, the name Bakkehuset simply means ‘the house on the hill’ or ‘the hill house’. Before the current house was built another already stood on the site. The first Bakkehuset was built in 1621; it was one of three foresters’ cottages that were erected in connection with the establishment of the king’s country estate called Ladegården. The cottages were simple structures made of wattle and daub with tiled rooves; the foresters who inhabited these buildings had various duties and obligations. The estate was wound up in 1651 and, shortly after, Bakkehuset burned down during the Dano-Swedish Wars. The current house was erected around the year 1674. At that time the house was close to a road that went from Copenhagen to Roskilde, and on the other side of the hill lay the village of Valby. At the time Bakkehuset was in a rural location and the house itself lay on a large piece of land. Today Bakkehuset is regarded as Frederiksberg’s oldest building.
COUNTRY INN AND SUMMER RESIDENCE
The current Bakkehus was for many years the site of a country inn and tavern. In 1756 Count Johan Ludvig Holstein bought Bakkehuset; he sought a residence close to the palace at Frederiksberg. Among other things, it was the count’s intention to move the road that ran parallel to the current Rahbeks Allé. At the time it turned south at the park of Søndermarken toward the village of Valby and on to Roskilde. Count Holstein wanted the road, which is now a part of Vesterbrogade, instead of turning south, to just carry on straight up the hill and past the palace at Frederiksberg.
Unfortunately, the count died before his plan came to fruition but the king did complete the move in 1776. At this time the road ‘Vesterbrogade’ made a sharp turn at the Black Horse Inn. Moving the road had enormous consequences for Bakkehuset because, with the road gone, it was no longer possible for it to function as an inn for travellers. The site, which was a freestanding site of four buildings set up around a central courtyard, was instead rented out to guests in the summertime. Bakkehuset’s location proved to be ideal as a rural summer residence. Such places became all the rage among the more cultured and well-healed of the 18th century. Bakkehuset with its rural setting, on the rise of a hill and commanding excellent views of the landscape represented an alternative – a haven from the busy, crowded and stressed city life behind Copenhagen’s city walls.
One of the summer residents at Bakkehuset in the latter part of the 18th century was the author Christen Pram, a childhood friend of Knud Lyne Rahbek. In 1780 Knud Lyne Rahbek himself moved in as a tenant for the summer and by 1787 he decided to become a year-round resident. At this time a small group of students and authors began to form around Rahbek and his home. In 1789 Rahbek married Kamma Heger and she moved into his modest bachelor flat, where they lived for the first four years of their marriage.
The Rahbek’s in the corner-room at Bakkehuset. Drawing by Christian Hetsch 1883
KNUD LYNE RAHBEK BUYS BAKKEHUSET
In 1802 Rahbek bought the entire house for 7200 rigsdaler and the couple moved from the small flat on the first floor to more spacious rooms on the ground floor; which today is the site of the museum. The house at this time consisted of four wings. Because of the sheer size and shape of the building there were other residential flats and a number of rooms, in addition to the Rahbek’s own flat, all of which could be rented out. Rahbek who worked as a teacher and the editor of a number of journals was able to supplement his income by renting out various parts of the property, just as the previous owner had done.
Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek remained at Bakkehuset for the rest of their lives; Kamma died in 1829 and her husband died in 1830. In their time they managed to make their home a centre for Danish literature and culture; visited by such luminaries as the poet and playwright Adam Oehlenschläger, the scientist Hans Christian Ørsted, the philosopher and theologian N.F.S. Grundtvig, the linguist and hymnist B.S. Ingemann, the philosopher Henrich Steffens, the poet and philosopher Poul Martin Møller, Hans Christian Andersen and many others. It started out as a small group consisting of Kamma Rahbek’s siblings Carl, Stephan and Christiane Heger, who was the future wife of Adam Oehlenschläger. Kamma Rahbek played an important role as both a host and a sounding board.
Bakkehuset with the view of Copenhagen. Gouache by Heinrich Buntzen circa 1820
LUNATIC ASYLUM AND ORPHANAGE
Following the death of Kamma and Knud Lyne Rahbek Bakkehuset was sold. At one point it was owned by Leo Hamn who undertook a number of major alterations and building projects on the house. In 1855 the site was bought by a committee who intended to establish a “Curative Institution for Imbecilic, Feeble Minded, and Epileptic Children”. In November of the same year the institution opened but the old house itself proved to be too small for the growing institution and preparation for a major expansion was undertaken. In 1859 the architect Ferdinand Meldahl drew up the plans for a new grander building for the institution; that building today stands next to Bakkehuset. The residents of the institution moved into the new building in 1860. At this time the old house was either rented out or the institution used it for other miscellaneous requirements.
Bakkehuset seen from the garden in 1920
BAKKEHUSET BECOMES A MUSEUM
At the turn of the 20th century Bakkehuset had become very rundown, two of the four wings had actually been torn down. The building was still the property of the mental institution but it was no longer in use. In 1903 permission was granted to hold a small exhibition on the ground floor of Bakkehuset; it would focus on the Rahbeks and the times they lived in. The exhibition drew attention to and interest in the old house and its cultural importance. After the exhibition closed a number of people began to work towards the idea of making the site a permanent museum.
The idea was realized in 1925 when a museum was officially opened on the site of Bakkehuset; it was called “The Rahbek commemorative rooms”. In the beginning the museum consisted of four rooms on the ground floor. These were soon after increased by an additional two small rooms which housed exhibitions on the writer Johannes Ewald and the poet Adam Oehlenschläger. The building had undergone a major restauration in the years before the museum opened; the aim was of which was to restore the look of the house to its 18th century character. In 1935 the historian and historiographer Louis Bobé and his wife bought the house and its garden and then gifted it to Frederiksberg.
In 1954 the newly appointed curator of the museum Tove Clemmesen moved to make the interior match the exterior and thus the furniture, colour scheme and curtains where made more in keeping with the Rahbeks period of ownership. In 2002 the area open to the public was further expanded to include a reconstruction of the Rahbek’s kitchen as it would have looked in the Rahbeks’ time. Two more exhibition rooms and a library on the ground floor have also been added. In 2017 the scholarship accommodation on the first floor was opened to the public as a site for various exhibitions covering the Danish Golden Age, the circle of people that congregated around the Rahbeks, the history of the house itself and modern literature inspired by Bakkehuset’s intellectual legacy.
In 2013 Bakkehuset Alhambra (formally the Revue Museum), Storm P museum, Møstings Hus and Cisternerne (The cisterns) formed a group called the Frederiksberg Museums.
Poster from the first exhibition at Bakkehuset in 1903. Graphic work by Erick Struckmann