[I spent most of June 2004 in Europe, visiting people
and places associated with Walt Disney. I also spent a couple of
days at the animation festival at Annecy, France. I'll be writing
about that trip, which took me to Switzerland, Denmark, and England
as well as France, in several installments. MB]
Walt Disney visited zoos and amusement parks and tourist attractions
of many kinds in the years before he opened Disneyland, but it is
hard to see in Walt's theme park more than a trace of those other
placeswith one exception. Visit Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen,
Denmark, and you can believe that (as Bob Thomas reports in his
Disney biography) Walt told his wife, Lillian: "Now this
is what an amusement place should be!"
first glance, the differences between Disneyland and Tivoli might
stand out. For one thing, Tivoli is tiny compared with Disneyland
or the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. Tivoli is very much an
urban parkit sits in the heart of downtown Copenhagen, with
the city hall on one side, the central train station on another,
and a major museum on yet another. There's no equivalent of Disneyland's
berm; what's going on inside the park is visible through a fence.
Once inside, other differences are apparent. There's none of the
Disney parks' omnipresent character merchandise, but there is, on
the other hand, an abundance of restaurants, thirty-eight in all.
That difference in emphasisa choice of cartoon-character dolls
versus a choice of restaurantsmeans that Tivoli has a more
grownup atmosphere than the Disney parks. Grownup, indeed, in ways
that are most un-Disneylike: one kiosk is devoted to the sale of
nothing but tobacco products, and alcoholic beverages are readily
available throughout the park.
Tivoli was quieter years ago, when Walt Disney was visiting. "Nowadays,"
Sven Hansen, the director of Tivoli's Boys Guard, told me, "we
have more shows, more concerts, more rock shows on the open-air
stage. We have more young people in the park than previously."
Tivoli now competes with other theme parks, he said, "so we
have to have everything in the park,"
Like the Disney parks, Tivoli has been adding thrill rides that
appeal to young adults, including a tremendously exciting new roller
coaster called the Demon. But those rides don't dominate the parkmost
of them are pressed together on the museum sideand, in any
case, Tivoli has always offered thrill rides: the park installed
the Mountain, the oldest of its four current roller coasters, in
1914. The Mountain, treasured by roller-coaster aficionados, is
so venerable that each train actually has an operator on board.
It's still enormously popular. At Disneyland, by contrast, the first
roller coaster did not arrive until four years after the park opened.
An area devoted to shooting galleries and other traditional carnival
gamesand gambling hallsis likewise tucked away along
one side of Tivoli; you'll find nothing like it at the Disney parks.
Tivoli has only a few "dark rides" on the Disneyland model,
including one devoted to scenes from the fairy tales of Denmark's
favorite son, Hans Christian Andersen. They do not have a lot to
offer the visitor who does not speak Danish, and perhaps not much
more to the visitor who does.
at the center of the park that a vital similarity to Disneylandat
least as Walt Disney conceived itis unmistakable, because
it's there that the park is dominated by flowers and elegant landscaping
immediately reminiscent of Bill Evans's work for Disney. That part
of Tivoli, like the parts of Disneyland modeled after it, resembles
a beautiful city park or public garden, but one that is blessedly
free of the hint of menace that too often shadows even the loveliest
such places in the United States.
Like Disneyland in its early years, Tivoli charges separately
for admission and for rides. An admission charge always serves as
a filter, but the landscaping at Tivoli reinforces that effect by
subtly imposing a serene order on an environment, the amusement
park, that can be coarse and chaotic. As Walt Disney undoubtedly
noticed, the landscaping is anything but a cosmetic garnishit
encourages people to behave better.
Other aspects of Tivoli, like the free open-air shows, recall Disneyland,
too. On the mid-June day of my visit, though, some of the Disneyish
thingsfireworks, magical nighttime lightingwere either
missing or visible only very late, because at that time of year
in Denmark daylight lingers almost until the park's eleven o'clock
closing time. (Tivoli is open from mid-April to mid-September and
then again for a few weeks at Christmas.)
Like the Disney parks, Tivoli has its popular parades. The 89-member
Boys Guard, a uniformed band, marches and plays on a route through
the park several times a week. Sven Hansen was thirteen years old
and a drummer in the Boys Guard when Walt Disney visited Tivoli
on September 5, 1964. Another drummer's bearskin hat was judged
to be in better condition, and so it's that boy's hat you see atop
Walt's head in the photo above; Sven Hansen is the boy in the photo.
"He was very quiet," Hansen remembers of Disney, who
did not seem to him like someone who was eager for publicity. The
photo was taken at Tivoli's instigation, Hansen says. "It was
very much used in Danish newspapers."
Hansen was a member of the Boys Guard for five years. He returned
to Tivoli as the Guard's director in 1973. He has now been in that
job for more than thirty years, and he has traveled with members
of the Guard to all the Disney theme parksthe boys helped
open Epcot at Walt Disney World in 1982and many other parts
of the world as well.
The Boys Guard's history extends back to 1844, just a year after
Tivoli itself opened as a pleasure garden inspired by Paris and
London parks that have long since vanished. When Tivoli opened,
it offered only two amusements: a horse-drawn carousel and a roller
coaster. The park has changed enormously since then, but from all
appearances its growth has been more organic than forced.
Tivoli has its frayed edges, but in contrast to the Disney parks'
lapses, I found Tivoli's more endearing than troubling. Tivoli has
a mellowness that the Disney parks lack. Perhaps there are "Tivoli
nuts" comparable to the pathetic geeks whose lives revolve
around the Disney parks, but I doubt it. Tivoli asks of its visitors
not that they sign on to anyone's "vision" or "dream,"
but only that they have a good time. And I did.
[Click here to read the first
installment in this journal, about Disneyland Paris, the second
installment, about the Annecy festival, or the third
installment, about Zermatt, Switzerland. Click here to go to the official Danish tourist site, VisitDenmark.com, here to go to Tivoli's official Web site, and here to go a page about Tivoli on Denmark.net.]
[Posted July 31, 2004; updated December 2, 2004, August 28, 2007, and October 13, 2009]