NIELS HAUSGAARD
THE PAVEMENT ON THE HARBOUR, HIRTSHALS, DENMARK

Hirtshals harbour was his first world. The old fishing port as it looked in the late 1940s. He knew every hideout and shortcut, he knew exactly how the handlebars of the bike felt on this or that bit of the paving stones.

Every day he was sent out of the seamen’s home, on the harbour street, every day out onto the same pavement. Down the steps and out in front of the large brick building with the wide windows. He was allowed to move on the pavement and the pavement only. Anywhere else was off limits, because on the other side lay the harbour, and he could drown there. On the other hand, the pavement was his domain, the place where the outside world began.

The pavement stretched between two viaducts, used by the freight trains, when they were going to and from the harbour. It was a long stretch with varied offices, workshops and all that belonged on the old harbour. A netmaker’s workshop where they tarred rope and tied fishing nets. The machinist’s workshop. The sailmaker’s where they sowed sails and tarpaulins. All lined up along the harbour front, with the seamen’s home right in the middle of it.

Mostly, he would take his tricycle and go. Pop into the first workshop to say hi. Then into the next one, and the next one again. Sometimes they would give him things. At the netmaker’s he might pick up rope ends, all perfectly alike – those were always good to have. Thanks, and then back onto the pavement and up on the tricycle. The western wind straight on the cheeks, the usual bite of the ocean and the usual taste of salt. Seagulls, circling the fishing boats in the bay.

All the way at one end of the pavement lay Copenhagen in a large, red wooden building. In reality it was most likely an electrical substation, but to him, it was Copenhagen. It eased his mind to look at that completely red building and say: That is Copenhagen, then.

And then there was the sound of the fishing boats. The single-cylinder engines that just goes on and on. Sometimes two rhythms fall into one another, and land in the simplest of forms. Those he can hear to this day.

And he still wanders around in Northern Jutland, on an estate well outside Hirtshals. His return to the area has been accidental, because he could live anywhere, if only there is a good enough reason. There are horses here, people and neighbours. Those are the ones, he likes, much more than the places. But roots are important. Without roots, the viability and vitality of the present weakens. He grew up on the harbour, he comes from Northern Jutland and he understands the unspoken. Coming home means knowing the the code to what is going on. Hearing the unspoken. Knowing exactly how the handlebars feel on this or that bit of the pavement. And that skill is a very big privilege.

Reliefs in oak wood: Artist Søren Assenholt
Prose and concept: Author Sanne Flyvbjerg