We are about a two-hour drive from Copenhagen when we arrive at Svendborg situated at the southern tip of the island Funen. As soon as the car engine goes quiet the sound of boats’ cordage and the smell of the sea remind you of Svendborg’s legacy as a port city.
The harbor is an important gateway to the South Funen Archipelago and a huge and an essential part of Svendborg’s DNA even today when the harbor’s traditional maritime functions and commercial significance for the most part have been replaced with new types of businesses.
What really shapes the city’s philosophy of life is, of course, the Cittaslow movement. Before examining the movement’s traces in the city, let’s remember what “Cittaslow” is:
“Municipalities which join the association are motivated by curiosity of a recovered time, where man is still protagonist of the slow and healthy succession of seasons. These municipalities are respectful of citizens’ health, the authenticity of products and good food. They are rich in squares, theaters, shops, cafés, restaurants, places of the spirit and unspoiled landscapes, and characterized by spontaneity of religious rites and respect of traditions through the joy of a slow and quiet living.”
Svendborg is a place where nature, mindful consumption, and craftsmanship have earned the city the right to be a true Cittaslow. In an old carpenter’s workshop that used to belong to the closed shipyard, a new resident continues to keep woodworking skills alive. Although, with a slightly different output than interiors for ships.
Bente Hovendal is a sculptor, furniture designer and the owner of the workshop woodnwonder. Around her workshop pieces of furniture dominate the floor. As she slides her hand along the rounded edges of one of her tables, she explains: “The furniture is made to be touched and create some wonder. The shapes are organic and unique. No industrial product can replicate the feeling of a natural curve in the wood or an imperfect surface. It’s got soul,” she says looking at the wood grains of the Douglas fir dining table.
A Danish newspaper labeled her designs as “slow luxury.” A term that perfectly fits the handcrafted, sculptural, sustainable furniture design. “People often ask me how long it takes to produce the furniture. But time or money is not really the issue. It takes as long as it takes to get a piece right.” For Bente Hovendal it seemed obvious to be affiliated with Svendborg’s Cittaslow certification. Her material is a very slow growing and she sources it locally. Even the oil she uses for the finished furniture is made in a town a few kilometers west of Svendborg.
From her workshop windows, Bente Hovendal has a clear view of Svendborg’s version of a skyline. In this case, the skyline is a bright, multicolored collection of old townhouses – some of them dating back to the 15th century. In one of those houses, we meet shop manager Rie Jakobsen. She is a part of the team working in one of Svendborg’s glassworks. For obvious reasons high levels of stress and delicate glassware can be a poor combination. But there are many good reasons why Rie Jakobsen takes her time when working in the shop.
“It’s kind of funny that I work as a shop manager since I’m probably the slowest gift wrapper in Denmark,” she says laughing and continues. “But the thing is, this is no ordinary workplace. Sure, we produce and sell glass, but people also come here to talk. In fact, it’s a hotspot for the talk of the town.”
Rie Jakobsen turns her attention to an elderly local couple in the shop. They are looking for a special type of glass and start up a conversation. When they leave ten minutes later, Rie Jakobsen adds: “Maybe I could use the time to dust the glass on display instead of talking about news of the city. But we get to talk to each other and that’s so much more important.”
We continue our stroll around the old city. Just 100 meters down the street is an old leather repair shop called Baunbaek & Lyn. Inside we meet the owner Jesper Lyn. The smell of leather is beautifully accompanied by a slow blues track playing from the record player in the corner. Jesper Lyn is tending to a customer whose leather bag needs a bit of maintenance.
“I run this shop based on the philosophy that we should repair things instead of buying new stuff all the time. In the end, it’s a matter of being more sustainable. And first and foremost, just to be nice. I think that’s the essence of the Cittaslow movement,” Jesper says, before he’s off to put new soles on a pair of leather shoes.
It’s late in the afternoon and lunch was hours ago. In other words, it’s the perfect time for a meeting with baker and owner of the organic bakery Baguette, Anette Seidlitz. She’s cutting dough that will end up as delicious butter cookies and she lets us have a taste of the ones she has baked already. The golden cookie breaks into small buttery and sweet pieces in the mouth. It is an ideal partner to the cup of coffee Anette Seidlitz has made us.
“We don’t serve espresso here. Instead, people can come in, have a regular slow cup of coffee and really just sit here all day long watching us bake,” she says. There’s just one machine in the bakery, and most of the baking process is done by hand. A customer walks in and examines the bread display for today’s specials. But, unfortunately, they have sold out which happens quite frequently. “You haven’t got any left?” the woman asks. “Sorry, no. It’s all gone,” Anette Seidlitz replies.
Anette Seidlitz and her husband are the only ones working here. And part of being a two-person operation means that they can only make so much. “Our ambition is to have fun and make quality products –not large quantities. It’s not an option to make more. That would mean that more bread had to go to waste. That’s not going to happen,” she emphasizes. On the way out, Anette Seidlitz says, “Wait,” and continues, “We are all about quality in the things we make. If my bread is not finished when people come in one morning, I tell them to wait until the bread is how it should be. It takes time. That’s pretty Cittaslow.”