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Fire rages through the 17th-century Old Stock Exchange in Copenhagen, toppling the iconic spire

Associated Press Tuesday, 16 April 2024, 11:56 Last update: about 2 months ago

A fire raged through one of Copenhagen’s oldest buildings on Tuesday, causing the collapse of the iconic spire of the 17th-century Old Stock Exchange as passersby rushed to help emergency services save priceless paintings and other valuables.

Danish Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt said it was “touching” to see how many people lent their hand “to save art treasures and iconic images from the burning building.” One man jumped off his bicycle on his way to work to help.


Brian Mikkelsen, chief of the Danish Chamber of Commerce, which is headquartered in the Old Stock Exchange, and his staff were seen scrolling through a binder of photos of paintings to be saved. The works were carried to the nearby parliament and Danish National Archives around the corner.

“We have been able to rescue a lot,” a visibly moved Mikkelsen told reporters. “It is a national disaster.”

He also took part in saving valuables from the flames, and said they had to use tools including like a crowbar to remove them.

The fire began Tuesday morning in the copper roof of the Old Stock Exchange, or Boersen, spread to much of the building and the roof, parts of which also collapsed, and destroyed the building's interior, said firefighters spokesman Jakob Vedsted Andersen.

“The fire is still not under control,” Vedsted Andersen said, adding that half the building was destroyed and collapsed. He said that there was no risk of the blaze spreading to other buildings. Firefighters said they expected to be at the scene for the next 24 hours.

Tommy Laursen of the Copenhagen police said it was too early to say what caused the fire and that they would able to enter the building in “a few days.”

Firefighters who reportedly pumped water from the nearby canal were seen spraying water through the doorway of the Old Stock Exchange’s gilded hall that is used for gala dinners, conferences and other events and where many paintings hung.

The building, next to the Christiansborg Palace where the parliament sits, is a popular tourist attraction. Its distinctive spire, in the shape of the tails of four dragons twined together, reached a height of 56 meters (184 feet).

Huge billows of smoke rose over downtown Copenhagen and could be seen from southern Sweden, which is separated by a narrow waterway.

Ambulances were at the scene but there were no reports of casualties. A spokesman for the company working on renovating the building said the carpenters who worked on the roof had all come out.

Up to 90 members of an army unit were deployed from a nearby base to cordon off the area and “secure valuables," Denmark's armed forces said.

King Frederik wrote on Instagram that “they woke up to a sad sight” of “an important part of our architectural heritage” being destroyed.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen wrote on Instagram that it hurt to see that “irreplaceable cultural heritage” and ”a piece of Danish history is on fire.”

The building and the spire had been encased in scaffolding. The roof, masonry, sandstone and spire of Boersen — built in 1615 and considered a leading example of Dutch Renaissance style in Denmark — was being renovated, said the Chamber of Commerce, which moved into the building after Copenhagen's stock exchange left in 1974. The chamber owns the building.

Mikkelsen said they had planned to have the royal family, the Danish government and other dignitaries see the Old Stock Exchange after the renovation later this year. “That won’t happen now,” he said.

It was unclear what will happen to the iconic building.

Engel-Schmidt, the culture minister, wrote on X that “I will do everything I can so that the dragon spire will once again tower over Copenhagen,” and said it had been “a symbol of Denmark’s strong history as a trading nation.”

The adjacent Christiansborg Palace has burned down on several occasions, and most recently in 1990 a fire broke out in an annex of the Danish parliament, known as Proviantgaarden. However, the Old Stock Exchange was unscathed.

That annex, which lies in the block behind the Old Stock Exchange, was evacuated as a precaution, as were ministries in the street behind the burning building.

Police said on the social media platform X that a main road in Copenhagen was closed and people should expect the area to be cordoned off for some time. Several bus lines were rerouted and Danish media reported huge traffic jams.

Queen Margrethe, who turned 84 Tuesday, toned down the celebrations because of the fire, broadcaster TV2 said. A band with the Royal Life Guard was to play for the former monarch outside the Fredensborg Castle, where she is staying for the spring and summer, but that was canceled.

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