The power of a memo

Sometimes you can be surprised by how much influence a simple email or a memo might have. In the autumn of 2011 I was an intern at the Danish Cultural Institute in Tallinn. At that time plans for the renovation of the Danish King’s Garden in Tallinn were underway. The garden holds the monument for the myth surrounding the danish national flag, Dannebrog, which is said to have fallen from the sky there during a battle in 1219, just as the Danish crusading army was faltering and close to collapse. The falling flag was, according to the myth, seen as a sign from God, and the army rallied and won the day, or at least, so goes the tale.

Painting depicting Dannebrog falling from the sky at the battle outside Tallinn in 1219.

In fact the origins of the myth are not connected with Tallinn or the year 1219, but rather with the much smaller town of Viljandi in the southern part of Estonia, where a much smaller battle took place in 1208. But when the Danish historian Christiern Pedersen, who was re-publishing Saxo’s Gesta Danorum in the beginning of the 16th century, came across that tale, he felt a need to change its affiliation and instead associated it with the battle at Tallinn in 1219. Both because such an important event as getting a new national flag (Christiern Pedersen was an early nationalist) could not possibly be tied to such a small and unimportant battle, but perhaps worst of all, because the scene of the original story, Viljandi, was conquered not by Danes, but Germans. So he moved the story a couple of years and a good many kilometers north to Tallinn, where the myth has since been celebrated.

The monument to the myth of the origins of the Danish national flag, Dannebrog

To this date almost every Dane that go to Tallinn visits the monument at the Danish King’s Garden. And had it been in Denmark it would probably have been considered one of the major national monuments on a level similar to the rune stone at Jelling or the little mermaid in Copenhagen. So naturally I was happy to see that the local Estonian government had big plans for the renovation of the site. In October of 2011 I went to a ceremony at the Danish King’s Garden in which two sculptures were chosen to be placed in the park. One of them was the “Tuli lipp” by Mari Rass and Liina Stratskas. It was at first planned to be placed right next to the original monument, where it would cover the small stone placed there by the Danish-Estonian Society. The “Tuli lipp” sculpture itself would be comprised of a series of Nordic flags based on the design of the Danish national flag in an attempt to celebrate the history of the flag.

Original model of the “Tuli lipp” sculpture by Mari Rass and Liina Stratskas

The new sculpture was of a size that meant it would partly cover the old monument to the flag and would take up almost all the space on the rampart it was to stand on, leaving not much space for the people visiting the site. But what worried me most was the thought of having a series of flags representing other countries on top of a monument celebrating the history of the Danish national flag. It would to some extent be the same as placing a monument of a French or German flag on top of Nelson’s column at Trafalgar Square. To protest this I wrote a memo to the people leading the renovation project at the local municipality and to my great surprise the plans were changed. First of all the new sculpture was moved to a position close to the monument but behind it and overlooking the rampart on which the monument was placed. But what surprised me more, was that the Nordic flags of the original design had been removed too. That was not my initial intention as I really liked the sculpture as it was, but just disapproved of its planned position.

Danish ambassador Uffe Balslev speaking at the unveiling of the new sculpture.

When I went back to Tallinn last summer, I hoped to be able to see the final sculpture and the renovated garden, as I knew the sculpture had been officially unveiled on May 15 but work was still ongoing in the Danish King’s Garden at the time, and the entire site was closed off from the public. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see the renovated garden when I return some time during 2013.

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One Response to “The power of a memo”

  1. Pingback: Dannebrog’s Birthday | Global Youth Institute 2013

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