Nordhavn's History


The inner part of Nordhavn (Århusgade, Redmolen and Sundmolen) was not developed until the end of the 1800s, where it was reclaimed along with other large areas of Copenhagen harbour in order to meet the space requirements of a growing harbour industries and increasing volumes of shipping.

Maps from the period show how landfills have extended the area out from the coast over the last 150. In the mid-1800s, there was a series of small local harbours along the coast north of Copenhagen. The actual port operations were still conducted within the customs house boom. It was only in the last decades of the 1800s that Copenhagen harbour was extended northwards and the areas that are now being developed were established.
The current Nordbassin and the small harbour basin Redhavn (which has now been filled in) were constructed between 1885 and 1890. Redhavn's name was based on its use as a supply harbour for the ships anchored in Copenhagen roads (Reden), i.e. the ships that were not docked but were anchored outside the harbour, either because they were waiting for a vacant berth or because they were taking on supplies.

Nordhavn 1948. Langelinje and Amerikakaj in the foreground.

The first phase of Frihavn was established between 1891 and 1894. The construction of Frihavn was motivated by the German decision to build a canal between Kiel and the river Elbe. The Kiel Canal was intended to connect Hamburg with the Baltic and thus make Hamburg a serious competitor to Copenhagen by facilitating transit trade in the Baltic sea.
The idea behind Frihavn was therefore that special transit trade would be maintained despite the increased competition, because the goods would not have to clear customs as long as they were on Frihavn's property. At the same time, the port was equipped with modern buildings, cranes etc.

Nordhavn 1967. Svanemøllehavnen in the foreground.

The earliest freeport area was established south of the current Inner Nordhavn, but the area was already expanded significantly during the years around World War I.
Nordbassinet, Redmolen and Sundmolen were all constructed in the years 1915-1918 and were included in Frihavn, with the exception of the small Redhavn, which was allowed to remain as a small pocket within the duty-free area. A number of additional landfill projects were completed in the years up to 1931, which eventually shaped the area as we know it today. However, the Redhavn basin has since been filled in and included in Frihavn.
Nordhavn has historically been home to several prominent companies such as Nordisk Film, who established laboratories on what later came to be called Billedvej.

However, Riffelsyndikatet (which later became Dansk Industri Syndikat) is the company that had the greatest impact on the area, including by establishing the five-winged, red-brick building located in the western part of Århusgade. This building was the target of sabotage during WWII, because the company produced weapons for the German army.


Riffelsyndakiet was a Danish weapons factory, which was established in 1900 by Compagnie Madsen A/S. Later, the company changed name to Dansk Rekyl Riffel Syndikat A/S and later still to Riffelsyndikatet. From 1936, the company was officially called Dansk Industri Syndikat A/S.

The main product was the Madsen machine-gun. Riffelsyndikatet sold weapons to the German Wehrmacht during the occupation, with Hærens Våbenarsenal [Army weapons Arsenal] as subcontractor. The company also exported weapons to Finland, Croatia and Hungary.

Parts of the cooperation were approved by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but after the war the company was convicted as a collaborationist by the Revisionsudvalget for Tyske Betalinger [Audit Committee for German Payments].



"It's the summer of 1944. 22 June. On a lovely summer evening at 18 there was a loud bang at Nordhavn in Østerbro. Soon everyone knows what has happened: saboteurs have blown up Riffelsyndikatet. [...] 

Resistance people from BOPA disarmed the guards and drove two trucks with 400 kg of explosives into the factory. But before the fuse was lit, the workers were warned so that they could escape."

Source and photo: The Museum of Danish Resistance