Flames burst from the roof of the 400-year-old historic stock exchange building, right in the heart of Copenhagen. Smoke billows into the air and drifts over the roofs of the Danish capital. The fire in one of Copenhagen’s oldest buildings moves many Danes. They are shocked, watch in disbelief, cry. It is their “Notre Dame moment,” as Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen describes it.

In fact, the “Børsen” has a similar meaning for the Danes as the world-famous cathedral in Paris, which fell victim to the flames in 2019.

The building dates back to Christian IV, King of Denmark and Norway from 1588 to 1648, who wanted to make Copenhagen an international trading metropolis of the future. To do this, the king needed a stock exchange where the various trade flows would converge.

Construction began in 1619. Sandstone and brick, wood and marble were used. King Christian followed the construction like a hawk – he could watch the work from his castle.

But the monarch was initially not satisfied with his new trading center. To him the building looked more like a warehouse. The royal splendor was missing. Therefore, in 1623 he instructed the architect to change the roof and add a gable with a portal to the palace square and skylights to the harbor. Christian IV also wanted a special tower. This should be decorated by four dragons with intertwined tails. The Dragon’s Peak, a landmark of Copenhagen, was supposed to protect “Børsen” from enemies and fire. She has succeeded in doing this over the centuries. The neighboring buildings and Christiansborg Palace fell victim to the flames, but the dragons protected “Børsen” until April 16, 2024.

In 1624 the first shops opened on the lower floors of the “Børsen”. The building was considered an example of the Dutch Renaissance. Since then, however, the iconic structure has changed its appearance several times. But in 1883 it became too much of a good thing: after the old bricks were replaced by modern stones, the building lost its original Renaissance appearance. In order to correct this and give the “Børsen” its old appearance, it was restored. The building would have celebrated its 400th anniversary in the fall.

The “Børsen” was not only a trading center, but also a place where the upper bourgeoisie of the time could be seen and educated. With all the foreign merchants and Denmark’s first post office, “Børsen” became a center for news. In the many bookstores you could meet scholars curiously reading the latest books from abroad.

Around 1800, the time as a commodity exchange ended and many businesses moved to the city. Instead, trading in securities became more important. In 1857 the building was bought by Grosserer-Societetetet (today Dansk Erhverv). In 1974 the Copenhagen fund exchange withdrew.

Today the historic stock exchange is used as an office and event building by the Dansk Erhverv, the Danish Chamber of Commerce. The old days of flourishing trade are history in “Børsen”. But the building housed many art treasures for a long time. The large art collection includes, among other things, the work “From the Copenhagen Stock Exchange” by P.S. Krøyer from 1895, which was saved from the flames along with other art objects.

“400 years of Danish cultural heritage are going up in flames,” said Denmark’s Culture Minister Jakob Engel-Schmidt, commenting on the disaster. Experts from the National Museum rushed to the scene of the fire to assess the damage and secure the rescued paintings.

While the smoke was still rising from the burned-out frame of the roof, while the embers were still blazing, the first politicians were calling for the “Børsen” to be made into the Danish Notre Dame.

Martin Lidegaard, leader of the social-liberal Radical Venstre party, hopes that “Børsen” can be rebuilt along the lines of the Paris cathedral, he told TV channel TV 2. Jan E. Jørgensen of the right-wing liberal Venstre party called the fire a “definitely national one Disaster”: “I think we should have it rebuilt. I don’t know about the insurance, but we will do everything we can from the state side to help,” he told the broadcaster and adding: “It won’t be the same, but it could be something similar.”

However, Culture Minister Engel-Schmidt toned down such demands. It is still too early to talk about it. His gut feeling told him that reconstruction was the right thing to do. But “the flames are still in the process of destroying the building,” he said. Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also expressed reservations about a possible reconstruction: “We only have to discuss it when we know how big the consequences are.”

Sources: Dansk Erhverv, Børsbygningen, Visit Copenhagen, hovestadshistorie.dk, news agencies DPA and AFP