A while back, I came across the photo above that showed an elephant walking through the famous Elephant Gate in the Carlsberg By district of Copenhagen; a stone’s throw from Copenhagen Zoo. The online source where I found it had almost no helpful identifying image clarifying what it was for, where it was taken, why it was taken – nothing.
If you know me at all, you’ll know this didn’t sit right with me. I can’t just see a cool image like that and not know any more about it!
Thus began yet another journey down yet another Copenhagen rabbit hole. It let me to communications with Carlsberg, collecting born-and-bread Copenhagener’s memories, and a deep internet dive to get the full story.
Because, as many things surrounding Copenhagen, the sources just weren’t there. There were tidbits of information scattered here and there – with a hearty dash of unverified rumours and lore – but no one had the full story about why there was an elephant walking in the streets of Copenhagen.
As you can see in the photo above, the elephant is definitely not photoshopped in there. And there wasn’t just one elephant who was photographed walking through the gate – there’s actually been several over the years.
For those unfamiliar with Copenhagen, the Elephant Gate marks the entrance to the Carlsberg beer factory. The Copenhagen Zoo is only a quick 5 minute walk away, separated by the beautiful Søndermarken Park.
Up until 1985, the Carlsberg factory had their own train station used for freight transportation, called Station Hof. Due to their proximity to the zoo and their ability to handle extremely heavy loads, the station was frequently used over the years to also transport elephants to and from nearby Copenhagen Zoo (usually for visiting female elephants coming to mate with their male elephants). It was also used on occasion to weigh the elephants, as they had scales large enough to accommodate this task.
Additionally, the station’s facilities were made available to travelling circuses coming to the city with their elephants. Below you can see some photos from one of the circus visits.
When researching this story, I was really hitting a wall trying to find credible sources to pin down the story. So once I realised Carlsberg were behind it, I sent them an email to ask for the story behind the images. They sent this in response, clarifying how elephant transfers via Carlsberg worked:
In 1975, a female elephant called Thaia arrived at Station Hof. She came from Zurich Zoo and was on her way to Copenhagen Zoo to visit their male elephant with the intention of mating them. The walk from Station Hof to Copenhagen Zoo went through the Elephant Gate. Thaia visited Copenhagen Zoo again in 1979, because she didn’t get pregnant in 1975. The trip again went via Station Hof and the Elephant Gate.– Carlsberg
So there you have it, straight from the source! While Station Hof has long been closed down and elephants no longer roam the streets of Copenhagen (not sure I could see this happening in today’s day and age!), you can still go see the Elephant Gate yourself. In fact, it’s considered good luck by the locals to give the elephants a little pat as you walk by them.
Watch the video below for the full story in detail, as well as a little tour around the Elephant Gate as it looks today.