For the past 170 years, on summer evenings in the capital of Denmark, people have flocked to a place called Tivoli Gardens. It's an amusement park, but not the sort you may be accustomed to here in the U.S. For our series, Summer Nights, where we explore places that come to life as the sun goes down, NPR's Eleanor Beardsley takes us to Denmark.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Maybe it's because there are so few of them, but there is something special about a Scandinavian summer night. And there is no better place to spend one than at Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens amusement park. Long before there was Disney, there was Tivoli.


BEARDSLEY: Founded in 1843 and inspired by the romantic pleasure gardens in Europe of the day, Denmark's King Christian VIII agreed to grant the charter to the park's founder, George Carstensen, after Carstensen pointed out that, when the people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics. Certainly, politics seems to be the farthest thing from anyone's mind here tonight.

TOM HOLTSUBRO: For the Danish people, I think it is our national garden. Yes. It's a symbol of Copenhagen and it's a wonderful amusement park, a wonderful place to come.


BEARDSLEY: Tom Holtsubro(ph) is stretched out on the grass enjoying the classic pantomime ballet held in one of the park's open air historic theatres. Tivoli's pantomime is inspired by Italian comedia del arte and the farces of Moliere. Many say pantomime in its true form survives only at Tivoli. Until the 1850s, Tivoli remained outside the city. Today, it sits snug in the center as Copenhagen has grown around it. That's what makes Tivoli unique, says Norton Sven(ph).

NORTON SVEN: Tivoli Gardens, this special garden in the middle of the city, a fairytale land. This was the greatest place on earth for me when I was a child.

BEARDSLEY: Danes form a lifelong relationship with Tivoli and Sven is back tonight for a concert and another special occasion.

SVEN: Tonight, I'm here because it's my birthday.

BEARDSLEY: How old are you today?

SVEN: I'm 23. Thank you.

BEARDSLEY: How do you say Happy Birthday in Danish?

SVEN: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: OK. (Foreign language spoken).

SVEN: Yeah. Thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Tivoli isn't just about concerts and pantomimes. There are dozens of restaurants, games and rides. One of the world's most famous wooden roller coasters, Bjergbanen, or the mountain coaster, is a big hit. Built in 1914, it is still in operation and is considered a classic by roller coaster enthusiasts around the world. The 20-acre park can't get any larger, so it grows up. Coaster loops now take riders above the trees and swings give visitors a bird's eye view of Copenhagen's church spires and clock towers.

In 2009, Tivoli became the first amusement park to operate entirely on wind-generated power. Tivoli's founder was famous for saying that the park will never be finished. Torben Plank from Tivoli's communications office says Tivoli renews itself while keeping its soul.

TORBEN PLANK: Each year, we are asking ourselves, what can we do different from the last year? Tradition and new thinking going hand-in-hand. That's very important for Tivoli Garden.


BEARDSLEY: Hans Christian Anderson was a frequent visitor to Tivoli. His fairytale, "The Nightingale," was said to be inspired by the oriental gardens and decor here. Walt Disney was so enthralled during a visit, he said he wanted his parks to emulate Tivoli's happy, unbuttoned atmosphere of fun. Tivoli is part Disney, part small town fair. For Copenhagen native, John Sabareen(ph), Tivoli is romance.

JOHN SABAREEN: The first time I met my wife, we were out in the balloons. You know, when you find the girl you love very much, you take her to Tivoli because that's what go into our hearts.

BEARDSLEY: Perhaps that's why this park in the heart of Copenhagen has seduced summer night visitors for nearly two centuries. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News.

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