Discover the world behind bars @ Horsens Prison Museum

by Emilie Storm

You can almost hear the cell doors slamming behind you as you enter the old prison. Surrounded by never-ending bars, with old graffiti hidden on the walls and a sense of all the prisoners that passed through over the span of 150 years. This is what meets you when you visit Fængslet (‘the Prison’) in Horsens.

A prison transformed into a museum
The old state penitentiary first opened its doors in 1853 and was shut down in 2006. Now it mainly functions as a museum, but is also a large venue for events and concerts – bands such as Metallica and Aerosmith have performed there.

The prison museum won the Museums & Heritages International Award 2016, and since then it has expanded as a big touristic attraction. Today it is considered the biggest prison museum in the world.


The prison facade (photo: Emilie Storm)

Will you choose to be a prisoner or…?
Once inside the museum you can follow in the footsteps of either a prisoner or guard. You will wear an ID card connected to the person you choose, and you can scan it as you go around.

When going through the doors into the old prison cells, you immediately find yourself in a whole different world. While you stroll around you get to experience how prisoners lived: the messy beds, the posters on the walls, the coat racks with jackets still hanging on them, all testify their presence – for some it was their home for many years. The representation gives you a very unique view, different from everyday life, and some shadows playing on the walls give you the creeps, as if the prison were still filled with dangerous criminals.

In Hannibal style
The tour continues through to the old hospital block, where you are met with fixation gear dating back to when the prison opened its doors for the first time. Other interesting things from this collection include a whole display made up of creative and homemade objects used for smoking hashish – everything from old ketchup bottles to ceramic statuettes.

As you wander through the old hallways, listening to recordings of nurses telling stories, it is almost like you can smell the medicine and hear the prisoners being treated in the room next door. It even features the old beds, where the prisoners were fixated, straitjacket and face masks, in a complete Hannibal Lecter style, although these had actually once been used on real people.


A view of the hall of where the cells are (photo: Emilie Storm)

Back in the main building you are led upstairs, where you find the more contemporary exhibitions, including one in the wing where the gang members were kept together, and another featuring children whose fathers were in jail. Some of these can be somewhat difficult to watch, especially as these children provide us with some truths and some insights that you normally would not meet.

How do you grow up, when your dad is never around to celebrate your birthday? Who do you play football with, when he is never home? How do you feel the first night you stay at the prison overnight for visitation, and the doors are being locked at night? This exhibition reveals that when imprisoned, it is not only the prisoners who suffer, but also their families.

The last stop on the tour is the prison church, which strangely enough felt very comforting whilst still quite bizarre. When going through the doors the first thing your eyes meet are the rows and rows of church benches. The smell hits you, that familiar Sunday church smell. Everything seems familiar, but for the fact it is located in the middle of a prison.


The small windows of light (photo: Emilie Storm)

Drink coffee inspired by prison escape
After finishing your tour,  you might get hungry, so why not grab a bite to eat at Café Lorentzen, named after a famous prisoner who successfully escaped from the prison nine times! His most famous escape was through a tunnel that he dug with a spoon. The café is located where this tunnel ends. So to end the tour with hygge, enjoy a hot chocolate with freshly baked Danish rolls. They also serve brunch and lunch, all in the traditional Danish style.

If you dare to stay the night, Fængslet SleepIn is a bed and breakfast that offers guests the unique experience of staying in an old cell located in the former sick ward. In each cell there is room for one to four people. Would you dare to live the experience?

Café Lor

Café Lorentzen (photo: Café Lorentzen)

A dead ringer of Alcatraz
Thought-provoking and intriguing, I can definitely recommend taking the time to go to Horsens and visit the prison. There are numerous exhibitions; I have only just touched upon a few. It will be an experience you will not easily forget, sparking thoughts about justice and injustice – what is right and what is wrong, and how one decides upon this when confined behind prison bars.

Opening times are from Tuesday to Sundays from 10:00 – 16:00. Tickets for the Museum are 95dkk. Getting to Horsens takes only  30 minutes from Aarhus’ Central Station. Either hop on the train towards Copenhagen, Flensburg or Esbjerg, and any of these will drop you there. Going on a tour of the prison is definitely worth the trip. For more information about the prison, the café and the B&B, visit the prison website. All material is available in English.

Now, with the help of Expedia, you can take a virtual tour of FÆNGSLET and learn about the history of the prison, including the fascinating stories of its most well-known inmates.

Follow this link and feel the virtual experience!

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