The River Styx Is Full of Booze
Drinking Oneself to Death Is Serious Business
Photographer Casper Dalhoff recently spent some time in a Copenhagen institution for chronic alcoholics. Thirty-nine men and women live there, all fully resigned to the fact that they are dying because of drinking, yet all still drinking like so many suicidal herring. They came here to run out the clock.
For many alcoholics who have reached the chronic stage, quitting is not an option. In fact, for advanced alkies, putting an end to drinking can quickly lead to death, as years of relentless boozing alters one’s metabolism to the point that a sudden lack of the sauce will wreak havoc. The symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal include a dangerously accelerated heart rate, palpitations, catatonia, and hallucinations.
So, is it safe to say that acute alcohol withdrawal is actually not cute at all? Ha ha ha. OK, sorry. Let’s go meet these sad drunk bastards…
In Copenhagen, there is a house called E-Huset, which I believe to be unique in the world. I first heard about it from a friend of my wife’s, who once worked there. She told us that it was a place where you could go if you wanted to drink yourself to death. I decided to see it for myself and to do a photo story there. It took about five months to persuade the management to let me in, but I ended up making many visits to E-Huset, coming back over and over again during a six-month period.
The building, an old-style Copenhagen job from the 1940s, is three stories high. People live on every floor, and it’s an absolute mess. The residents drink from morning to night, and you can’t trust anything they say or do because they are all permanently obliterated. There is a lot of yelling and name-calling and aggression. In one part of the house, 12 people share the same bathroom. They get up in the morning, drunk, stumble in, and inevitably miss the toilet. The floor is a three-inch-deep lake of piss.
A typical day at E-Huset starts at 8 AM with beer, schnapps, vodka—anything they can get their hands on. Soon everyone falls back asleep for a little while, until breakfast, which only a small minority of the residents eat. Most stick with liquids. At 9 AM, the staff hands out the daily allowances. If these drunks were allowed to manage their own money, they’d spend it all instantly and wouldn’t have money for booze for the rest of the month. Upon moving in they must sign a contract in which they agree to let the staff distribute a specific sum, like 100 or 200 kronor (about $12 or $24), to them every day. After the cash has been handed out, it’s a mad dash to the liquor store.
Then it’s lunch (same deal as breakfast, hardly anyone eats) and after that there are afternoon projects in the day room. Nobody cares about these and nobody attends them. Mainly, the people here focus on the fine art of skulking around.
By 3 PM, the house is quiet. Everyone is so drunk that they can hardly move, so they all sit in their rooms and stare at the wall. Then there’s dinner (third verse, same as the first), and then around 9 PM people start passing out. After that, only the absolute roughnecks are left standing.
As I got to know the people at E-Huset, I came to understand that they really are all just waiting around to die. That’s what you do here. If you’re absolutely dead set on drinking yourself to death, you’re allowed to check into E-Huset from the age of 18 on, but the average age is around 50. Some come to stay just for the week before they make the big leap. Others linger for years.
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