“We have three major rules here: “no pictures, no running and HAVE FUN!”
I am standing at the entrance of Pusher street, the main thoroughfare of Freetown Christiania and talking is Nina, a 60+ year old woman and one of the first inhabitants of this alternative neighbourhood in Copenhagen. She is going to take me on a guided tour of Christiania. Many visitors are curious about the Christiania community and it is nowadays one of the main tourist attractions of the city, besides the canal tours of Copenhagen!
We start off with a little bit of history. I learn that Christiania was founded back in 1971 by homeless people, on the site of unused military barracks, to create an alternative to mainstream culture. The inhabitants soon developed their own set of rules, independent of the Danish government. Ideas of freedom, recycling and organic food were amongst these regulations, but Christiania quickly got a reputation for the legalization of cannabis and hash commerce. Because of this “Green Light District” the Danish police force regularly raids the area in the hope of closing it down or at least arresting some of the dealers.
“But please, let me show you that there is more to Christiania than drugs” says Nina.
Before we explore any further she explains us how things are organized. There are nearly 1000 people living in Christiania and there is a communal pot for expenses like electricity and building maintenance. Once a week they have a doctor coming to their “health house” and if you are thinking of moving in, know that there is a long application process to go through! And yes, people do pay rent and taxes here!
But maybe the most important rule is the rule of “no violence”. The community doesn’t allow guns, knives or anything that promotes violence. There are no cars allowed either, everyone gets around on bikes.
We start our tour with the main buildings of Christiania, in the centre of the community. It’s an eclectic mix of galleries, music venues, bars, eateries, a local grocery shop and graffiti adorned walls. The cafés and restaurants cater for a multicultural public: Thai, veggie, burgers, … you won’t go hungry in Christiania and it’s a lot cheaper than eating out in other areas of Copenhagen! It’s a busy and very lively area that does give you the impression of being in a hippie community. The inhabitants are used to seeing tour groups so they don’t mind cameras, as long as you don’t take photographs on the main drag of Pusher street, the place where soft drugs are sold. Cannabis is still illegal in Denmark, so the dealers often wear hoodies and scarfs not be recognized.
Away from the centre, we take the dirt roads leading into the woods and on to a lake. The atmosphere is completely different here, it’s much more relaxed and a lot less crowded. It’s where most of the inhabitants live, in a mix of beautifully created backyards and ramshackle houses. There are people enjoying a barbecue on the local beach; you could even go as far as calling it idyllic!
The next day however I pass Christiania again and decide to take a look on my own. It paints a rather different image of what I’ve seen so far. Waste bins are spilled out onto the pavement after what looks like a long night of booze and partying. A few drunks sleep off their debauch underneath the trees. The perfect idyll seems quite far away now…
Now that Christiania’s ideas of recycling and organic food have been adopted by mainstream society, I wonder if this community still has a defined purpose. It seems to have reinvented itself by being a centre of music and culture. There are plenty of bars and live music venues, each one with their own special atmosphere, from smoky bars to open-air venues. People living in Freetown Christiania come from all layers of society: from artists to environmentalists to the inevitable alcoholic.
The Danish government once described it as “a social experiment”.
It’s an interesting place, a community of like-minded people, or, as they describe themselves, “anarchists with rules”…
Have you been to Freetown Christiania? What were your impressions?