Throughout this trip, I’ve written about several very unusual places – unique places quite unlike any other.
Well, I’ve got one more for you. Christiania.
Christiania is a city within a city. It’s self-proclaimed autonomous entity right in the middle of Copenhagen – isolated by an old fortress wall to one side and a moat to the other. Inside, nearly a thousand residents live more or less independent of Danish law. It’s a “freedom town” – a self-governing community, a black spot on the map of one of the world’s tidiest metropolises. Inside Christiania, everything is different.
At one of the town’s entrances a hand-painted sign reads “You are now leaving the EU.” That’s truly no exaggeration.
Walking through the gates of Christiania can only be described as surreal – like something that could only exist in a dream. On one side is Copenhagen, pristine, litter and graffiti-free, as first world as they come. But as you descend into rabbit hole, everything around you transforms. Twisted pipes and scaffolding and hand-made shacks create a scene not unlike a post-apocalyptic Hollywood movie.
Brightly colored murals and end-to-end graffiti confuse your senses; is this a ghetto or an art gallery? A refugee camp or a clubhouse? Long-haired hippies stumble about, fires burn in rusty old trashcans, and people stroll down Pusher Street surveying the various stalls.
As you walk a bit farther, you can’t help but notice an unexpected scent. Cannabis. In a city where smoking in public is illegal? As it turns out, the stalls around you are no ordinary stalls – all along Pusher Street merchants peddle every variety of hash known to man. Small tables recessed in the stairwells to dilapidated buildings display bricks the size of your fist. The merchants smile a toothless grin.
Farther into Christiania, you maybe surprised at the densely forested “suburbs.” Here, winding dirt paths connect the residents’ homes; there are no cars in Christiania, so everyone gets around by foot or unique three-wheeled bikes.
Alongside the old fortress walls, groups of visitors look out over the water at Copenhagen, sipping their beers and passing their joints.
Everything in sight is homemade, pieced together MacGyver-style and spraypainted a rainbow of colors. Flower pots are fashioned from old rubber boots, chairs from radiators and tables from hubcaps. Children’s swings dangle from trees and hand-built toy cars are scattered lifelessly across front yards.
Inside Christiania, there are only four basic rules: no weapons, no violence, no stealing, and no synthetic drugs. It’s a true hippie village, where the desire is for little more than free love and green living.
You may be wondering how a place like this could’ve ever come to exist. I think this article from ePortReviews sums it up nicely:
“Christiania started back in 1971 when some hippie types moved into [an] abandoned army barracks. Since communes and alternative government forms were emerging, Christiania was named ‘Freetown’ and was viewed as a social experiment. [It] quickly became the focus of hippies everywhere and the 85 acre compound evolved into its own community. In 1989 lawmakers passed the ‘Christiania Law of 1989’ which basically gave authority over Christiania to the state by transferring responsibility from the municipality of Copenhagen. This, in effect, gave the residents a free reign in self government. Drugs were a basic part of the original culture and stayed a part of Christiania where the cannibis trade was wide open for decades. […] However, a visit to Christiania is quite safe and a very unique experience. The difference between the residents there today and the hippies of the 1960s is not noticeable. You will see some real characters on your visit.”
Needless to say, the very existence of such a place is a large source of controversy. The government has already tried to shut down the drugs on several occasions – but somehow, they always remain. The people of Christiania have a very strong sense of community and self-preservation; indeed, the most common slogan you’ll see is “Bevar Christiania” – Save Christiania. It’s not uncommon throughout Copenhagen itself.
The one thing I found a bit unfortunate about our visit was that Christiania’s residents are extremely sensitive about being captured on film – due undoubtedly to the controversial nature of their way of life. “No Photo” signs are everywhere. To me this was torture; I can’t even tell you how many amazingly interesting scenes were just begging to be captured. But I couldn’t. The photos I did manage to take were either right by the town’s entrance or on its quieter backstreets, though by far the most interesting scenes were on and around Pusher Street.
I guess you’ll all just have to go and see it for yourselves! 🙂