Walking through the famous “Freetown Christiania” on a wet November afternoon in Copenhagen was anticlimactic.  Here we were in the self-declared autonomous neighborhood that had caused such an uproar because it pronounced itself outside of the law in the early 70s, where cannabis was and still is freely available for sale, the epitomy of living in sin.  And what is my fist impression?  An art loving, free-living community where mothers on tricycles (two wheels in front) push their children to kindergarten, architects and do-it-yourselfers live out their design creations without bureaucratic constraints, recycling of clothes and goods is a way of life, organic fruit and vegetables the norm, the crime rate so low it is practically nonexistent.  I wouldn’t mind living here myself!

Prime property by any urban standards, this ex-military compound of 34 hectares is now home to about 800-900 residents.  There is a waiting list to get in.  it has its own stores and primary schools, a movie house that doubles as community meeting hall – even an official multi-lingual spokesman who handles all press enquiries. The many visitors walk across the “Children’s meadow” to the “Arch of peace” via the “Cosmic flower” area and have made Christiania rank in the top 5 places to visit in Copenhagen.

But it was not always so congenial.  After the military moved out, the barracks were abandoned and the area became derelict. In the early 70s, there was an acute shortage of affordable housing in Copenhagen.  Some homeless moved into the barracks, some fences broken down and children started playing in the empty fields. On September 26, 1971, an article by a well known journalist bore the headline “Civilians conquered the ‘forbidden city’ of the military”.  Soon, Christiania became synonymous with the hippie movement, free love and drugs.  It was to be a long road of controversy and polemics with the authorities, until a compromise with the city ended in special legal status and the Christiania Law of 1989.  This is not to say that it is now a land of milk and honey, but all the residents are encouraged to have their say at the common meetings. Should there be a particularly sticky problem, it is discussed at a “women’s meeting” – because women usually find a solution and the men end up listening to them.

Nowadays, the main entrance leads the visitor straight through “Pusher Street” (no photos, please), where cannabis is sold openly, but hard drugs are forbidden.  Should a dealer break this law, he is run out of the compound – naked.  Beyond this infamous street lie unexpected delights such as an excellent vegetarian restaurant (reservations strongly recommended), popular jazz club, radio station, newspaper, its own currency (the Løn) and even a souvenir shop.  So much for the “wild” hippie movement!

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2 Comments

  1. Thank’s for sharing! This time your post is not only a way to travel from my coach… Christiania is closer to my home than other wonderful places you have visited -and we have visited with you 🙂 so maybe I will finally stand up and travel myself!
    I wish you a beautiful 2011 with plenty of nice surprises and many traveler discoveries… for our shared pleasure!

  2. Interesting and informative as always- My favorite part is the punishment for the dealer-that I would like to see. How Middle Ages. Sometimes the old ways are best.

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