So it’s taken a while to get round to, but I promised a whole post on Christiania so at last, here it is.
I’d heard a bit about Christiania before and I was very curious. It had for a long time been a place on my must see list, so during our trip to Copenhagen last year while Mr. Arabian Notes was at his conference, I ventured out on my own to go and investigate. I had planned to go along and join one of the guided tours that was supposedly running that afternoon, but on my arrival to the Freetown it was all a bit confusing and I couldn’t quite work out where the meeting point was. So with that, and a nervous thought in my head that it was probably better to try to look like I knew what I was doing and not hang around looking too lost in an area with a reputation such as Christiania, I decided to keep moving and just go and have a nose about on my own – there was no way I was going to miss out on this.
For those that aren’t aware, Christiania is a neighbourhood in the Christianshavn area of Copenhagen. It is commonly regarded as a large commune and has been an area surrounded by interest and controversy since it became in 1971. Basically, it seems a group of young people who couldn’t find affordable housing in Copenhagen – branded as hippies – broke into and took over what was an abandoned military area and began squatting in the existing buildings there. The inhabitants claimed the area as a free city, run by their own laws and free of taxes and the short version is that the accidental social experiment has remained a fixture in the city ever since.
Around 1000 people live and work there now, in houses designed by themselves. Many are quirky, artistically and architecturally interesting buildings put together with unwanted and recycled materials, converted wagons and other examples of makeshift and alternative architecture. Visiting Christiania is definitely an experience, and one that has stayed with me. On entering the city you pass by a series of signs that state the laws of the area, and warning visitors not to take any pictures. So what’s so controversial about Christiania and why no pictures? Well, almost immediately after entering the area you find yourself on ‘Pusher Street’ as it has become known, where what is basically a market with numerous stands is set up on either side of the street. The only difference being between this and any other market that I have visited previously is that these market stalls are all filled with cannabis and related paraphernalia. Though the street name itself may conjure up scary images in your mind, it’s perhaps only really the fact that seeing such normally taboo products on sale so openly is what makes it a little unsettling. Pusher Street is only one small area of Christiania, and I might add, there’s actually no pushing – it’s just a market as any other market, open for business to those who choose to buy. Although it exists, it’s worth noting for anyone who may be confused – it is still illegal there too, but for a number of historical reasons is somewhat tolerated and by and large ignored by the authorities outside the free community. Despite this, the community is still governed by its own set of rules which although embrace tolerance and what many refer to as an ‘alternative lifestyle’, these rules outlaw hard drugs, stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests and bikers colours.
Christiania is a hugely interesting place to visit if you’re ever in Copenhagen. It’s a beautiful, quirky, peaceful and lively place all at the same time across the various different areas (the area is 34 hectares – it’s pretty big!). If you’ve ever been to a music festival, you might liken the goings on in the main part of the community as having a similar sort of vibe. It’s a bit like the bohemian parts of Brighton – albeit a bit more extreme. However you might describe it and whatever you might think of it – it’s a great place to wander around, soak up the atmosphere and see the imaginative architecture, murals, exhibitions, art galleries, concerts and more – and it seems to work for the residents.
Social responsibility is of course part of the culture (as you’d imagine would be the case in any self-respecting socialist or ‘hippy’ community), no cars are allowed and vegetarians and organic foodies will love the options for eating.
I’m afraid I don’t have my own pretty pictures of Christiania to show you as since I was on my own, I decided to err on the side of caution and do my best to blend in, but someone naughty at Buzzfeed has managed to get a nice collection, so you can check those out here.
I flew to Copenhagen from Abu Dhabi with Etihad. They don’t fly there directly, but there’s a lot of choice for easy connections in Europe – I went via Paris on the way out and via Amsterdam on the return with nice short connection times.