Within Denmark’s capital Copenhagen exists another world called Christiania. It’s a small area within the city that proclaimed its independence from the state in 1971, and an intriguing place to visit and experience. There are some ground rules and many questions that come up while walking around Christiania, and some residents will even warn you to avoid the place as I was right outside this Danish bakery. Despite its rough look around the edges, Christiania is one place you should visit if you’re ever in Copenhagen to catch a community making a rapid and often difficult transition.
What Is Christiania?
Christiania is a neighborhood within Copenhagen that is on the site of an old military base that was taken over by squatters in 1971. The residents then declared it a self-governing entity which has since existed in a tense relationship with the Danish government. Technically, Christiania is regarded more of as a commune that is under a set of special limited laws. Many visitors assume Christiania is a society that was founded by hippies, although its more complicated than that. It’s ideals are a culmination of leftist and anarchist principles (but that’s something of an oversimplification).
Some Ground Rules
When you first enter Christiania, you’ll notice colorful graffiti everywhere; painting the image of love, openness, and harmony. It’s important to note that taking pictures is forbidden in parts of Christiania but out here near the children’s park it’s OK (just ask people before you take pictures of them). There are a few other simple ground rules that are at the heart of Christiania:
- No guns.
- No violence.
- No stealing.
- No hard drugs.
There is also the informal rule of no running throughout Christiania – the act is associated with drugs raids which have become more frequent in Christiania during the past few years. Otherwise, you’re free to walk around the entrance area, around the homes, and enter some of the buildings. There is a museum here, although when I tried to visit, it was closed with only the lingering smell of marijuana in the hallway.
Beyond The No-Photo Zone
There is a stark contrast between the lighthearted design of the entrance and the dark colors beyond the no-photo (or pusher) zone. You’ll see signs everywhere warning you not to take pictures as drugs are being sold and smoked freely, although it is illegal in Denmark. This part of Christiania looks a bit more rundown and you’ll most certainly be greeted by suspicious eyes everywhere, the drug raids have taught the residents to be weary of new faces.
In contrast to the people huddled around fires burning in barrels, there are the occasional modern cafes like Cafe Nemoland next to lively bars. The normalcy in a place that doesn’t look or feel quite normal is fascinating to experience and witness, particularly as Danes from the outside walk to work or back home through the drug dealers in the neighborhood.
A World Of Contrasts and Clash
When talking to the residents of Christiania who’ve lived in the neighborhood for more than 15 years, you get a sense that some of the original ideals are being lost with a new generation more interested in drugs than community. Much of the dealing has been taken over by organized crime and subsequently the Danish government has taken notice. Drug raids are common and many government officials of late have based part of their campaigns on promises of ending Christiania’s loosely defined status.
Some of the old ideas and practices still keep the spirit alive; all decisions within the community must be decided by unanimous vote and all living spaces cost an equal amount regardless of size, but it’s hard to tell how long any of it will last. Provided you follow the rules and keep your camera away you can experience Christiania safely and decide for yourself.
[photos note: The top picture is of the entrance of Christiania, other others I took from around Copenhagen. I didn’t take and decided not to post any other pictures of Christiania which you can easily find online.]