Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Freetown Christiania

In Copenhagen tourism, there is a lot of hype about Freetown Christiania. I had never heard of it until I started to plan our trip. In 1971 people began to squat on the land of an abandoned military base, perhaps in a form of rebellion against authorities. There was apparently a lack of affordable housing in the city at the time. The movement was "encouraged" by a provocative journalist who was a sort of pre-hippie.

The idea was to build a society from scratch while taking advantage of existing land and buildings. The original mission statement from 1971 goes like this: The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted. I think it was meant to be a haven for all lifestyles. That said, they abide by their own set of rules including no tolerance of "hard" drugs, guns, knives, stealing or violence. Community decisions are made in common meetings with all residents invited.
For many reasons, the Danish authorities have looked the other way or been indecisive about what to do, so the community still exists today with about 800 residents. There are threats that the government will forcibly disband the community and throw the residents out. For the last fifteen years, they have paid taxes and utilities. Until 2004, a thriving and open drug trade was tolerated but this has largely gone underground due to fears of giving authorities another reason to shut down the community.

Visiting Christiania felt much like walking through the parking lot at a Grateful Dead concert, albeit a much larger and greener one. There was definitely a creative and artistic spirit in the place- there were brightly painted murals on the buildings and unconventional uses of old junk for both practical and artistic purposes. People were sprawled everywhere, enjoying a sunny warm Saturday afternoon. There was music everywhere and the occasional whiff of cannabis in the air. But there was an entrepreunerial spirit as well- Christiania residents give guided tours from the front entrance (for free); there are numerous cafes, restaurants and businesses, as well as tourist stands selling t-shirts, bumper stickers, etc. It was interesting to be sure but I still don't really know what sets it apart from any other community. Residents want peace, equality and tolerance. There is a set of rules that people generally agreed to abide by. There is space for quiet personal lives and space for commercial endeavors. It seemed in many ways like a small town, with a particularly relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. I'm still thinking about what is really different there.

On our way out, we walked under the sign above that informed us we were re-entering the European Union. I didn't know we had even left!

1 comment:

cortina said...

i was in christiania in 2002, i think. i was totally drug infested. when you first walked in was just stands and stands of hash to be bought. i was in europe first in 1994 and heard so many stories about how wonderful christiania was, really separate from the rest of copenhagen bc everything was based around the well-being of the WHOLE. a lot of highly educated people lived there, doctors, etc. they focused a lot on protecting the environment and there was no violence, no police, etc.