Tuesday 2 July 2013

Freetown Christiania


One of the most memorable and enjoyable times of our trip to Copenhagen was the morning we spent in Christiania.

Situated in the borough of Christianshavn, on the site of the former military barracks of Badsmandsstraede and parts of the city ramparts, Christiania was taken over by inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood on 4 September 1971, so that the area could be used as a playground for their children. On 26 September 1971, it was declared a free community by Jacob Ludvigsen who published an article in a magazine proclaiming the free town:

'Christiania is the land of the settlers. It is the so far biggest opportunity to build up a society from scratch'. He then published the community's mission statement: '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 phychological and physical destitution can be averted'.

The people in Christiania have developed their own set of rules, independent of the Danish government. The rules forbid stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests, hard drugs and bikers' colors. Use of soft drugs, e.g. hash and grass are permitted and sold on Pusher Street.

It is a thriving community, with carpenters, blacksmiths, a bikeshop, several cafes, restaurants, jazz, blues and night clubs, galleries, music venues and a bakery that is open 24 hours. There are yoga, art and other community activities, as well as a small bazaar on Pusher Street with small vendors.

Some hard-won battles over the years have made Christiania what it is today.

The 'junk blockade' in 1979 is such an example. Worried about the use of hard drugs and especially heroin, and unable to find a solution to the problem, the residents decided to cooperate with the police in order to get rid of heroin pushers. Despite the shared feelings of distrust, some community members felt there was no other way to fix such a problem and supplied the police with a list of suspected hard drug users. Not keeping their side of the deal, the police made a large crackdown only on the hash network and left the heroin ring untouched. They furthermore gave the names of the 'cooperating Christianites' to the dealers who had to leave Christiania for fear of reprisals.

Feeling betrayed and bitter the Christianites decided not to cooperate with the authorities any further and instead launched what was to be known as the Junk Blockade. For 40 days and nights they all patrolled the area and whenever they found junkies or pushers they gave them an ultimatum: either quit all activities with hard drugs or leave the community. In the end, the pushers were forced to leave and sixty people entered drug rehabilitation.

The biker gang eviction is another example: a Copenhagen-resident biker gang arrived in Christiania in 1984 and took control of a part of the cannabis market. This resulted in an increase in violence in the community and Christianites felt unsafe and unhappy with the situation. They instigated sabotage acts directed towards the bikers, publication of several provocative manuscripts and two colossal community meetings where it was agreed that the bikers had to leave. The action was successful.

Christiania is a social experiment that works. The community is run along democratic lines, and has become a refuge for people who cannot cope or who do not want to have to cope, with mainstream society. Successive Danish governments have tried to remove the Christianites but they have, thankfully, been unsuccessful.

What we found was a society that works with an extremely strong sense of community, people who are extremely relaxed and friendly: loads of people came up to us and chatted, talking about their community with pride and affection. It was refreshing to see an alternative way of life that works and that so obviously makes its inhabitants happy.

The houses are built by hand with whatever materials can be found, the neighbourhoods are quiet and surprisingly rural given that they are in the middle of a busy city.

Christiania is also one of the main tourist attractions of the city.

Note:  The first three photographs were taken by me, but once we entered Pusher Street we were asked not to take any photographs so we stopped. The rest of the photographs are from http://tinyhouseblog.com/tiny-house-concept/christiania-tiny-houses/  plus one that was sent to me by a friend. Some of the information is from Wikipedia.

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