Copenhood pt. 2: Freetown Christiania
Close your eyes- imagine a place ruled not by the government, but by the people. Hippie people. As you walk about the streets, you see houses covered with street art and yards littered with vegetables. You pass cafés and restaurants that are selling their neighbor’s veggies- these communal places are self sustainable and have a brown-tinted interior from the years of abuse the walls have taken from the plumes of smoke. Outside there are unleashed dogs roaming the street and self-constructed skate parks doused in graffiti. The neighborhood smells like a cauldron of aromas, including the scent of falafel, freshly baked goods, and pit stank (which I’m half-kidding about).
This place is fictional in the United States, because the big man would never let the people self-govern and would eventually cut off their supply of electricity and water. However, the Danish government has somehow let this fly since the 70’s after a group of squatters took over an abandoned military facility in Copenhagen and started building homes with their bare hands. However, the process towards the creation of an autonomous ‘state’ was difficult and filled with controversy, as it developed into a political issue that reached Danish Parliament. Despite multiple attempts to remove the squatters from the abandoned military facilities, the Danish government admitted that too many people were now living in this large and previously unoccupied space. Denmark, being the progressive state that it is, eventually came to an incredible agreement with the ‘Freetown’ that it would allow autonomous rule if the settlement paid for its electricity and gas, which are funded by the Danish government. Thus, the hippie commune of Christiania was born.
Christianians (I guess they’re called) have the goal of building “a self-governing society where each individual is free to express themselves under the authority of the community”. You can see this in the homes, the businesses, the art scene and the dreadlocked ladies selling handmade crafts- Portlanders eat your heart out. More important that self-expression is the idea of creating a society based on unity and freedom; today these values remain central to Christiania’s DNA. A large part of the reason behind allowing Christiania to remain in existence is the town’s community activities- communal baths, children’s playgrounds, concerts, garbage collection and an extensive recycling system, all of which contribute to the sense of unity in ‘Freetown’.
The Danish government has let this social experiment continue for 40 years due to it’s resounding success- the people of Christiania have stamped out the consumption of hard drugs and have managed to keep Christiania looking surprisingly nice. It’s not dumpy, covered in trash, or sketchy (of course this is Denmark, where the word sketchy doesn’t seem to exist), but remains edgy and in the best way possible. Christiania is home to Loppen, one of Copenhagen’s premier music venues, and some of the best eats in town- Christiania falafel is perfect after some partying and dancing to live music in either Loppen or Nemoland, the quaint little amphitheater near the peaceful lake that belongs to Freetown.
Here’s the catch about Christiania. It definitely has a stigma for being the place to purchase ‘certain things’ that you can now legally purchase in the states of Washington and Colorado (catch my drift?). Mind you, this is a hippie commune, and the legal consumption law is one of the controversial aspects to Christiania’s existence. It’s fair to say that the conservative Danes are not entirely happy about this, similar to conservative American attitudes towards San Francisco’s edgy, leftist vibe. This does bring a good amount of tourists, just like Amsterdam- but it isn’t why locals come to Christiania. You can still see families and older folks putzing around the cobblestone streets for the scenery, restaurants or, if they want to time travel back to the 70’s, the hippie atmosphere. Of course you may meet some obnoxious and dazed English tourists, but the Danes still own Christiania- the sense of a unified community and excessive amounts of Carlsberg are testament to that.