Christiania: Probably the weirdest place on Earth

(Well, west of the Kingdom of the Little People anyway)


Freetown Christiania

A couple of weeks ago I asked my friends what they were planning to do with their day in Copenhagen and they told me they were going to some place to see the hippies. I’m quite a fan of people-watching myself and who doesn’t love hippies? So that sounded like fun to me, but I was working that day. I had heard of “Christiania” or "Freetown Christiania" from some other friends of mine. They said it was a self-governed place where people are free to do what they want like smoke pot “kinda like Amsterdam”. I thought it was quite far away and you had to take a boat to get there, but when I found out it was on an island just over a bridge from downtown Copenhagen and that it’s the same place where hippies can be spotted in abundance (what is the collective noun for hippies? There should be one), I decided on my next day off I would give it a visit.  

It was not like Amsterdam. 

Amsterdam is quite civilised. There are people who live there who have normal jobs and homes and who believe in cutting the grass… erm, ‘lawn’. Okay, yes some of them whore themselves in shop windows but that’s just one part, the rest of it is a pretty normal European city. Christiania is not like that. About the only thing they have in common is the pot and a lot of bicycles. There is nothing normal about being in Christiania and what I couldn’t get over is not just that this place actually exists, but that it exists and I’d never heard of it. 

I wanted to ask the locals more about it but I was a little intimidated by them. I met one friendly lady at the entrance who may have filled me in a little but I thought she was a hobo and I hadn’t yet learnt to differentiate between hobos and residents. Actually, I’m not sure if there is a difference. 

This sign was a little more useful:  


It details the 9 rules that the people of the area live by. (Sorry it’s out of focus.)

I also got this map:

Freetown Christiania map


After encountering the very daunting pot dealers who all wore scarves to cover their faces in the 'greenlight' district, aka 'Pusher Street' and witnessing how they treated someone who took a photo in that area (don’t do that, just don’t), I was even more afraid of the locals. Amsterdam has a green light district too, but you can take pictures there, like this one that I took of Rodrigo in 2013. Naughty Rodrigo! 

Amsterdam, 2013

I had so many questions but I didn’t know who to ask so I turned to the internet. Between Wikipedia and their own website, I learnt a few things about the place: Christiania is defined as an “autonomous neighbourhood” of about 850 residents taking up about 34 hectares. Under the Christiania Law of 1989, the area is governed not by the municipality of Copenhagen, but by the state (as in the inhabitants). From my experience, I gathered that the “state” is okay with the trading and consumption of pot. The “state” is also okay with graffiti and lots of scaffolding (I’m not sure if it has a purpose but they have plenty). The “state” also does not believe in trimmed lawns, but grass of all varieties are free to grow without restraint. The government is not exactly thrilled about any of this and that’s probably why there is a bit of a sense of uneasiness. 

The internet said that located in abandoned military barracks and a large part of Copenhagen’s city ramparts, Christiania began as a squatted community in 1971. Local people who originally wanted a playground for their kids broke into the unused area. Somewhat disgruntled by the lack of affordable housing in Copenhagen, they ended up squatting there and ultimately adopted the way of life that they still fight to maintain today. It has been a source of conflict with the authorities ever since. It seems the area was of a fair amount of significance to the defence force from the 17th century right up until the end of World War II and was even the last Danish execution site. Now it’s all peace and love, yoga and veganism, just don’t photograph the pot and all will be zen.  Photograph the pot and your blood might run in the same blood drain that still remains today where the execution shed once was. 

According to their own website, the objective of Christiania is “to build a self-governing society where every individual is free to express themselves and be responsible to the community. This community should be financially self-sustaining, and the common aspiration must constantly go out to show that the mental and physical pollution can averted.” Okay?

They even have their own flag made up of a red rectangle with three yellow dots (representing the three dots in the ‘i’s of the name Christiania) which can be spotted in many forms around the property. Souvenirs that display the flag are available in the market which is near Pusher Street and therefore not photographed here.






Despite the fact that I had never heard of it before, it is apparently the fourth largest tourist attraction in Copenhagen (Some websites say “second”). I’m guessing the Little Mermaid is number one? It seems strange to me that it’s a part of Copenhagen that the locals like to show off to foreigners as if they are proud of this weird social experiment as an example of Denmark’s liberal forward thinking. Yet, at the same time it’s an embarrassment to Denmark as a squatting anarchist community that even after 40 years the Danish government cannot gain control of.  On top of that, though using pot may not be legal in Denmark, pretty much the only place you can get away with it is on a piece of land still owned by the Danish defence ministry, to whom the inhabitants, though squatters, have been paying taxes since 1994 for water, electricity and trash disposal. 

So yes, if your mind is not blown by the quirkiness and the contradiction of its very existence maybe try some weed? 

My description of the place can’t quite do it justice, so here’s a whole lot of pictures:


The entrance:




Rodrigo and mural of naked fairies

The houses:





They were all out of lawn flamingos and opted for roof lizards instead.



Spot the flamingo
The graffiti (and bicycles)












"Car-free zone"

(Christiania apparently used to be car-free but according to Wikipedia, as of 2005, they increased parking space from none to enough for 14 cars)

A public toilet



The scaffolding (and bicycles)










The long grass (and bicycles):







Other things distinctly “Christiania” (and bicycles):












The exit:


That's about it. My life rocks. 

Remaining cruises: 6 and a bit
South African guests booked to cruise next week: 47 (Cruiseabout must have had a special)


               
               



            
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Sharon Waugh

Sharon is a writer, cruise ship entertainment host and freelance unicorn wrangler. She is currently taking a break from her seafaring adventures to explore some more landlocked locations from her homebase in Johannesburg, South Africa. She likes to photograph a plastic lawn flamingo 'Rodrigo' on her travels because it seemed like a good idea ten years ago and 53 countries later, it’s probably too late to turn back now.

 Sharon greatly dislikes reading 'travel blogs' by people who are just rephrasing press releases or composing lists like '15 ways to travel the world for cheap', specifically formulated for SEO, with absolutely no evidence that the writers have ever left their bedrooms. (This is not one of those blogs.) Sharon also dislikes bigotry and referring to herself in first person, apparently.

To find out more about Sharon and Rodrigo’s travel aspirations read this.

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