Christiania: A Separate Society within Copenhagen
Freetown Christiania is a social and political experiment located in the area of Christianshavn in central Copenhagen. It's a unique place that covers about 84 acres (34 hectares) and is surrounded around a big lake. The park in which Christiania is located in used to belong to the Danish Marine who used it as a training and storage facility for hundreds of years. In 1960's the Danish military abandoned the premises and shortly after that local hippies started using the grounds as a recreational park. Jacob Ludvigsen officially proclaimed the Freetown Christiania open in 1971.
The Freetown was meant to be an opportunity for people to start over and in a new completely self-sustainable and autonomous community within the city of Copenhagen. At first it wasn’t so much of a political movement but rather a protest to the lack of affordable housing in Denmark. Christiania was also an area where free thinkers, hippies, and people with alternative interests like yoga, meditation, etc. were always welcome.
Over the years it has developed more into a political experiment where the residents are protesting the capitalistic ways of the West by proving that it’s possible to live on a self-sustained and less globalized scale. There is also a lot of provocation from the residents who, among other things, have “legalized” the consumption and sale of cannabis.
Today the Freetown is a fully functioning parallel society with about 850 permanent residents - all of which are responsible for their own housing and lives. The community has a democratically elected government but most of the big decisions are taken at meetings, called fællesmødet, where everyone who resides in Christiania can participate and vote. The local residents even have their own currency that they use with each other. Anyone else visiting is allowed to use Danish Crowns.
One interesting thing with the Freetown is that there are no laws, only a few rules that everyone has to follow:
- No violence
- No guns and/or other weapons
- No hard drugs
- No sale of buildings, houses or real estate
- No running (it causes alarm and usually means that the police is coming)
In 2012, Christiania came to an agreement with the Danish government that the residents would be given a possibility to buy the park and actually own it. Since the residents weren't able to scramble together the money themselves, they started something called a "Folkeaktie", or share.
Nowadays anyone can buy a share in Christiania and in doing so help the residents claim back the park from the government. The share doesn't work like a regular share and you wont become an official share holder. Instead the payment should be considered a donation to the Freetown Christiania fund. This is how they describe the share themselves:
"Christiania Shares are not like the shares traded at the stock exchange. They promote community, sharing and autonomy in contrast to the financial speculation currently causing great harm to communities all over the world.
In this, it is our modest hope to inspire the development of social models of investment, that value common wealth rather than profits.
The purchase of a Christiania Share is to be seen as a donation supporting buying the Freetown through the Fund for Christiania."
Christiania's Pusher Street
When you first enter Christiania through one of the main entrances you will find yourself in the central part where a lot of the old military buildings are used today. Here you can visit local shops, a skate park, a couple of restaurants, and of course the infamous Pusher Street (or Green Light District as the residents call it).
It is Pusher Street that has put Christiania on the world map and it is also the main attraction for outsiders. On Pusher Street the sale of cannabis is completely open and has been for decades. In fact, the drug trade in Christiania is so popular that it has made Pusher Street the second most visited tourist attraction in Copenhagen. The most visited attraction is ‘Tivoli’ - the oldest functioning amusement park in the world.
Though Christiania may seem like a free-for-all it's important to consider that only cannabis and alcohol is allowed. All other “hard” drugs are strictly forbidden and if you’re caught selling or consuming anything else you will find yourself banned for life.
Eating Vegan in Christiania
There are several restaurants, bars, and cafes in Christiania, Nemoland being the most well known, and they all serve vegetarian and vegan options. There is also a fully vegetarian and organic restaurant called Morgenstedet. Unfortunately they were closed when we visited but we look forward to eating there when we return.
As soon as you venture outside of the bustling center you’ll find yourself in the middle of a peaceful oasis. Here you can walk on winding path along the lake and enjoy the magnificent views surrounding the park. Every once in awhile you’ll pass a house with the most innovative and eccentric design. It’s the perfect place to spend a day immersing yourself in nature while still being within walking distance to the biggest city in Denmark.
To witness the unique political movement in Christiania is an eye-opening experience and a reminder that an alternative society is still possible. The Freetown of Christiania is well worth a visit even if you're not interested in the cannabis trade or the politics behind it.