The name itself is a giveaway. Freetown Christiania is a city within a city, a self-governing hippie commune in the heart of the Danish Capital of Copenhagen. Surrounded by canals on almost all sides, Christiania is like an island with their own set of rules, independent of the Danish Government. It also has its own currency Lon and a flag depicted as a red banner with three yellow discs.
A former military base that sat abandoned for many years eventually became Copenhagen’s alternative neighborhood of Freetown Christiania. In 1971, a group of hippies broke down the barricades and began squatting there as a ‘social experiment’. At the time, there was no sewage system, two water pumps, and plenty of space to set up a community independent of the government, if one were so inclined.
Inside the walled complex, the group of hippies and free thinkers implemented the concept of collective ownership. Even today, as you pass in and out of the community, it’s clear the residents of Freetown Christiania see their neighborhood as distinct from the rest of Copenhagen.
During its relatively short history, Freetown Christiania has faced a certain amount of turmoil due to its history with Cannabis, Marijuana and other drugs. This self-governed area was home to permanent stalls along Pusher Street or Green Light District, that sold all types of Cannabis which is illegal elsewhere in Denmark. Despite the best efforts by the police to shut down the Cannabis trade, soft drugs are still being sold quite openly. But potential buyers should be aware that police occasionally patrol the area, and one could potentially be fined if you are caught possessing hashish. Visitors should also take note that harder drugs are frowned upon in Christiania, and no attempts should be made to buy (or even ask for) harder drugs. After a number of police raids in the last few years, the drug sellers are more suspicious these days and photography is prohibited in the Green Light District by the dealers as they prefer not to be identified. But having said all that, Christiana, in general, is still a safe and open place as long as one uses his common sense and does not intrude into others privacy.
Christiania is however just not about drugs. There’s a lot more to it than that. Christiania is something of a powerhouse in Copenhagen’s cultural life, especially on the alternative scene, and there will almost always be something going on, in one of the many club and venues dotted around the central part of the open air scene on Café Nemoland. All through the summer, the cafe invites you to experience two free concerts every Sunday on their open-air stage. The concerts feature both some of Danish music’s most promising new names as well as classic Danish bands from the 80s and 90s.
There are plenty of live music venues in Christiania, each one with its own special atmosphere. Jazz lovers should definitely check out Jazzklubben. The small smoky bar hosts professional and amateur musicians, while on the Sunday jam sessions everyone is welcome to go on stage and play their favorite instrument. From Thursday to Sunday, the district is filled with music spilling out of Operaen café. DJs, acoustic concerts and jam sessions take place in the colorful café until after midnight. Finally, if you want to enjoy a drink and listen to music at the oldest bar in Christiania, look out for Woodstock.
Among the restaurants, cafés and music venues in Christiania stands ALIS Wonderland, one of the Copenhagen’s most famous skateparks. Constructed 20 years ago by two friends who were born and raised in the hippie district, Wonderland instantly became a meeting point for Copenhagen’s skate community. Nowadays, not only does it continue to attract the city’s underground crowd, but many renowned skaters, photographers, and street artists travel from abroad to attend events and competitions that take place in the wooden skate bowl.
Once you pass the area where the cafés and the restaurants are, there is an entirely different world to discover within Freetown Christiania. A canal, surrounded by trees and small colorful houses, many covered with colorful murals or accented by sculptures, separates Christiania from Copenhagen’s mainland. In a moment you will feel like you’re not in the middle of the city. Walk or bike along the water or simply sit down and relax on its banks. Meditation and yoga have always been popular among the Christianites. There are even schools and a daycare for the 150 or so children who call the area home. There’s also plenty of open space, from courtyards and gathering places to the community’s beautiful lake that seems to attract just about everyone on a sunny day. And, like the rest of Copenhagen, there are bicycles and tri-cycles everywhere. Some houses even have stables with horses.
After struggles with the Danish government for quite some time, in 2012, it was decided that most of Christiania would be sold to the people who live there. Residents, however, have always largely been opposed to the idea of owning property, as the town was created out of a collectivist, anarchistic spirit. The deal was made, but under the stipulation that “individuals would not actually control the land; the ‘collective’ would.”
Though crime has increased since its founding years, Christiania still retains the community-focused, hippie-like spirit of its original inhabitants. Many of its near 1,000 residents are artisans who try to live as organically as possible. The place is a mix of hand-crafted houses, workshops, art galleries, music venues, cheap and organic eateries, and beautiful nature. It is like a society within a society.
Freetown Christiania sounds ideal in a lot of ways. The residents choose who moves in (and kick people out, if they choose), most people agree on most things, they live according to their own rules, and they’re surrounded by natural beauty and art that they’ve made.
About Lopamudra Talukdar
Lopamudra Talukdar, a Masters in Zoology from the University of Kolkata, was fascinated by the world of photography ever since she was a kid but never thought of taking it up seriously until she was gifted a Canon 5D Mark II as recently as 2010.
It changed the world around her…. She started looking at the world through a different set of eyes and with accolades and exhibition opportunities coming her way, it also changed how the world looked at her. It helped that she travels around a lot, both inside and outside India but she is particularly fascinated by the diversity of Indian culture and how different it can be from Nagaland to Nagpur! She is currently doing assignment based photo stories for a number of leading magazines including National Geographic Traveller and Femina.
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All the pictures in this post are copyrighted Lopamudra Talukdar. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.