Danish design and architecture is world-renowned, highly acclaimed, and often visually very impressive. It is evident as simple, functional, sometimes stark, clean lines in everything from superstructures to spoons. It seems that Danes take great pride in artistic endeavors and that is obvious in Danish design. One of the cool, inviting shops I happened upon and of which I've since become a regular, Designer Zoo, houses Danish designers' art work and creations. Or maybe you're aware of typically-too-rich-for-my-blood Bo Concept- a Danish design house and retailer. Denmark has also ranked for decades as one of the most energy-efficient countries in Europe. But in Copenhagen, amidst all of this sleekness and sophistication, lies something absolutely fascinating. On the exact opposite of the sleekness and sophistication spectrum.
Christiania. A partially walled, 84 acre, car-free, joints-ablazing, 1970's hippie-type, shanty townish commune right smack in the middle of, oddly, one of the most affluent districts in Copenhagen. "Freetown", as it's often called, was created in 1971 when a group of locals started squatting on abandoned military property (They just wanted a recreational greenspace for their kids to play. Is that too much to ask?) which attracted many young people to live in the old barracks. This spawned the creation of an autonomous, community-and-freedom-driven town that the government deems an official "social experiment". It's almost impossible to describe this place without it sounding like a movie set. Tourists struggling to keep their eyeballs in their sockets and nerves at bay make you forget there are actually people that live here. Christiania has its own money, its own self-regulated laws, and most notably, its own stratospheric level of weed-wafting air.
Marijuana is part of Christiania culture. Hence, the almost threatening signs stating no photos around, aptly named, Pusher Street, and the sales of Bob Marley tshirts. I got the gnarliest headache just strolling behind a woman walking her dog around Christiania's lake. I couldn't escape her pot cloud. Signs also include "no running" which apparently indicate police raids. Marijuana is still illegal, after all, so Christiania has had its share of government intrusion trying to normalize the area. After 40 years though, seems like the only goal is containment.
I read a great description of the population on any given day in Christiania:
"-Earnest anarchist/co-operative types, working hard to keep the place functioning, or run a business.
-Hooded toughs going to score drugs.
None of these groups seem at ease with the other. But somehow the place seems to work."
Pot-pervasion aside, the tenets of Christiania creep into one's psyche. A vibrant performing arts scene (well-known, respectable bands actually play at Loppen, an old army hall turned music venue). Expressive graffiti art everywhere. Simple, self-designed homes that often appear ready to collapse (there are about 1000 residents in Christiania). And little stores and eateries focused on organic living.
While most may not feel the slightest bit green to live here, there's no question that Christiania is one of the most colorful places that exists today.
Farvel for nu!
Mural at Christiania entrance
Cafe in gritty Christiania
Christiania bikes; an iconic model made at a shop in Christiania
Peace and love on a trail around the lake at Christiania
Typical handwritten sign
Wall around Christiania, in its full technicolor street art glory