When heading to Copenhagen I had little interest in visiting Christiania but I had heard from friends that it would be worth it, after all it is Copenhagen’s second most visited place in the city.
Christiania began Forty-five years ago when the military moved out of what had been a long standing military base and squatters moved in. The community grew and grew with the government finally legalising the squat in 1983. In 2011 Christiania’s future was threaten so the residents set up a foundation to buy the land from the government, many people were happy to donate and 12.5 million kroner was raised.
Because of the drug trade the area had lost some of its charm in my opinion, it could have also been the time of year. Visiting in the summer I am sure the atmosphere would be different, there were plenty of areas for people to gather in the sun and the natural surroundings would be picturesque. But on this gloomy winter’s day it wasn’t the most welcoming, especially when we stumbled across the ominously named ‘Pusher Street’.
I hadn’t read much about the area before my arrival and I had no idea about the change that Pusher Street had recently gone through. Huts that had once lined the roads had recently been torn down in an effort to reduce the drug trade that had been dominating Christiania. It is estimated that 1 billion kroner changes hands on Pusher Street with many people looking to grab a piece, leading to other problems. The most recent being a shooting in August 2016 where a policeman was shot and two others injured.
Now, the huts had been replaced with groups of guys standing around, some huddled around burning trash cans. I never felt unsafe or threaten as I walked through but it was far from a comfortable situation. The residents have never wanted Christiania to be only about the use of cannabis and since these incidences they have decided to move away from it, encouraging people to buy elsewhere.
Once through the group of buildings we walked along the embankments that ran next to the water. Christiania was at one time an operational military base for hundreds of years and has a number of sites under national heritage protection.
Houses continued all the way back to the waterside, some were old buildings that had been re-purposed, others were more make-shift, made from recycled materials crudely knocked together. It would have been nice to walk along the water, and even to the other side, but my trip was restricted by time, so we walked back to the road in search of Danish pastries.
Even now I still don’t know exactly why the people of Christiania are allowed to in habit such a large area of Copenhagen, and with the growing need for development how much longer it will exist, but I think it is great in this modern world that there is a place where people can build their own society and community with values of their own. And that is something to see and experience.
Paradise lost: does Copenhagen’s Christiania commune still have a future? was helpful read when learning about the community and the problems it had faced.
Read more about the Darker Side of Tourism which Christiania would be a contender.