Meeting up with Birgitte Hoffmann on a sunny Sunday morning, picking up bikes from her place, she started a thirty-five kilometer tour that led through delicious back streets of Copenhagen via Christiana and back home for a lovely meal with Birgitte, Hendrik and one of their sons, Nikolai.
The tour went through many of the amazing sites of that city and eventually to the community of Christiana, on the perimeter of the city. One of the best-known communities in the world. A visit to Copenhagen is not complete without a trip to “hippie commune”, Cristiana.
The community was born with radical action in 1971 when some locals removed some of the fencing of an old abandoned military site (with old ramparts dating back to 1600s) to get access to some empty space for their children to play in. At that time there was a grave lack of affordable housing in Copenhagen. Activists and housing advocates and homeless people and artists subsequently took over part of the site and set up a squat. The ‘commune’ that resulted, possibly the longest lasting ever, is called Fristaden Christiania – Freetown Christiana.
Activist and journalist, Jacob Ludvigson wrote at the time,
….. “Christiania is the land of the settlers. It is the so far biggest opportunity to build up a society from scratch – while nevertheless still incorporating the remaining constructions. Own electricity plant, a bath-house, a giant athletics building, where all the seekers of peace could have their grand meditation – and yoga center. Halls where theater groups can feel at home. Buildings for the stoners who are too paranoid and weak to participate in the race…Yes for those who feel the beating of the pioneer heart there can be no doubt as to the purpose of Christiania. It is the part of the city which has been kept secret to us – but no more” …..
He also co-authored Christiana’s Mission Statement:
….. “The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted” …..
The autonomous, squatter community was predicated on collectivism and anarchy and still holds true to its acceptance of cannabis drug addicts who struggle to cope in mainstream society. Although trading of cannabis was allowed and open and the main street is called Pusher Street, hard drugs are not tolerated. At different times they have had to contend with illegal and sometimes violent drug related and gang related activity – hence some specific rules forbidding “stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests, hard drugs and bikers colours”. These days things are far more settled however photographing down colourful Pusher Street is banned and definitely unadvisable.
It’s hard to take photos from a bike anyway so if you want to see some amazing PHOTOS of this truly extraordinarily creative place I suggest you visit this link.
In 1989 a special law was brought in called the Christiana law taking responsibility away from the municipality of Copenhagen and giving it to the State. Since 1994, residents do have pay for electricity, water, and waste disposal. In 2007 the authorities tried to demolish a building and the community, reacting from fear, resisted. The police applied force, there was violence, there was a lot of media and it was brought to the attention of the world. The residents were impossible to winkle out and eventually the police gave up and they were still allowed to stay.
The Danes are proud of their tolerance, inclusiveness and efforts to care for their fellow human beings. Danish people generally are very proud of their unique, diverse ‘Christiana’ made up of social security recipients, artists, musos, single parents, homeless people, students, intellectuals and immigrants.
Riding bikes through Freetown, by-passing the cannabis market, stopping at one of the lovely cafes for a chai and a chat, then cruising on along the waterfront down long, winding, dirt paths, past amazing homes built in the forest, up on the ancient ramparts or down at the waters edge or even over the water (some quite large), it becomes apparent that the area is extensive; 34 hectares in fact.
To build in Christiana merely requires approval from the community via a community meeting but no-one has to buy the land. This has led to ongoing disgruntlement, resentment and pushback against Christiana until finally in 2012 the community was offered a deal to buy the land for US$13 million I.e. way below market prices. Christiana raised the funds with the help of government guaranteed loans and “social shares” sold through the collective.
The protected historic buildings are in need of urgent maintenance and money has had to be raised to do this work. At the same time, perhaps as part of the deal, the government has undertaken a process to “normalise” Christiana. As well, the first generation of community members – now growing older, is also having to make room for their children’s generation. Some tensions exist there as well.
Freetown has grown to now at least 900 residents and over the years, it has evolved. People have occupied, built, created enterprises, made art, performed theatre, built a culture, challenged mainstream thinking and established Christiana as a permanent fixture in Copenhagen. As well as being an extraordinary community and also for that same reason, Christiana is a tourist mecca. Fristaden Christiania is one of the largest tourist attractions in Copenhagen.
“There are bars, cafés, grocery shops, a huge building-supply store, a museum, art galleries, a concert hall, a skateboard park, a recycling center, even a recording studio (inside a shipping container).” Tom Freston On the Road
It would be instructive for someone to look into the research around Christiana especially regarding its decision making processes and any social inclusion benefits and environmental sustainability gains that are made here. Perhaps another visit to Copenhagen is needed?
The take home messages and similes are many – hippie intellectualism and values contribute richly to our world, collaborative-cooperative-communal living can work, bicycles make enormous sense, radical action (that is seeking to get to the root of the problem) is the only action worth engaging in, recognition of the great and just need for affordable housing needs constant and ongoing attention, as does the practising of conscious awareness, being wide awake to opportunity, intelligently compassionate and aspiring to be as self-sustainable as possible. Learning the art and process of collectivism and gaining a understanding of anarchy are important and, of course, holding an antipathy to “bulletproof vests” is always good.