Do you remember last summer’s failed reality TV show, Utopia, where a bunch of strangers came together and were given the opportunity to “start over” essentially building a new world for themselves? No? Maybe I was the only one who watched it. Anyway, the strangers came together to build this new life for themselves and along the way built shelter, grew food, started their own businesses, and attempted to figure out their governing structure. While that was a TV show, Christiania is the real thing. No, seriously.
Back in the 1970’s a bunch of artists and squatters decided to take over an abandon military base in Copenhagen and create a city they could call their own – a place where they could be free to live their hippy lifestyle, smoke out, practice non-violence and just be. They named the commune, Christiania (also known as Freetown Christiania). They have their own flag, their own currency, and their own governing rules.
Today, it’s on the must-see list for any Copenhagen visitor so we strolled through this town to see what an anarchist village looks like…. and coming out of it, I am not sure how I feel about Christiania.
Walking through, it’s clear this place is distinctly different from Copenhagen. Copenhagen is clean, built up, and modern. Christiania is gritty, graffitied, and with overgrown grass. The people in Copenhagen look like your average middle-class Dane. In Christiania, they look like free-spirited hippies who probably haven’t bathed in a while (or maybe they have, but I couldn’t tell).
We entered Christiania from what must be the back entrance. See that group of trees? You can walk right through and realize you’re not in
Kansas Copenhagen anymore.
Given that the place was founded by artists, there’s no shortage of art everywhere. In fact, as soon as we walked through, we saw to our right:
I’ve never been great at interpreting art, but I could only assume the fairytale-ness of it was apropos given the history of this place.
Not all of the art was so decked out with mushroom houses and fairies. Take this other wall, for instance:
You can see the Christiania flag (red flag with three yellow dots) and two other things symbolic of the place: no hard drugs but weed? Weed is good.
Weed, actually, is more than good in Christiania. In fact, if there’s ever a reason to visit this place, it’s because you can buy weed in their “Green Light District” even though Copenhagen authorities consider it illegal to purchase weed there. Apparently, the cops turn their heads at the whole thing so the Green Light District continues to thrive. Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any photos while walking through the district. In fact, there were signs everywhere as we entered the district reminding us of the three rules: 1) Have fun, 2) Don’t run – it causes panic, and 3) No photos – buying and selling hash is still illegal
The Green List District was actually pretty small – it’s just one short street with little huts set up with wood/cardboard/tin (probably whatever was around the military base) and tiny windows where the buyers and sellers can interact. The most interesting thing, however, was that all the stores were covered with military camo netting and all the sellers were covered up as well – we couldn’t see anyone’s faces. The sellers look like bandits or robbers with their ski masks on.
We walked through, trying to look as casual as possible, which was an impossible task considering we were the only Asian family there and with a baby in tow. I’m pretty sure we stuck out like a sore thumb in Christiania overall. While I was curious to see what kind of goods the sellers had and how they displayed it all, the whole scene felt very inappropriate so we ended up walking out of the Green Light Distract as fast we walked in.
We ended up walking to Nemoland, which was like the town center. There was a stage set up for performances (though none going on when we were there) and quite a few options for food at the various restaurants and bars. One thing I can get behind is the food options. There were plenty of vegan and organic options in Christiania which made this California girl quite happy.
Mr. T, however, picked up Christiania beer for the novelty of it, and we headed up to the lookout point above Nemoland.
This must be where everyone goes to light up.
After the beer, we wandered some more and found their market area where folks could purchase Christiania souvenirs (t-shirts, hats, bongs).
Instead of buying anything, we opted to peek into the other side streets to see what life was like there. It was basically a lot of people just hanging out – drinking, smoking… really chill.
The buildings were all interesting – either they were colorful or made from upcycled materials – and every now and then there were random statues along the trails.
In all, our visit lasted about an hour and as we left, we realized we were not only heading back to reality but back to the European Union.
Overall, Christiania was interesting and unexpectedly left me with culture shock – not an easy feat for someone who has visited over 60 countries and who has lived in the Nordic ones as well! The grittiness of the community just felt dirty as did the overgrown bushes. If the walk through Christiania reminds me of any other place I’ve been it’s Height and Ashbury in San Francisco or Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. It’s like that, but instead of it just being one street it’s 84 acres of that.
Is it worth the visit?
Yes. If you’re in Copenhagen and you want something totally different, go to Christiania. Or, if you’re in the area and want to smoke out, this is the place to be. Despite it feeling kind of grimy in there, we actually felt safe the whole time. People kept to themselves and the vendors at the restaurants and bars were all helpful and nice. There were also lots of other tourists there. Anyway, what’s the point of traveling if not to push you outside of your comfort zone, right? 😉