In 1970, a peaceful invasion took place in Copenhagen. A small group of anarchists broke through a fence and took over the grounds of a former military barracks.
The area had defensive ramparts dating from the 1600s, when Denmark fought endless battles with Sweden. After about 1950, the military more or less abandoned the site. Hippies moved in and set up shop, making up the rules as they went along. They eventually gained legal use of the land and became one of the top tourist attractions of Copenhagen, right up there with Tivoli Gardens.
Today, about 900 people live in Christiania. Over the years, they’ve worked out ways to police themselves and cooperate with local authorities to provide some services. But it’s still all about freedom, just as in 1971.
I ventured inside early on a sunny but chilly spring morning. What would I find?
I had read that photos were generally ok, but to ask permission before taking any photos of people–especially those selling marijuana, which is illegal but freely sold when police are not around. Maybe it was too early, or maybe I was oblivious, but I didn’t see anything remotely like a drug deal. Residents themselves outlawed “hard drugs” some years ago, and they enforce the rules strictly.
Much of the artwork was a throwback to the psychedelic 60s and 70s.
Other murals looked more contemporary. I liked it all.
I didn’t bring a skateboard! Too bad.
Hippies were the first great recyclers. They figured out how to survive and thrive on the leftovers of materialism. Christiania has a huge warehouse stocked with recycled toilets, sinks, bathtubs, stoves and refrigerators, and all kinds of building materials.
The community depends on tourist traffic. Restaurants look friendly and appealing, but there are probably no Michelin stars.
Venturing out of the main tourist area, I found charming handcrafted homes, bright with flowers.
Nobody is allowed to actually own a home or property in this enclave. If a resident leaves, the community decides whether to invite someone else to move in. I’ve read that about 180 of the original residents remain.
After I left, I learned that tourists had been assaulted for taking pictures of residents. I figured this dog, supervising the warehouse, wouldn’t mind.
There are plenty of grungy sights within Christiania, but my impression was of a tranquil haven of social freedom. Yes, I’d go back!
Travel offers so many doors to open! Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia.