Christiania, also known as Freetown Christiania, is a partially self-governing neighbourhood of about 850 residents, covering 34 hectares (85 acres) in the borough of Christianshavn in the Danish capital Copenhagen. Christiania has established semi-legal status as an independent community.
Christiania’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.”
Christiania was founded in 1971, when many people from different backgrounds together began to take over an area of recently abandoned military barracks. At the time many people in the larger Danish cities felt betrayed by the politicians as there was a serious lack of housing. Also, the inhabitants of the surrounding neighborhood Christianshavn wanted a green, open area for their children to be in, away from the increasing traffic in Copenhagen. The spirit of Christiania quickly developed into one of communism, the hippie movement and the squatter movement. One of the more influential participants was Jacob Ludvigsen, who published a progressive and critical newspaper called Hovedbladet, which was distributed weekly to about 50.000 predominantly young people. In the paper Ludvigsen wrote an article in which he and 5 others went on exploration into ‘The Forbidden City of the Military’. The article widely announced the proclamation of the free town and among other things he wrote: “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 yogacenter. Halls where theatergroups 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 pioneerheart there can be no doubt as to the purpose of Christiania. It ıs the part of the city which has been kept secret to us – but no more.“. In the ensuing 35 years that Christiania has existed many of Ludvigsen’s dreams have been realized. Meditation and yoga have always been extremely popular among the Christianites, and for many years Christiania had their own internationally acclaimed theatergroup Solvognen, who – beyond their theaterperformances – also staged many happenings in Copenhagen as well as Sweden. Also the stoners and the paranoid have remained in Christiania all the time and are just as much a part of the Freetown as the entrepreneurs, and for this reason many Danes have seen Christiania as a succesfull social experiment. However, for years the legal status of the region has been in a limbo, as different Danish governments have attempted, without success, to remove the Christianites.
The neighbourhood is accessible only through two main entrances, and cars are not allowed (although some Christiania residents own a car, see below). The Danish authorities have repeatedly removed the large stones blocking the entrance and the residents have put them back. The authorities claim that they need access to the area for firefighting, but the residents suspect that it will instead be used by the police.
The people in Christiania have developed their own set of rules, completely independent of the Danish government. The rules forbid stealing, guns, bulletproof vests and hard drugs. Famous for its main drag, known as Pusher Street, where hash, Skunk weed and pot was sold openly from permanent stands until 2004, it nevertheless does have rules forbidding hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. The commerce is controversial, but since they require a consensus they can’t be removed unless everybody agrees. The region negotiated an arrangement with the Danish defence ministry (which still owns the land) in 1995. Since 1994, residents have paid taxes and fees for water, electricity, trash disposal etc. The future of the area remains in doubt, though, as Danish authorities continue to push for its removal. On Pusher Street, cameras are not allowed, and locals will wave their hands and shout “No photo!” if they see someone trying to take a picture.
One of the biggest accomplishments in the history of Christiania was the Junk Blockade in November 1979. In 1979 things didn’t look so bright for Christiania. The government was still very hostile but at the same time an even bigger enemy took hold of the place. Due to the liberal mind-set of the Christianites, sympathetic to attempts to expand one’s mind, hard drugs such as heroin was not considered illegal, but this had grave consequences. Out of 700 inhabitants in the Freetown, 100 were doing hard drugs and sinking off into apathy, not caring about themselves or Christiania. In one year, from 1978 to 1979, ten drug addicts had died in Christiania, 4 of them residents there. The addicts all lived in a building called The Arc of Peace, but peace was the last thing one thought of when entering it in this period. Doors were missing, there were holes in the floors, and in most rooms there were no furniture except mattresses. It was a terribly unhealthy environment and the Christianites became increasingly aware that the situation could not continue.
An attempt was made to cooperate with the police in order to get rid of the heroin pushers which was something many Christianites felt extremely uncomfortable about – partly due to the anarchical tradition in the Freetown, partly because of the continuous clashes between Christiania and the police. Despite this hostility some Christianites felt there were no other way and supplied the police with a list of the suspected hard drug network as well as the hash network in order for the police to separate the two and only concentrate on hard drugs. This was promised to the Christianites. Unfortunately, the police didn’t keep their end of the deal and made a huge crackdown – but only on the hash network, while the heroin ring was left untouched. Feeling betrayed and bitter the Christianites decided not to cooperate any further with the authorities and instead launched what was to be known as the Junk Blockade. For 40 days the Christianites, men, women, and children, patrolled The Arc of Peace and wherever they found junkies or pushers these were given an ultimatum: Either quit all activities with hard drugs or leave Christiania. In the end, the pushers had been forced to leave, and 60 persons had been sent to rehabilitation. From then on, and to this day, no hard drugs exist on Christiania and if found, they are thrown out, something that the police acknowledge too. In effect, Christiania is the only area free of hard drugs in Denmark and therefore the Junk Blockade has entered a considerable place in the mythology of Christiania, a symbol of the driving force of the Freetown which can be awakened in times of trouble.
Around 1984 the biker gang Bullshit had arrived to Christiania and conquered a part of the hash market. Violence on the premises increased at this period and many Christianites felt unsafe and unhappy with the new residents. This resulted in sabotage acts directed towards the bikers as well as the publication of several provoking fighting manuscripts urging the Christianites to throw out the powerful and armed bikers. This tension culminated when the police found a murdered individual who had been sliced to pieces and buried beneath the floor of a building. Christiania exploded in fury and two colossal community meetings were arranged – one outside the building – where it was agreed that the bikers had to leave. They did, and they never returned.
The inhabitants fight the government’s attempts to eliminate them with humour and persistence. For instance, when authorities in 2002 demanded that the hash trade be made less visible, the stands were covered in military camouflage nets. On January 4, 2004, the stands were finally demolished by the hash dealers a day before a large scale police operation. They knew about this operation, and decided to take it down themselves. The police made more than twenty arrests in the following weeks though, and a large part of the organisation behind Pusher Street was then eliminated. This did not stop the hash trade however, it merely caused the trade to relocate outside of the town and on a person-to-person basis. Before they were demolished, the National Museum of Denmark was able to get one of the more colourful stands, which is now part of an exhibit.