Hippie safari in Christiania – City Column
Hippie Safari in Christiana
The main street of Christiania is called Pusher Street. Not because it was named after Øle Pusher, the renowned Danish inventor of gluten-free muesli, but because this is where the dealers hang out. Some of them are skittish, their hoodies pulled up over their head, others are more open, sitting in little booths they have knocked together themselves, hiding only behind their sunglasses. Soft drugs only, they say.
The Free State of Christiania, a former barracks complex in the centre of Copenhagen, was taken over by hippie squatters in the 1970s. In this ‘social experiment’, which has its own currency, flag and rules, the residents have in fact been granted a certain amount of autonomy by the government: a special Christiania law governs land use and allows residents to build and live here without a permit.
Progressive, anarchic, collectivist, open, independent, experimental, creative, and peace loving: that is what Christiania was meant to be. However, over the past few decades, the police have conducted countless raids, most of them drug related, and there have been several deaths as a result of violent encounters with Hells Angels-like gangs seeking control of the drug trade. Journalists and residents of neighbouring areas have been subject to intimidation.
Even casual visitors like myself can find it intimidating: I wasn’t allowed to sit here, or take pictures there, and two particularly thuggish hoodies wanted to know why my telephone had two wires on it. There wasn’t much that I was free to do in this particular free state. Being open and peace loving are not qualities that are conducive to protecting the drug trade.
Christiania is a social project that now attracts a million visitors a year. It’s a bit like a wildlife safari, but instead of animals the tourists gawk at real-live artists in their studios, grab a bite to eat at a vegetarian snack bar, and smoke a joint in the square while they listen to a band playing The Doors. The buildings are reassuringly dilapidated, their walls painted as colourfully as the faces of their residents, but there are rubbish bins everywhere, and ATMs of course. Anarchy is fine, but practicality is better.