Mural at one entrance
I've visited Copenhagen many times over the past 35+ years, it is one of my favorite cities. But I have never visited the Freetown of Christiania, which is actually quite close to downtown Copenhagen. Although I have spent most of my adult life in close contact with all sorts of alternative projects, I should really have been to see it. But it rather intimidated me with its size and the jumble of streets and, I admit, a bit of fear of Pusher Street.

But we have gotten to know a woman who lived there for 16 years and is now working in the administration there while living outside. She offered to give us a tour the next time we were in Copenhagen, and so this past weekend was finally time to have a look around. We met at the metro station at Christianshavn and walked across the island to one of the entrances, which has this lovely mural on a house wall beside it.

The Freetown, sitting on a former military area, was occupied in the early Seventies, and they have had a very liberal drug policy with drugs being sold openly on the street until about 2004. What I didn't realize, was that in 1979 the inhabitants got mad at the pushers of hard drugs and evicted them from the area. The only drugs tolerated in the freetown are alcohol, tobacco, coffee and hashish.

This poster plastered all over the entrance areas makes it clear: You are welcome in Christiania, but not with hard drugs, weapons, violence, or threatening people.

Hash seems to still be available, just not in specific stands, because I saw a number of people smoking it. There are many large signs insisting that Pusher Street is a no-picture-taking-area. And our friend said: they mean it. People get nasty when pictures are taken in this area.

Christiania is also a car-free city, although they do have people trying to drive up to go shopping, and some of the residents have cars that they then have to park outside of the freetown. There are many, many bikes, of course, and the special kind of three-wheel bicycle that was developed here (but is now manufactured on Bornholm) for transporting children and/or goods is all over the place. Most of the bikes are driving at a leisurely pace, even the teenagers are quite polite as they ride past.

There are about 620 adults and around 200 children living permanently in the freetown. They make decisions by consensus, which means that there are many, many meetings needed to decide something. The freetown is organized into 14 areas that are rather self-governing, sending representatives to central meetings. Or not, if they don't feel like it.

They currently pay rent by the number of adults living there, this will soon be changing to the number of adults AND the square meters of the housing area. This can be anything from an old construction site wagon to fascinating houses that sometimes seem to defy gravity. They are sometimes called "architecture without architects"
On a tiny base
This is a house built with a pentagon outline to the main house with bits and pieces tacked on here and there
A piece here, a wall there, a bit sticking out the top. 
We walked and walked and walked, and I felt so strangely at home with these self-made living areas, the people just enjoying life in the streets, talking or singing together while someone plays the guitar, working on something or just hanging out. Of course, there were a good handful of drunks around, but they were not belligerent. They were just there, sort of belonged to the community.

A thistle
The community organizes their own trash sorting (and has to pay the city for garbage removal, gas, electricity, water, and such), has a building materials supply house, shops and a bakery, theaters and parks, a children's area, a movie theater, restaurants, a large communal bath house with a wood-fired sauna, and flowers all over the place. Some of the gardens are just a riot of color! The only thing missing seems to be a school. But there are so many good schools around, our friend said, that it is not necessary for them to have their own school.

There is lots of waterfront property, as the military area included a moat. Much of the waterfront is publicly accessible, people sit and talk, have a grill going, throw a stick for their dog to catch (there are lots of dogs here).

The freetown is currently buying the land from the city of Copenhagen in order to keep its independence. They need a lot of money for this, money that many of the inhabitants don't have. They have come up with the idea of selling "stock" in the town. You purchase shares, but don't own any property. But you get invited to a party once a year in the freetown! They need 76 million Danish crowns to buy off the property, and each inhabitant is paying a bit of this every month, as well as selling the stock in 100 DKK pieces. They have already collected 9 million DKK. There are some nice videos on the page - do have a look!

We finished off the evening at Spiseloppen, one of the popular restaurants in the freetown. You walk up the stairs in a hallway that is completely filled with graffiti. Even the graffitis have graffiti on them. You open the door - and are in a charming long hall filled with candles and two kinds of tables. There are communal tables for people who live there. They can get the evening's meal for a fixed price. Then there are tables set for guests, who can chose from a menu (at higher prices, of course). We had fantastic food, I had the vegetarian collection (the Danes put bacon on EVERYTHING, so I have to eat as a vegetarian in Denmark in order to avoid pork). There was a cabbage leaf filled with rice, peas, and mushrooms; cucumbers marinated in tsaziki in a phyllo nest; puff pastry filled with cheese; a vegetable patty; a great sauce and a piece of pineapple, accompanied by a bean salad with coriander. It was delicious!

I was exhausted from walking, but I really liked Christiania - I'll be back!

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