This blog is a translation of my original blog, written in French (publication dates are kept).

February 7, 2010

Is the grass really greener in Christiania? (part 1)

Here comes finally the first article on the definitely most unusual place of Copenhagen, Christiania. Perhaps you've already heard of it even if you have neer been in Denmark ... It is actually a giant squat, which has the singularities of being tolerated and being located right in the middle of the city. Even more than just a squat, it is a village in the city, a kind of hippie self-governed community, I would even say a semi-independent micro-state. The Danes call it "Fristaden", "The Freetown".

Let's look at the map to get an idea of the place:

Christiania is located on the island of Christianshavn (hence its name), and occupies much of the ancient city walls built by King Christian IV in 1617 (the odd pins).

34 hectares still

As you can see, the area forms a green enclave, naturally isolated from the rest of the city. However, there is a surronding wall along Prinsessegade street :

And there is the famous main entrance:

(photo Alex Rosa)

This is how it looks from behind:

And that's the small entrance at the corner of Princessegade and Bådsmandsstræde:


Once passed over, we enter in another world. The buildings are former military barracks rehabilitated by the Christianites themselves, or constructions of their own. Absolutely everything is covered with tags, some really beautiful. The contrast with the neat and middle-class city in which we were just 5 minutes earlier is striking. a very short walk and we arrive in Pusher Street, the main arterial road. There is a small market square at the entrance where they sell souvenir t-shirts, various trinkets and all the accessories needed for ...

... making cones. And scattered along the street, small stalls providing the stuffing. At this point, taking pictures is absolutely forbidden as numerous signs everywhere remind, the sellers do not really appreciate that. Though, oh my God, it itches tremendously.

 So I've found a picture from Wikimedia Commons

The vision of this exhibition of substances, these extraordinary murals, these shady guys, these pitbulls and all this in a surprisingly relaxed atmosphere has something fascinating. But most tourists, frightened by this scene sometimes murky I admit, dare not venture further. Even many Copenhageners have only that image in mind.

This is a pity because Christiania is not (only) a haunt of marginals, even if it attracts them a lot, and certainly not a slum. It is a perfectly structured society of people people who have chosen to live an alternative life. It is as if everything subversive and wild in Denmark were aggregated in one place.

The residents have adopted a flag, displayed everywhere:

The 3 dots symbolise the 3 dots on the "i" in "Christiania"

There is some regulation

Cars are banned

 Garbage is meticulously sorted

There is even guided tours (never tested)

Every time I stroll there, I discover new funny details.


Then of course, because one article on Christiania is not enough, I'm going to tell you more about it in the future episodes:

Part 2: Guided tour of the village (no, it's not just crumbling and yucky shacks, there is an astounding cultural and social life stashed inside)

Part 3: But how on earth the Danish authorities could tolerate such a mess?

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