Christiania was not itself a surprise, as I’d known for a long time about the little semi-autonomous community wholly inside of Copenhagen. Nor were the hash vendors/smokers/paraphernaliers on the main street (semi-cleverly known as the Green Light Zone), as the hash seems to be the most famous raison d’etre of the little community.
What did surprise me, though, was the laid-back feeling of Christiania away from that main drag. Though, given the prevalence of hash on Pusher Street, I suppose it kind of makes sense that the rest of town is so chilled out?
Christiania is totally surrounded by “proper Copenhagen”. You can see some of the major landmarks of the city from different points in Christiania. And yet it stands apart (both in attitude and, more importantly, in a semi-legal status) from the city.
There are distinct entrance from Copenhagen into Christiania. When you leave this sign bids goodbye:
Ok, so pot is tolerated. Not legal (according to Copenhagen standards), but tolerated. And yet reportedly when harder drugs start showing up in the streets of Christiania, Danish police storm the place and make arrests. For now, though, all seems peaceful.
Much less than the drug question, though, the political questions here interest me. The area that is now Christiania was once a military facility that squatters moved in to occupy in 1971. Though on government land, Freestate Christiania has existed rent-free since then.
They have their own flag, and even mint their own currency. And yet, since 1997, they pay the government for water and sewage and trash-disposal services. It isn’t a self-sufficient society, exists with an open border to Copenhagen (which is, after all, the same city), and yet manages to disregard the drug laws and zoning ordinances that should otherwise apply.
Christiania is one of the highest-visibility communes in the western world, an ongoing social and political experiment, and as far as I know the only one so removed and yet so integrated into the society around it.
Regardless of your position on drug usage, a trip to Christiania is absolutely worth your time in Copenhagen.