And Thou Shalt Not Shop on Sunday…

by Tim Anderson (

I have been complaining to anyone who will listen for several years now (which usually means my girlfriend) about Denmark’s ridiculously antiquated Sunday shopping laws (‘lukkelovn’ in Danish). These laws are based on the most utterly nonsensical logic imaginable. The arguments for allowing shops to finally open on Sundays and later on weeknights are painfully obvious and compelling – yet they haven’t sunk in.

Outside of downtown Copenhagen, nearly all shops in Denmark close by two (!!) in the afternoon on Saturdays and six in the evening on Monday to Friday. Yes, this means that for the average working person in Denmark there is at best an hour after work on weekdays and five hours on Saturday at best for shopping – if one is willing and able to sacrifice the rare chance to sleep in on Saturday.

On the few Sundays each year when shops are allowed to open, the streets are buzzing with activity. Then there are the unbelievable weekly Sunday queues at the few grocery stores that can open on Sunday. To say there is a pent up demand for this kind of shopping flexibility could not be more dramatically underscored. Still, the government refuses to cede to the overwhelming evidence before it’s eyes.

In fact, with these ridiculously limited hours, getting out of the house on Saturday mornings to run around in a frenzy alongside the thousands of others facing these identical time constraints is the only real option most people have. The realities of life mean a certain amount of time is required each week for buying stuff, and there is only limited amount of time to buy it. The most grievously frustrating aspect of this state of affairs is that shortened shopping hours produce the polar opposite effects they are intended to.

Instead of leaving more time for the sort of loving, warm, fuzzy relationships the government has historically imagined are nurtured by closing shops early, people are forced to rush around hurriedly when they could most use a bit of time to relax – the day after a long work week. Under such time pressures, their worst sides often emerge: tempers become short, frustrations boil and resentment that previously didn’t exist appears – and all for the wrong reasons. Worse still, even when everybody agrees they would rather be doing something else, they are often forced by the necessity of their needs to go shopping nonetheless.

One wonders where exactly the benefits are in this perverse system of enforced madness?

It is an entirely unpleasant experience to run around trying to buy all those things that are best shopped for at a leisurely pace (clothes, furniture and so on) over a few inadequate hours. To imagine these pressures do not have unpleasant side-effects is outright delusional - they create some of the worst tensions that families and relationships are ritually forced to endure in Denmark.

Consider that the divorce rate in Denmark is currently running around 50% - and has been increasing for decades. While there are many factors behind this, what is certain is families have many demands placed on them, and they clearly do not always succeed in coping with them. It beggars belief to imagine that these short shopping hours make things any easier.

With an extra day of shopping on Sunday and longer weekday shopping hours, individuals and families could be flexible about how and when they wanted to spend time with their loved ones – some of which would include more leisurely shopping. Saturday may be the perfect day for a walk in the park, or a visit to a museum, or to simply spend time with the kids or a boyfriend or girlfriend doing whatever they would like to do. Currently, when one need new shoes, a new jacket and so on, for whatever reason, these become the overriding Saturday priorities – it is the only time to buy the stuff, so all else must wait. Even if these ‘other activities’ being put off are precisely the ones family relations could benefit most from. It is so patently obvious it should really not need to be said.

There are countless other points to be made. The fact that Danish ideal weather conditions for having ‘a family day’ are not always co-ordinated with Sundays is a significant point. While shopping can be done in most weather conditions, a walk in the park is most appealing on sunny days – which could be Saturday! Visitors to Copenhagen from around Denmark and tourists from other countries are a small but significant portion of the Copenhagen economy – these people can only walk around on Sundays with money to spend but nothing to buy. So forget the weather, forget the visitors, and forget flexibility - Saturday is designated ‘shopping day’ by the rationally-impaired Danish government. So it must be.

So here I sit on this Sunday typing this frustrated little rant – I’ve already been out for a pleasantly leisurely walk earlier with my girlfriend, the only real choice we had anyway. I’m home enjoying some of that lovely government-imposed family time. My girlfriend and I both agree it would be great to go shopping today for the new chair for the living room we have been intending to buy for ages now. What better day than Sunday to be able to leisurely visit a few furniture shops until we found what it was we were after? In fact, perhaps along the way we could stop at a cafe and have some lunch together…hmmm, this sounds suspiciously like the sort of quality-time together Sunday closings were supposed to facilitate in the first place? Funny that…

To continue to hold up the antiquated logic of Sunday closings benefiting society is simply unreasoned nonsense. Shopping hours in Denmark as they stand currently are a significant drag on a more smoothly functioning society. It is a shame, yet things could be so easily changed. And it can’t happen soon enough, if you ask me.

Getting the Christiania vibe...or not

by: Tim Anderson (

Christianshavn including Christiania - A bit of Copenhagen.

The vibe of Christiania - the 60’s hippy ghetto/cultural experiment located in the heart of Copenhagen now in its 4th decade of peaceful existence - is as strong as ever, I am delighted to be able to report, in spite of the political challenges it is currently facing (more on those shortly).

As a resident of Christianshavn (the area of Copenhagen where Christiania can be found), I have the good fortune of being able to regularly enjoy numerous aspects of the place without actually living there. From it’s restaurants, clubs, walking paths and even the sauna, I have spent a fair amount of time in Christiania over the years, so I do feel capable of voicing a reasonably informed opinion on the subject.

Christiania rarely disappoints. What is perhaps most astonishing is the enduring popularity of the various events Christiania hosts. Some of my most enjoyable moments in Copenhagen during recent months have been there.

Loppen is a place where, for most events, a small but enthusiastic crowd spends as much time sitting at the tables beside the stage in conversation and doffing back pints as on the dance floor itself. On the evening of the recent sold-out Vive La Fete show (one of Europes finest underground electro pop/Berliner trash bands, though virtually unknown by mainstream/commercial standards), the crowd was an overwhelming mass of people. The coat room may have run out of hangars, and the floor of the rickety building may have bounced dramatically up and down as the crowd danced, but then again, at Loppen it’s all been done before.

I have listened to numerous fantastic late-evening jazz-jam sessions Wednesday nights at the Børneteatret (aka The Children’s Theatre). At a recent session with some friends, the place was buzzing, as usual. Having not been to such an evening for several months, I was amazed to re-discover that even long-after midnight it was standing room only – this on a cold, dark midweek winter night. The rest of Copenhagen is largely tranquil weeknights at this hour with but a few cars and bicycles moving through the streets. Yet a small, word-of-mouth event such as this one manages to draw a determined crowd nonetheless.

On the more pedestrian end of things, a couple weeks back I passed an enormously relaxing hour in the largely anonymous Christiania Bath House, the fantastic communal sauna existing since the 70’s. This was my first introduced to the place thanks to a couple friends who themselves had stumbled upon it only by chance. Frequented by in large by the Christiania locals, it is an infinitely pleasant experience – and costing a laughably meagre 20 kroner.

Then there are the incidentals like the Christiania falafel that is arguably (though only by those who haven’t tasted them) the best Falafel to be found in Copenhagen and the delights of the 24-hour Christiania bakery like decent coissants (a rarity in Copenhagen) and chocolate brownies (made the North American way with soft chocolate cake and plenty of rich, fudge-chocolate icing that I like oh so much). A passing conversation with a police officer (a friend of a friend of a friend) who regularly patrols Christiania provided me with the warning that Christiania is a rat-infested place – he wouldn’t eat anything sold there – but I continue to take my chances.

When my parents visited Copenhagen some months back, our obligatory tour of Christiania was inevitably successful. Our dinner at Spiseloppen, the undisputed finest of Christiania’s restaurants, ultimately proved to be one of the culinary highlights of my parents visit to Denmark. They still happily speak of Christiania, inquiring regularly about the state the current political challenges facing the place. My parents have never been hippies, so their interest stems from a genuine enthusiasm for what they saw and experienced - not some idealistic 60’s shadow persona that lingers from their past.

So here we come to a real topic of discussion, the political issues.

My experiences over the years have lead me to conclude that opponents, including those within the current parliament who have voted for legislation proposing to ’normalise’ Christiania, would be well advised to spend some hours discovering what is actually going on there. Clearly, most critics simply haven’t a clue what it is they are in fact criticising. The claims of the current government seem to mirror the views of those who alarm themselves to hysteria at the thought that a place exists (happily and peacefully, by in large) that is organised in a manner differing from much of the society they know, comprehend and believe in (read: a society conservative in nature by comparison). They simply cannot fathom it. Rather than simply being green with envy, they turn red with outrage. It is a sorry state of affairs when one finds such people in positions of power within the government and creating legislation encapsulating this ignorance in poetic legal terms.

Why is it there is such a strong sediment against Christiania, at least from certain corners of Danish society? The Danish government has recently passed legislation that, if implemented as it reads, will lead to the ‘normalisation’ of Christiania. In practise, this means that collective ownership of the area by it’s residents (or non-ownership, if you prefer) will no longer be possible. Some would be able to afford to purchase their houses, apartments and properties, while others would not. This is not the heart of the problem that will be created if the legislation is enacted.

Inevitably, the end of collective ownership would spell and end to the collective-decision making that has created the spirit of community that exists in this diverse yet closely-knit society. This would be a tragic and unrecoverable loss for Copenhagen, but moreover for those people who have spent much of their lives living and breathing it. And with spectacular success.

It is no coincidence that that which makes Christiania so unique, is found specifically in Christiania.

Nobody is forced to live in Christiania against their will. There is no overriding, compelling argument for why those who voluntarily opt to accept a system of non-ownership and collective-decision (including those who may choose do so in the future) should suddenly be forced to accept just the opposite. The government can negotiate with Christiania as a collective with regards to property issues, just as easily as it can as a society of individuals owners. The proof is the fact they have be doing it for over thirty years already. What is really motivating them?

Currently, the only representatives of government one is likely to see around Christiania come in the form of (endless) patrols of policemen - armed with full riot gear every time. They love to make their intrusive presence felt around the place. Sadly, their actions are disruptive, provocative and unnecessary. This approach to passive policing is about as subtle and endearing as is enduring a group during a movie roaming the aisles with very bright lights they shine randomly but constantly into various faces in the audience, just to see how people are doing. It is hardly the most effective way for the police to demonstrate their general engagement in the Christiania situation, nor does it show an adequate level of respect and decency for others ones expects in a civilised society. Why is it the police feel the need to endlessly patrol Christiania in a manner distinct from the methods they deploy elsewhere in Copenhagen? Some would say the answer is drugs.

After countless visits of my own to Christiania both day and night over the years, I can unequivocally state that I have never once felt threatened – even back in the days not so long ago when Pusher Street was home to a thriving and peaceful soft-drug trade that the police were will aware existed. A community of underground but easily accessible hash clubs continues exist in Copenhagen, in any event.

Something beyond the soft-drug trade is motivating these police actions, in spite of claims to the contrary. What exactly is the real problem? Is it simply a feeling felt by the government, mirrored in the police behaviour, that their absolute authority is challenged by the very existence of this continuing successful four decade-old social experiment?

The truth is that there never has been a problem in Christiania that warranted the creation of the artificial one the government has chosen to depict - and then pass legislation to supposedly rectify. But thanks to the legislation, a real problem now subsequently has been provoked – the threatened future of Chistiania and its ‘alternative’ lifestyle.

So, I would like to make a small confession: I am one of those green with envy that a place with the sense community and togetherness that Christiania has confidently thrives while I don’t know a single person living in my own multi-building complex (even in spite of its ample shared garden out back). How many others in Copenhagen have a similar relation with their neighbours? Those of us in this situation simply do not have the right to criticise those who have found a way around this issue – and nor does the government.

So I would like to also offer a small challenge to those Danish Members of Parliament that have voted in favour of normalising Christiania:

Muster some courage to enter into the unknown, and go wandering around Christiania on a few occasions. Go to some of the restaurants and participate in some of the events and try to understand just what the place really is about, for yourself. Don’t be scared to try talking to a few people. Then you will have done a genuine public service you can be proud of.

Powered by Blogger