The varied faces of Christiania

by: Tim Anderson (

It's time to return to the subject of Christiania, the 'hippy enclave' in Copenhagen that has existed since the early 1970's. Since writing the last article about Christiania for this blog over two years ago, Getting the Christiania vibe...or not, plenty has happened, though little has changed.

Christiania hit the news once again last week, thanks to the actions of the police who moved in unannounced to knock down an abandoned building there. To be clear about my view on things, there are a few occasions when police presence is required in Christiania. Probably about 5% of the occasions when they actually show up there.

It's good business for the police, at the behest of the authorities who give the orders, to carry out these sorts of muscle-flexing actions - show up and tear something down - since it tends to provoke a few locals, along with the various outsiders who take an interest in these things (and in particular the ones always eager for a chance to perpetrate various violent activities in the name of protest). This in turn give the police and the relevant authorities a justification for the continual (and otherwise purposeless) patrols of the area, and the rather significant chunk of change spent on them. Because without such actions, more people around Copenhagen might
be inclined to question whether this was really the best use of budget money.

At least all that budget money spent over the past 3 years by the police patrolling Christiania hasn't been entirely misspent. The police have managed to attain the distinction of being basically the greatest (and most consistent and persistent) causers of unwelcome nuisance and disturbances in Christiania over this period of time. Call it a success, or just call it irony.

The residents of Christiania gamely battle on, as they have for over 30 years. Is there something worth protecting in Christiania? Is it really just a bunch of aging hippy squatters hanging on to a dying dream? There certainly is more to Christiania then first meets the eye.

While most outsiders, like myself, tend to see Christiania as a fairly cohesive collective of hippy types (and indeed this is how the residents are typically portrayed in the media), this description doesn't really stand up to a cursory stroll through the area.

Above all, it is easy to forget just how many families call Christiania home. Christiania is filled with families. Children of all ages can be seen running and cycling around, playing in gardens and so on. They seem pretty content and I would posit they have a pretty good life. So while it's easy to imagine Christiania as a bunch of long-term squatters, this stop being the case long ago. When hundreds and hundreds of people have invested decades building and maintaining the area, any pre-existing land claims - in this case government land that was abandoned over 30 years ago - become rather tenuous.

30 years of care: roof and window repairs in Christiania...

bikes and toys and lots of space - the perfect place for a family...

Christiania is really like a small city within Copenhagen, a city with its own distinct areas, each distinct from the others. Because Christiania can seem like such an incoherent and rather unkept place, it's easy to overlook the subtle and not-so-subtle differences that lie within.

there's treasure in that, maybe

The central part of Christiania is the commercial center. It's a relatively busy place - chaotic and full of diversity - particularly on sunny days and weekends. There is plenty of activity - restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, shops, museums, even a sauna, and much more.

the local vegetarian restaurant at Christiania - an excellent place for a simple, tasty meal

And, of course, there are the drug dealers selling hash and marijuana. Here one also finds a lot of people hanging around who just seem to be there because they really have nowhere else to go and nothing else to do. I suspect for many residents of Christiania, the central area is not a place they spend much time. Furthermore, I'm also suspect that many residents feel they have little in common with those who frequent and inhabit this part of town. But this is only a hunch.

Just like most urban centers, the commercial center of Christiania is not only for business - the density of residents living in this central area is relatively high, as well, as the housing mostly consists of small apartments in multi-story apartment buildings.

urban apartment dwellers...

and more apartments...

The way of life in the central area of Christiania is in total contrast to that of those living in the outlying areas. Or if you prefer, the more 'suberban' areas of Christiania.

Moving away from the central area of town, quickly the apartment blocks give way to one or two stories buildings and individual houses. There is still not a
lot of personal garden space to be had, but at least there is garden space. It's more then most living elsewhere in Copenhagen have. Those living in these areas of Christiania are nonetheless within close striking distance of the central part of the area.

central living in Christiania...

Wandering further eastward, the area becomes more forested.

Here, most of the houses are close to the water, many with a view overlooking it. Those living here have significantly more peace, quiet and isolation then those in the more central areas of Christiania. Not coincidently, the most, ahem, idiosyncratic dwellings are found scattered along the paths. And it is also here that one can momentarily forget that a city called Copenhagen even exists.

'if the government ever takes our land, well, I'll just cut these ropes and float away'...

'...and I'll just take off into the heavens...'

'...maybe with him'.

Yes, even in socialist Christiania, there is are clear distinctions - not everybody can have the perfect piece of property for their home, some are luckier than others - depending upon what you're after, of course.

What is clearly evident that a good number of those living in Christiania have invested a hell of lot of time (and money) into their homes. And there are quite a few who haven't, as well.

In fact, Christiania is divided into two distinct parts. All that I have described until now would be one half - let's call it the mainland. The second half lies across the channel, linked by bridge with this mainland area. In this area, though there is much more space, groups houses tend to be clustered together. That is, what can be seen is several small sub-communities that lie
within Christiania itself.

almost like a small town, set away from the bustle of the center...

you'd better like your neighbour, or get to pretty quickly...

While example of such sub-comminuties are evident all over Christiania, what is distinct about those found in the most eastern areas on the far side of the channel is the degree of isolation they have from the rest of Christiania. The area is incredibly calm and peaceful, with most dwellings overlooking the water. One gets the distinct impression that, if they chose, the residents in these areas need only rarely, if ever, show their face in the central areas of Christiania. While there are no cars to be found within Christiania, there is a parking area at the most eastern tip, meaning those living nearby can easily take their cars to work or drive to the various large supermarkets nearby in Amager (if they prefer this option to cycling).

Indeed, as one re-enters the central area of Christiania from these outlying areas, particularly on a warm and sunny day, one is immediately struck by all the noise and activity going on. It's quite a contrast to the tranquility of the outlying areas.

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