Christiania is one of Copenhagen’s, and Denmark’s most popular destinations. In fact, for many residents, it is a way of life that started as a social experiment and continues to thrive today. Always controversial, this Freetown is much loved by many, including locals and tourists.
The only reason I wanted to go to Copenhagen was to see the Little Mermaid, perhaps the city’s most iconic statue, and based on the fairy tale of the same name, written by Hans Christian Andersen.
As luck would have it, she wasn’t there. Instead, she had been shipped off to an exhibition, somewhere in China. My luck! So, with no chance of a meeting with her, I opted to discover another of Copenhagen’s unique attraction.
Sure, Freetown Christiania may be more known for its open trade of cannabis that was around for close to half a century. However, if you take the time look around, there’s lots that this place has to offer.
A bit of colourful history
Freetown Christiania is an alternative community, within Christianshavn, in the heart of city. It is housed in an abandoned army barrack, which, in 1971, was taken over by squatters.
Immediately after they had settled in, these new residents went about claiming the area as a their own. In effect, that meant no taxes and their own rules that they lived by. As word started to spread, more new settlers starting to pour in until it became a permanent fixture of the city.
Most of these settlers went about building their homes, giving it and the area its interesting architectural feel.
However, it started courting controversy from its onset, thanks in large part to its liberal policies on the trade of cannabis. Pusher Street, or ‘The Green Light District’ as it was once known, sold a variety of cannabis. Unfortunately, this also meant it was fertile ground for violence, so much so that police were regularly raiding the neighborhood and making arrests. Things finally came to a head when, in August 2016, there was a shootout. Three people including a police officer were injured.
Since then, there have been many residents who have campaigned for a drug-free zone. They even appealed to the residents of Copenhagen to buy their cannabis elsewhere. And yes, there are still whispers of drug activities, but not loud enough to warrant another raid.
In 2011, an agreement was signed whereby Christiania would be managed by a foundation. The agreement was signed in 2011, which allowed for the formation of the Foundation Freetown Christiania on the 1st of July 2012.
I can’t help but agree with a brightly painted sign that says, ‘Bevar Christiania!’ (Preserve Christiania!).
When you walk in, the first thing that strikes you is the brightly coloured graffiti spray painted very artistically on the walls and doors. While photography is now tolerated, do make sure to ask the residents if they are okay being photographed themselves. Some of them were very vocal about not being snapped. Understandable, as it could be used against them in case of a crackdown by the authorities.
Walking around, you do get whiffs of weed smoke. Ignore that and it is quite a pleasant place to be in. While I couldn’t make out who was a local and who was an outsider, its chilled vibes encourage you to hang around, and maybe have a bite to eat, or sip on a coffee or beer at some of the cafés.
Still wondering whether it’s worth a trip to this community? Yes! Whether it’s a few hours to while away, or a full day just soaking in the atmosphere. This place should be on your list. Thankfully, it is still a vibrant community, with around 1,000 people calling it home. Each year, more than 500,000 people visit the area. Several restaurants, workshops, galleries and even music venues make this an exciting cultural experience.
And do I miss the Little Mermaid? Of course, I do.
One more thing. If you are moving around by car, I suggest you forget it at your hotel or wherever it is that you are staying. You can walk to Christiania from the city center. It is about half an hour away. Alternatively, hop onto a bicycle and make your way there. Christiania is a car-free zone, with their preferred mode of transport being a tricycle with a box in front, used to carrying anything and everything, from groceries to kids. In fact, it has become so famous that most residents of Copenhagen use it to move around the city.
However, if you must catch public transport, then you have a couple of options. There are buses or the metro that can get you there. From Central station, you can hop onto bus bus 9A in the direction of Refshaleøen and get off at Bodenhoffs Plads. From there it’s a short walk. You can also catch a metro heading to Christianshavn station.