Christiania in Whispers

Two years ago for my birthday, Adi booked us on a flight to ultra hip and modernist Copenhagen. The emphasis in the Scandinavian city — where everything is cutting edge, where nothing is stick-in-the-mud or capable of inducing ennui — is on going green. Cycling is the national mantra, hotels and restaurants are overwhelmingly environment friendly, organic food and beer is de rigueur. There hygge is embraced by bringing the outside into the inside — inexpensive, cosy elements which transform the interiors with an intimate and warm touch at once. It is just fitting that there should be a green quarter in this city. Truly green.

Christiania. Utter it and you are usually faced with ecstatic reactions. A cousin sister-in-law of mine calls it the land of ‘sweet air’. Her friend had gifted her a piece of land in Freetown Christiania. Another chap, one of our building residents and a Sheldon lookalike, went into raptures. ‘Isn’t it just wonderful?’ he asked us with a gleam in his eyes as we chugged on bottles of beer on our terrace a few months ago. My reaction was a piteous ‘erm’.

On that shivery November day in 2015, beneath a sky that was a dome of soulless grey, we took the metro to the Freetown of Christiania. After we had passed a few whimsical statues, cyclists clad in coats and beanies, and a church with a serpentine spire wrought in gold it seemed, we entered the bohemian quarter. A sign announced, ‘Now you are leaving the EU’.

Beyond the gates stand a district which was once a military base. Abandoned in the ’70s, it was taken over by hippies and declared as an autonomous neighbourhood, where lay the beginnings of a self-governed and self-sustained society. The Danish government of the day granted it the status of a ‘social experiment’ and therefore exempt from taxes. The buildings inside are shabby but inhabited. As proof, you spot pairs of mud-coated tiny and big wellies propped up outside the worn-out doors.

Only bikes ply within the neighbourhood. It is a car-free zone, you see. Badass graffitis pop up on the walls of old barracks, a cafe or two shows up, pop-up markets sell hippie paraphernalia, and then there’s the stretch of Pusher Street where cannabis is rife in the air. From behind wooden kiosks smothered in camouflage nettings, a guy in dreadlocks whispered, ‘Brother, you smoke?’ I whispered to Adi, awed by the public nature of it, ‘Does he mean hash, baby?’ And the fellow whispered again, ‘Yes, he does’. A game of Chinese Whispers.

I had grand plans. That I would document it all on my phone. Capture Christiania in stills. But the signage at the start of Pusher Street declared ‘no photos’ because ‘buying and selling hash is still illegal’ (right), and my beloved, who lives by the rulebook, confiscated my phone right away. I sulked and stomped, wheedling in phases to extract my phone, but he would not budge. ‘Rather me than some druggie,’ he said. Organic vegetable stores, decrepit but colourful house fronts, yoga studios, a boutique or two, bikes, a lake, a tiny temple with a miniature goddess, muddy tracks… in my field of vision it unravelled rather like a post apocalyptic scene. Soon the heavens burst above our heads. We ran through the mud-caked paths in Christiania soaked to our skin, feeling grimy and the urge for a hot shower to slough off the veneer of slovenliness. Later we sat in a bakery on Dronningensgade and comforted our soggy selves with flaky bites of stuffed pastry and pizza.

I am not its biggest fan but the notion of Christiania is unconventional. Anything that bucks conventions is a winner in my books – the fact that there can be an alternate way of living and a place where no one owns private land is intriguing. Like my cousin sis-in-law, you too can own a share of this hippy haven. But it does not make you a stakeholder in the property or allow you voting rights. It is symbolic — a donation to the cause of the people of Christiania who are buying the 85-acre land from the government in parts. Also, there is the strange dichotomy of it – within the paradigm of a strictly law-abiding city, it is incomprehensible that Bohemia might prevail, but exist it does and with an avant-garde flair.

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56 thoughts on “Christiania in Whispers

  1. The name of it alone sounds very intriguing. I like the description of post-apocalyptic, it makes me imagine all sorts of crazy things. Why don’t they allow photos? Or is it just phones in general, cause you might be buying/selling drugs?

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  2. What a fascinating place! Freetown is aptly named and so are the hippie residents 😉 It reminds me of Slab City at the Salton Sea in California but much cleaner and less dry. Unlike the generosity of the Danish government, the inhabitants of Slab City are known as squatters not a social experiment. Both inhabitants are definitely a creative bunch intent on living life on their own terms. Great blogpost! Always learning something new on your site. – Neek

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Neek. It was possibly not the kind of place I would go gaga over but as a creative place it did make me think twice. Also the entirely odd nature of its very existence in such a Scandinavian city as Copenhagen! Slab City…why do is it called Slab though?

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      1. It seems that the name Slab City is from the concrete slab remains of an abandoned Marine Corp camp from the 1940’s and 50’s. People having been living off the grid there since the mid to late 50’s. Not my cup of tea – it gets to about 120F in the summer.

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    1. Thank you 🙂 May I know your name? Just feels nice to know even a nom de guerre. He did indeed and I am sometimes loud – especially at times when I should be not. Sounds like you joined the guy in Jamaica with that doobie of his 😉 xx

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  3. I was in Barcelona two weeks ago and met a friend (an ex colleague from Malaysia) of my daughters. He is Danish and delightful (I’m a mummy and becoming more Mrs Bennett by the day … please don’t tell my girls but I have noticed more and more moments of subconscious matchmaking whenever one of them introduces me to a ‘suitable young man’ 😂) and I found myself longing to visit Copenhagen. I have long wanted to go – Hans Christian Andersson is surely enough of a lure, but the mindset of the population seems so absolutely lovely. Now I long even more after reading your ever-wonderful post and drooling over the pictures …. the pastry just crying to be sampled!!! Xx

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    1. Suitable young men. Mrs Bennett, why, you cannot let them go by quite so easily 🙂 There is a novel by Vikram Seth, which is my utter favourite, A Suitable Boy, …you might like it.
      I am guessing you have the life story and necessary details of the Danish boy by now! 😀
      Copenhagen…it is not the prettiest city I have seen but it is certainly hip and modern. I have a post on it next so I shall not babble on… But yes those pastries are droolicious 😀 xx

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      1. So wise my Dotty friend – there is no more important business than the business of suiting ones daughters 😉. I am seeking out the Vikram Seth on your advice, confident that I will love it. Of course the Dane is now detailed in the relevant journal … ‘possible husbands for the girls, volume II’. I am confident that he is smitten with my kitten though she denies this hotly. It’s in the eyes don’t we find 😍. All in all I’m confident that I will be meeting with his parents in Denmark in the not too distant future. Now how to break this to the daughter in question 🤭 xx

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      2. Vikram Seth is one of my favourite writers. His ‘All You Who Sleep Tonight’ is so romantic and lovely.
        Hmm meeting the parents already?! 😀 I would love to know more about this encounter and imagine the sight of your daughter turning cartwheels (bit too much on my part?). I bet he was making moon eyes at your kitten 😀 I am picturing all of this and giggling away on this fine snowy day! xx

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      3. I have your post about snow to look forward to when I get back from dropping youngest flying back to Liverpool from Geneva. I so hope the sun comes out – we are stopping for lunch in Annecy which is such a beatutiful place and I would love her to see the lake surrounded by snowy mountains in the sunshine rather than drizzle but hey, we can’t have it all. I was joking about the parents – that’s just my imagination doing cartwheels but I do have a certain feeling that this would be a good match 😉 Enjoy your snow!! Xx

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      4. Oh, I rest my case, I am a goofball :-/ I did not realise it was joke.

        Lunch in Annecy sounds fabulous, Osyth. I have seen photos of Annecy and I remember it as striking. Snow and sunshine is the best kinda entree 🙂 So, was it glorious? We are probably going to head into the city to saunter around the Christmas markets and soak up the sunshine today, so is the snow. Yet I am determined to not let slush get in the way of the spirit. xx

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      5. Speaking of slush… the péage was dreadful with wet slushy snow abounding. Annecy was in fog which made the mint green of the lake even more acute and the mountains loomed mysterious. Lunch was tartiflette followed by disgracefully decadent choux creation. I may never move again but it was SO worth it 😉xx

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      6. Decadent choux and tartiflette…Annecy in the fog like a mysterious lady in mint green, you paint such an alluring picture of it all. Who cares about a slushy péage (just learnt a new French word)? Here’s to the peaches that life hands out to us time and again. xx

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  4. Must be a fascinating place to look around. I’ve got to say, I’d probably be like Adi. The bit that gets me though is no taxes! I mean, if they use public services like healthcare , they ought to contribute like everyone else. Rant over 🙂

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  5. Really enjoyed this post. Copenhagen has been on our list for awhile. Christiania sounds incredible, particularly the street art. Interestingly, Adi must not have been able to confiscate that phone for too long. I seem to have noticed a few choice shots. 🙂

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  6. Back to architecture, here! Your photos are so helpful to get a notion of what it’s like to really be there, as always! Such fierce murals. A lot of energy on the sides of buildings. I liked the image of the statue/sculpture for its solidness. 🙂

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