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Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark

June 20th, 2007 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

Christiania, also known as Freetown Christiania, but most commonly known amongst its inhabitants and visitors as "fristaden" or simply "staden", is a partially self-governing neighbourhood of about 850 residents, covering 34 hectares (85 acres) in the borough of Christianshavn in the Danish capital Copenhagen. Christiania has established semi-legal status as an independent community.

Christiania's Mission Statement: "The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted."

Christiania was founded in 1971, when many people from different backgrounds began to take over an area of recently abandoned military barracks together as a protest against the Danish government. At the time many people in the larger Danish cities felt betrayed by the politicians, as they believed there was a lack of affordable housing. The inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood Christianshavn also wanted a green, open area for their children to use, away from the increasing traffic in Copenhagen. The spirit of Christiania quickly developed into one of communism, the hippie movement and the squatter movement, in sharp contrast to the site's previous military use.

Meditation and yoga have always been extremely popular among the Christianites, and for many years Christiania had their own internationally acclaimed theater group Solvognen, who, beyond their theater performances, also staged many happenings in Copenhagen and even throughout Sweden. Ludvigsen had always talked of the acceptance of drug-addicts who could no longer cope with regular society, and the spirit of that belief has still not diminished, even throughout many problems sprouted due to drug traffic and use (mostly of hard drugs, however, which are illegal in Christiania). These addicts head into and remain in Christiania all the time and are considered just as much a part of the Freetown as the entrepreneurs, and for this reason many Danes have seen Christiania as a successful social experiment. However, for years the legal status of the region has been in a limbo due to different Danish governments attempting to remove the Christianites. Such attempts at removal have all been unsuccessful so far.

The neighbourhood is accessible through many entrances and cars are not allowed (although some Christiania residents own a car, see below). Danish authorities have repeatedly removed the large stones blocking the main entrance claiming they need access to the area for firefighting, yet the residents respond by placing them back each time as they feel suspicious that the authorities will instead use it for police. This suspicion is backed by the fact that they have already made arrangements with the fire department and have established other entranceways/maneuvering space for firetrucks in the area.

The people in Christiania have developed their own set of rules, completely independent of the Danish government. The rules forbid stealing, guns, bulletproof vests and hard drugs. Famous for its main drag, known as Pusher Street, where hash and Skunk weed were sold openly from permanent stands until 2004, it nevertheless does have rules forbidding hard drugs, such as heroin and cocaine. The commerce is controversial, but since the rules require a consensus they cannot be removed unless everybody agrees. The region negotiated an arrangement with the Danish defence ministry (which still owns the land) in 1995. Since 1994, residents have paid taxes and fees for water, electricity, trash disposal etc. The future of the area remains in doubt, though, as Danish authorities continue to push for its removal. On Pusher Street, cameras are not allowed, and locals will wave their hands and shout "No photo!" if they see someone trying to take a picture.

The inhabitants fight the government's attempts to eliminate them with humour and persistence. For instance, when authorities in 2002 demanded that the hash trade be made less visible, the stands were covered in military camouflage nets. On January 4, 2004, the stands were finally demolished by the hash dealers a day before a large scale police operation. They knew about this operation, and decided to take the stands down themselves. The police made more than twenty arrests in the following weeks though, and a large part of the organisation behind Pusher Street was then eliminated. This did not stop the hash trade however, it merely caused the trade to relocate outside of the town and to change to being on a person-to-person basis. Before they were demolished, the National Museum of Denmark was able to get one of the more colourful stands, which now form part of an exhibit.

[Source: Wikipedia]

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