Mural in Christiania Copenhagen
This mural on a building in Christiania is one of the first to greet visitors as they enter the unique, self-governed commune. Photo by Joseph Chakola.

*Click on the photo to open up its full-sized view.

Christiania is quite a unique enclave in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is an 84-acre commune founded in 1971 by a band of squatters and artists who occupied an abandoned military base on the town’s edge; labeling it a “free zone” (its Danish name is Fristaden Christiania, or “Freetown Christiania,” it’s in the Christianshavn borough), they somehow essentially put the district beyond the authority of Danish law.

Today, Christiania is a distinct, if surreal, departure from the bustling Copenhagen outside. Many tourists come to marvel at the open-air cannabis trade on Pusher Street, as well as the living conditions of the residents. Like Copenhagen, many of the homes are quite colorful and impressive, though of a different variety; builders of homes in Christiania used anything at their disposal: there’s a house even made with nothing but discarded windows and frames. Numerous murals and artfully-planted graffiti abounds on walls everywhere.

History of Christiania

As you enter Christiania, you pass under an overhead sign that reads, “You Are Now Leaving the European Union.” And the feeling you get as you enter seems to justify the sign; Christiania’s 900-plus residents have been governed by their own law, the so-called “Christiania Law of 1989.”

The self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood within Denmark’s capital city is considered to be a large commune by civic authorities, and it has been a source of controversy since its creation. The area of Christiania occupies a former military barracks, Bådsmandsstræde, along with parts of the city ramparts. Leading up to 1971, after the military evacuated the barracks, squatters began occupying the empty spaces. Then, on September 4, 1971, some of the barrack’s nearby residents repurposed a bit of disregarded space to be a  playground for their children.

Three weeks later, on September 26,1971, Christiania was declared open by a Jacob Ludvigsen. Christiania’s movement soon seemed to parallel that of the popular hippie movement. Though the area is perpetually facing a type of disbandment by the government, the commune still exists; Christiania even flies its own flag, and the residents have instituted their own currency, the Løn. The aforementioned Jacob Ludvigsen, who was publisher of a magazine called Hovedbladet, also helped to author the mission statement of Christiania.

Popularity

Today, Christiania is renowned for its open cannabis trade, which happens on the aptly-named “Pusher Street.” Tourists can’t get enough of the area, though they can’t take pictures; one of the foremost prohibitions to tourists as you enter Christiania is “absolutely no photography.” This is because this open marijuana trade is illegal, though officials have basically turned a blind eye to it. There have been attempts by Danish authorities to prohibit this and stop it within the commune, but it has always been met with resistance, often violent.

As a sign of autonomy from the city around them, Christiania has been producing their own currency in the form of coins since 1976. The Løn, as it’s called, is worth about 50 DKK (Danish Kroner) and are accepted by all residents of Christiania.

Though Christiania deals with drugs deemed illegal by state authorities, only soft drugs, such as marijuana and hash, are easily found. Harder drugs, like heroin, have been effectively banned in the area for decades.

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 is the land of the settlers. It is the so far biggest opportunity to build up a society from scratch – while nevertheless still incorporating the remaining constructions. Own electricity plant, a bath-house, a giant athletics building, where all the seekers of peace could have their grand meditation – and yoga center. Halls where theater groups can feel at home. Buildings for the stoners who are too paranoid and weak to participate in the race…Yes for those who feel the beating of the pioneer heart there can be no doubt as to the purpose of Christiania. It is the part of the city which has been kept secret to us – but no more.”

The 9 Rules of Christiania

Christiania has 9 major rules that residents live by, and that any tourists are encouraged to abide by while visiting:

Christiania’s Common Law

Christiania’s commitment is to create and sustain a self-governing community, in which everyone is free to develope [sic] and express their selves, as responsible members of the community.

  • No Weapons
  • No Hard Drugs
  • No Violence
  • No Private Cars
  • No Bikers Colours
  • No Bulletproof Clothing
  • No Sale of Fireworks
  • No Use of Thunderflashes
  • No Stolen Goods

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