CHRISTIANIA, Denmark (CN) — “The parole of Christiania is that each individual deserves complete freedom. As long as that freedom does not limit other people.”
So said Kim Bekker, a proud Freetown resident for more than 35 years. He agreed to do an impromptu interview at Grotten, one of the more spacious and neat cafés in the center of Christiania at the end of Pusher Street.
Christiania is also called “Freetown” or “staden” (the city). It is a 17-acre area in Denmark´s capital Copenhagen encompassing a lake, small forest areas, and an extraordinary culturally vibrant community.
Here, all political decisions are made jointly at monthly meetings. Instead of paying rent, the residents pay a “user fee” to the local finance office, which distributes the means to communal infrastructure, building projects and social development activities.
The streets are filled with colorful houses, numerous collective workshops, and the distinct smell of cannabis. Chill residents walk around and greet each other amidst the constant influx of curious tourists who want a sneak peek of the old “hippie town”.
In 2022, Christiania is a well-established tourist attraction. Frequent police raids aside, the residents live in orderly juridical agreement with Copenhagen municipality which controls their buildings and stores on a running basis.
But back in 1971, it all started with a deserted military barrack area. An area that around 150 young, free-minded, and restless youngsters decided to occupy. They broke down the woodwork barriers and started remaking the old buildings.
The movement was quickly disputed by politicians. Not least because Christiania was seen as a provocation against the establishment, and the place soon became a hub for drug dealers. In 1975, the government decided to tear it down. Yet that never happened.
Instead, small companies and production sites started appearing as Christiania became a hub for popular cultural events. After numerous problems with violent police clashes and dangerous gang fights, the town´s residents got the gang members to agree not to carry patches and weapons.
That happened in 1985, the same year Bekker moved in.
“Back then, Christianshavn was a slum, and no one wanted to live there. I moved to Christiania during Christmas in 1985. I knew a few people and got a job in the kindergarten. For 10 years, I lived in a collective but then switched to my own apartment,” he said.
Bekker has seen Christiania grow over the years in terms of local businesses, houses, and the number of visitors. Around 10 years ago, he did 15 months of jailtime (partly in isolation) for selling weed on Pusher Street.
The punishment for selling drugs in Christiania has always been harsher because it is automatically considered part of organized crime. Today, the drug industry still contributes to the community’s economy, but it isn’t easy to document the exact extent.
However, Bekker said Freetown’s unique qualities have nothing to do with drugs. It is about creating an alternative way of living where you have more space to find yourself.
“This is a place where you can test your life in ways only possible in a few other places in the world. And then in the middle of a capital! You can live on a shoestring if you want. Most people here never graduated from anywhere. They just lived their lives 24 hours a day and naturally learned certain skills. We give each other full freedom,” Bekker said.
The big turning point for Christiania´s journey toward formal independence from the rest of Denmark happened in 1989.
Here, the government signed the so-called “Christiania Law”, giving residents the juridical right to live in their properties. The caveat: the Ministry of Defense can — at any point — ask people to leave.