By Kasper Delaney-Petersen
“That’s not Denmark. That’s Copenhagen” – Janus Nielsen
We had a week to spend in Copenhagen, a modern city of an antique visage, a place to discover once again. Copenhagen has a very special place in my heart. Not only is it the foreign city I’ve visited the most, it’s also my birthplace and where my closest Danish family are.
After all that sappy shite though, Copenhagen is a fucking sweet town I’m telling ye. It takes you by surprise, it’s like all the rest of the more affluent European capitals, but unique because of its culture. There were times when the streets were packed with people, but suddenly the streets become quieter, and the pubs become packed to capacity.
But when it comes to the city itself, where do I begin?
Back in February my part of the exchange course traveled to Copenhagen to report on news there. It was quite a time to be there too, as the Queen’s husband, Prince Henrik, had died about three days before we arrived. It was also a time of the year where it was desperately cold, but there was no snow. We were there to do work but I have decided to not delve into that because it’s kinda boring and I want to talk about something else?
What is that something else? Christiania of course!
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 Manifesto
Freetown Christiania, or Christiania for short, is a semi-autonomous nation situated in Copenhagen. It prides itself on its self-sufficiency, established as a hippy commune in 1971, and currently houses about 1,000 people. More controversially, the commune is also well known for a successful cannabis trade, with the bulk of trading taking part on ‘Pusher Street’ or the ‘Green Light District’.
Christiania is a place that defies description. As cameras are heavily frowned upon on Pusher Street, the scale of the cannabis trading is difficult to illustrate. Just imagine stalls made of mostly plywood, occupying most free space on both sides of the street, as well as numerous seed, clothing, food, and other traders and cafés. Each of these stalls are full of hash, herbs, and many other illicit substances.
Christiania itself is built from and within the former military barracks of Bådsmandsstræde and old city ramparts. It is also approximately five times larger than St. Stephen’s Green park and, in my opinion, about five times more beautiful than Stephen’s Green as well.
“And where does that accent come from?” was the question asked of me when I was browsing glassware at one of the boutiques established specifically to cater for the needs of the many tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) enthusiasts that pay visit to Freetown Christiania. I was quite taken aback by my own Irish accent being met by a strong London accent while my Welsh friend stood beside me, we struck up a conversation about the history of the commune, as well as the cannabis trade and how Christiania can somewhat be seen as the idealist utopian’s view of Danish, and Scandinavian, society.
The proprietor of the stall was a woman who moved to Denmark in 1978. She told us about the early days of the Freetown, how “everybody came together to be free”. She told about her own childhood, how she figurativel ran away from home in London, and by chance came to live in Denmark and Christiania. She also raised her children within the commune, and how life within had remained relatively happy. She also told of a darker side to Christiania’s existence, and how gangs had ingrained themselves within Christiania’s main business.
Christiania’s cannabis trade should not be regarded as something altogether welcome, in recent times anyway. In 2016, some of the residents of the commune decided to demolish most of the stalls on Pusher Street following a cannabis trade related crime that occurred in the commune.
Now there is a strong movement to inhibit the sale of cannabis making a profit for organised crime. While this has lead to a drop in Christiania’s cannabis trade, it has not disappeared, and is as much a haven for the disenfranchised as ever.
While still there exists a strong liberal view towards cannabis within the enclave (also arguably what made the place famous), Christiania strives to determine itself through the ideals it personifies and the self-determination of its people and their dedication to changing the world, in whatever small way that may be. It remains a unique little pocket of alternative living both inside and outside of Danish society. As a sign says when one is leaving Christiania, “You are now entering the EU”.
There you have it folks. Believe everything you hear about Copenhagen in the media as long as it’s positive and maybe pay a visit, it’s a chill town. Unlike Dublin, there are actual fun things to do throughout the entire year. If those things bore you, well then that’s fine, I forgive you. Architecturally speaking Copenhagen has that classic European capital flair, but also more striking features, such as brightly coloured houses lining the banks of the canal in Nyhavn, the corkscrewiness of Vor Frelsers Kirke, or the totally tubular design of the city’s round tower, one never really feels like there’s a single unified design to neither the streets nor the buildings in Copenhagen, which is nice.
Or maybe you should just visit Copenhagen because I am from there….