Denmark’s hippie haven under threat

Deftly rolling a joint, 14-year-old Trygve says he revels in being able to light up freely in Christiania, Copenhagen’s “free city” and Europe’s last refuge for hippies, artists and activists.

But Christiania’s days may be numbered, with the Danish government determined to clean up the giant squat, which was founded in 1971 and is now the city’s third most visited attraction.

Trygve sits at a picnic table with his friends Morten and Christian, the trio enjoying their free time after school “in this tranquil oasis where anything goes”.

“It’s cool here. There should be places like this in other countries,” one of them says, wishing they could live here where “life is good”.

Drugs are officially banned by law. “But you can still get it anytime of day or night,” insists Trygve.

‘Free city’
On September 26 1971 a band of guitar-laden hippies made an abandoned army barracks in central Copenhagen their home.

They raised their “freedom flag” and named their new abode “Christiania, free city”.

It is now home to some 1 000 hippies, artists, activists and misfits.

There are restaurants, cafes, shops and some unique-looking homes designed by residents, and the area attracts more than a million visitors annually.

But its existence has been threatened since the 2001 arrival in power of the Danish centre-right government.

Christiania has been the scene of regular police raids and violent clashes, and even bloody settlings of scores between dealers.

In March 2004 police officially dismantled the hash market on Pusher Street, the enclave’s most famed thoroughfare, estimating the soft-drug market controlled by criminal biker gangs at one-billion kroner ($174-million) a year.

But given the resolute determination of Christiania residents, police have a hard time keeping drugs out.

‘One joint doesn’t hurt’
“We don’t have the resources that are necessary to be present in Christiania,” admits Copenhagen police spokesperson Flemming Steen Munch.

“We’re resigned to accepting hash sales at a reasonable level,” he says, adding that riots ensue after every major police raid.

“One joint doesn’t hurt,” says Jens, a Copenhagen resident doing his “shopping” in Christiania, huddling by an outdoor fire near Pusher Street to keep warm in the November chill.

Dealers hang out on the street, ready to scatter if their lookouts signal the arrival of the police.

At “Cafe Oasen” and “Woodstock”, the walls are covered in graffiti and psychedelic murals.

Inside, the sweet smell of hash hangs heavy as regulars sit around drinking beer and discuss a current court case pitting the Danish state against Christiania.

The government wants to clean up the area, build housing and open it up to the general public, a move Christiania dwellers are resisting.

They have taken the Danish state to court, insisting that they were given the exclusive right to use the area as they wish, a claim the state rejects.

A verdict is expected at the end of February.

“They want us to fall in line. But we’ll fight,” says Ole, who lives in the 32ha enclave located on the outskirts of Copenhagen.

In her art gallery, Jane Olschansky, who is married to Leonard, one of the founders of the “free city”, says she thinks “Christiania has lost some of its soul, idealism and solidarity over the years”.

But she “defends tooth and nail the freedom” of the community and firmly rejects authorities’ attempts at “normalisation”, which she says would be “the beginning of the end” of the “unique” experiment.

Will it survive?
Anita Conte, a student, says she believes in “Christiania’s ideology of an alternative lifestyle,” stressing that some of the community’s initiatives have long since been adopted by the mainstream, citing as an example its “green revolution which even the prime minister has adopted.”

Thirty-seven years after its creation, Christiania, its red flag with three yellow dots fluttering in the wind, still intrigues people.

But will it survive? Many have their doubts. – AFP

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