What next for Christiania?

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Christiania, known as the Danish social experiment, a hippy-era remnant, and the alternative tourist attraction in Copenhagen, celebrates its 40th birthday this month.

Founded in 1971, the Freetown was gradually built on and around ramparts from the 17th century and old military buildings. A mission statement was drawn up declaring that “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.”

Governing themselves as a collective, the Christianites, as they are known, have established their common law separate from the state. Thus, in Christiania weapons, hard drugs, violence, cars, biker colours, bulletproof clothing, sale of fireworks, use of firecrackers and stolen  goods are forbidden.

A tumultuous relationship with the state has been characteristic of anarchist Christiania since its creation. “In 2003 the government began a process of normalizing Christiania, proposing the introduction of a parking garage and apartment blocks,” a Christianite who goes by the name Joker said. The normalisation of Christiania also included widespread arrests in an effort to rid it of its drug scene. These measures were never fully successful and Christiania returned to its normal self.

With its quirky houses in all shapes and colours, Christiania provides a stark contrast to the city beyond the gates. An art gallery, a craft store, a blacksmiths run by women, the popular student venue Nemoland and a market selling homemade jewellery and tie-dye clothing are but a few of the attractions dotted about the place. The obvious scene stealer is ‘Pusher Street’, where characteristic ‘No Photos’ signs line the street where the hash stands have returned since the police crackdown in 2004.

As of 2011, the inhabitants have agreed to buy the land on which Christiania is built. Joker, who works for Nyt Forum at Christiania, explains the latest developments between Christiania and the state. “It’s a complex case, the reason we agreed to this is so we can remain a collective, and we don’t want to be split up. I am not a fan of this purchase. We have to pay 76.2 million DKK [Danish Kroner] for the land, 40 million DKK in building rights and 6 million DKK in rent every year.”

As to how they will raise the money, Danes and foreigners alike can buy stock in Christiania. “This will ensure that Christiania stays in the hands of the people,” he said.  “What worries me is that it might become too expensive so the poorer people can’t live here. It is the poor buggers, who paint, make art and bring creativity. Without them, Christiania would be lost.”

Abiding by values reminiscent of a the Robin Hood mentality, Christianites try to keep expenses low so that everyone can stay there. Currently, the community, the 900 hundred or so people who live in Christiania, pay 1850 DKK per month in rent. However, it is predicted that, through the forthcoming deal with the government, rent will go up to as much as 2600 DKK per month. Although this is significantly below the average Copenhagen prices, it could still destroy the social fabric of Christiania.

 What are the possibilities for students wishing to live in Christiania?, The Joker explained, “People are constantly moving in and out of Christiania. It is very popular, so it is very difficult to get a space to stay. I hope they will use the building rights to build more houses. It could be interesting to increase the number of Christianites.” Although the future of Christiania is still to be determined, a trip to the Freetown still offers a glimpse at a very different culture in action.

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