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August 15, 2011 2:17 AM   Subscribe

Christiania, the freetown within the Copenhagen city limits, popular with tourists, has obtained some measure of security after decades of uncertainty.

Christiania has been in existence since 1971 and its existence has long been under threat from the government due to problems with organized drug dealers and uncertainty by the police on how to deal with it. Previous interventions have had limited success.
Residents voted yesterday to accept an agreement that will allow some to buy the properties they had squatted on, whilst others can now rent them from the government.


Previously, Previously.
posted by arcticseal (27 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
The 1991 documentary "Christiania, You Have My Heart" provides more useful background on its relationship with dealers and the police.
posted by ryanshepard at 4:15 AM on August 15, 2011


Seems like a pyrrhic victory. They can stay, but only if they adopt the norms of individually owned private property, deeds, and rent.
posted by elektrotechnicus at 5:20 AM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


yes, Every Christianit I know was opposed to the imposition of ownership of property. Most feel that isn't "some measure of security", but an admission of defeat. Christinia is a place of extraordinary energy, that has survived extraordinary problems in inspirational ways - it's a sad day to see it undermined like this.
posted by silence at 6:32 AM on August 15, 2011


urgh - Christiania, not "Christina" - (blame Lion's automatic spell correction.)
posted by silence at 6:33 AM on August 15, 2011


I was there 39 years ago...didn't know it was new then, although big potholes in the unlighted streets should have been a clue. And I admit, I was there for cannabis. But I stayed for the music.
posted by kozad at 6:53 AM on August 15, 2011


This was interesting to me as we used to live not far from Christiania and loved wandering around the area. I feel kind of sad that they have to give up one of the cornerstones of the community (shared ownership) in order to get some certainty for the future.
posted by arcticseal at 6:56 AM on August 15, 2011


I lived in Cope in the late 80s and this one time I was having dinner in Christania and Donald Sutherland was at the next table.
posted by bz at 7:45 AM on August 15, 2011


They can stay, but only if they adopt the norms of individually owned private property, deeds, and rent.

I feel kind of sad that they have to give up one of the cornerstones of the community (shared ownership) in order to get some certainty for the future.

It's called self-government. The parents have finally thrown out their disobedient children leaving them to fend for themselves and the first thing the children do is complain about having to take on adult responsibilities.
posted by three blind mice at 7:57 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


First use of the Largemetalchickens tag?
posted by hardcode at 7:59 AM on August 15, 2011


Perhaps they will also adopt the norms of cleaning up after themselves and making the place not stink of human waste.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:47 AM on August 15, 2011


I feel kind of sad that they have to give up one of the cornerstones of the community (shared ownership)

According to the Copenhagen Post, "The new deal also permits Christiania to buy the land as a fund, allowing the land to be managed collectively and remain communally owned. Previous deals called for a near privatisation of the land, which residents feared would result in class conflict and result in Christiania losing its culture and identity." It appears the land will be purchased by a new entity called the Christiania Fund.
posted by dhartung at 10:01 AM on August 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I went to Christiania last winter. It was during the day time. I remember drug sales; having to watch where I walked to avoid puddles, trash, and excrement; and a frequent scent of burning plastic. Copenhagen has a rich cultural heritage with great music, great people, great pastries, and much more. I'm not sure what this part of town really adds to it. World-wide it is far from unique; it actually reminds me of Telegraph street in Berkeley, CA, especially when you throw in People's Park and its homeless encampment. My cousin, who is an economist of sorts, lamented that if this was what happened when people lived without government or greater controls, then it is a pretty sad statement about us.

Personally, I think that when you offer a free place with little or no responsibility to people, not even the responsibility to stay and live in the bed you make, then you invite people who don't really know how to or care to take care of the place. That is why I saw paths paved with scrap pieces of plywood and garbage littering the outside spaces.

Maybe with this sense of ownership the area will clean up a little. Hopefully it will maintain what others like about the area. Personally I don't think there is much you could do to ruin Christiania.
posted by cman at 10:09 AM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


It's called self-government. The parents have finally thrown out their disobedient children leaving them to fend for themselves and the first thing the children do is complain about having to take on adult responsibilities.

I think we've misunderstood one another. I've been following stories about his community for a few years, and have relatives who have visited, so what I say here are just the views of a sympathetic outsider.

As I understand it many residents are explicitly anarchist or otherwise anti-capitalist in outlook. They have attempted to operate the community (with some success) through direct democracy with collective ownership of the land and other resources. The state, to whom collective ownership is anathema, has attempted to impose propertarian structures on the community, dividing it into parcels controlled by individuals. It seems to me they're hoping that this will undermine the solidarity of the group, tempting members to sell off (or have claimed under some danish equivalent of eminent domain) "their" parcels of the land over time.

If Christiania was built by collective effort, how can any segment of it be justly claimed by an individual? This is exactly dilemma that was faced by countless societies when various forms of private ownership developed out of collective ownership in the past.
posted by elektrotechnicus at 10:26 AM on August 15, 2011


In other words: it's not really self-government if it's terms are dictated by outsiders, is it?
posted by elektrotechnicus at 10:28 AM on August 15, 2011


Personally, I think that when you offer a free place with little or no responsibility to people, not even the responsibility to stay and live in the bed you make, then you invite people who don't really know how to or care to take care of the place. That is why I saw paths paved with scrap pieces of plywood and garbage littering the outside spaces.

Interesting. Does anyone know how the communards deal with this sort of thing?
posted by elektrotechnicus at 10:33 AM on August 15, 2011


Oh, and I totally missed dhartung's post about the creation of a fund to own the land. That's good news
posted by elektrotechnicus at 10:34 AM on August 15, 2011


I'm usually the first to snark when semi-anarchic communes have to make compromises with their ideals, but it looks like Denmark's own drug laws were too much of an issue here. Even in Scandinavia, the war on drugs ruins everyone else's good times.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:47 AM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those on this thread making comments like "It's called self-government." need to learn about what they're commenting on before they write. Christiania has an amazing history of dealing with its own problems, and the problems that have been forced upon it. From the beginning a major issue was that the police used to use Christiania as a dumping ground for anyone they didn't want to have to keep dealing with - rather than continually re-arresting persistent trouble makers they were told to go and live in Christiania (where the police didn't have to deal with them). This continual influx of those on the outside

Christiania has governed itself since it's inception and has achieved amazing results - for instance, in the course of a month the 'junk blockade" removed all hard drugs from the area in a month; not through policing but through intense and concerted community action to band together to simultaneously support recovering addicts and make dealing of had drugs impossible.

Those people who complain that the streets are dirty have clearly never penetrated Christinania far beyond Pusher street. I haven't got time for a comprehensive web search, but here are a few pictures of some of the areas where people actually live found by searching for 'Christiania Architrcture': handmade houses,tiny houses,urban gardens
The copenhagen council and government doesn't provide street cleaning in Christiania - so all cleaning is organised and done by the community. Maybe you should imagine how dirty the streets would be without the community clearing up every day. Yes, Pusher street and the surrounding area are pretty picky - but clearing up pusher street is like cleaning up after a major music festival every day, and attractive surroundings don't seem to be high on the list of priorities for the people who use its amenities.
I haven't even got into discussing the huge building materials recycling business, the bike builders that make the beautiful and unique Pederson Bikes and incredibly practical load carrying bikes that you see all over copenhagen and which are exported all over the world, or the women's blacksmith or the fantastic Spisseloppen restaurant.

Actually, I've just seen there's a reasonable wikipedia article - just go and read that.
posted by silence at 12:07 PM on August 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I visited Copenhagen this summer with my girlfriend and visited Christiania with expectations of happy people, gardens, and laughing children. The place we experienced was much more menacing (granted this caused us not to venture much further than Pusher Street). People looked at us warily or aggressively, most people we saw were of a hard sort: a shirtless group sporting gang tattoos, a very slightly dressed girl clinging to a man staring daggers, children who were fairly rough around the edges making clear with their gazes that we were outsiders. Seeing the drug vendors was itself fairly surreal: purple gloves, leaning over scales with bright lights illuminating what they were counting out. It was a place where you were on edge if someone was walking behind you.

We live in Humboldt County, California, so drug culture is not a thing to which we are unaccustomed. However, Christiania seemed to draw the worst sort of drug user and Pusher Street is somewhere I never want to go again. I am very supportive of people exploring new ways of governance and community action, but with this festering bit in the center of it, I am not sure how the citizens of Christiania could ever create a safe, welcoming neighborhood. And as cman said, with the community being a draw for tourists who come for the drugs and do not care for the trouble they bring or leave, disrepair and a threatening atmosphere seem like permanent states.
posted by Wyatt at 12:28 PM on August 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and there was a very post-apocalyptic fire in a barrel in broad daylight.
posted by Wyatt at 12:30 PM on August 15, 2011


Wyatt: this is not much different than I felt when visiting Christania in the late 80s. The primary difference is that your words capture the scene far better than any words I could have written.
posted by bz at 1:22 PM on August 15, 2011


@Wyatt, as you say you didn't get beyond pusher street. The clue is in the name. Most towns have a part of town where drugs are dealt - in Christiania it's Pusher Street - and in most towns they aren't that salubrious. To judge the whole place based on walking around the drug dealing part of town is a little unfair, don't you think?

And you didn't really need to feel threatened if someone was walking behind you - the dealers are just there to do business like any other shop, why would they mean you any harm? I can understand that it may have seemed strange and scary, but I think your fears were based on (as you intimate in your posting) similar "post apocalyptic" scenes in movies and the popular imagination.

One of the interesting things about Christiania is that drug dealing is basically restricted to that one street, unlike most places. If you'd walked just a little further you would have seen the schools, the communal bath house and the lake. It's a pity you didn't.
posted by silence at 2:24 PM on August 15, 2011


Apart from agreeing with Silence, I would like to add that the last ten years of political and police pressure on Christiania has enhanced the drug-related problems. When the conservatives took over here in Denmark, in 2001, clearing Christiania was on the top of their list. (clearing as in bulldozing). As it turned out, the Danes do not agree with this idea, but while studying what to do instead, the government decided to close down pusher-street, against the advice of all experts. What the experts said was: the marihuana-trade will spread all-over, it will get mixed up with hard drugs, and it will reappear in this new, dangerous format in Christiania, because without the autonomy of Christiania, there is no difference between Christiania and Copenhagen. Which is exactly what happened. The experts where even able to detail exactly where and how this would happen.

Still, I am optimistic about the future of Christiania. It is a wonderful place, and problems will be solved, because that is how it works. You should all come visit.
posted by mumimor at 5:24 PM on August 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Christiania is a violent, filthy, drug ridden slum. Every would be anarchist should spend a week there to make them appreciate clean sheets and mum's cooking.
posted by joannemullen at 2:18 AM on August 16, 2011


That is a very angry comment, joannemullen. Why do you feel like that?

Christiania is a lot of different things, and in some parts of Christiania, there are non-violent mums with very clean sheets and excellent cooking.
posted by mumimor at 3:30 AM on August 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


The few people I know from Copenhagen seem relatively pleased with this development. They do have to buy the land, but the collective self government seems like it will remain. It's certainly seems better than a few years ago, when people didn't even seem sure that Christiania would be around much longer.

And the negative comments here are kind of shocking. This has not been my experience of Christiania at all. It is a community of people living together largely off the grid - does anyone think the streets would really be as clean? A fire inside of a barrel is a perfectly good way to contain a fire.

It's not a bloody theme park. People live there. And they probably don't give much of a damn that people might be somehow offended by their community. But they believe passionately in it, and have fought very hard to keep it. That places light Christiana can exist makes me feel better about the world in general.
posted by Alex404 at 1:48 PM on August 16, 2011


It's so sad to hear of what's happened in Christiania. I visited it in 1999, and was just in awe of the place. I was warned strongly before I entered to be careful, more like one is careful entering a National Park. It's a bit wild. It has it's own rules. And from what I was told at the time (may not be true) the police don't even enter Christiania.

What I discovered inside was an absolutely fascinating place. Not just from what went on there, but that it could exist. A really wild and fantastic bike shop. Some long walks around the island enjoying architecture on a micro level. And an six hour backgammon game I played in a coffee shop with a stranger, who when I left handed me a minidisc of some music he was enjoying, and nodded a short goodbye, like that's just what people in Christiania did.

Sure there were some trashcans on fire, but it wasn't unpleasant. (Pusher street was a bit more sketchy at night.) But there was a live and let live attitude. It was quite entrancing.

When I saw in the news the bulldozers moving in on the island, it brought tears to my eyes.Hearing about the invasion of hard drugs on the island is just awful as hell.

When I visited it was a rather orderly place without having many imposing rules. It's a damn shame. I hope they can bring it back.
posted by schmattakid at 2:09 AM on August 17, 2011


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