Autonomous society, anarchist community. Artist’s retreat, hippy commune. Tourist spectacle, drugs haven. Paranoid Utopia.
Founded in 1971 when squatters moved into former military barracks, Freetown Christiania covers 0.34km2 in the Christianshavn borough of Copenhagen and has around 850 residents. It has it’s own flag, currency and police force. Self governing with their own democratic process, Christiania even has it’s own beer. Residents still pay Danish taxes and their children go to recognised schools.
“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” – from the 1971 Christiania Mission Statement.
But with the self imposed legalisation of Cannabis in Christiania and a troubled history of controversy and intervention from the Danish authorities, Christiania seems spiritually much further from the civilised and blissful streets of Copenhagen than it is physically. A hidden anxiety fills the streets, emphasised by the abundance of explicit ‘no photos’ signs along the stretch of Pusher Street, locally know as the Green Light District, where Cannabis is sold freely in every form imaginable. As Copenhagen’s second most popular tourist attraction, the scores of visitors provoke a mixed reaction from the residents, embracing the economic advantages, yet desperately protective of their private paradise.
The decaying landscape yet the lively community spirit within Christiania reflects the possibilities of a society on the fringe of this major city, asking questions of the true identity of place free from authoritarian interference. Is this suburb an artists retreat, a drugs haven to be spectacled by curious tourists or a community of freedom fighters living to their own ideals?