Monday, August 03, 2015

Cruising to Copenhagen and Christiania, Denmark

Copenhagen was a port of call on my recent Baltic cruise aboard the Celebrity Silhouette. Of course I had a list of things to do and places to see.  The Little Mermaid statue, Tivoli Gardens, Amalienborg Palace, a stroll through Nyhavn, some window shopping along the Strøget, and of course a castle or two were all a part of my 2-day itinerary. Then someone suggest we explore Christiania, and I said huh?

Christiania, as I discovered, is an autonomous “free town” within Copenhagen.  Sort of what I would describe as a hippie commune! In 1971 an abandoned military area in the Christianshavn district of the city was taken over by squatters. They claimed the area as a free city, free of taxes and run by their own laws. Christiania is actually governed by consensus democracy, which means that decisions are made based on the common agreement of all residents.  A wall covered in graffiti acts as a barrier between the rest of Denmark and Christiana. To enter it you pass under a sign that reads, “You Are Now Leaving the European Union.”  

Today, some 40 something years after its inception, Christiania is a lively, yet gritty community with about 1000 residents, some of them third generation.  “Pusher Street,” the main street of Christiania, is the biggest hash market in the world! Some 40 shops, most just tent-like structures, are open 24/7, selling 30 to 40 different brands of hashish (cocaine and heroin are banned in the town). And although cannabis is officially illegal in Denmark it has been tolerated and sold openly in Christiania.

I walked down Pusher Street (feeling a bit uncomfortable, but with no fear for my safety) and through the residential areas observing the odd looking dwellings made of recycled materials, bars, cafés, grocery shops, schools, art galleries, a recycling center and a lovely park. Bright, colorful murals were painted everywhere and on anything. Plenty of resident kids were doing what kids do everywhere…running, laughing, playing, and biking, oblivious to the commerce just blocks away.

Christiania is a strange, but very interesting place, and definitely worth a visit.  It was actually embarrassing for me to discover that it is the second most popular tourist site in Copenhagen, after Tivoli Gardens, yet I never even heard of it! Sometimes I feel I live in my own bubble…which is why I love to see, to experience and to learn.

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