Copenhagen is not all pretty buildings, Hans Christian Anderson and delicious cinnamon rolls. Denmark’s capital is also home to Freetown Christiania, an artistic and independent free state within the city that lives by its own rules.
Although Christiania’s existence is well known, if you like to seek out the alternative and more offbeat aspects of a city, you can’t visit Copenhagen without exploring Christiania’s unique streets.
As you enter beneath a wooden sign, an exciting world of colour, creativity, street art and the scent of weed awaits.
What exactly is Christiania?
“Christiania’s objective is to create a self-governing society, whereby each and every individual can thrive under the responsibility for the entire community. This society must economically rest in itself, and the joint efforts must continue to be about showing that psychological and physical destitution can be diverted.”
Christiania’s mission statement
Established in 1971, Christiania was born in an abandoned military barracks by artists, squatters and people who wanted to live an alternative lifestyle. The group set their own rules and declared the area a “free zone.” They said they would raise their own taxes and sought to live independent of the government. The Danish government at the time deemed the project a “social experiment” and allowed it to continue.
Christiania is car-free and promotes a green and organic way of life. The residents strive to be waste-free. It has its own flag and currency, the Løn, but you can use Danish Krone there, too.
Christiania’s beginnings came when, after the government abandoned the barracks, local residents thought the area could be used as a playground for children. In May 971, a group broke through the fencing and set up the playground. Before long, people were attracted to the area and squatters moved in the barracks’ buildings.
September 26 1971 became Freetown Christiania ‘s official birthday.
The residents renovated the old buildings that once made up the military barracks and built their own creatively designed homes, largely repurposing old materials. They created their own sewage and recycling systems, and established a democratic process for dealing with disputes.
The community has a social service centre called From Here to There (Herfra og Videre) which offers welfare to all who need it, health care and an employment centre.
As it developed over the years, Christiania experienced conflicts with the government.
In 2012, an agreement was reached with the Danish government, which allowed the people of Christiania to essentially buy the land they had lived on for decades. The Foundation Freetown Christiania was founded and purchased much of the land for a below market cost. The Foundation collective owns the land rather than any individuals.
The people of Christiana pay a tax within the community, and now pay the Danish government income tax and for some waste disposal services. Residents also contribute to the windmill energy the area uses.
Freetown Christiania isn’t connected to the Danish electricity and water systems. They collect rainwater and use solar and wind energy.
What to expect & look our for in Freetown Christiania
On your visit to Christiania, expect to experience a unique community, with food stalls, shops, artists’ workshops, galleries, music venues and restaurants scattered along its colourful streets.
It’s really nice to just wander around, taking it all in. Keep an eye out for the following:
- ALIS in Wonderland skate park.
- Café Nemoland.
- Multiple artisans work in Christiania, there are workshops you can enter.
- The buildings and self-built houses are unique and colourful.
- Street art and excellent murals.
Want to smoke?
Christiania is infamous for its thriving cannabis trade. Police have recently cracked down on it because it had been overrun by criminal gangs, including bikers. After a shooting in September, the residents responded by removing many of the stalls selling weed. Despite this, the weed trade is thought to be worth over $100 million per year.
I was surprised to find that Pusher Street, the Green Light District where weed is sold, still had lots of people selling and smoking joints when we visited.
When in Christiania…
The very open way weed and hash was being sold and smoked within the Green Light area made us say, why not? For 50 kr you can buy a pre-rolled joint mixed with tobacco.
The smell of weed and hash lingers overhead and lots of tourists were experimenting in a very relaxed and seemingly safe way, so as long as you keep an eye out for any potential police raids, it is pretty safe to smoke in peace.
Bear in mind that marijuana is still illegal, so be careful, especially if you purchase some to take away. Apparently the police like to stop people at the closest train station.
Rules of Freetown Christiania
No guns, bullet-proof vests or weapons
N0 hard drugs
No photographs on Pusher Street
Don’t take photographs when you’re in the Green Light District or Pusher Street. Before visiting, I was unsure whether you could take any photographs at all, but I asked one of the dealers who told me it was fine elsewhere in Christiania. Despite this, I didn’t take many photographs.
How to get to Christiania?
Freetown Christiania is located in the neighbourhood of Christianshaven. Thanks to a new bridge, you can easily walk from Nyhavn, Copenhagen’s famous harbour of pretty coloured buildings.
Head to the end of the harbour and cross the bridge. Once across, continue straight past the big old grey stone building on your right, then take a left, where you should see a road sign pointing to Christiania. Take a right, past a small jetty where little boats are sitting. Follow that road as it veers to the right.
From there, take another right, and follow the road for about 5 minutes until you stumble across the entrance.
You can also take the metro to Christianshavn station. It’s a five minute walk from there. The 9A bus will also bring you right outside.
As you reluctantly leave the colourful laidback streets of Christiania, a sign alerts you to the fact that you are about to re-enter the EU. It provides one last reminder of the fact that you have just visited a community within a city that has beat the odds to win the right to exist in an alternative way.