Biker gangs // Grenade attacks // Drug selling // Controversy since 1971
I kan ikke slå os ihjel
You cannot kill us
While in Copenhagen a few weeks back I took the opportunity to visit the Freetown state of Christiania – a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 residents which claims independence from the EU.
Christiania has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971, with police turning a blind eye to its drug trade until 2004. Since then, measures for normalising the legal status of the community have led to conflicts, police raids and negotiations which are ongoing. While hard drugs are outlawed within the compound, cannabis is openly sold on the aptly named ‘Pusher Street’ by guys wearing full balaclavas and gloves to hide fingerprints. The skunk shops are draped in army netting to camouflage sales. Photography is forbidden.
There is a definite ongoing struggle with the police, one that I actually witnessed first-hand during my visit. As I was walking towards the entrance of the compound I heard a guy running behind me with a police van chasing him. The cops got out the van and closed in on foot, but as soon as the guy entered the gates they cursed, got back in the van and left. The police obviously feel powerless to enter the compound, and there is definitely a vibe of ‘what goes on in Christiania, stays in Christiania.’
This place has a mad history
During the late 1970s ‘hard drugs’ such as heroin were considered permissible, but this had grave consequences. In one year, from 1978 to 1979, ten people died in Christiania from drug overdose; four of them were residents there. Most of them lived in a building called ‘The Arc of Peace’, which was in an extreme level of disrepair. Doors were missing, there were holes in the floors, and in most rooms there was no furniture except mattresses. One floor was overrun by a feral cat colony. It was a terribly unhealthy environment and the Christianites became increasingly aware that the situation could not continue. (It is part of the Christiania mythology that there are no ‘hard drugs’ consumed in Christiania anymore, but cocaine and speed are found to be carried and/or purchased among more and more visitors.)
Around 1984 a Copenhagen-resident biker gang called Bullshit arrived in Christiania and took control of a part of the cannabis market. Violence in the neighbourhood increased and many Christianites felt unsafe and unhappy with the new residents. This tension culminated when the police found a murdered individual who had been sliced to pieces and buried beneath the floor of a building. The Hells Angels then killed all the leaders of Bullshit in a drug war.
In a separate incident, on 24 April 2009, a 22-year-old man had his jaw blown off by a hand grenade thrown into the crowds seated at Cafe Nemoland. A perpetrator has not been found.
So what’s Christiania like?
Reading all that you’d imagine Christiania to be a bit of a tense place with all sorts of mad shit going on. The truth is that it’s very laid back. The entire compound is entirely covered in graffiti and creative installations. There’s a skate park, a load of bars and a nice hill overlooking a lake. It’s definitely unusual to see the guys wearing balaclavas selling the weed, but asides from that it’s kinda like the vibe you have at some of the more hippier areas at Glastonbury. Christiania is an interesting place with its own flag, its own laws, and even its own beer. Country? Neighbourhood? Free State? Who knows. But it’s well worth a visit next time you are in Copenhagen.
The easiest way to get to Christiania is probably by crossing the Knippels Bro bridge to Christianshavn, then heading towards the Church of Our Saviour on Princessegade Street. About 100m down the road from the church there is a street called Badsmandsstraede – and you can enter Christiania from here. (The second entrance on Princessegade has the famous Christiania arch.) Beers are cheap enough for Denmark at about 30 Danish Kroners / just under £3.