Freetown Christiania

Wedged in our Copenhagen adventures is a place that stands out in my mind as interesting, unique, and totally unexpected. It’s an autonomous neighbourhood, across a wide canal from the downtown core. It’s known as Christianshavn, or Freetown Christiania.

Formerly a Danish military barracks, it was abandoned between 1967 and 1971, the latter year of which it became a squatter’s settlement. Centuries earlier, Christianshavn was its own municipality, deemed so in 1617 by King Christian IV. Maria had been telling us about this place since we arrived and we knew we had to check it out.

After its abandonment by the military, homeless people used it as an area for squatting and the fences were eventually broken down and the area taken over. Also utilized as a playground for children, a subculture emerged here as those moving in took over buildings, built up some new ones, and established a de facto community underpinned by the hippie movement and much that came with it. Clashes with the government have occurred on numerous occasions from then until now. These days, a stretch of the area known as the Green Light District, as well as restaurants and other establishments, have drawn tourists from all over the world, the proceeds of which help support the community and it’s under-one-thousand inhabitants. From what I understand, outsiders are not allowed to move into the district unless they marry an inhabitant.

The Green Light District is a special kind of place. Photos are not allowed for the simple reason that marijuana, hash, and magic mushrooms are sold openly, often by men wearing ski masks. These aren’t sketchy corner drug dealers with pre-weighed bags of drugs in their pocket. This is a large operation with massive bags of weed out in the open, labelled and organized by grade, and dozens of scales so the buyer knows exactly what and how much they are getting. The proprietors are very polite but also fairly serious-looking; not the kind of people you’d want to mess with. There’s also a “no running” rule; the inhabitants don’t want a reason for people to panic as raids have been known to occur by police forces in order to shake up the operations and remind people that, despite the semi-anarchic state of Christiania, the government still runs the show. For the most part, though, “soft” drugs flow freely and openly and as long as people aren’t acting the fool, no one is bothered too much about it.

That’s the brief backstory to Freetown Christiania. But before heading into the district, we took a walk up the massive spiral staircase of The Church of Our Savior. We didn’t actually go into the church, we simply climbed to the top of the spire. On the way up, we saw a lady who was so afraid of heights (the top part of the staircase is outside) she was clinging to the spire while sitting on the stairs. I commend her for making it as high as she did in the first place, knowing this fear exists within her. Even Maria got a little shaky as we wound our way to the increasingly narrow top. The view from up here is stunning.

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Upon returning to ground level we made our way to Freetown Christiania. It’s a fairly small area, all things considered. We tried some excellent vegan food at a restaurant towards the edge. Considering the quantity and quality of the cuisine, the prices were very fair.

Afterward, we walked along a trail that lined a canal. Here, we could see a variety of unique homes built and owned by some of the area’s inhabitants. We often came across young men riding bicycles towing flatbeds full of supplies for the various business within Christiania.

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I recommend anyone visiting Copenhagen to check this place out if you have the time. It’s just southeast of downtown and very easy to access. Just bring some common sense and an open mind and I promise you’ll enjoy every minute of it. It’s a unique little cultural cove that many people don’t know about, and well worth the time.

Later on, we walked back through downtown and up north to the University of Copenhagen Botanical Gardens, behind the art museum we’d visited the day before. With numerous areas and flora native to a wide variety of climates, we got to see some unique specimens and enjoy being around all kinds of plant life despite the frigid Scandinavian weather outside. The place was lovely and a great location to end off the day.

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