Christiania, also known as Freetown Christiania (Danish: Fristaden Christiania) is a partially self-governing neighbourhood of about 850 residents, covering 34 hectares (85 acres) in the borough of Christianshavn in the Danish capital Copenhagen. Christiania has established semi-legal status as an independent community, but has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971. Its open cannabis trade was tolerated by authorities until 2004. Since then, measures for normalising the legal status of the community have led to conflicts, and negotiations are ongoing.
Among many Christiania residents, the community is known as staden ('the town'), short for fristaden ('the freetown').
The barracks of Bådsmandsstræde (Bådsmandsstrædes Kaserne) housed the Royal Artillery Regiment, the Army Materiel Command and ammunition laboratories and depots. Less used after World War II, the barracks were abandoned during 1967 to 1971.
The adjacent area to the north, Holmen, was Denmark's main naval base until the 1990s. It is an area in development, home to the new Copenhagen Opera House (not to be confused with the original Operaen - a concert venue in Christiania) and several artistic schools.
In 2007, the National Heritage Agency proposed protection status for some of the ancient military buildings, now in Christiania. These are:
Some of the historic buildings have been altered somewhat after Christiania's takeover.
Although the takeover was not necessarily organised in the beginning, some claim this happened as a protest against the Danish government. At the time there was a lack of affordable housing in Copenhagen.
On 26 September, 1971, Christiania was declared open by Jacob Ludvigsen, a well-known provo and journalist who published a magazine called Hovedbladet ('The main paper'), which was intended for and successfully distributed to mostly young people. In the paper, Ludvigsen wrote an article in which he and five others went on exploration into what he termed 'The Forbidden City of the Military'. The article widely announced the proclamation of the free town, and among other things he wrote the following under the headline Civilians conquered the 'forbidden city' of the military:
Christiania is the land of the settlers. It is the so far biggest opportunity to build up a society from scratch - while nevertheless still incorporating the remaining constructions. Own electricity plant, a bath-house, a giant athletics building, where all the seekers of peace could have their grand meditation - and yoga center. Halls where theater groups can feel at home. Buildings for the stoners who are too paranoid and weak to participate in the race...Yes for those who feel the beating of the pioneer heart there can be no doubt as to the purpose of Christiania. It ıs the part of the city which has been kept secret to us - but no more.
Ludvigsen was co-author of Christiania's mission statement, dating from 1971, which offers the following:
The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. 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.
The neighbourhood is accessible through many entrances and cars are not allowed (although some Christiania residents own a car, see below). Danish authorities have repeatedly removed the large stones blocking the main entrance claiming they need access to the area for fire trucks and ambulances in the event of a fire or medical emergency, yet the residents respond by placing them back each time as they feel suspicious that the authorities will instead use it for police operations. This suspicion is backed by the fact that they have already made arrangements with the Copenhagen Fire Department, which also operates the ambulances in Copenhagen, and have established other entranceways and maneuvering spaces for fire trucks and ambulances in the area.
The people in Christiania have developed their own set of rules, independently of the Danish government. The rules forbid stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests and hard drugs.
Famous for its main drag, known as Pusher Street, where hash and Skunk weed were sold openly from permanent stands until 2004, it nevertheless does have rules forbidding hard drugs, such as cocaine, speed, ecstasy and heroin. The commerce is controversial, but since the rules require a consensus they cannot be removed unless everybody agrees. The region negotiated an arrangement with the Danish defence ministry (which still owns the land) in 1995. Since 1994, residents have paid taxes and fees for water, electricity, trash disposal, etc. The future of the area remains in doubt, though, as Danish authorities continue to push for its removal. On Pusher Street, cameras are not allowed, and locals will wave their hands and shout "No photo!" if they see someone trying to take a picture.
After the open hash trade was ended in Christiania the year before, criminal circles outside Christiania were eager to take over the market. Those responsible for the shooting were one such gang, primarily of immigrants from Nørrebro, a northwestern borough of the city. They had repeatedly asked the Christiania pushers to allow them on their market and had repeatedly been turned down. On April 23, 2005, this stalemate escalated violently. The pushers of Christiania discovered that a member of the outside gang had infiltrated their organisation by dating a female pusher. He was exposed and just barely escaped - two shots were fired at him. The next day two cars pulled up outside Christiania and 6–8 masked men with automatic weapons got out and headed for Pusher Street. When they arrived they fired at least 35 heavy rounds indiscriminately toward the crowd, killing one Christianite and injuring three others.
Some saw this tragic incident as a sign that the future survival of the community was dubious due to the risk of violence stemming from the hash-market. Others blamed the incident on the fragmentation of the Copenhagen hash market and its expansion to the rest of the city, brought about by the measures of the Anders Fogh Rasmussen government. See below: Drugs
Within minutes, Christiania residents arrived and told him this was totally unacceptable. The journalist was violently threatened to make himself scarce. Other residents, however, took the time to peacefully explain Christiania building rules (approval by the community meeting is needed for construction). Later, journalists set up a stall attempting to sell 'non-politically correct' products such as Coca-Cola and Israeli oranges, arguing this was no worse than selling cannabis to minors.
Designed by Danmarks Radio to test Christiania's tolerance towards the outside world, the feature did not amuse the residents. Proponents of Christiania have defended the hostile behavior seen in the show. Allegedly, the background is that the current political situation forces Christiania to have a moratorium on construction work, unless police officers should come and take things down forcibly. A complete moratorium on construction was a precondition for the state to enter the current negotiations. Nils Vest, a film director resident in Christiania, has accused the TV programme of being tendentious and biased. Others have taken the episode as a proof of faded collectivist ideals and bigotry within Christiania.
Before the city council elections of November 2001, residents in one of Christiania's sections proposed a municipal kindergarten just outside Christiania should be torn down and moved some hundred meters away, the area being turned into a parking lot. The proposal was criticised by other Christiania residents and citizens in the borough, but proponents claimed the wooden kindergarten buildings were outdated anyway and the parking space issue needed to be solved before Christiania itself would turn into an area where cars were widely parked. It has also been claimed that taxis and police vehicles add to the traffic problems.
In 2002 a group of young gay performers and activists, Dunst, were invited to take over the house so it could remain a centre for gay activity. Dunst introduced democratic management and established open workshops for photography, art, music, dance, video etc. They also arranged three 'Save Christiania' nights, a cabaret show and three support parties in order to be able to pay down some of the Gay House's debt to Christiania. According to Dunst, however, neighbours would never readily accept them and the newcomers were accused of not understanding "the Christiania lifestyle". Dunst claim they received verbal abuse, threatening letters and even in one instance, had a baseball bat brandished against them. Some disliked Dunst's loud parties, their contemporary electro-punk style music being described as techno. After 9 months, they were asked to leave Christiania again.
In 2004 Dunst participated in 'Christiania Distortion', an event supportive of Christiania. As they could not make use of the Gay House, Dunst's part of the event took place in a bus circling around Christiania.
Since its opening, Christiania has been famous for its open cannabis trade, taking place in the aptly named and centrally located 'Pusher Street'. Although illegal, authorities were for many years reluctant to forcibly stop the hash trade. Proponents thought that concentrating the hash trade at one place would limit its dispersion in society, and that it could prevent users from switching to harder drugs. Some wanted to legalize hash altogether. Opponents thought the ban should be enforced, in Christiania as elsewhere, and that there should be no differentiation between 'soft' and 'hard' drugs. It has also been claimed that the open cannabis trade was one of Copenhagen's major tourist attractions, while some said it scared other potential tourists away. Since 2003, however, the officially open hash trade has been ended by measures of the authorities, but more or less the covert trade of hash and harder drugs still abounds.
An attempt was made to cooperate with the police in order to get rid of the heroin pushers, which was something many Christianites felt extremely uncomfortable about due to their anarchical tradition and the continuous clashes between Christiania and the police. Despite the shared feelings of distrust, however, some Christianites felt there was no other way to fix such problem, and supplied the police with a list of suspected hard drug networks. The intention of the Christianites' decision was made very clear: police were to concentrate only on hard drugs. This did not happen, and instead the police ignored the Christianites' requests and made a large crackdown only on the hash network, oddly leaving the heroin ring untouched.
Feeling betrayed and bitter the Christianites decided not to cooperate any further with the authorities, and instead launched what was to be known as the Junk Blockade. For 40 days and nights the Christianites—men, women, and children—patrolled 'The Arc of Peace' and whenever they found junkies or pushers they gave them an ultimatum: either quit all activities with hard drugs or leave Christiania. In the end, the pushers were forced to leave, and sixty people entered drug rehabilitation.
In 2002, the government began aiming to make the hash trade less visible. In response, the hash sellers covered their stands in military camouflage nets as a humorous reply. On January 4, 2004, the stands were finally demolished by the hash dealers a day before a large scale police operation. They knew about this operation, and decided to take the stands down themselves. The police made more than twenty arrests in the following weeks, and a large part of the organised dealer network of Pusher Street was then eliminated. Critics claim, however, that this did not stop the hash trade, it merely caused the trade to relocate outside of Christiania and to change to being on a person-to-person basis. Before they were demolished, the National Museum of Denmark was able to get one of the more colourful stands, which is now part of an exhibit.
On March 16, 2004, the police raided the area. Allegedly, many dealers started to move huge amounts of hash out into Copenhagen and the rest of the country instead. This was done in order to avoid the heavy police-presence in Christiania and to meet the demand for hash by customers. According to both police and other sources the number of hash clubs in Copenhagen grew rapidly to at least five times as many as before the police crackdown on Pusher Street, and in these clubs the sale of hash was mixed with other drugs such as amphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy and GHB. Especially in northwesterns part of the city (Nørrebro and the Nordvest borough) many clubs arrived and were controlled by armed gangs who had long tried to enter the hash sales on Christiania. The gang responsible for the shootings of 2005 were one of these. See above: 2005 shooting and murder
Before 2003, hard drugs, including heroin and cocaine, had been ruled out of Christiania since 1979 by the community's own rules. Since then, though, it is becoming clear that driving the hash trade underground has now blurred the line between the sale of Cannabis and the sale of hard drugs. Previously, stringent community oversight into what was being dealt kept the two separate. Now time has lead to dealers pushing what is most profitable; heavily addictive hard drugs, as well as hash, endangering the openness and ability for tourists to feel comfortable buying Cannabis. This does not just affect the tourists, but the locals of Copenhagen as well. Without contacts in the drug trade, many came to Christiania to buy Cannabis for recreational use in a low risk environment, without possibly being offered hard drugs. Now that situation is changing.
Christiania has become home to several ventures such as carpenters, blacksmiths, a bikeshop, as well as several cafés, restaurants, jazz, blues and night clubs.
The Christiania Café Månefiskeren installed an outdoor countboard of police patrols on Christiania in November 2005. In the summer of 2006 this passed the 1000th patrol (about 4–6 patrols a day). These patrols normally consist of 6 to 20 police officers, often dressed in combat uniform and sometimes with police dogs.
This has, however, not affected the street prices of cannabis in- or out-side of Christiania. There has been no notable change in the rate of "regular crime" in the area.
In January 2006, the government proposed that Christiania would be turned into a mixed alternative community and residential area adding condominiums for 400 new residents. Current residents, now paying DKK 1450 (USD 250) per month, would be allowed to remain but need to begin paying normal rent for the facilities, albeit below market rent levels. Christiania has rejected this scenario, fearing the freetown would turn into a normal Copenhagen neighbourhood. In particular, the concept of privately owned dwellings is claimed to be incompatible with Christiania's collective ownership.
Christiania-spokesperson for the Conservative (governmental) Party, Christian Wedell-Neergaard:
"Christiania is a dwelling for people who wish to live in a different manner...But it is crucial that varied ownership-models are introduced, so that there will be both private and partially owned houses."
"(Christiania's) demand that there be a collective fund is not fair, It doesn't meet the wish for a normalization. We (the government) have emphazised that there should be varied ownership-models, such as private ownership."
"...it is natural that there are also privately owned buildings in an area like Christiania...Because it is the case for the surrounding society in general, that there are variety in the ownership." (all quotes from Politiken, 29 January 2006, pg.6)
the Minister of Finance, Thor Pedersen, from the government-party Left (Venstre), who to the question in parliament whether the new buildings at Christiania were only economically motivated, answered:
"It is a political priority that there be build new houses as suggested, to ensure a development of the Christiania-area with varied ownership-models." (Information, 6 June 2006, pg.3)
In order to present a reasonable use of area after an eventual "cleaning", the Danish government commissioned an architectural competition. 17 proposals were received, of which only eight have met the formal competition requirements. All of the proposals were rejected by the panel of judges. The cost of the architectural competition was 850,000 Danish Kroner (113,900 EUR, 177,700 USD, 89,500 GBP).
Christiania has countered the government's plans for normalization with its own community driven planning proposal , which after 8 months of internal workshops and meetings gained consensus at the common meeting before being published in early 2006. Christiania's own development plan was awarded the Initiative Award of the Society for the Beautification of Copenhagen in November 2006 and the plan has received positive attention from the municipality of Copenhagen and the Agenda 21 Society for its sustainability goals and democratic process.