Update: Travelbug: Christiania, Copenhagen

June 13th, 2010

Update:
Noma, a small gormet restaurant in Christiania, Copenhagen, was recently named the world's best restaurant! Read more at the Copenhagen Post.

     

At a time when so many of us are frustrated with the actions, or more commonly, the inaction, of our federal and local governments, a self-governing district sounds appealing. This is a true-life bohemia in one district of Copenhagen. Born of the 1960's free-loving ideals and ambitions of a utopian society of individualists, Christiania is home to nearly 700 predictably unique persons. Despite their questionable drug habits, they wrote and seem to have upheld, for the most part, their initial mission statement: 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.

This area was originally the military base established by King Christian IV in 1617 and is still considered one of the finest surviving examples of 17th c. defence works in the world. The site was used as such through WWII, after which the barracks we baracaded off and unused. Spurred by a shortage in affordable housing, in 1971 a group of Copenhagen citizens broke into the area and set up camp. This group was lead by the politically energetic journalist, Jacob Ludvigsen, who saw this as an opportunity to establish a new way to live. Under his article titled,  Civilians conquered the 'forbidden city' of the military, he wrote:

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 is the part of the city which has been kept secret to us – but no more.

The community has been a controversy for the Danish government from the start. Aside from the sale and use of soft drugs and the outright definance of the city laws, it is a cheaper solution to finding affordable government-subsidized housing and affordable childcare for all of its inhabitants. If a problem arises, the Christianites call a meeting and decide on a solution that everyone agrees upon, as with the banning of all hard drugs during the 1980's. Today, Christiania is a thriving artist community where people can explore alternative lifestyles, often more individualistic than socialist, but community oriented. Nevertheless, the future of community is uncertain, but certainly threatened, just as some of its basic principles like community gardens are spreading to the US and elsewhere. I will be putting it on the top of my travel wishlist for the next year.

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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