The semiautonomous community of Christiania, in the heart of Copenhagen, was created as a post-’60s anarchistic paradise. But violence and drugs may spell its end.
On an unseasonably sunny Saturday this fall, Freetown Christiania, a semiautonomous commune spread across 74 acres in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark, crackled with life. A man wove through the crowds on his bicycle, selling freshly made sushi rolls; street-market stalls were bursting with colorful clothing, tapestries and glass bongs; and at the center of it all, men illegally hawked cannabis from wooden stalls lining an area known as Pusher Street.
“This is paradise,” a tourist told her friend as they surveyed the scene.
But tensions lurked beneath the joyous surface.
Founded in 1971 by squatters on an abandoned military base, Christiania was devised as a post-’60s anarchistic utopia, where people could live outside of Denmark’s market economy, free to build their houses where and how they wanted, to sell marijuana for a living, and to live as they pleased as long as they didn’t harm their neighbors. Denmark’s government oscillated between attempting, without much success, to bring the community to heel or turning a blind eye as Christianites flouted property laws and drug laws. But now, after 50 years, with worsening gang violence and fresh attempts by the government to normalize the commune, some residents see their dream of an alternative society fading.
The infamous Pusher Street, once operated mostly by residents but now overrun by gangs, may be the first domino to fall. And over the next decade, Christiania’s roughly 900 residents may have to accommodate 15,000 square meters of new public housing and hundreds of new neighbors, according to a tentative agreement with the state that would afford the community the chance to buy the entire 74-acre site from the Danish government.
Some residents fear that the new housing will signal the end of Christiania’s self-governance, and possibly its communal spirit. The only solution to the escalating gang violence, they say, is for the government to legalize marijuana (though harder drugs can also be procured on Pusher Street). Others, who consider Pusher Street a blight, believe the community should embrace the public-housing plan and allow the government to shut down Pusher Street once and for all — something the police have failed to do despite numerous attempts over the years, in part because until this year, Christianites refused to cooperate with them.