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|Anthem: I kan ikke slå os ihjel|
You cannot kill us
|Organizational structure||Anarchist community|
0 sq mi
|Purported Currency||Danish Krone (de facto), Løn (de jure)|
|This article possibly contains original research. (May 2014)|
|Anthem: I kan ikke slå os ihjel|
You cannot kill us
|Organizational structure||Anarchist community|
0 sq mi
|Purported Currency||Danish Krone (de facto), Løn (de jure)|
Christiania, also known as Freetown Christiania (Danish: Fristaden Christiania) is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 residents, covering 34 hectares (84 acres) in the borough of Christianshavn in the Danish capital Copenhagen. Civic authorities in Copenhagen regard Christiania as a large commune, but the area has a unique status in that it is regulated by a special law, the Christiania Law of 1989, which transfers parts of the supervision of the area from the municipality of Copenhagen to the state. It was closed by residents in April 2011, whilst discussions continued with the Danish government as to its future, but is now open again.
Christiania has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971. Its cannabis trade was tolerated by authorities until 2004. Since then, measures for normalising the legal status of the community have led to conflicts, police raids and negotiations which are ongoing.
Among many Christiania residents, the community is known as staden ('the town'), short for fristaden ('the freetown').
The area of Christiania consists of the former military barracks of Bådsmandsstræde and parts of the city ramparts. The ramparts and the borough of Christianshavn (then a separate city) were established in 1617 by King Christian IV by reclaiming the low beaches and islets between Copenhagen and Amager. After the siege of Copenhagen during wars with Sweden, the ramparts were reinforced during 1682 to 1692 under Christian V to form a complete defence ring. The western ramparts of Copenhagen were demolished during the 19th century, but those of Christianshavn were allowed to remain. They are today considered among the finest surviving 17th century defence works in the world.
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 first and still existing venue called "Operaen", a concert venue in Christiania) and schools. An area further north is still used by the navy, but open to the public during daytime.
The outermost defence line, Enveloppen, has been renamed Dyssen in Christiania language (except for the southernmost tip of it which was not annexed by Christiania). It is connected to central Christiania by a bridge across the main moat or can be reached by the path beginning at Christmas Møllers Plads. Four gunpowder storehouses line the redans. They were built 1779-80 to replace a storage in central Copenhagen, at Østerport, which blasted infamously in 1770, killing 50 people. The buildings are renamed Aircondition, Autogena, Fakirskolen (The Fakir School) and Kosmiske Blomst (Cosmic Flower) and have, although protected, been slightly altered from their historical state.
The last Danish execution site, active from 1946 to 1950, can still be seen on the Second Redan close to the building called Aircondition. The wooden execution shed is gone, but the concrete foundation and a drain for the blood remain just next to the path. In total, 29 World War II criminals were executed on the site. The last was Ib Birkedal, a high-level Danish Gestapo collaborator, on 20 July 1950.
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.
After the military moved out, the area was only guarded by a few watchmen and there was sporadic trespassing of homeless people using the empty buildings. On 4 September 1971, inhabitants of the surrounding neighbourhood broke down the fence to take over parts of the unused area as a playground for their children.
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 is 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.
Meditation and yoga have always been popular among the Christianites, and for many years Christiania had their own internationally acclaimed theater group Solvognen, who, beyond their theater performances, also staged many happenings in Copenhagen and even throughout Sweden. Ludvigsen had always talked of the acceptance of drug-addicts who could no longer cope with regular society, and the spirit of that belief has still not diminished, even though many problems sprouted due to drug traffic and use (mostly of 'hard drugs', however, which are not tolerated in Christiania). These addicts enter and remain in Christiania and are considered just as integral to the Freetown ethics as the entrepreneurs. For this reason many Danes have seen Christiania as a successful social experiment. However, for years the legal status of the region has been in a limbo due to different Danish governments attempting to remove the Christianites. Such attempts at removal have all been unsuccessful so far.
Christiania is considered to be the fourth largest tourist attractions in Copenhagen (and it has half a million visitors annually); and abroad it is a well-known "brand" for the supposedly progressive and liberated Danish lifestyle. Many Danish businesses and organizations also use Christiania as a show place for their foreign friends and guests. The purpose is to show something Danish that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Among the local users are many social security recipients, pensioners, immigrants and clients from social institutions. Single mothers also visit here, not to mention the many homeless and jobless young people. Greenlanders, street people and vagabonds, all find a sanctuary here. But many other people such as students, musicians, artists, intellectuals and academics visit the Freetown often.
In Christiania the creative and recreational values are found in rich measure. In fact, the green ramparts of Christiania appear much more recreational and attractive to visitors than the well kept, deserted areas under the care of municipal Copenhagen. Many people, however, abstain from exploring and using Christiania, simply because they cannot find their way around.
The people in Christiania have developed their own set of rules, independent of the Danish government. The rules forbid stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests, hard drugs and bikers' colors.
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, amphetamine, ecstasy and heroin. The hash commerce is controversial, but since the rules require a consensus they cannot be removed unless everybody agrees. Legalization of cannabis is one of the ideas of many of the citizens in Christiania. 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.
After bitter negotiations that temporarily resulted in the area being sealed off to the public, in June 2011, the residents of Christiania agreed to collectively set up a fund to formally purchase the land at below market prices. Uncertainty remains over how the money will be raised.
The flag of Christiania is a red banner with three yellow discs representing the dots in the "i"s in "Christiania". The colours were supposedly chosen because when the original squatters took over the former military base, they reportedly found a large amount of red and yellow paint.
Partly as a consequence of the government's normalization plans, there have been increasing protests and conflicts in and around Christiania. See below: Further development.
On May 14, 2007, workers from the governmental Forest and Nature Agency, accompanied by police, entered Christiania to demolish leftovers of the small, abandoned building of Cigarkassen ('the cigar box'). They were met by angry and frightened Christianites, fearing that the police also intended to demolish other houses. Road blocks were built and trucks transporting what was left of the house were sabotaged, so that they could not move. The police then entered the Freetown on a massive scale and were met by resistance. Residents threw stones and shot fireworks at police vehicles. They also built barricades in the street outside Christiania's gate. The police used tear gas on the residents and a number of arrests were made. One activist sneaked behind the police commander and poured a bucket of urine and faeces upon him. Later, the police force retreated from Christiania. As youths barricaded the entrances to Christiania and bombarded the police with stones and Molotov cocktails, the trouble continued into the early morning hours. After several failed attempts to storm the barricades, the police retreated and ultimately gave up. In all, over 50 activists from both Christiania and outside were arrested. Prosecutors are demanding they be imprisoned on the basis that they might otherwise participate in further disturbances in Copenhagen (which prosecutors claim is "in a state of rebellion.")
On April 24, 2005, a 26-year-old Christiania resident was killed and three other residents injured in a violent gang assault on Pusher Street. The reason for this was a feud over the cannabis market of Copenhagen.
After the open cannabis 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 residing in 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 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 cannabis market. Others blamed the incident on the fragmentation of the Copenhagen cannabis market and its expansion to the rest of the city, brought about by the measures of the Anders Fogh Rasmussen government. See below: Drugs
The political satirical TV show Den halve sandhed (The half truth) featured Christiania in its March 26, 2004 episode. As a tongue-in-cheek action, a journalist started to erect a small wooden hut in one of Christiania's open areas, claiming he assumed everyone could settle in the freetown.
Within minutes, Christiania residents arrived and told him this was totally unacceptable. The journalist was violently threatened and told 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, arguing this was no worse than selling cannabis to minors.
Within Christiania itself no private cars are allowed. However, a total of 132 cars are owned by residents and need to be parked on the streets surrounding the Freetown. After negotiating with city authorities, Christiania has agreed to establish parking areas for residents' own cars on its territory. As of 2005, parking space for only 14 cars had been established within the area.
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.
As of 2008 Christiania established a road block robot in the vehicle entrance of Christiania next to The Gray Hall (Grå Hal) to prevent cannabis customers and other visitors from driving into Christiania and park their cars in its narrow streets. Only cargo transport is allowed through these gates. A downside to this was that it moved the problem to another part of Christiania further up the road where the residents now have blocked this entrance entirely until another road block robot will be installed. There are very few entrances to Christiania. With the two entrances blocked by road block robots the Christianites believe they can rid themselves from the problem of harassing traffic.
Since the 1970s, the Gay House (Bøssehuset), one of Christiania's autonomous institutions, had been a center for gay activism, parties and theatre. The humorous and artistically high-ranking variety-style shows still have fame among Copenhagen homosexuals.
In 2002, a group of young gay performers and activists, Dunst, were invited to take over the house so it could remain a center 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 claimed they received verbal abuse, threatening letters, and even in one instance, had a baseball bat brandished against them. Some disliked Dunst's loud parties and their contemporary electro-punk style music being described as techno. After 9 months, they were asked to leave Christiania.
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.
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. Four or five others had minor back and leg injuries. A perpetrator has not been found.
Since its opening, Christiania has been famous for its open cannabis trade, taking place in the aptly named and centrally located 'Pusher Street', although named 'Green Light District' by the Christianian council. 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. Even though the police have attempted to stop the drug trade, the cannabis market is still thriving in Christiania.
One of the most significant community accomplishments in the history of Christiania was the 'junk blockade' in November 1979. The government was still very hostile but the community faced other acute challenges as well. Many Christiania residents were interested in mind-altering techniques, including psychotropic substances. 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 had 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.
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' users. 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, conspicuously leaving the heroin ring untouched.
The police gave the names of "cooperating Christianites" to the hash dealers, and they had to leave Christiania for fear of reprisals.
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.
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. They are still not being sold in Pusher Street, though. The use of cocaine, amphetamines, and other substances has been on the rise for the past decade and is a problem all over Denmark. It does affect Christiania as well, but the ban on hard drugs is still guiding the recreational activities in the community. People in Christiania deal with it frequently but are still willing to keep the community open and their values intact.
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 resulted in sabotage acts directed towards the bikers as well as the publication of several provocative manuscripts urging the Christianites to throw out the powerful and armed bikers. This tension culminated when the police found a murdered individual who had been sliced to pieces and buried beneath the floor of a building. Christiania reacted with two colossal community meetings—one outside the building—where it was agreed that the bikers had to leave.
The Hells Angels recently had established themselves in Copenhagen and the leaders of Bullshit were murdered in a war over the drug trade in Copenhagen including Christiania.
A biker war between the Hells Angels and rival gangs over the drug trade continued in Copenhagen from the murder of the leader of Bullshit, 'Makrel', who controlled the cannabis trade in Christiania, through to 1996.
Since its opening in 1971, the open drug trade of Christiania was a thorn in the side of Danish authorities, a constant source of public discussion, and led to protests from neighbouring countries as well (especially Sweden with its no-tolerance drug policy). When the centre-right cabinet of Anders Fogh Rasmussen took office in 2001, one of its promises was to end illegal activities at Christiania. These were, including the obvious cannabis market, a long list of alleged criminal activities; the politicians demanded the end of 'hard drugs' sales, such as cocaine and amphetamines, weapons trade, dealing with contraband etc. The Christiania residents claim them to be purely speculative accusations and that they are obviously based upon sinister rumors and political spin to take the focus away from the real meaning of the Freetown. It is observed to be another weapon in the government's fight against the community and the "normalization" of the area. It is a common left-wing observation that by emphasizing the most illegal part of the Freetown (the Cannabis trade) and associating it with the local bikers, street gangs and other groups of criminal intent, the basis of the community becomes more confusing to the public, causing sympathy for the Freetown to drop. As of 2010 this tactic has not scared the tourists away.
In 2002, the government began aiming to make the cannabis trade less visible. In response, the cannabis sellers covered their stands in military camouflage nets as a humorous reply. On January 4, 2004, the stands were finally demolished by the cannabis dealers the 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. 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, police raided the area. Allegedly, many dealers started to move huge amounts of cannabis 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 cannabis by customers. According to both police and other sources the number of marijuana 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 the northwestern 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 cannabis sales in Christiania. The gang responsible for the shootings of 2005 was one of these. See above: 2005 shooting and murder
The open cannabis trade has since returned to the way it was before the 2004 raids.
The open cannabis trade in Christiania has been hailed by some Danes and seen as a source of constant annoyance by others. The center-right government took a number of steps to enforce the law in Christiania. The first step in this process was a police crackdown on the cannabis trade. Both politicians and police declared that the cannabis trade would not be allowed to return. The second (and currently ongoing) phase is the registration of all buildings in Christiania. The third step will be the demolition of a number of wooden private residences situated in a nature conservation area (the historic naval fortress of Copenhagen). These buildings had all been approved by the authorities before the new government passed the current law on Christiania. For the last 15 years the government has not allowed construction in Christiania. This is now being enforced on a zero-tolerance policy with the help of a massive police presence. This is regarded by Christiania community as a government strategy to undermine the collective self-government of Christiania. They believe the government is planning to sell out building rights to private enterprises, in an attempt to force the freetown to accept the paradigm of private ownership and market capitalization of private property. The 900 or so inhabitants of Christiania have staked a claim for collective rights of use to all of Christiania, but this has been ignored by the government.
In 2004, the Danish government passed a law abolishing the collective and treating its 900 members as individuals. Beginning in the summer of 2005, a series of protests were staged by Christiania members. During the same time, Danish police have made frequent sweeps of the area.
The Christiania Café Månefiskeren set up a board recording the number 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 consisted 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.
In September 2007, the representatives of Christiania and Copenhagen's city council reached an agreement to cede control of Christiania to the city over the course of 10 years for the purposes of business development. Also, as of May 2009, the Eastern High Court upheld a 2004 Act of Parliament which reaffirmed the state's legal claim to control of the base.
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 emphasized 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.—Christian Wedell-Neergaard
It’s a question of principle, whether a group of people should be allowed to occupy a large part of government property in central Copenhagen. There’s no question that what they’ve been doing is illegal… they seized government property and have been living on it and that’s worth a lot of money now.—Karsten Lauritzen, Member of Parliament from Danish party Venstre
The Minister of Finance from the Liberal Party (Venstre), part of the then ruling coalition, 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 built new houses as suggested, to ensure a development of the Christiania-area with varied ownership-models.
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 jury. 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 normalisation 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.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Christiania.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Christiania.|