It was my second day in Denmark, and against all the alarm signals blaring inside my head, I took a tentative step into the hidden, and as I later found out, sometimes, scary autonomous region of Freetown Christiania, a former military barracks area in the Christianshavn side of Copenhagen.
Freetown or Fristaden Christiania is a definite must-see in Copenhagen. From its humble beginnings as a former military barracks in 1971, it has grown to be an independent community with its own charter, the Christiania Law of 1989.
Artists, musicians, social outcasts, gypsies and people of questionable habits have all gathered and formed the community. It’s hard to keep track of the number of people who live in Christiania, but rough estimates place the number of regular residents between 800 to 1,000.
Even with the questionable reputation of the people who live in it, however, the neighborhood continues to attract the interest and wonder of its global visitors.
Tourists who are after a different ‘trip’, travel to Christiania to buy cannabis and other controlled pharmaceuticals in Christiania’s Green Light District. Some residents grow their own cannabis at the comfort of their own backyard, and Copenhagen authorities seem to look the other way.
The main rule you should observe at all times? No cameras allowed to protect the identities of both Christiania’s residents and visitors. You’ve been warned.
Unfortunately, I learned of this rule only after I entered Christiania’s gates.
Like what any sane and curious traveler would do, I started taking pictures of the place as soon as saw its entrance gate. I continued to snap photos as I approached the entrance gardens and alternative sculptures until I passed the opening threshold.
Not a minute sooner, however, a guy, tall as a Viking approached me and ordered me to erase the pictures I took. It’s either that or he breaks the camera.
He wasn’t physically threatening me at all, but one look at his huge frame and bulking biceps, as compared to my humble 5’7 frame, convinced me that he could easily swat me like a bug, hahaha.
In short, I didn’t need further encouragement.
Without another word, I deleted the incriminating photos. My only consolation was he let me keep the pictures of the opening gardens of the community. But the rest of the pictures including of the weed stores inside the Green Light District are gone forever.
Fortunately, I had a good look of the place so I know how it looks like. There are stalls in the middle of the Green Light District offering smoke pipes, weeds, bags, tie-dyed shirts, and flags bearing the face of Bob Marley (how cliché, I thought). I don’t take drugs, but I know enough to see the paraphernalia used for such hobby. I saw glass tubes used for Ice (methampethamine), ecstasy, cocaine. It was crazy.
The prices are a bit expensive, but its Scandinavia so prices are really higher than the rest of Europe.
I wasn’t happy at all with the Viking guy ordering me to delete my photos, but to be fair he was only enforcing Christiania’s main rule so I eventually found peace in that fact.
Despite that incident, I later, got to realize how cool the place was after joining a mini musical jam among some of the residents and international visitors at the small hill near the Green Light District.
In a loose circle, we sang to some reggae songs and the rest sang traditional Danish folk songs. Some cannabis was obviously passed around our circle but I happily declined. I settled for some herrings and cheese.
Scanning the faces of the people gathered in that circle, I imagined myself living in Denmark, able to come back to this happy place again and again, singing song with some of the most amazing people you will ever meet.
I went back to my hotel pas midnight, and I still couldn’t shake the fun I had inside Christiania.
I also had an important realization about life, people, and their tendency to judge without knowing.
Boris, a German guy I was jamming with, said it one thought-provoking statement. “People in Christiania are happy, because they don’t give a f**k about what other’s think, or say”
People, in general, he said, are sometimes quick to judge others based on personal appearance and their religion, habits or sexual preference. There is very little we can do about it, because let’s face it, that’s life, and no matter the country or culture, there will always be people who won’t like you for who you are.
The subject of these judgments or can feel all the negativism or they can just shrug them off, and face each day with a smile treating each other with kindness. The people who live in Christiania, decided to band together and live in a place where everyone understands the others.
I won’t claim to really know everyone in Christiania, but the few residents and visitors I have met had a great impact on me.
And it dawned on me that if you can find positivism in a place condemned by others, maybe there is still hope for some kind of understanding and acceptance.We just have to keep searching and fighting for them.