the Christiania Free State (as it calls itself; and/or
Freetown Christiania) in August of 2000
to see an experiment
in free association
, non-authoritarian communitarianism
, etc. Essentially, I wanted to see what I'd heard was the closest thing to an anarchist
It didn't exactly work out that way.
A very abbreviated capsule history:
Christiania is on the site of an abandoned military base in the eastern section of Copenhagen. It began, essentially, as a squatting community that evolved a self-government structure and an internally socialist economy, with as much revenue as possible distributed throughout the community for basic services (garbage collecting, recycling, etc.) and maintenance. Christiania buys water and electricity from Copenhagen and, apparently, has to pay rent to the city as well.
The community has had many pitched battles (primarily legal, but with some police crackdowns) with the city and the state of Denmark over the years in regards to its status. Christiania's only real weapon has been public opinion, and, as such, uses theater, art, and community activism to spread its message and maintain its image.
As far as Copenhagen and Denmark are concerned, they officially "tolerate" Christiania as a "social experiment", and largely leave it alone.
Christiania supports itself primarily via commerce with the outside world. Residents can grow subsistance crops if they choose, but there isn't enough land for large-scale farming. Or, at the very least, I didn't see any large-scale farming. Christiania has a very good bicycle shop which builds and sells bicycles, various and sundry general stores and, most importantly, the hash market.
Christiania survives financially because it is allowed to sell hash. People come from all over Copenhagen and beyond to peruse the open-air hash market (conveniently located on "Pusherstreet"), go to the bars and see concerts at The Grey Hall. So, in a way, you could say that Christiania's primary source of revenue is tourism.
Hence the problem for those of us foreigners who really want to see how the place operates.
The residents are used to dealing with tourists in one of two ways: as drug customers or gawkers. They give guided tours of the community; making some money from all the people who want to come see the freaky weird free-livin' Christianians. So, basically, outsiders are tolerated as a necessary nuisance.
My friends and I couldn't get anyone to talk to us. We were clearly tourists, as we had huge frame packs and weren't particularly clean (and spoke only English). While no one was flat-out rude, it was clear they had no interest in conversing with us.
And we had no place to stay. We'd envisioned being able to find accomodations in Christiania; ideally on some resident's floor. No such luck. And, as we couldn't get into any hostels in greater Copenhagen, we returned to Christiania and slept on the grass in their "town square".
They were nice enough not to kick us out until around 9:30 AM, and even then we were invited to stay for breakfast.
In the end we didn't get to learn much. We wanted to know how people could become a part of the community, how, where and when people were allowed to build houses (which they were clearly doing...great examples of DIY architecture), etc. But all we really got was an example of what happens when the economic base of your separatist community is dependent on money from the outside.
Christiania is really interesting, but is at heart an extremely compromised vision of an autonomous, libertarian-socialist community.