One reason why I chose Copenhagen to visit is to see Freetown Christiania with my own two eyes. This place is So. Weird.
Freetown Christiania is a partially self-governing neighborhood of approximately 850 residents, covering 85 acres in the borough of Christianshavn. It established semi-legal status as an independent community, which has been a source of controversy since its creation in a squatted military area in 1971. Its open marijuana trade was tolerated by authorities until 2004 but since then, attempts to legalize the community has been a source of conflict.
Although Christiania is only a five-minute walk from the Best Restaurant in the World, Noma, I spy two people (not together) smoking joints along the way (they like their substances here). Its brightly-illustrated entrance is straight out of H.R. Pufnstuf (can you believe that was the name of a children’s series?): I feel as though I should skip through the archway. The gallery-worthy graffiti continues inside — everywhere.
Christiania is big-time Hippyville. I’m uncomfortable here, but I’m the exception: a swarm of high-schoolers bopped in front of me into the village and made themselves at home in a cafe. They’re obviously indifferent to what strikes me as very bizarre surroundings.
I tentatively approach the turn onto the notorious Pusher Street, the largest open soft-drug market in Scandinavia. Whiffs of patchouli and reggae music greet me. A sign instructs me to put away my camera and I do (but not before getting off one shot): I’ve read that it will be snatched from my hands if I photograph an illegal transaction. The thoroughfare — a shell of its former self (pre-government crack-down) — is a depressing sight: scruffy dogs and even scruffier people roam aimlessly.
I’m sure they’re harmless in Christiania and I’m just uptight, but I cannot get out of here quickly enough. I am NOT in the Midwest any longer.
A totem pole-style arch warns me that I’m returning to the EU. I’m happy I saw Christiania and I’m happy to leave it.