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The beautiful golden summer afternooned canals of Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark
Nyhaven -- Copenhagen Copenhagen Street Scene
Copenhagen Street Scene
Norrebro Copenhagen Gallery
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Danish Capital Nyhaven, Copenhagen
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Monday, March 05, 2007

Christiana Riots

FIRST IT WAS PARIS, THEN IT WAS SYDNEY, AND NOW IT IS COPENHAGEN WHICH IS FACING TRIAL BY RIOT. As today's edition of the Guardian newspaper reported: "Copenhagen is burning. For four days the downtown area of the Danish capital has looked like a war zone. At least 690 people have been arrested, many of them younger than 18. As I write, Copenhagen is still trying to recover from a most violent confrontation between supporters of Ungdomshuset (the Youth House) - a Danish squat that has been at the heart of the Danish youth subculture since 1980 - and the police who had just evicted the squatters.

"Such was the ferocity when the conflict culminated Friday and Saturday night that several parts of Copenhagen were rioting simultaneously. From Nørrebro, where Ungdomshuset is situated, to Christianshavn, where the free town of Christiania is, sleepy Copenhagen was transformed into something reminiscent of Belfast in the bad old days. International riot supporters from Sweden, Germany and Holland arrived by their hundreds and Danish police had to borrow vehicles from neighbouring Sweden to cope with the ever-increasing numbers of arrests. Police officers have been wounded, as have many protesters, members of the press have been beaten up and cars and houses set on fire. Something rather un-Danish is going on in Denmark it seems, but everybody knew the conflict was coming.

"The squatters, who have resided in Ungdomshuset since 1982, follow a Danish squatting tradition. In the 1970s and at the start of the 80s, when Ungdomshuset came into existence, The BZ-movement was active. The BZ-squatters were predominantly peaceful and enjoyed a lot of support from the locals. Their greatest victory was the standoff with the police at a squat called Alotria, where the squatters famously dug an underground tunnel out of the house. When the police finally stormed the premises, the youths had escaped through the underground tunnel.

"How things have changed. Back then, Denmark was going through a rough spell with unemployment and the youths had every reason to take a "no future" stance. Political tension was in the air, recurring anti-nuclear demonstrations and massive disarmament rallies created a feeling of togetherness on the political left, and the radical youth was merely the extreme part of this togetherness.

"Today Copenhagen is one of Europe's most affluent cities, a place focusing on its commercial success and materialism, which creates a strong tendency to political apathy - much like in Britain. From being a social democratic stronghold Demark is today libertarian to a large degree. The material middle-classes have little understanding for young wild bloods, and maybe this in part explains the protesters' increasingly aggressive and confrontational stance..."

I HAVE BEEN TO BANGKOK NUMEROUS TIMES, I HAVE SMOKED THE ROSE-SCENTED HOOKAH PIPES OF DAHAB, BUMBED DOWN ON THE BEAUTIFUL BEACHES OF BYRON BAY IN AUSTRALIA -- I HAVE EVEN HAD A COUPLE OF OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCES IN THAT NOTORIOUS SIN CITY AMSTERDAM. In 2003 I visited another of the alternative traveller's global Mecca -- the "FreeTown" of Christiania, Copenhagen. The cool thing is that I didn't know much about the place before I visited there, and wasn't expecting much. I just went walking one brilliant summer afternoon, started following some likely looking canals, and before I knew it I was in wonderland. The day ended on a totally sublime and unexpected note as I smoked some forbidden weed in a beautiful Nordic park, and entered into Paradise. But this is a Paradise under threat, as I will presently relate.

According to "This little section of Copenhagen is pure culture shock for most Americans. Christiana is a section of abandoned warehouses and buildings that have been taken over by squatters." Madd Maxx Hammer (supporting Pandera on their European tour) said: "One of the most incredible experiences of my life happened in a very small community situated inside Copenhagen, Denmark. I am not quite sure but I think the place is called Christiana."

I must confess, I have been a Scandinaviaphile ever since I was a child. I can't explain quite how I developed this condition -- perhaps as a child growing up in hot, arid Australia, it was amazing to think there was a place on the other side of the world where Christmas's were white and spruce trees covered every hilltop, under a blazing Aurora sky. In my imagination Scandinavia was the anti-Australia -- the pure roof of the world where everything was clear and rarefied as the pure clean Arctic air. I used to love Scandinavian pop and rock music as well and found something of the genre which spoke to my heart directly, like the call of the wild. I always knew, even at a young age, that I would have to spend a big part of my life there. Unfortunately, as the years went by, with Scandinavia over there on the other side of the big globe, I had no chance to reach this most magical of Promised Lands. However, I did venture to some other magical lands, which I enjoyed well enough -- the dens of Bangkok and Amsterdam, the golden aforementioned sands of Dahab. I saw the Pyramids of Giza and the holy mosques of Istanbul. In 2003 I finally decided it was time to seek my heart's desire, and I booked a ticket to Iceland, the country of my fondest dreams. I decided to stop over in Copenhagen on the way.

August 22 2003, and after an epic air voyage over Asia and Europe, it was time for my introduction to the Republic of Christiana. Luckily I had caught Europe in the middle of its warmest summer in more than 30 years, and the sunshine beaming on to the streets and parks and canals of Copenhagen was idyllic in the extreme. I had gone out with my friend Louise through the fairy night districts of the city, received compliments on my crazy Japanese shirt at a street party, then had my own beer spilt all over it due to the antics of the crazy crowd. I was on a tight budget this holiday -- I couldn't afford another beer! Louise had walked me home to my hotel -- SleepIn Heaven at Norrebro. I had asked Louise what was worth seeing in Copenhagen. She recommended Christiania.

Now, more than a few travellers have remarked that Copenhagen has nothing to offer the modern sightseer. Compared to the great capitals of Europe it has been called dull, dirty, and depressing. I don't necessarily agree, and I think that people who say this haven't been to Christiania -- or perhaps they have been to Christiania and they don't dig drugs, so they get disgusted by it. Certainly there is a disgusting element at work in Christiana, but it is so mixed in with Nordic elegance and Scandinavian purity, it doesn't really matter. Christiania is amazing because it seems so cute and so edgy -- at the very same time! Sunlight shines through rustic streets lined by flowers and gaudily painted houses. Blond children play in a beautiful park while in the undergrowth behind, a group of Russian men haggle their way through a cocaine deal. As a reviewer on Trip Advisor wrote: "Marijuana and Hasih are prevalant everywhere and there are a few selections of Mushrooms, if that's your trip. Don't bring a camera because it will be broken on the spot. But that's not to say that the people there are not kind. There are no "hard" drugs allowed there which is nice and there are plenty of different vendors to buy food and/or gifts. Also, there are dogs there that are about 200lbs or more just wandering around, just to warn you, and they LOVE their masters."

Christiania had its birth in 1971 when hippies, squatters and political activists invaded an abandoned military base in the heart of Copenhagen. When I visited I approached from the heart of Copenhagen, and almost stumbled upon the magical little kingdom by mistake (the way magical kingdoms SHOULD be found, naturally!) On the brilliant summer's day I had crossed Copenhagen's big central canal by way of the Langebro Bridge, and discovered a cool swimming pool with diving board in the Havneparken. Not far further along I found a most beautiful stretch of waterway and green trees and chalky path which just didn't stop -- it was the bank of the Stadsgraven. This long arc of greenery led me eventually, and almost by chance, into the heart of Christiania.

This site, considered one of the most gorgeous in all Copenhagen, was renamed the "Free Town of Christiania" back in the 1970s. Remarkably, the authorities didn't storm the place but with typical Scandinavian patience and open-mindedness, they humoured the hippies (recently the situation has changed, and police have started raiding the commune). The settlement was legalised and the Christianites were allowed to govern themselves. They even designed their own flag (shown above). Each year the alternative housing and relaxed atmosphere attracts over half a million visitors, making Christiania the third largest tourist attraction in Copenhagen after the Little Mermaid and Tivoli. In my point of view it is not only the best attraction in Copenhagen, but THE ONLY REASON TO VISIT COPENHAGEN -- especially if smoking weed is on your holiday agenda. There is much more to Christiania than that, of course, but good weed always brings out more value in a day!

I found my salvation on Christiania's infamous Pusher Street. Numerous stalls had been set up, selling marijuana in various modes of being. I bought a pre-rolled joint (no tobacco), 60 Kronurs. I stopped for a beer at a genuinely scary bar, packed with dogs and men. It reminded me of that bar in Mos Eisley where Luke Skywalker first meets Han Solo -- a repository of scum and villainry! I moved on instead to a beautiful park where I could smoke freely, surrounded by the quaintest in Scandinavian architecture. Suddenly -- instantly -- everything made sense. I could understand the secret language of birds. Indeed, all the secrets of the Universe opened up to me that moment -- and deep within the Earth, it was as if the poles were shifting! It was just another gorgeous Sunday afternoon, in the Free Town of Christiania!

s c a n d i n a v i a n : h i g h l i g h t s

NEXT: Norrebro, the Multicultural Heart of Copenhagen




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