Is Christiania and Pusher Street Closed?

Christiania, one of Copenhagen’s most iconic tourist attractions, is on the cusp of a major makeover. The semi-autonomous “Free town” of Christiania sits nestled in the heart of central Copenhagen on an old military base and is most famous for Pusher Street and its Green Light District where Hash and Marijuana are openly sold despite being illegal in Denmark.  The story goes that a group of hippy squatters moved into the base in the 70s and took it over. Since it started Christiania has been largely left alone and currently serves as home to roughly 900 people living in a self governed democracy.

In recent years there has been increasing pressure for Christiania to re-integrate. In part, this has been due to an increase in crime tied to Christiania’s famous “Pusher Street” as the vendors have pivoted from casual and friendly sales by local residents, to gangs and outside groups eager to peddle harder wares and who have an inclination towards violence. Added semi-frequent raids by the Copenhagen police have only served to further the divide.

Over the last few years there has been an uneasy truce. Police would periodically raid Christiania, or set up stop-and-search stations in the nearby Christianshavn metro station, but would otherwise largely leave Christiania alone. The aim has been to focus on driving re-integration through economic and political means by working to normalize the free town, working with its leadership, without stripping away much of what has made the community special.

All of this changed August 31st when two police officers and a civilian were shot by an armed dealer mid-arrest. The dealer was later shot and killed. At the heart of Christiania and Pusher Street there has always been a simple unwritten rule: No guns and no violence. It is part of what has differentiated Christiania and made it stand out as an exciting and welcoming experiment. A casual hippie free town, that focuses on artistry, quirks and living daily life, Christiania has always been a safe place, full of families, and which served as a crossroads between people from all different backgrounds and trades from bankers to boat hands, CEOs to young children and their families.

Christiania Has Lost Its Charm

During my initial visit to Copenhagen in July of 2009 my host made sure that Christiania was part of the two-day whirlwind tour.  The small freetown of Christiania is a fascinating place.  With a history that dates back to the 70s, the town considers itself an autonomous kommune completely independent of the Danish Government. This, despite being situated on what was in the early 70s, an abandoned Danish military base, in the very heart of Denmark’s capital.

The freetown, which has become most famous for its green light district called Pusher’s Street and the open sale of marijuana, was far more than just that. It was a fantastic artist community awash in creative and earthy experiments. It was not only safe, but felt it as well.  All while being family-friendly and the type of place where everyone congregated – be it businessmen in suits, families with young children, or the typical crop-cut washout thug.

Summer Sun – Weekly Travel Photo

Copenhagen in June

For Danes and their expat guests alike summer is a special treat. It comes as a reward for those who have survived the long dark winter months and while Denmark is not nearly as cold as one might imagine, days with more than 17 hours of near complete darkness can be a hefty challenge. So, it is with an unusual zeal and zest for the sun that Danes embrace the spring and summer months where the opposite occurs.  With less than four hours of darkness at the summer’s apex, there is ample time to bask in the warmth of the sun.

This creates an incredible sun-centered summer culture in Denmark where locals flood the streets for no better reason than spending a few relaxing moments outdoors. Visitors often note a certain level of surprise at the hundreds of Danes lounging along the city’s many bridges, wonderful outdoor cafes, and the thousands of Danes that add color, vibrancy, and the scent of BBQ to the city’s many parks.

I snapped this photo while meandering my way through Christianshavn’s back streets. The Christianshavn part of town lies in the heart of Copenhagen and is crisscrossed by a series of small canals.  It is a wonderfully historic district, full of beautifully painted old buildings and sagging cobblestone streets.  The building’s walls are decorated by thousands of leaning bicycles, while doorways are often framed by blooming rose bushes.  In the photo above, I captured a Danish woman relaxing in the sun while chatting on her phone. Half lost in conversation and half distracted by the afternoon’s warmth. For me, it helps showcase the charm and spirit of summer in Copenhagen – something that everyone should experience.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Beer, Subways and Hedgehogs

The Canal - Copenhagen, Denmark

A quick update – things have been pretty hectic here. I started classes last week and was delighted to find that most of the reading was engaging, relevant, and genuinely interesting. Both of my professors seem to be friendly, supportive, and engaging.  All in all a promising start.

On the other side of things I’m still waiting for my Visa to come through.  Danish immigration services have given me inaccurate information several times so far slowing down the process. Frustrating. I’m hoping that I finally fixed the last issue and will get my Visa and CPR (basically your Danish drivers license/social security card) later this week.  Not having a CPR has been absolutely brutal as it’s required for everything – from signing up for a bank account to registering for a cell phone plan.  Housing is also an absolute nightmare here with virtually no support from the University. I’m still looking, but find that anything near the city center typically gets snapped up in a matter of hours.  Definitely a change of pace from what I was familiar with in Phoenix.

BUT, I’m sure you’re wondering what hedgehogs have to do with this article right?

Last night I was heading home from a friend’s birthday party at about 4:30AM.  After a night spent chatting with new friends I made my way to the Christianshavn metro station dodging past the bums sleeping at the entrance and preparing to hop on the escalators that would carry me the 2-3 stories down to the metro line. As I neared the escalator a marginally sober Danish woman in her 40s? approached me in a flurry telling me she needed my help with an animal (first in Danish and then in English).  Initially thinking she was just a weird drunk I was a bit hesitant at first, but I quickly noticed a small spiny critter sitting huddled on the 3rd step down on the now halted escalator.

She had a large sweater with which she was trying to move the little guy, but given his spines, and her fear of him she ended up jumping up and down/back more than actually moving him.  After getting over my disbelief at drunkenly running into a hedgehog randomly in the middle of a metro station at 5AM in the heart of Copenhagen I tried to figure out how to help the little guy.  Though unsure his chances were much better up-top I felt fairly certain that the odds for the little guy surviving the night, and passing drunks in the metro station were significantly worse.  I gingerly took the sweater and slowly scooped up hedgehog as he bristled, talking to him soothingly and trying to calm him before carrying him up, and out of the metro.  All the while trying to remember if hedgehogs had the ability to shoot spines like a porcupine, and hoping that he continued to be fairly docile despite being carried.  Luckily I avoided getting poked, stabbed or shot with a quill and was able to walk him a ways along the canal and down by some trees and bushes before releasing him.

One thing is for certain – Copenhagen continues to shock and entertain me.

For now – I’m off to the next adventure!