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Danish Hippie Colony Thrives as "Paradise for Losers"
by Lars Foyen
Nov 24, 1995
CHRISTIANIA, Denmark, Nov 24 (Reuter) - Behind the graffiti-sprayed walls of an evacuated military compound, a Danish hippie colony continues to live out a 1960s dream of anarchy, love and marijuana. Christiania, a picturesque 18th century citadel comprising 35 hectares (86 acres) of prime waterfront real estate in central Copenhagen, was occupied by hippie squatters in 1971 who declared it an autonomous "free town."

About 700 adults and 250 children still live in the controversial compound which ordinary Danes see as either a worthy social experiment or a provocative anachronism.

"Christiania is as close to anarchy as you will ever get," explained Wanda Liszt, a spokesman of the Christianites, as the free town's inhabitants call themselves. "Our only laws are: "no hard drugs', "no guns', "no violence' and "no cars'."

Some 500,000 people visit Christiania each year, many coming to buy marijuana on the infamous "Pusher Street" where soft drugs are openly displayed, or for the area's restaurants, night spots, rock concerts and theatres.

"Social security clients...the young with no jobs, the homeless -- they all come here to enjoy the peaceful green setting and the magical mixture of village and urban life," says a Christiania guide leaflet. "They cannot find these things where they live, in dark apartments and dreary institutions where nobody has time to talk and a person enjoying a beer on a park bench is frowned upon," it says. "Christiania is a paradise for losers."

A visitor to Christiania is struck by the heaps of junk and rubbish, the smell of firewood used to heat the old stone barracks, building facades in need of a coat of paint and seemingly passive people. "Laws. No thanks," someone has scrawled on a wall.

"Who's to decide how clean Christiania should be. Should the inhabitants set the standards or should you. We don't go poking around your backyard," says Peter Soerensen, another Christianite spokesman.

Half of Christiania's inhabitants live on the Danish state's generous social security cheques but there is a dynamic side to the community. It has its own day-care centres for children, a cinema, an opera, various workshops, a bathhouse, a hairdresser, riding stables, shops, art galleries and even a post office. "Christianites also receive mail," said Liszt with a grin. "Usually from the authorities.

"Christiania is like the old Montmartre (bohemian) quarter in Paris with its ragtag mixture of people. Although you won't find artists like Toulouse-Lautrec here, you will find the odd pickpocket and whore," Liszt said. A row of new private houses, some quite fashionable, which residents built along a scenic waterfront, tell another story.

"You'll find all kinds here, hippies, drug dealers, and even people with rather bourgeois lifestyles, leaving their kids at the day-care centre, working nine to five and watching television in the evening," Soerensen said. Christiania does not believe in representational democracy through majority decisions. It is ruled through open meetings at local house, area and community levels where, in principle, all must agree for a decision to be carried out. The community's relations with the Danish state and the Defence Ministry, which owns the area, have always been stormy.

But Denmark, with a tradition for tolerance and shunning confrontation, has never sent in police or troops to throw the squatters out. Plans to somehow evict them faded as Christiania became an accomplished fact. In the late 1970s, a motorcycle gang moved in and began using Christiania as headquarters for the hard drug trade and turned it into a red-light district. The Christianites kicked out the gang and the hard drugs trade in 1980.

The 1990s have seen the start of peaceful co-existence between the Freetown and the Defence Ministry which agreed to let the anarchists stay if they paid utility bills, taxes and Value Added Tax, maintained the buildings and abided by drug laws. Defence Ministry section chief Soeren Stensbo said Christiania was, perhaps, not such a bad deal for society.

"It would cost a lot more to house these people in city apartments and social institutions, and to provide municipal day-care for their children," he said. But many Christianites have mixed feelings about "normalisation," its effects on autonomy and on the marijuana trade which police want to stamp out. "Why not normalise the rest of society instead, let it enjoy our kind of self-government. Why can't we be allowed to enjoy a leisurely marijuana joint in the sun without being harassed by police," said Soerensen.