Counterculture

Can Christiania Survive?

A countercultural enclave in Denmark fights for its life.

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Pusherstreet isn't what it used to be. The leading source of retail cannabis in all of Denmark, in one of the largest and oldest anarchic enclaves in all of Europe, is no longer the bustling, friendly spice bazaar of years gone by. There's a raw, on-the-hunt, bracing vibe here now. Young, shaven-head toughs in drab garb gather around fires in metal barrels, surreptitiously directing the illicit traffic. Mutts wander unleashed, some trained to whisk contraband away in the event of a raid by the politi (police).

Looking out of place in my loafers and sport coat, I step under a crudely rigged tarp canopy and into a makeshift hash stand where wares are displayed on a tree trunk and a wooden barrel, to query the chaps there about the changes the place has undergone. After a couple of minutes, the pusher in chief, who wears a black sweater pulled up over his mouth to hide his identity, grows weary of my questions. "Leave!" he yells with a rasp and shoves me away.

There was a time when hash and skunk were sold here from 40 stalls in an open-air market staffed by knowledgeable hepcats. But that was prior to January 2004, when Copenhagen's politi, who for years were unofficially indifferent to the trade, finally showed up in huge force to bust it up once and for all. Dozens of local dealers were jailed, soon to be replaced by rival Turkish, Palestinian, and Balkan gangs, among others.

Pusherstreet, originally named to be absolutely upfront and unambiguous about what goes on there, is the commercial heart of the Freetown of Christiania, a scruffy micronation in the Danish capital's upscale, canal-incised Christianhavn district. This notorious community of utopian rebels, who expropriated the 85-acre former army barracks in 1971, has much more to deal with these days than a crimp in its marijuana business. Christiania is facing both an existential and a property rights crisis, with an aging population of '60s counterculturalists battling a less tolerant and increasingly antagonistic national government that sees great untapped value in the commune's waterfront land. The two sides are now facing off in one of the nation's most momentous court cases.

On September 26, 1971, Jacob Ludvigsen, a young editor at the underground weekly Hovedbladet (Head), raised a guerrilla army of six fellow travelers and invaded a recently abandoned army installation for a photo shoot. In the next weekend's edition, he proclaimed that the garrison had been overrun and summoned one and all to "emigrate with bus number 8."

Denmark at the time was between weak Social Democratic governments, and the hippie incursion went largely ignored for several weeks. Ludvigsen declared the walled-off property the "land of the settlers." The new haven—named Christiania, after the bohemian, pre-1924 Oslo—was soon populated by squatters, '68ers, artists, theater people, and DIY activists. Their mission statement, co-authored by Ludvigsen, called for a self-governing, self-sustaining community where the individual takes care of the collective.

Ludvigsen didn't stick around long enough to realize the dream, splitting the scene in early 1972 after being put off by the general lawlessness of the place, the pilfering of the barracks' plumbing fixtures and the like. Invoking Bob Dylan's admonition, "To live outside the law, you must be honest," Ludvigsen tells me today that the requisite honor among thieves wasn't there yet when he left. (Ludvigsen now lives on Bornholm, an island in the Baltic Sea that he playfully agitates to "liberate" from Danish "colonial" rule.)

Yet enough order managed to congeal that first year for the settlers to negotiate a temporary agreement with Denmark's Ministry of Defense by which the squatters could continue as a "social experiment," paying for water, utilities, and upkeep costs. Those who dug in were can-do crafts folk inspired, in part, by the Whole Earth Catalog, the latter-day homesteading manual. A system of self-governance was cobbled together in which most important decisions were made by consensus reached at common meetings held in Den Gra Hal (the Gray Hall), a structure once used for military drills.

Nearly four decades later, issues of tenancy, building maintenance, dispute resolution, and collections for the common purse continue to be handled in monthly meetings for each of the Freetown's 15 designated areas. There is no real estate market, speculative or otherwise. Change of residence is transaction-free; the right to occupy a given residence is decided by vote.

There are a few prohibitions within Christiania's confines: no violence, theft, weapons, cars, rocker (biker gang) badges, or hard drugs (everything but cannabis). Enforcement is incumbent on both the individual and the collective; no outside authority is recognized. In the 1980s, following some violent incidents, including a murder, urgent common meetings were called to unite on a policy to expel the Hell's Angels and later a gang named Bullshit. Bikers were thenceforth banned from the premises and, obligingly, haven't returned without invitation and without leaving their logo-stitched vests behind. After the overdose deaths of 10 addicts in the late '70s, the community mobilized to bodily remove heroin users and dealers in the momentous Junk Blockade of 1979–80, successfully prohibiting all drugs but pot and hash ever since; the ban is enforced by the cannabis merchants.

To confront offenders, phone chains are employed to marshal an instant volunteer civil guard, like the waves of unarmed Amish in the film Witness. Knowing that males are more likely to do battle with fellow men, Christiania's women band together by the dozen in crises to relieve young demonstrators of projectile rocks and bottles.

The 1972 pact with the Defense Ministry, which called for a competition to decide long-term plans for the property, was short-lived. The following year, a new national government came to power, and the Folketing (Parliament) gave Christianites a deadline of April 1, 1976, to vacate the area. When that day dawned sans tanks or troops, the Freetown erupted in an uproarious April Fool's Day celebration involving some 30,000 revelers. Feeling their oats, the Christianites then sued the state for breach of promise over its failure to hold the promised competition, but the Højesteret (Supreme Court) ultimately ruled against the action in 1978. Through many such cycles of tightening and loosening state pressure, the Freetown has continued to stand defiant.

Today, Christiania is Denmark's second biggest tourist attraction after Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. The Freetown has become a lucrative brand: Merchants outside the enclave pay royalties to Christiania for the use of its flag (three yellow dots on a red field) on T-shirts and other gear.

Critics of the squat dismiss Christianites as freeloaders, but that isn't really accurate. No, they don't pay "rent" per se, as Kristian Lyk-Jensen of the Danish Finance Ministry's Palaces and Properties Agency repeatedly stresses when I interview him, but they do pay a monthly user fee to the state, upkeep expenses, utilities, municipal taxes, and fees for some social services normally covered by the city. They've invested their own funds in the maintenance of the grounds, reconstruction of buildings, and modernization of the sewage system, adding value to the expropriated property.

With music halls and clubs that host such world-class performers as Bob Dylan and Metallica, plus art galleries, a women's ironworks, a high-class restaurant and bakery, and a bicycle factory, Christianites also have contributed tangible value to Denmark's culture and commerce. They sponsor a free health clinic staffed by resident doctors, and an annual Christmas dinner for hundreds of the city's less fortunate. By sheltering and tending to drug addicts, alcoholics, homeless Greenlanders, and unemployable madmen, they save the state millions of kroner in social welfare payments annually.

Christiania's immediate neighbors have few of the complaints you might expect about a Bacchanalian circus next door. Julius Lund, an urbane, bearded psychologist in his sixties who acts as spokesman of the neighborhood organization called Christiania's Neighbors, tells me that his group's main priority is to limit proposed new development in the area, preserving "the green lung of the city" as a recreational park open to the public.

The more distant authorities are not so tolerant. A permissive 1989 law had allowed the colony to continue indefinitely as a social experiment, but in 2004 the new center-right government nullifed the law. The current prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of the Liberal Party, has announced his intention to bring about a final resolution. If he has his way, Christiania's 900 or so men, women, and children will finally be "legalized" or "normalized," i.e., brought under the central government's regulations.

Knud Foldschack, Christiania's pro bono lawyer, is a veteran defender of underdog causes. When it comes to defending a ragtag band of aging hippie squatters against the Palaces and Properties Agency (which inherited the Christiania issue from the Defense Ministry in 2004), Foldschack knows he has his hands full.

The suit he filed, now being heard by the midlevel Eastern High Court, seeks to establish title to Christiania by virtue of the common-law right to property by adverse possession after 20 years of continuous use. But the fact that Christianites have engaged in a series of formal agreements with the state since 1972 (regarding taxes, expenses, and the like), would seem to preclude this right by contradicting the purportedly "adverse" nature of the occupation. Add the reality that Christianites are sitting on primo midtown waterfront real estate craved by developers, and you can see why Foldschack is not especially confident that he can win. Whichever side loses, the decision will almost certainly be appealed and eventually heard in the Supreme Court. Only recently, however, it seemed as if the dispute would be settled out of court.

Ever since the Christiania Act of 2004, the government has accelerated efforts to resolve outstanding grievances with the Freetown. In August 2007, a negotiating group assembled by the lord mayor of Copenhagen came up with the Aftalen Mellem Christiania og Staten. Instead of mass evictions, as Christiania residents had feared, the aftalen (deal) called for a more moderate solution. Only a portion of the post-1971 structures would be razed, to make way for the state's plan to restore the ramparts to their original 17th century condition, while the rest of Christiania's residences would be sold by the government (still its legal owner) at a modest, belowmarket rate to the philanthropic investor-developer Realdania, which would then lease the properties at far-below-market rates to Christiania residents via a housing foundation on whose board Christianites would have the majority vote.

The enclave would be partially managed by two other "sister" nonprofits. One would control commercial, cultural, and social institutions, while the other would oversee 24,000 square meters of new buildings financed by Realdania as an experimental "laboratory" for green architecture and engineering.

Each of the three negotiators who devised this deal, including Foldschack, expected the Christianites to accept. But Freetowners were wary about the loss of control, and so chose to accept the basic framework while leaving some issues on the table for further negotiation. Such as: the fate of most of the allegedly illegal structures, the integration of some of the collectively held residential buildings into the speculative market kept outside the fortress walls for nearly four decades. Government officials took this answer as a "no" and told Christianites they'd see them in court, where the case heard opening arguments in November.

It's not as though residents don't want to end their eternal legal limbo, or that they oppose all development. On the contrary, the aging squatters say they'd like to build new housing for younger generations and continue to show off their ecological engineering and design prowess.

A team of Christiania architects hatched a development plan of their own for the community, which won the prestigious Initiative Award for the Beautification of Copenhagen in 2006 and was partly incorporated into the aftalen.

"We want to be legal," says Nils Vest, Christiania's press liaison andunofficial spokesman (the Freetown has no formal leaders), "with the right to develop our physical community on our own premises, according to our development plan, and to decide ourselves who shall be allowed to enter as new residents."

Negotiator Jesper Nygård, director of KAB, Denmark's oldest cooperative housing association management firm (which would have set up the housing foundation called for in the aftalen), warns that the graying residents are risking their best opportunity to bring in much-needed capital and avoid stagnation. "If they win the lawsuit," the jovial, round-faced executive says, "then it's like a Christmas tree without presents under it."

Foldschack, whose law-partner wife once lived in Christiania, had urged a yes vote on the aftalen with surprising vehemence, considering that he's chief attorney in the Freetown's lawsuit. "Everyone in Denmark remembers Christiania as a good thing from times past," he tells me. "Not today. I think today it is in a very big crisis. The young and the good, strong people have left. If you keep it as a museum, it will be very uninteresting."

And it's not like all of Denmark is united in making nice with the semiautonomous enclave. The nationalist Danish People's Party, which is pivotal to the government's majority coalition, wants no accommodation with Christiania whatsoever. Parliament member Marlene Harpsøe, the party's spokesperson on the issue, was scandalized by the "upsetting" cannabis trade she saw on display there on her last visit, some 10 years ago with her mother. "You can be very addicted to it," she says. "You can be very mentally ill by smoking it. It can ruin your life." Harpsøe says she's unaware of the details of the aftalen, but she knows one thing for sure: The settlement is "illegal," and its inhabitants must be evicted.

Denmark's highly homogenous society—around 90 percent of the population is Scandinavian, 95 percent is Evangelical Lutheran, and an even larger percentage is European white—has a long tradition of communitarianism. Few places could muster the social cohesion of the 4,300 residents of windblown Samsø Island, for example, who joined together during the last decade to achieve the singular feat of going carbon neutral. But individual rights are also embraced. Freedom of expression, even for extremists, is enshrined in law. (Unlike in neighboring Germany, the Nazi Party is legal here.) It should be no surprise that Denmark is the birthplace of "cohousing," a 1960s innovation in which families combine their autonomous, private living spaces with shared community facilities such as kitchens and play areas.

The nation's emphasis on community, with latitude for quirky, even renegade applications, goes a long way toward explaining the phenomenon of Christiania. Even the enclave's "national anthem" celebrates both collective purpose and individual freedom, albeit with tongue-in-cheek naiveté and paranoia: "The only place with freedom enough for everybody…/ Rumors try to smear Christiania / People get filled with shit about us / Thousands are taught to hate our guts / Without knowing who we are."

Off the distraction of Pusherstreet and onto Christiania's footpaths and cobblestone roads, one can see that the settlement is a society of artisans who respect both the seaside ecology and the preindustrial, Hobbit shire–like architecture of the place. I had an opportunity to enjoy the warm, spare, and humbly elegant aesthetic of the enclave's built environment (on display in the coffee table book Christiania Interiør) at the invitation of Nils Vest and his wife, actress Britta Lillesøe, unofficial cultural coordinator for Christiania.

Vest, a ruddy-faced man in his sixties, earns his living making historical documentaries for schools and Danish television. He is soft-spoken, thoughtful, and wary; he says Christiania is frequently burned by the mainstream press. Lillesøe is theatrical and maternal, a night owl tending to the needs of her chicks in the wee hours. Both are veteran players in the theater group Solvognen (Chariot of the Sun), a national treasure that has mounted spectacular staged events in the city, such as a faux occupation by NATO troops in 1973, captured in Vest's brilliant satirical film Five Days for Peace.

Over Lillesøe's beef stroganoff and several bottles of French wine, we discuss their work as cultural ambassadors, in which capacity they organize massive, enclave-wide open houses, seminars featuring distinguished Danish citizens, and meet-the-folks events in their home attended by decision makers of every major political party. Vest snorts at the widely held notion that Christianites need to follow the law like every other Dane. "It's bullshit that the state doesn't make special arrangements and allowances for certain people," he argues. After all, he says, there are "different legislations"—subsidies, permissions—governing farmers, industrialists, and owners of historic houses in need of repair.

With charges of usurping government property constantly hanging over their heads, you would think the Christianites might not risk expulsion by openly distributing illegal drugs. But marijuana is the very DNA of Christiania, the gold standard of its value system. The first coin of its realm was the 35-kroner silver fed ("fat," slang for a toke); it reflected the price of a gram of hash at the time. Fri hash (the freedom to consume and trade cannabis) might be the Freetowners' defining choice, the stand they took that really sent them up the nose of the authorities while also giving them the defiance to fight.

Christiania's solidarity embraces even the often intimidating pushers. "It takes some of all kinds to make the world, and so it is," the militant old-timer Dorte La Cour explains. "We are gangsters and holy men and women and hippies and straight people, hard-working people, artists, and people who drink and smoke too much." (Vest is somewhat more fatalistic. "We found out here that market forces are stronger than our hippie ideals," he says.)

Since the 2004 crackdown, cannabis sales have spread "off campus," away from Pusherstreet. Outside Christiania, those who seek a nugget of hashish might now be offered a bag of heroin, cocaine, or meth. Drug-related gang violence has risen across Copenhagen. In 2005 a Christianite was murdered by a gang member, a byproduct of the battle to re-establish Christianite control in the vacuum created by the government's anti-drug crackdown.

Michael Kragh is police commissioner for Station Amager, the precinct with jurisdiction over Christiania. A friendly young officer with a spry build, blue eyes, and a quietly steely demeanor, Kragh confirms that "it's impossible to stop very much of the drug sales" in Christiania, estimated in The Financial Times at more than $70 million annually. "We'd have to be there 24 hours with a large force, and that's not possible," he says. "We make some small operations to show the inhabitants that we can come in anytime and take some dealers and some buyers. In a way yes, it's symbolic." (An average of about 161 grams a day were confiscated in 2007, according to his statistics.)

The gang wars, Kragh concedes, were "not happening before the closing of the stalls in 2004. The gangs have gotten stronger since then, because they sell harder drugs and there's more money than there was before." Still, he maintains, "we never find hard drugs in Christiania." The commissioner is proud to combat what he believes is a harmful threat to Danish society, particularly to children, but he has no illusions about solving the "drug problem," in Christiania or elsewhere, until "the politicians decide" how to resolve the issue, either by sending in enough force to squelch the trade once and for all or finding some limited legal accommodation for it.

An intense man in his 50s with movie-star looks, shades, and a suede jacket, Per Smidl is the author of The Sacrificial Blood of Welfare, a controversial 1995 book that is, by Danish standards, a shockingly deviant indictment of a machine-like state that bulldozes individual rights. The book chronicles his Kafkaesque wrangling with the Denmark tax authority, an altercation that led to a 12-year self-imposed exile in Prague. A former Christianite who participated in the Junk Blockade, risking death at the hands of gun-toting heroin dealers, Smidl has just returned to Denmark. He credits the Freetown with saving his sanity. "I've heard many people say that Christiania saved them when they were at their wit's end and didn't know where to go," he says. "I'm one of them. When I was a young man of 25, Christiania was the place where I could set a new direction for myself."

When he learns I am researching this story, Smidl contacts me to say he has an urgent message: The enclave must survive the normalization campaign. "If Christiania is gone," he says, "we lose the last foothold of freedom in Danish society. Christianites represent a way of old Nordic society, almost tribal. There's something characteristic about all [its] people, as much as they vary. They stand on their own two feet, they know who they are, they're able to build their own house, they walk with their heads up, they're undaunted by political power, they're anti-authoritarian, they will meet and speak their case, they are examples of people who have retained freedom of expression. This is the only area in Denmark where you'll find this almost extinct species of Dane."

"I can't see myself living in a country that doesn't have room for a place like Christiania," KAB's Nygård agrees, echoing a sentiment I heard from young and old.

"They do not dare to close Christiania forever," predicts Ludvigsen. "That would cause a civil war in Copenhagen…and be a shame for the image of Denmark."

The colorful Dorte La Cour, a grizzled veteran of Christiania's wars for survival, is the queen of the truculent naysayers, a successful visual artist who left her husband to move here three decades ago. I have trouble finding her house on an unmarked path called Bjørnekloen (Bear's Claw), where it seems every house is numbered 69. (There are no official house numbers in Christiania.) I catch up with her as she is returning from a waterfront cleanup she organized in her imperious manner. (She asked me to join the crew. I declined, being short on time and overdressed for the occasion.)

La Cour tells me she was determined to quash the aftalen, showing me a T-shirt she designed that said "Nej" ("No") in quaint 18th-century calligraphy. It was a nej to normalizing, to social housing and its bureaucracy, to politi—to everything imposed on Christiania by the corrupt, envious society outside. La Cour brought in new lawyers to help with the lawsuit, because Foldschack, nice as he is, just doesn't get it.

Christiania has the broad support of the "media elite," the movie stars, the glamorous big-name architects and academics, the intelligentsia at large. T-shirts reading "Forsvar Christiania" ("Defend Christiania") are worn throughout Denmark. Even the Copenhagen city council has said it won't approve anything that the Freetown doesn't. If the Freetown's cause is lost in the courts, the city could see hundreds of thousands of civil libertarians marching to save Christiania.

"Fuck Realdania," says La Cour. "We don't need their money. We'll take the case to the people."

Charles Hayes is the author of Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures (Penguin). His website is psychedelicadventures.com.

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  1. In my (extremely limited) experience Christiania is a shitty, run-down, super sketchy, unpleasant area to be in or near.

    If this is a libertarian utopia I need to re-think my priorities.

  2. I read the article and I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be.

  3. Anyway, communal living is hardly a libertarian virtue. If anything it’s the antithesis.

  4. Anyway, communal living is hardly a libertarian virtue. If anything it’s the antithesis.

    I see nothing anti-libertarian about communal living, provided of course that it is not forced upon people.

  5. Christiania is an anarcho-syndicalist commune. They take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.

  6. “Libertarian” used to mean individualism and property rights, among other things. How is squatting on a commune “libertarian”? Is the author even making that claim? I’m not convinced.

    1. That’s not the original meaning of the word, at all. It was invented as replacement word in Europe by anarchists when the word “anarchist” was banned in print by the state.

      And they were anti-property libertarians who invented it.

      Most of the world does not define it as “minarchist propertarian individualist”, even now.

      There is a ton of diversity in libertarianism, and with the exception of minarchists, it stands for only one common thread; a lack of coercion. The economic and organizational styles are very diverse and only share the principle of refusing to coerce people into joining and refusing to coerce them into staying.

  7. Meh. I prefer political systems where supreme executive authority is based upon where some watery tart throws a sword.

  8. That’s outrageous, Pro L. Strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords, is no basis for a system of government.

  9. I prefer moistened bints that heave scimitars, myself.

  10. ed, I read this a few days ago in the print version, but if I recall correctly, there are no claims of libertarianism in the story. Mostly just pointing out that anarchy can function for quite a while.

    In my opinion, anarchy’s main instability comes from external, not internal, forces. And that’s why the Danish government finally messing with them may cause the place to dissolve.

  11. Does Christiania hold monthly Happy Hours for Copenhagen-area Squatteroids?

  12. True executive authority derives from a mandate from the masses.

  13. And now we see the violence inherent in the system.

  14. Never visited Christiana while living in Copenhagen. I wonder how many of them receive welfare benefits?

  15. All Utopian Rebel movements are iventually blamed on the writings of Heinlein. Unless they are japanese death cults, then they blame Asimov.

  16. It seems to me that this form of life style is only able to carry on by the constant turnover over of it inhabitants. Sure there are some die-hards that remain but most are probably young idealist who search these places out in the belief they are doing something new only to eventually be disscuraged by the hypocrasy of life style that remains while in actuallity has in a way succomed to forming a non-antarchist political system to survive.

  17. You see him repressing me?!

  18. (1) Am I the only one who noted that the viability of this enclave seems to depend on a de facto monopoly on the sale of cannabis, apparently a $70 MILLION per year business?

    (2) With that kind of revenue or anything resembling it, why haven’t these folks made an offer to acquire real property rights in this parcel?

    (3) “We want to be legal,” says Nils Vest, Christiania’s press liaison and unofficial spokesman (the Freetown has no formal leaders), “with the right to develop our physical community on our own premises, according to our development plan, and to decide ourselves who shall be allowed to enter as new residents.”

    Right of exclusion? Sounds a lot like private property rights to me. Let’s suspend our established property laws so that a bunch of hippies can impose their own property laws.

    (4) “Change of residence is transaction-free; the right to occupy a given residence is decided by vote.” Nothing like a popularity contest to settle these matters.

  19. Perhaps this would be an ideal home for those courageous idealists recently removed from NYU’s Kimmel Center.

  20. I fully approved of the “exposure for disclosure” message, armchairpunter.

  21. I was also amused to learn of their war on non-cannabis drugs. Anarchy with sumptuary laws? Self-serving manipulation of the law in the name of the greater good, a la American oligopolists inserting their lobbyists into the regulatory-legislative process?

  22. punter, why do you fall into the trap of requiring an “anarchic” society to be perfect? We have few enough recent or modern ones, and nitpicking at them mercilessly seems kind of useless.

    One thing that tired me of discussing anarchy with people was the constant insistence that I explain how anarchy solved every problem. Yet at the same time they completely didn’t feel the need to explain why government was ok in not solving every problem.

    Anarchy has to be perfect or it’s unacceptable, but government can fail miserably but it’s still the best solution. In fact, more is better! Those discussions get real old real fast.

  23. Good point, I was referring more to the stars of the tremendous “The Painful Last Minutes of the NYU Kimmel Occupation.” I’d just as soon they remained fully closed.

  24. Anarchy has to be perfect or it’s unacceptable, but government can fail miserably but it’s still the best solution. In fact, more is better!

    People have limited imaginations and resist change, Epi. It’s the way of the world. If they can’t see how something will be better or even, at a minimum, not worse, they’ll fight you all fucking day and into the night.

  25. I do so, Episiarch, for the same reason I criticize this country’s system of governance, because so many are all too ready to toss freedom overboard in favor of something seemingly more exotic or expedient. And they most readily do that with respect to seemingly unimportant details.

    If those who espouse one of the many confused flavors of anarchism would forever forswear all attempts at exercising their principles, I would happily desist from criticism and buy one of their neat T-shirts.

    It is imperative for those who prize liberty above many other perceived societal objectives not to let the sentimental varnish dry on a fraud like Christiana, an “anarchistic” commune formed within a homogeneous culture at the sufferance of a government that muscles out the competition in the drug industry. This hot house anarchy seems all to capable of formulating its own set of arbitrary laws that ultimately leave its residents less free in many regards.

  26. My libertarian paradise is my own private fortress, with an electrified fence, guard dogs, and watchtowers with snipers with orders to shoot all trespassers.

  27. punter, I hear what you’re saying, but my view is that Christiania is a quasi-anarchistic society that hasn’t devolved into chaos and violence.

    It therefore has, at least to me, some value in asserting that anarchistic societies can work.

    Is it truly anarchistic? Obviously not. But it’s still partway there.

  28. Progressives are going to have to sort out their messages on this stuff. Isn’t this the “democratization of property rights?”

    If the representative government thinks it could better server the larger community to do…something else with the property, then that’s the progressive vision, no? Or does “democratization of property rights” have some unintended, decidedly unprogressive consequences?

  29. “with the right to develop our physical community on our own premises, according to our development plan, and to decide ourselves who shall be allowed to enter as new residents.”

    Hmmm.

    Hmmmmmmmm….

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

    Well I have to hand it to them, that’s certainly libertarian but yet decidedly unprogressive. A gated community in which the residents can discriminate in who they allow to live there. Very interesting.

  30. This strikes me as being as about anarchistic as a gated suburban community or a rent-controlled co-op apartment building, except that it has a monopoly on selling weed. In fact, a gated suburban community or a rent-controlled co-op apartment building may possess a greater degree of independence from the municipalities in which they’re located than Christiana does. All of the language of the Christiana residents points to underlying notions of ownership and the state-protected rights attendant thereto.

    I enjoy a good discussion of the merits of anarchy as much as the next libertarian, but I don’t think this is a particularly good example.

  31. “Isn’t this the ‘democratization of property rights?'”
    Not to sound dense, but wtf does “democratizing property rights” even mean?

  32. hey DBCOOPER – where’d you live? and when were you there?

  33. I enjoy a good discussion of the merits of anarchy as much as the next libertarian, but I don’t think this is a particularly good example.

    There are so few examples out there that I’m inclined to take them as I can.

  34. In my opinion, anarchy’s main instability comes from external, not internal, forces. And that’s why the Danish government finally messing with them may cause the place to dissolve.

    In this case, I suspect that their local “anarcho-commune” has survived this long precisely because it is embedded in a society with enforceable laws and mores.

    Anarchy contains plenty of internal destabilizing potentials, few of which can gain any traction in a micro-society embedded in a larger, more stable, society of laws.

  35. But individual rights are also embraced. Freedom of expression, even for extremists, is enshrined in law.

    Are they? How about freedom to smoke weed, or put drugs in general into your body? No? Property rights?

    I think once again we have a society which has freedom of expression, but little else. For instance, in the U.S., there’s a reason Freedom of Expression is in the first amendment, and the right to bear arms is in the second.

    Not to sound dense, but wtf does “democratizing property rights” even mean?

    Economist, a term which got bounced around a lot by progressives during the Kelo case.

    In this case, I suspect that their local “anarcho-commune” has survived this long precisely because it is embedded in a society with enforceable laws and mores.

    RC,

    That’s obvious on its face. For instance, to protect itself, and to raise capital, the community files suits in Danish courts, is heard by Danish judges, and relies on copyright law for royalty payments on the use of the flag logo.

  36. VM,

    Yes, how is it that you are silent on Christiania? You were king of it once, weren’t you?

  37. Hey VM, I was living in Lyngby, so I should have said Stork?benhavn I guess. I was there in 2005/2006 before I got transferred to the UK. I’d like to return actually. Though nice as Lyngby is, somewhere with a good bar open past 5pm might be preferable next time. 😉

  38. oops, make that 2005/2006/2007

  39. “I enjoy a good discussion of the merits of anarchy as much as the next libertarian, but I don’t think this is a particularly good example.

    There are so few examples out there that I’m inclined to take them as I can.”

    I don’t know if I even consider this an example at all.

  40. “If the Freetown’s cause is lost in the courts, the city could see hundreds of thousands of civil libertarians marching to save Christiania.”

    It’s a good thing all those would-be marchers got plenty of marching practice in connection with the Jyllands-Posten cartoon affair. Oh. Wait. Nevermind.

  41. “There was a time when hash and skunk were sold here from 40 stalls in an open-air market staffed by knowledgeable hepcats. But that was prior to January 2004, when Copenhagen’s politi, who for years were unofficially indifferent to the trade, finally showed up in huge force to bust it up once and for all.”

    Actually the real problems started when Leonardo DiCaprio made an extra copy of that map.

  42. Very interesting article, and a useful update on the ever-changing political situation there (which is not widely reported). I lived in Denmark (Copenhagen+Lyngby) for over 15 years, starting in the early 80’s (when Christiana was a shit-heap, with no working public toilets, and the “bars” where guys with a case of beer and a chair) and ending in 2000 (when Christiana had reached accomodation with the government forces, and had achieved some legitmacy — and the toilets worked). It seems that things may have reverted to shit-heap status (though I’m sure the toilets are still maintained).

    Danes have always been conflicted about Christiana, with most respecting the right of people to live as they choose, and a few resenting what they perceive to be the “free ride” the Christianites get (both the tolerance and the resentment of unfair priveleges are very much a part of the Danish psyche). Until I left in 2000, there seemed to be a balance between the forces to crush the horrible plauge of aging hippies, and the recognition that Christiana was a very useful safety valve for both the soft-drug trade and the legions of half-crazed druggies/artists/ne’er-do-wells and drunken Greenlanders that would otherwise hang-out in the city. Starting in 2004, it seems, the mission to kill Christiana was taken up in earnest (driven mostly by the greed of those who would like to develop this incredibly prime piece of inner-city real-estate).

    I was acquainted with several residents of Christiana (though none of them denizens of Pusher Street). They ranged from artists to lawyers, and were to a man/woman intensly interesting individuals. Christiana itself was the site of two of the best music venues in Copehagen (Lopen and Den Graa Hall) as well as a fantastic traditional Danish eatery (Spise Lopen). The drug-trade was mostly isolated to Pusher Street, with a carnivale atmosphere, thriving with market forces (more selection than even the biggest of Danish fish markets). There were occasional clashes with the police, but the biker-gangs and other criminal influences were kept out, and it was ultimately a safe place to go.

    All they have succeded in doing, apparently, is to drive the drug trade out to the surrounding streets, and mix the hard- with the soft-drugs. Yay!

    I am sadened to read of the decline of Christiana. Perhaps the Danes will come to their senses before it is to late and the place is turned into condominiums. We’ll see.

    grant..

  43. grant’s post is why I love the intertubes – there’s no substitute for a native guide.

  44. fantastic traditional Danish eatery

    All those words…together, in one sentence. One marvels.

    Grant, interesting post. But I have to ask:

    I’m comparing “for over 15 years, starting in the early 80’s (when Christiana was a shit-heap, with no working public toilets, and the “bars” where guys with a case of beer and a chair)”

    with “I am sadened to read of the decline of Christiana.”

    So which is it, is it declining back to where it was in your first sentence, or by ‘decline’ are you referring to its endangered status?

  45. condos = decline?

  46. sweet – frederiksberg 1994-1999

  47. “fantastic traditional Danish eatery”

    All those words…together, in one sentence. One marvels.

    Well Paul, I won’t leap to the defence of “traditional Danish eateries”, as I realize to many this conjures up images of over-cooked root-vegetables and sauces based on Kulor (which appears to be black ink and has similar gustatory properties). However, the Danes do have a fine tradition of simple pub-fare, including Friske Rejer (fresh shrimp with toast , mayonaise, and dill), Pariser Boef (a large, rare, beef patty with pickles and raw egg yolk), and so on. Spise Lopen does a very good job of properly grilling larger cuts of meat, well prepared potatoes, and even knows how to serve up a tasty salad of simple greens. Plus, the serving staff are all stoned (and thus friendlier than the usual surly Danish waiters), but also are professional stoners, spending most of their day in that state, thus avoiding the common problem of losing track of what they are doing.

    So which is it, is it declining back to where it was in your first sentence, or by ‘decline’ are you referring to its endangered status?

    To clarify: Christiana seemed to have been on a generally rising trajectory from the early 80’s up to 2000 when I left. Civilization was beginning to make inroads, in the form of public toilets, and espresso machines in the bars. The hard-core addicts had been kicked out, and the criminal element kept in the background. Pusher Street had gradually turned into a quite sanitary soft-drug supermarket, and it was quite possible to go there for a concert and not have your bike stolen (though admitedly I did use a NY-style U-lock). Not to say the place was a commercial mall. You’d see random drunken Greenlanders collapsed on the road, and dogs doing it in the corner of the bar. But people with children lived there, and it was really quite beautiful, in a semi-squalorous, free-love kind of way.

    Since 2004, by all reports, much of that progress has been lost. The Pusher Street open-air market has been broken up. Streets have been named and given “proper” signs. And they’re trying to enforce building codes (the UFO-house and the Whale-house are probably gone now).

    There really wasn’t any other place in Europe to compare with Christiana as far as sanctioned social experiments in psuedo-anarchy. It was charming, gritty, naive, and stubborn. Too bad it was founded on such valuable land..

  48. I lived in Copenhagen for 4 months last year, and I thought Christiania was the most interesting location in the entire city. It’s easy for other American libertarians to say “Oh that’s not very libertarian at all,” but you don’t know what the rest of Danish society is like. Christiania has, without a doubt in my mind, the freest economy in Denmark. The creativity and tenacity I saw the resident display was truly impressive, especially compared to what I saw as the bland homogeneity and suffocating bureaucracy of the rest of the country. While I’m no fan of communes, I would take Christiania’s diversity and non-coercive social structure over the proper Danish government any day.

    And don’t count on Christiania disappearing any time soon. The government has never been able to get rid of it before, and I doubt they’ll manage it this time either. Last I saw the free town, it was full of life.

  49. ?Lilles?e is theatrical and maternal, a night owl tending to the needs of her chicks in the wee hours?

    Huh? This sentence alone condemns the author to a life of being a complete and utter douchebag.

  50. I don’t think the main target of the criticism here is the phenomenon of Christiana, but the attempts to shoehorn it into an evaluation of anarchism or to hold it out as a model for enhanced freedom.

    Grant sums it up nicely: “There really wasn’t any other place in Europe to compare with Christiana as far as sanctioned social experiments in psuedo-anarchy. It was charming, gritty, naive, and stubborn. Too bad it was founded on such valuable land..”

    Christiana is to anarchy what the bumper cars are to urban traffic. The bumper cars are fun–even a bit anarchic–but I haven’t learned any lessons from driving a bumper car that I would be tempted to apply to my day-to-day driving experience, never mind the tasks of civil engineering or legislating the rules of the road.

  51. Great article on a really interesting topic! When I visited Copenhagen over Christmas, it was surreal to walk through Christiania. The area would have been well suited as a movie set. The bright colors, chaos, and creativity starkly contrasted to the somber rest of Copenhagen.

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  53. I would prefer to live in Branson over Christiana.. Beautiful place, especially if you’re living at Royal Vista where they have beautiful Branson condos for sale.

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