NOTE: This article and more also up at my new site, http://www.TwelveBitterPeaches.com! This article is certified 4/20 (you’ll see why below).
Walking into the bustling, vibrant, and altogether friendly neighborhood of Christianshavn just over an unsuspecting bridge in Copenhagen, you’d never suspect that you’d ever end up wandering into the “Deadwood” of Europe (and in fact the “Deadwood” of nearly the entire developed world) – a place “without laws” and “without government” (I put that in quotes for a reason as you’ll see), where it’s as easy to buy marijuana (in any form) as it is to buy a bottle of Coke (which itself costs a whopping $5 US dollars – ah well. still worth it); a place where you’ll see more men wearing track suits in one square mile than you will in all of New York City… during the New York Marathon.
But that’s exactly what you’ll find in Freetown Christiana – a small neighborhood that claimed autonomy from Copenhagen and Denmark itself in the early 1970′s… a collective whose residents believe in freedom of expression in every possible way – through art, music, theater and, yes, unabated drug use. Note, whether or not this article is directly correlated to the fact that it’s 4/20 and I’m hoping to get a bigger crowd of readers because of it is irrelevant… nothing changes the fact that this place is interesting… about as interesting as it gets.
One of the few entrances to Freetown Christiana looks like a scene from The Road, I Am Legend, or any of the slew of other “where did all the people go” movies. Cars are prohibited from entering the space, that is, if they even wanted to. Walking into the town feels like stepping into another world. The pleasant side streets and open sidewalks that take you to Christiana (pictured below) eventually give way to dirt paths, decaying buildings, and a ton of artwork – some very interesting and unique, some morbidly disturbing.
Once you’ve passed this nice “point of no return,” everything becomes a whole lot more interesting, and possibly more than a little bit sketch. The first thing you notice when entering the town, other than the concentrated crowds of young people, blaring music, and… err, interesting smells, are the “no photography” signs. I’m pretty good at concealing my Nikon D5000 when I have to, but when you have intimidating Danes wearing dark sunglasses eager to smash your camera on the ground at the sound of a photo snap staring you down, it’s time to put it away. Thank God for iPhone.
Now the residents of the town will be the first to tell you that this place is all about art, music, performance, and community, but to the majority of the tourists who go here, it’s the drugs… giant open marketplaces full of drugs… literally a farmer’s market of drugs. Tables full of every imaginable use for marijuana (most I don’t and will never understand), and plenty of eager people (young and old alike) eager to sample within the borders of this “safe zone.”
Everything seems pretty straight forward here, except for a group of people I’ll call the “nervous ones.” While everyone walks around and has a good time, regardless of whether or not they’re partaking in the activities here (it’s still fun for writers and journalists… I swear), there is a group of people who always look like they’re having a terrible time.
Dressed in a tight track suit with the collar popped, wearing dark sunglasses and outfitted with nervous feet, this special breed of resident looks so shady that it almost seems like he’s getting paid to look creepy. One minute they’re standing along as if they’re waiting for someone, the next moment they’re sprinting away in terror. Supposedly the hard drug trade has ended in Christiana, but when you see these guys, it’s kind of hard to believe.
Now, before you go call your old high school friends to book tickets (the ones who still play Call of Duty for 7 hours a day and ingest more Mountain Dew/Cheetos than all of the isolated residents of the Appalachian mountain region combined), know that the landscape of Christiana is changing. Copenhagen’s police frequently attempt raids of the “compound,” and aim to tear down many of the decayed buildings and end the drug trade once and for all as soon as they can get in for good.
Though much of the police presence is turned away by the residents, it’s not uncommon for these drug marketplaces to disappear within seconds of a signal from the “watchers” of the town that police are nearby. If you do get a chance to check it out (and I do recommend seeing it just to see it), proceed with caution, and expect your eyes to be opened wide to a new world.