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Vice Blog

CHRISTIANIA IS ILLEGAL NOW

March 11, 2011, 4:00pm

The city of Christiania is where everyone in Denmark buys their hash. It’s an independent enclave close to the city center of Copenhagen with about 900 residents, who have struggled with the authorities since its formation in the 70s. Recently, the Danish government took a shift to the right, which only made things worse. Last month the Supreme Court decided that Christiania is full of worthless hippies and took away the town’s “legal” status. But clearing out an entire village is no easy task. Our friend Joost Koskamp is currently working in Copenhagen, so we asked him to pay a quick visit to Christiania to check out the situation.

I rode my bike to Christiania and parked it just behind the city gates. I decided to check out the main street first. “Pusher Street” is the vibrant economic center of town where all the drugs are traded. Taking pictures there is strictly forbidden so I put away my camera and decided to take some sneaky photos with my iphone. There were huge blocks of hash openly displayed on tables on both sides of the street inside tiny stalls made of wood and plastic. Surprisingly there was more hash for sale than weed. The prices were anywhere from about € 8 to € 20, which is slightly more expensive than back home in the Netherlands. The sellers are not very precise. They cut the blocks of hash up with garden shears, and depending on their carelessness you can wind up with a bit more or less than you ordered.

It was cold as hell, so I asked a seller why they stand outside instead of setting up shop inside a building or a house. “Well,” he said, “inside you are trapped like a rat when the police raid the place. If we are outside we can flee in every direction. But the market will always go on even with the raids. As soon as they take the stuff away there is already a new load waiting.”

Most of the visitors on Pusher Street dive deep into their hoods and warm themselves by one of the many bum fires in oil drums. Despite the great drugs, the atmosphere is depressing and grim. With the exception of a few surprised looking tourists, most of the people walk quickly in and out the city walls to do their "shopping.”

When I left the main street it became clear that Christiania is much more than just a hash market. I walked along one of the many winding paths of the little state and found lots of DIY-style wooden houses. I even came across a riding school with ponys for the kids. I walked along the shore of the frozen water that encloses Christiania, and after a while I got bored and stupid enough to walk onto the ice. I took about two steps before the ice broke. The water was cold as shit and sent a howling pain throughout my body. I had some bruised ribs from falling off my bike a few days earlier, so climbing out of the ice was tough. Luckily a guy named Øjvind came to the rescue. He was chopping wood on the dyke and saw me fall in. He helped me to dry land and invited me into his house.

His place was something out of a fairytale. He gave me a pair of authentic yak wool socks, long underwear, and some fancy jeans that he probably made himself. In the middle of his house was a classy homemade stove. Emmy, a friend of Øjvind, made a nice pot of eco-friendly coffee.

After I thawed out we settled down on the porch with a cigarette and had some small talk. I was curious about the hash market and how the policies of Christiania work. Øjvind explained that only the members of the community can sell on Pusher Street--there are no merchants from outside. The people of Christiania are a close community. You can’t just waltz in with a bong and some Birkenstocks and expect to become a member. You have to be a regular presence in the community and friends with the residents before you can get your own place. It’s a completely autonomous independent democracy--all decisions are made together and everyone participates equally. Money comes in through the tourists and everyone has their own task or job: baker, postman, carpenter, hash seller, etc. Øjvind told me that he is the resident rat catcher of Christiania.

I asked Øjvind and Emmy what their reaction was to the ruling of the Supreme Court. Øjvind laughed, "Actually we had a huge party Friday night because we are now squatters again! Everybody was really happy, like we won the case." Øjvind isn’t worried, “We live by the day” he said, “I don’t believe Christiania will disappear.”

After a cup of coffee I realized it was time to go. Øjvind convinced me that it wasn’t dangerous to walk on the ice but told me not to stand on the air bubbles along the shore. So we walked over the ice back to my bike. We chatted a bit more and he invited me to dinner later in the week, and I told him I would return his yak socks and hippie pants then.

JOOST KOSKAMP

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