Digging that Christiania chill cat vibe

Copenhagen is a city so compact its plethora of bicycles is rivalled only by that of Amsterdam.

So for a city to exist within such a small city is no mean feat.

Well, calling Christiania a city within a city is a stretch - the phrase "loose gathering of hippies with a love of hash and an aversion to the European Union" is probably more semantically accurate.

The neighbourhood is the site of an abandoned military barracks, claimed in the early 70s by a group of free-lovin', free-wheelin' Woodstock-lovin' chill cats who decided to set up squat.

It's now an 800-strong autonomous neighbourhood in the harbourside borough of Christianshavn, and the epicentre of the action is Pusher St.

On entering through the mock theme park gates (perhaps modelled on the gates surrounding Copenhagen's famous Tivoli Garden), it's not long before you find yourself in the so-called Green Light District.

There are - according to the hand-painted signs at the, errrrrrrrm, border - only three rules in Christiania.

One: Have FUN!

(In capitals. With an exclamation mark. It's a bit . . . have fun OR ELSE!)

Two: No running.

Three: No pictures, because selling and consuming the electric puha - okay, I might be paraphrasing a little bit here - is still illegal, even though the residents would quite clearly be supportive of the Legalise Marijuana movement.

I'm genuinely not being a "square" and making a blanket statement like that, based on the Thai fisherman pants for sale in the neighbourhood market.

(We're not on Phi Phi now).

I'm not even making a blanket statement like that based on the lovingly rendered portraits of Bob Marley daubed on the walls of many a building here in Christiania.

No, I'm making a blanket statement like that because of one thing and one thing only: I've never seen so many plastic containers of weed sitting so openly in my life - although, granted, I haven't made it quite as far as Glasto yet.

I really didn't think the Christianites would be single- handedly responsible for keeping a corporate giant like Tupperware in business, but there you go.

Box after box was laid out on the wooden tables inside makeshift camouflage tents, a tongue-in-cheek nod to the area's military past.

All were at jaunty angles, with equally jaunty names, in a vaguely capitalistic bid to entice you to sample the wares. (Which nobody is hesitant to do - that haze wafting round the place isn't just cold air rising from the ground.)

Christiania is seen in Denmark as a pain in the butt by some and as a successful social experiment by others - freedom, with some basic ground rules banning things like stealing, weapons, gang colours and hard drugs.

Although there's been some controversy - and not without cause; besides growing riots and protests, in 2005 that "no violence" rule was flouted pretty strongly, with one person murdered and three others badly hurt - every attempt by the authorities to shut down the Freetown has failed.

(Apart from a couple of years ago, when the government sealed the neighbourhood off to the public for a while.)

The people living in the area have caved to the man - just a little, mind - and have agreed to formally buy the land for below market value within the next few years. Whether they can come up with [Euro]76 million will be interesting to see; but in the meantime . . . Have FUN!

No running.

No pictures.


The Southland Times