If you ignore the pungent smell of weed and focus your senses on sight, Freetown Christiania is a charming area of Copenhagen just begging to be explored. Filled with ramshackle homes built from scrap materials by the owners, the commune thrives with independence.The more creative abodes sit upon the banks of the lake and on the numerous lanes curving their way up into the heart of the community. Homes float on water (so cool to see that home from Amazing Spaces in person!) and nestle beneath trees. Sculptures and bunting line gardens and vibrant colours adorn wooden and scrap metal walls. Anyone interested in DIY housing and green living will have a field day here.
The difference is all in the details. It's no good simply glancing, you have to stop and stare and take in every little detail to fully appreciate the effort that has been put into every building. There are around 850 residents living in Christiania, ranging from those who want to bring up their families in an alternative environment away from the state, people who just wanted to build their own homes and live simply, and you can't forget about the drug dealers on Pusher Street. Despite the presence of soft drugs, intimidating dogs and the occasional police raid, it's a laid back kind of life with a unique community spirit. You arrive expecting to feel threatened, but leave feeling comfortable and relaxed.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Freetown, a little history. The area formally existed as a military barracks, until a group of homeless people began squatting in the forgotten buildings in 1971. Slowly but surely, the community grew and people began to build their own homes out of the scrap materials that were available on the site. There have been many changes to the ownership of the land, the rules of the community and the degree to which they are considered part of standard Danish law over the years. Most notably, the cannabis trade was challenged in 2004, the entire community was closed to the public by the residents in 2011, and later that same year, it was agreed that the residents would set up a fund to collectively officially purchase the land from the Danish government at a reduced price. As of July 2012, Christiania is once again open to the public, but is under the legal ownership of its residents.
Don't be put off by stories of shootings and narcotics. Every city has its 'dodgy' areas, and these often prove to be the most interesting, often transforming themselves via gentrification in the long run to become the stomping ground of hipsters. Christiania is unique in that it has retained its original anarchic ethos and has (to a point) refused to bend to the rules. It's a truly unique place that will inspire you, if not to completely go off grid and set up home there, then to live a little more consciously and consider what you really need in life.
All images are my own