The Denmark I've described in the previous few blog entries seems to be a model of conformity, where everyone obeys the laws so that all can be safe, affluent, and comfortable. And yet, Denmark also hosts Europe's most inspirational and thriving nonconformist hippie commune. Perhaps being content and conformist is easier for a society when its nonconformist segment — rebelling at all that buttoned-down conformity — has a refuge.
In 1971, the original 700 Christianians established squatters' rights in an abandoned military barracks just a 10-minute walk from the Danish parliament building. A generation later, this “free city” still stands — an ultra-human communal mishmash of idealists, hippies, potheads, non-materialists, and happy children (600 adults, 200 kids, 200 cats, 200 dogs, 17 horses, and a couple of parrots). Seeing seniors with gray ponytails woodworking, tending their gardens, and serving as guardians of the community's ideals, I'm reminded that 180 of the original gang that took over the barracks four decades ago still call Christiania home. The Christianians are fighting a rising tide of materialism and conformity. They want to raise their children not to be cogs, but free spirits.
Everyone knows utopias are utopian — they can't work. But Christiania, which has evolved with the challenges of making a utopia a viable reality, acts like it didn't get the message. It's broken into 14 administrative neighborhoods on land still owned by Denmark's Ministry of Defense. Locals build their homes but don't own the land; there's no buying or selling of property. When someone moves out, the community decides who will be invited in to replace that person. A third of the adult population works on the outside, a third works on the inside, and a third doesn't work much at all.
As I biked through the ramshackle community, it also occurred to me that, except for the bottled beer being sold, there was not a hint of any corporate entity in the entire "free city." There was no advertising and no big business. Everything was handmade. Nothing was packaged. People consumed as if how they spent their money shaped the environment in which they lived and raised their families. It's not such a far cry from their fellow Danes, who also see themselves as conscientious participants in society.
About This Entry
You are reading "Christiania: Copenhagen’s Embattled Hippie Commune", an entry posted on 27 November 2009 by Rick Steves.