In 1971, the commune was born. Residents tore down the fences of the barely guarded former military compound and let their children use it as a playground. Occasionally, homeless people slept in the empty buildings. Then, journalist Jacob Ludvigsen, in September of 1971, finally made its existence public in an article in the Hovedbladet newspaper. Its goal was to create a new—a different—society, one that was self-administered and governed, economically independent, and one in which each member was committed to the welfare of the entire entity.

Touristical Commerce, Photo: Heinz-Josef Lücking, Lizenz: Creative Commons by-sa-3.0 de
Touristical Commerce, Photo: Heinz-Josef Lücking, Lizenz: Creative Commons by-sa-3.0 de

Its relationship with the Danish government was complicated from the outset. Various administrations tried unsuccessfully to clear this city within a city, to make it into one of Copenhagen’s ‘normal’ districts. In 2011, the residents and government agreed on an amenable handover; those who lived there would buy the land and remain there—even though neither rental contracts nor ownership exist in Christiania. After 40 years, the site was officially handed over on July 1, 2012, to its former occupiers.

The purchase was financed through shares (Folkeaktie in Danish) and a loan from the government. The new ownership, however, did not change the free city’s internal structure. Nearly 1,000 people live in Christiania, governing themselves through direct democracy. Its highest council, a glimmer of government, is the Common Meeting. Here, the general interests of the community are decided upon. It handles relations with the Danish government and budgetary matters. Its decisions are made based on consensus, on the broad and all-inclusive agreement of the entire group.

Bananahouse, Photo: Lars Nordmand
Bananahouse, Photo: Lars Nordmand

The town has split itself into 15 sectors. In the Area Meeting, all subdivisions gather to discuss smaller matters each month. Other bodies deal with finances, individual buildings and the general economy (more information can be found on the free town’s official guide. It has its own currency, the Løn, valued at 50 Danish kroner. Additionally, the community has developed internal services, like a kindergarten and post office, and its own set of laws; theft, violence, fire arms, knives, bulletproof vests, hard drugs and motorcycle gang signs are prohibited.

Drugs have been a consistent issue since its 1971 founding. Pusher Street is a household name even outside Denmark’s borders; it is an open market for cannabis. This element is not uncontested by some in the community. There has, however, been no complete consensus to change it.

Flag of Christiania, Photo: Lars Nordmand
Flag of Christiania, Photo: Lars Nordmand

Over the past four decades, other economic enterprises have sprung up within Christiania’s borders. The largest success story is surely Christiania Bikes, whose cargo bikes are sold worldwide. Alongside it, Loppen is one of the capital city’s most beloved clubs, and a variety of restaurants and cafes invite visitors to linger and enjoy.

Since its beginnings, Freetown Christiania has surely changed. But its founding principles remain alive at its core. Its existence has also altered both Copenhagen and Denmark. One million people visit this vibrant community each year. And for anyone who finds life within its borders a bit too different, the door remains open. As the sign reads, they are free to go back out, into the EU.

Text: Alexandra Schade