Goodbye, Christiania

Christiania is one of the coolest places I have ever been to, ever.

In 1971 a group of hippies moved onto an abandoned Danish naval barracks just outside Kobenhavn and, by setting themselves up as an anarchist free state, began one of the greatest social experiments in Western Civilisation.

They established a land trust, meaning every resident owned all of the land, and therefore no-one owned it.  The whole place was run as a co-op.  Early on, people could build on the land, even though they didn’t own it, and this led to a profusion of hand-built dwellings of every imaginable architectural mindset.  An entire city built by artists.  When the Dirtbombs played there in May 2002, Ben and I took a walk around it; it was like some mad homebrew conglomeration of The Shire and Lidsville.  It was beautiful.
The area of the existing barracks became the ‘downtown’ of Christiania.  There were restaurants, art galleries (of course), a bicycle factory, boutiques, a nightclub (the Loppen, where we played, which means ‘flea’ in Danish).  It even had its own radio station.  This place was really cool.

Christiania was not without its downsides, however.  There were two major ones:

Problem #1: Style of Government

You’d think, being an anarchist free state, that government would be a simple affair, yes?  Well, here’s how it worked.  There were volunteer committees for things like sanitation, so that trash pickup got taken care of, and the (beautiful) grounds got kept, but other than that all decisions were made by consensus, which means everything took a unanimous vote: through discussion, everybody  had to agree on whatever choice was made.  Now, crypto-commie symp I may be, but browbeating others until they agree to your point of view is no way to run a government, no matter what Bill O’Reilly would have you believe.

Problem #2: Pusherstreet

‘Pusherstraat’ was an open-air hash market which basically overtook the main thoroughfare of Christiania, becoming a huge outdoor drug mall in the process.  Originally run by cycle gangs, it was taken over by the Russian mafia when the cycle gangs were run out; any time the citizens would try to run them out they would just import more people to shout them down at the decision-making meetings (thus exposing what I see as a critical flaw in consensus government).  Christiania finally managed to close Pusherstraat down in 2004.
Anyhow, it was a good run while it lasted, but it’s finally coming to an end:  The Danish government has announced that they’re coming in and building condos.  With individual ownership, the basic tenet of Christiania life will be destroyed, and this vibrant community of free-thinkers will be gone forever.

Goodbye, Christiania.  I’ll miss you.


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