Pubdate: Fri, 27 Oct 2000
Source: Time Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2000 Time Inc.
Contact:  Time Magazine Letters, Time & Life Bldg., Rockefeller Center, NY, NY 10020
Fax: (212) 522-8949
Author: Charles P. Wallace


The sign on the gate says it all: You are now leaving the European Union.
You're not of course, but life in the Free Town of Christiania, as the
neighbourhood in the leafy outskirts of Copenhagen likes to call itself,
seems like time travel to the 1970s -- a simpler time of hippies, drugs and
rock 'n' roll.

Christiania was a military compound and barracks abandoned by the Danish
army at the start of the turbulent 70s. Soon after the army moved out,
squatters moved in and began converting the army's vacant buildings into
homes and shops.

For 20 years, Copenhagen authorities tried to shut it down, but eventually
gave up and signed a peace agreement allowing this rather 1970s vision of a
commune to remain as long as it paid its taxes and water and light bills.
"People say we are trying to stop time and hold on to flower power," says
Camilla Roslind, 29, who has lived in Christiania for a decade and works in
the commune's library.

Apart from the hippie atmosphere, Christiania's claim to fame is its
renowned Pusher Street, where marijuana and hashish from all over the world
are sold. Prices for Moroccan or Thai are posted on shops like the prices
for chicken and hamburger in more conventional cities and the product is
stacked openly like candies in a sweet shop.

Most visitors retire to picnic tables in a big circus tent, which houses a
local bar, to smoke their goods before they leave.

Judging by the openness, the police these days seem to leave the drug trade
unmolested. In the past they have staged massive raids, cordoning off
entire blocks and making mass arrests. For a while, they even carted away
the fixtures of bars that didn't pay the proper taxes on alcohol. Now the
only vestige of those days are the frequent signs banning photographs on
Pusher Street. They may preach individual freedom, but drug dealers don't
think much of seeing their photos in the newspaper.

Apart from the drug trade, the 38-hectare commune seems to be thriving. The
population now is more than 1,000, including about 650 adults and 350
children. Although the police aren't invited in, the residents ban sales of
hard drugs, theft and other misdemeanors with the threat of expulsion from
the community.

So relaxed is the pace that they still don't want to have street signs or
house numbers because they believe that such measures tend to depersonalise
people. "If someone wants you to visit, they will explain how to find
them," says Roslind. The commune even boasts its own postman, who picks up
mail from a collective address.

As in any good commune, the community "owns" the buildings and 12
neighbourhood committees meet regularly to discuss such things as who to
allow in. Tenants pay a $112 a month flat charge for rent for each person,
plus water and electricity.

Every resident has the right to convene a common meeting of all residents
to discuss a problem. Decisions are not taken by a vote but by unanimous
consensus, which must make for some long discussions. "We have a collective
business," says Rajesh, a baker from Nepal who has lived in Christiania for
12 years. "We have no bosses and it's a nice way to work."

At the general store, Johanes Kjaempenes explains that because they deal in
used house fixtures that are cheaper than those available in other parts of
Copenhagen, the store is only open to residents of the commune. While they
collect the 25 per cent value-added tax just as other shops do, the
proceeds are turned over to the commune rather than the Danish state to
help fund such things as kindergartens and a health clinic.

Christiania seems to be a favourite with artisans and craftsmen, including
a shop that makes special hand-made tricycles that feature a cargo
compartment to carry goods. That's because cars and trucks are not allowed
in Christiania. Perhaps because they are handmade, the bikes cost $850
each. Another shop offers the work of a group of women welders who make
such goods as candelabra as Christmas gifts.

Although ambulance drivers used to refuse to enter Christiania because of
the high number of drug addicts that once lived there, they feel less
threatened now that hard drug users are banned. Two nurses offer first aid
treatment at the local health clinic, provided, of course, that the
remedies are natural. "We use alternative medicine as much as we can," says
a nurse who gave her name as Anonymous. The nurses say they don't offer
unsolicited advice on smoking pot, but will help people who seek assistance
in quitting.

Like any community that appeals to people who came of age in the 1970s,
Christiania is having to deal with a novel problem: Old age. "It's an
entirely new situation for us -- we have to take care of the elderly," says
Roslind. While time seems to have stopped in Christiania, even hippies grow
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