Pubdate: Thu, 07 Aug 2003
Source: Guardian Weekly, The (UK)
Copyright: Guardian Publications 2003
Page: 22
Author: Sophie Arie, in Copenhagen


Denmark's famous hippy haven vows to resist clean-up

Walking through the totem pole-style gateway into Christiania, a
familiar smell hangs in the air. The unmistakable scent of marijuana
thickens along the leafy path to Pusher Street, where everyone,
including the local dog flat out in the middle of the road, seems to
be affected by the fumes. Pusher Street, in the heart of this
Copenhagen suburb, is Scandinavia's largest open soft-drug market, a
cobbled lane lined with about 15 stands where dealers display lumps of
top-quality Moroccan hashish, bags of skunk and masterfully rolled
"super joints", all labelled with handwritten price tags like cakes at
a summer fair. "We have some of the best stuff you can get in Europe
here. People come from all over to buy here," said one.

Tourists and locals make special trips to this part of the Danish
capital to admire the goods, compare prices and generally breathe in
the "mellow" atmosphere of an alternative community, staked out by
flower-power hippies more than 30 years ago and still going strong.

But all is not quite as chilled out as it seems. By a fence near the
entrance a young Christianite stands guard, walkie-talkie in one hand,
spliff in the other, watching for approaching police. The sale of
drugs, however soft, is illegal in Denmark and the new centre-right
government has a mission to shut down the hash market and clean up the
area. Narcotics police, backed by riot forces, have raided Pusher
Street several times in recent months, arresting any of the dealers
who do not pack up and run fast enough when the walkie-talkie alert
goes out. They say they are afraid there would  be riots if they tried
to close down the whole street.

But the hash market - thought to turn over at least $160,000 a day -
is not the government's only gripe.

About 800 adults and several hundred children live in Christiania,
many of them running thriving arts and crafts businesses and dwelling
in fairytale wooden houses which they have built for themselves on the
34 hectares of green open land belonging to the ministry of defence a
stone's throw from the modern office blocks of central Copenhagen.

The Christianites describe themselves as "anarchists with rules".
Since their founders began squatting here in 1971 they have been
tolerated as a continuing "social experiment". The residents had a
modus vivendi with previous governments, paying for their electricity
and water supplies and $1m rent to the ministry.

Each resident contributes to the  costs of Christiania's own postal
service, rubbish collection and children's nurseries. The community
has its own newspaper and radio station. The Copenhagen police are not
welcome, and in their absence, criminals are tried by the community
and punished by eviction.

But the new government says Christiania is an eyesore, a security
hazard and an unruly community that must be made to step into line
with the rest of the country. It plans to close down the hash market,
destroy 98 illegal buildings and build or upgrade hundreds of others,
to "give the area a lift".

"Christiania's days as a hotbed for hashish are numbered," the
Conservative party law and order spokesman, Helge Adam Moeller, said.

But the Christianites, many of whom have lived in the area for many
years, are not prepared to be "normalised" without a fight.

"They hate us because we like to be different," said Peter Post, a
former postman and the community's elected representative. "But we
have a right to live this way. Our houses are not illegal; they are
like flowers: where one grows, others sprout.

"They want to put state-of-the-art flats here, like in neighbouring
bourgeois areas. But they know we won't be able to afford that."

Gitte Christensen, a blacksmith, said: "What this is all really about
is the price of land. This area has become too valuable - they cannot
bear to let us poor people live here any more." Oscar Meldgaard of
Nybolig Erhverv, one of Denmark's biggest estate agents, said:

"Christiania is on one of the most attractive areas of Copenhagen. It
is 3km from the centre of town; it's a green area on the waterfront.
Land there has more than doubled in value in the past five years."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake