Pubdate: Fri, 30 May 2003
Source: Financial Times (UK)
Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2003
Author: Clare MacCarthy, in Copenhagen


Less than a kilometre away from Copenhagen's austere parliamentary complex, 
the 1,000 residents of Europe's last bastion of flower-power idealism are 
living on borrowed time.

The self-styled "Free Town" of Christiania, a former military barracks in 
the heart of the city, is a lively community hosting eclectic individuals, 
wacky architecture and a libertarian ethos reminiscent of the freewheeling 
days when "peace and love" was a political slogan.

But that is about to change, as Denmark's centre-right government plans to 
close it down because of concerns over drug pushing.

"It's a town within a town where lawlessness rules and hash is freely 
traded," said Lene Espersen, the justice minister. Her ministerial 
colleague from the department of defence said: "The experiment has failed."

The village is home to a score of thriving businesses including an 
award-winning restaurant (the Eating Flea), a top-notch concert hall (Bob 
Dylan played here) and a workshop producing exquisite bicycles for export. 
But Christiania, on land owned by the department of defence, is also home 
to northern Europe's most open marketplace for cannabis.

Its central thoroughfare - Pusher Street - contains more than a dozen 
market stalls with everything from hash cookies to ready-made marijuana 
cigarettes on open display and sale.

Ministers say the hash stalls on Pusher Street will be bulldozed. Buildings 
lacking planning permission will be demolished and roads built in what is 
now a leafy car-free zone. Recreational areas will be established for the 
benefit of the outside community and some 300 homes will be built for new 

Christiania's residents are appalled. They fear that their unique way of 
life is facing extinction and say the crackdown is not just about cannabis. 
Christiania's 34-hectare site is one of Copenhagen's most valuable open spaces.

Sites on an adjacent former military area, Holmen, have been sold off by 
the government to developers of luxury waterfront apartment buildings. One 
such 10,000 square metre site fetched DKr60m.

"Property prices around here are exploding and Christiania would be a 
goldmine for developers," said Peter Plett, another resident.

Christiania, however, will not be giving in without a fight. Residents have 
planned an unprecedented open day in June when outsiders can visit their 
homes, businesses and kindergartens.

"People will see that we're real people with real families in real homes 
and not just a bunch of hippies," said one resident.

With Christiania's estimated 1m visitors a year, rivalling the Little 
Mermaid statue as Copenhagen's most popular tourist attraction, the 
residents may find they can muster a lot support.

And not just from tourists. One recent Gallup poll said 75 per cent of 
Copenhageners did not want the place to close down.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom