Pubdate: Sun, 22 Jul 2007
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: G - 3
Copyright: 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Rick Steves
Note: Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel 
shows on public TV and radio.
Bookmark: (Marijuana)



I was strolling through the commotion of downtown Copenhagen, past 
chain restaurants dressed up to look old and under towering hotels 
that seem to be part of a different international chain each year. 
Then, as if from another age, a man pedaled his wife on a Christiania 
Bike -- two wheels pushing a big, utilitarian, rounded bucket. You'd 
call the couple "granola" in the United States -- they look as out of 
place here in Copenhagen as an Amish couple in Manhattan.

Later that same day, I paused to watch a parade of ragtag 
soldiers-against-conformity dressed in black venture through the 
modern bustle of downtown Copenhagen. They walked sadly behind a 
World War II-vintage truck blasting Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in 
the Wall." I never listened to the words until now. They're fighting 
a rising tide of conformity. They want to raise their children to be 
not cogs but free spirits. On their banner -- painted onto an old 
sheet -- was a slogan you see in their Christiania squatter 
community: "Lev livet kunstnerisk! Kun dode fisk flyder med 
strommen." ("Live life artistically! Only dead fish follow the 
current.") They flew the Christiania flag -- three yellow dots on an 
orange background. They say the dots are from the o's in "Love, Love, Love."

In 1971, the original 700 Christianians established squatters' rights 
in an abandoned military barracks, just a 10-minute walk from the 
Danish parliament building. A generation later, this "free city" 
still stands -- an ultra-human mishmash of idealists, hippies, 
potheads, non-materialists and happy children (600 adults, 200 kids, 
200 cats, 200 dogs, 17 horses and two parrots), even a handful of 
Willie Nelson-type seniors among the 180 remaining here from the 
original takeover. And an amazing thing has happened: The place has 
become the third-most-visited sight among tourists in Copenhagen. 
Move over, Little Mermaid.

Christiania, which sprawls just behind the spiral tower of Our 
Savior's Church in the trendy district of Christianshavn, welcomes 
visitors (even offering tours daily through the summer). They've 
become a major part of the economy. Tourists react in very different 
ways to the place. Some see dogs, dirt and dazed people. Others see a 
haven of peace, freedom and no taboos. Locals will remind judgmental 
Americans (whose country incarcerates more than a quarter of the 
world's prison inmates) that a society must make the choice: Allow 
for alternative lifestyles ... or build more prisons.

At the community's entrance is a sign announcing that you are leaving 
the EU (European Union). The main drag is nicknamed "Pusher Street" 
for the marijuana-selling stands that lined it before the recent 
police crackdown. Now the police drop in 10 times a day, and cafes 
post signs warning "No pot smoking." (Hard drugs have always been 
strictly forbidden.)

As you walk down Pusher Street, you'll see Nemoland, a kind of food 
circus. A huge warehouse called the Green Hall (Den Gronne Hal) does 
triple-duty as a recycling center (where people get most of their 
building material), a craft center for kids and an evening concert 
hall. Nearby is a barracks housing Spiseloppen, a bohemian chic loft 
whose near-gourmet cuisine attracts smartly dressed professional 
types from all over town. Eventually Pusher Street takes you to the 
ramparts overlooking a lake lined with cozy, if ramshackle, cottages.

While biking through the community, it occurred to me that, except 
for the bottled beer being sold, there was not a hint of any 
corporate entity in the entire free city. Everything was handmade. 
Nothing was packaged. And, of course, that will not stand.

The current conservative government is feeling the pressure from 
developers to "normalize" Christiania. There is a take-it-or-leave-it 
"final solution" on the table for leaders of the commune to deal 
with. The verdict is that land (which no one wanted 35 years ago but 
is now in huge demand) needs to be developed. Much of it will be 
opened to market forces, and 1,600 outsiders will be allowed to move 
in. This will drastically change Europe's last and only surviving 
attempt at a socialist utopia dating from flower-power days.

I recently received an e-mail from some traveling readers. They said: 
"We're not prudes, but Christiania was creepy. Don't take kids here 
or go after dark." A free city is not pretty, I agree. But watching 
parents raise their children with Christiania values, I came to 
believe more strongly than ever in this social experiment. Giving 
alternative-type people a place to be alternative is a kind of 
alternative beauty that deserves a place.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake