Today I'm stuck in Goteborg, Sweden at the train terminal. Thank goodness for all of these ubiquitous cheap internet terminals... keeping in contact with the English-speaking word is definately a plus. I took the 8:30 AM train from Copenhagen with the intent of skipping right onto the train to Oslo, Norway. However, unbeknownst to me, there was construction/repair being done to the rails somewhere between hither and thither, so a good hour and a half of the ride was transferred to the bus line. Well, I didn't know this upon getting here, so I missed the bus to Thorrland (or something like that). Annoying as it is, the only thing I can do is read the Rail schedule book I have, try to plan it as conservatively as possible, and hope there aren't any monkeywrenches thrown.
So, while I wait a couple, three, four hours, I should probably digest last night visiting Copenhagen. Last night, I went to dinner at a great steak place near the Tivoli amusement park downtown. I had a 1 liter flute of their homebrewed beer (which they took my left shoes and gave me a wicker clog as a deposit, just in case I was too drunk to remember to pay my tab) and decided I would hit up a few more sights before I headed back to the haystack. I made my way to Christianhavn, which is the place where most of the palaces and royal building are. It's basically a harbor, or was a harbor, bisected by an inlet from the sound. Two bridges cross over the river to the island that the majority of Christianhavn is housed. Along with the quite modest castles on the island is the infamous "free city" of Christiania.
Christiania is basically a commune started in September 1971 by a bunch of free-wheeling hippies, back when the world was tolerant of their types. The city, really just a dirt roadway splattered with a few dozen buildings (old and new) running through a semi-parklike area. Since it's inception, a commune based around (of course) peace and tolerance has stood. It actually declared it's independence from the rest of Denmark when it was created. There is actually a sign as you leave the city that reads: 'You are now enter EU.' The place has been, among other things, an area from which anyone could go and purchase soft drugs (marijuana or hashish) and generally sit around willy-nilly in your skivvies. Think of it as a Scandanavian Golden Gate park. However, several years ago, when a new political party gained a foothold on the Danish parliament, it decided to try and clean up the place a bit. Most of the literary sources I've read acknowledged that a large part of the motivation for this came from pressure from the United States threatening to revoke it's 'Most Favored Nation' trade status. So, they came in a few years ago (4 or 5 years, not sure really) and took away all of the stands (on Pusherstreet) that were overtly advertising the sale of soft drugs. Of course, this was a major change, as Christiania had existed almost as it was originally for over 25 years. The stands disappeared, but the dealers are still there. Now it's common to see groups of 4 or 5 police officers casing down the main drag several times a day, handing out fines for possession or use.
I arrived at Christiania a bit late, probably after 8 PM, and it looked as if most of the days activity was winding down. There were several places blasting loud music, stands selling hamburgers, plenty of bars and an uncountable number of dogs running around freely. I saw the same kind of people you's expect to be roaming around Haight-Ashbury or Lithia Park. Of course, there were a lot of kids (teens to 20s types) there as well. Mind you the drinking age in Denmark is 16. The pushers were certainly there and visible, they just seemed to be keeping it on the downlow. I hung around for a bit, had a Tuborg (Denmark's most popular beer next to Carlsberg), played with a few of the rambuncious dogs and was on my way out. I was strolling on another path trying to find my way out, and I caught the site of an older woman sitting on a wooden bench behind one of the courtyards blasting a sort of Reggae/HipHop blend. Having got pretty much blank stares or averted eyes from everyone else who seemed at home there, I thought I would try to ask her a few questions.
I didn't know it at first, but this woman was living in the village at the beginning of it's inception in 1971. Her name is Kirsten Harwood, a Native Dane, and still a resident in the area of Christianhavn outside of the commune. We were able to strike up a fairly long and insightful conversation as her English was quite good. She said that she had learned English in Australian, where she had lived for 2 or 3 years in her youth. She was a window-dresser by trade, in the days that a window-dresser could make a living in a city. She got very much caught up with the quest to live free and with as much love for her fellow man (or woman) as possible. She and a few other hundred people established the city of Christiania on the site of an abandoned military base. Unfortunately, the soil was polluted from the chemicals dumped on the base, so they could never grow their own food in the village. She recalls spending all day sitting outside, playing music and singing in large groups, and planting the city's gardens. She lived in the city for the first 8 years of it's existence, at which time I gathered she married someone and moved out of the city. However, she was pregnant when she first lived in the city and actually gave birth to the first-born son of Christiania.
I actually met her son (who seemed more interested in playing with a puppy and tending to his "business transactions" than talking) who had been living in Christiania for all 34 years of his life. Kirsten seemed very proud of her son as well as another son, whom she said was aged 17, and also very happy to still have Christiania to come and relax in while her apartment was unbearably hot from the beating summer sun. She seemed very content to sit and watch the trees and reminisce about the "old days." She didn't seem at all concerned with the drug culture, but explained to me the significance of the symbol that was painted next to the marijuana leaf on the side of a building. It's a pictograph of a fist smashing a need to pieces. She talked about how the heroin nearly tore the community apart some years ago. She said that the responsible citizens all banded together (physically, linking their arms together and cornering the accused) to banished them from the community. It seemed like an inspiring act of unity, especially to protect the use of marijuana which she exclaimed "is much less worse than alcohol." Mostly she seemed very concerned that the Danish government is attempting to plan to demolish the village in January of next year to make way for trendy, expensive apartments. She crooned with so much passion as she said: "They can't take it away, they just can't!" waving her fist in the air.
I was so astounded and felt very lucky that I ran into this woman who was so willing to share the personal history of the place. I got the sense from her that the recent demolition of the pusher stands and the frequent visits by the police (whom she dislikes strongly because they give her "bad vibrations, like the Beach Boys, but bad instead of good") are signalling the slow end of this incredibly unique and marvelous place. I truly felt like this was an instance where the judgements of foreigners, like the Americans, were truly wrong and the only reason why this place is in jeopardy of being shut down is because as it exists, it is a challenge to the hypocritical and draconian drug policies that the West wishes to instill upon the rest of the world. In as much as we would want those not from our home to not direct our behaviors, ideas and ways of life, so do the citizens of the last Free State, Christiania.