The striking black vests of the Danish police are not a rare sight on the streets of Copenhagen, but on Pusher Street in Christiania, they are especially common. The police are drawn to Christiania Freetown because it is a hub of drug distribution.
As the all-too-familiar parade of uniformed law enforcement enters the hippie commune in Copenhagen, the 40-45 stall owners lining the streets scramble to get their contraband out of site.
Hashish and marijuana disappear into carefully predetermined nooks and crannies. Inevitably, some is spotted and will be taken by the police, between January and May of 2018 police confiscated 207 kilos of cannabis, but the vast majority escapes the darting eyes of the officers and will most likely be sold to a passing tourist later in the day.
How does an old military base transform into a European capital’s thriving outdoor drug marketplace? In 1971, the military base that is now Christiania Freetown stood vacant. Squatters gained entry and established a commune on the 84-acre site, immediately declaring Christiania as “self-governing”.
The use and sale of cannabis soon became widespread in Christiania, which had developed its own currency known as the Løn. Initially, the authorities turned a blind eye. Danish anthropologist, Jiesper Tristan Pedersen, remembers, “Danish policy back then was more gentle”.
But in 2004, the authorities cracked down on the illegal sale and distribution of drugs in Christiania Freetown. The Danish electorate demanded increased law and order, and raids on the drug marketplace became a daily occurrence for the 900 residents.
A hash dealer living in Christiania named Carsten spoke to the New York Times about it. “We hate, hate, hate the police”, he hissed.
The police threaten the Christianian way of life, which features a ban on private cars, cafés with seating areas where you can smoke weed, and a communal, community-driven spirit.
The community functions without the interference of the police. Law and order in Christiania rely on community self-regulation. The community ostracizes those which don’t follow the rules (which includes a ban on hard drugs like heroin). One resident, known as Pat, said this form of self-regulation was far more powerful than governmental oversight.
Christiania is now Copenhagen’s fourth most visited tourist attraction. The bright colours, eccentric street art, bohemian coffee shops, restaurants and art galleries draw in the crowds (as well as the temptation to walk on the Green side of life).
Although it may not always be apparent, the residents of this bastion of freedom and expression are locked in a bitter game of cat and mouse. One that has taken its toll on the population since 2004.
Mural image by Tony Webster from Flickr
Christiania Sign Image: from Wikimedia Commons
No Hard Drugs Image: from Wikimedia Commons