Before flying into Denmark we spent some serious time binge-watching travel videos on youtube – this is usually how we figure out the currency and learn a few local phrases (hello, thank you, where is the wine, etc.) and get an idea as to what we should expect upon arrival.
It seems like every Copenhagen travel guide is enamored with Christiania: a self-proclaimed autonomous community in the borough of Christianshavn, which is easy walking distance from the Copenhagen city center. The spirit of this place is well-illustrated in their simple mission statement:
The objective of Christiania is to create a self-governing society whereby each and every individual holds themselves responsible over the wellbeing of the entire community. Our society is to be economically self-sustaining and, as such, our aspiration is to be steadfast in our conviction that psychological and physical destitution can be averted. -Jacob Ludvigsen, 1971
As altruistic as the motto sounds, this community is often surrounded by controversy. It is hailed by some Danes as a utopia, and is seen by others as a haven for junkies where illegal substances are unregulated and sold openly. Despite the widespread stereotype of Christiania as a thriving druggie commune, the people have developed their own set of rules independent of the Danish government. The rules forbid stealing, violence, guns, knives, bulletproof vests, hard drugs and wearing bikers’ colors. There is also a restriction on cars and motorcycles, and photography is strictly prohibited in certain areas (especially the cannabis-friendly “Green Light Zone”). Visitors are likely to be thrown out if seen taking photos, so needless to say there are no images of camouflage-draped hash stands… but I managed to get a few good photos and was delighted to see a portrait piece by hometown hero El Mac on a wall behind a worn-out building (the featured image at the top of this post – Mac lived/worked in Phoenix for years and painted plenty of murals downtown). As all art is subjective I found the execution and condition of this mural to be an appropriate metaphor for the community as a whole.
There is definitely a strong central american street vibe here; complete with heavy use of bright primary colors, unpaved roads weaving between converted house/bars, and shirtless old transients lounging in the sun and looking for a light.
^^^We visited Christiania on a beautiful sunny afternoon and did what we do best: took in the surroundings, made some friends, and of course stumbled across a killer food market inside of a warehouse! Welcome to PapirØen Street Food Market, where locals get lunch and soak up the incredible view of downtown Copenhagen. If heaven isn’t a sunny sea-side food market, then I don’t want to go!
^^^Is that a bedazzled cow hanging from the roof? Yup… okay now I’m hungry!
^^^After eating your own body weight in smørrebrød (a traditional Danish open-faced sandwich) you can collapse in a lounge chair by the water and admire the views of scenic Nyhavn and the ultra mod Skuespilhuset theater.
^^^Despite the hype we enjoyed ourselves and spent a relaxing afternoon wandering around the canals, tire-swinging in the park, and being repeatedly mistaken for locals (a great feeling!). Christiania isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but upon entering it feels like you stepped into a non-partisan countryside town… which makes a nice contrast to the tidy city of Copenhagen.