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Visiting an anarchist commune in central Copenhagen

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With its low crime rate, clean streets and status as the world’s best cycling city, most people would assume the Danish government have done a pretty good job of governing Copenhagen. However, a few of the residents happen to disagree. These residents live in Freetown Christiania, a semi-autonomous anarchist commune right in the heart of the Danish capital.

The entrance to Freetown Christiania. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Christiania traces its roots to a group of squatters living on disused government land in the 1970s. What began as a squat soon became a small community of like-minded individuals. The group was eventually discovered and the police were sent to evict them from the land. After peacefully greeting the police and reassuring them of their good intentions, an agreement was reached and the squatters were allowed to stay, and so Freetown Christiania was born.

Various governments have since tried to evict the residents to no avail, and the bohemian commune is still going strong forty years later. I had heard a lot about Christiania from other backpackers before my trip to Copenhagen and so I decided to pay the place a visit and find out what all the fuss was about.

Copenhagen Downtown Hostel. Credit: Europe's Famous Hostels

I was staying at the Copenhagen Downtown Hostel, a trendy modern hostel and bar just a short walk from Tivoli Gardens and Strøget, one of the longest pedestrian only streets in Europe. A walking tour to Christiania leaves the hostel every afternoon, providing the perfect opportunity for guests to gain some insight into this mysterious little settlement. The first stop on the tour is the gorgeous square surrounding Strøget’s Stork Fountain, from where you will make your way along the river towards Christiania stopping at Parliament, the stock market and the Church of Our Saviour along the way.

Tivoli Gardens, a short walk from Copenhagen Downtown Hostel. Credit: Daniel Edwins

The residents of Christiania are an insular bunch keen on sticking to their anarchist roots and not so keen on being commoditised. It is for this reason that your tour guide will hide their top before entering and continue the tour as a regular member of the public. Walking around the commune you will find that the residents’ resistance to commercialisation only goes so far. The main street contains cafés, restaurants and bars where you can grab yourself a pint of Tuborg and watch the sunset over the lake. A small market stocked with fresh produce, clothing and souvenirs can also be found. Visitors may be shocked to see just how openly cannabis is sold on Pusher Street, in a nation where the stuff is strictly illegal.

Pusher Street. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Christiania was for a short while plagued by criminal gangs and drug related violence. It is for this reason that the once rule-free community now live by a short but strictly enforced set of rules including a ban on all weapons, hard drugs and violence. Running and photography are also banned on Pusher Street for obvious reasons.

Outside of Pusher Street, visitors are free to take pictures wherever they please and should take full advantage of the opportunity. The lack of planning permissions, guidelines and regulations inherent in such a community has allowed for all kinds of weird and wonderful architecture to spring up over the last few decades. Christiania also happens to be in a marvellously scenic location, surrounded by plants and greenery; it feels like its own little village despite being in the centre of the city. Currently home to approximately 850 residents, the housing cooperative operates on an invitation only basis. Visitors are free to come and go as they please but those who wish to become permanent residents must submit an application that proves they reflect the values Christiania stands for.

He who lives in a glass house. Credit: seier+seier, via Flickr

A row of Bycyklen bicycles. Credit: Bycyklen

Once you’re done exploring Christiania rent yourself a bike from Bycyklen, the Copenhagen equivalent of London’s Boris Bike scheme. Unlike Boris Bikes however, these bikes have electric motors to aid your journey and GPS tablets to take you exactly where you want to go. Accounts can be made in a few minutes with nothing more than web access and a credit card. Simply choose a bike, login to your account with the tablet and you’re away.

If you’re feeling hungry after a long cycle, head to Bronx Burger, just next door to Downtown Hostel. Their gourmet burgers are made to order along with a variety of sides to choose from and local beer is served on tap. A little further along the road you will find Vandkunsten Sandwich & Salad Bar, a tiny shop with some huge portions. Here you will find a wide variety of handmade toasted sandwiches and wraps, perfect for a big lunch and guaranteed to keep you full for the rest of the day. If you fancy venturing out a little further for your meals, head to the bustling street food market on Paper Island where you will find every kind of street eat under the sun.

A selection of giant sandwiches at Vandkunsten Sandwich and Salat Bar. Credit: Vandkunsten Sandwich

For further inspiration of where to visit, hop on a canal tour from the dock at Gammel Strand. Admission is free with a Copenhagen Card and you will cover a huge portion of the city in just an hour or so. You will soon discover that Copenhagen is huge and it could quite possibly take forever to see it all. So if pressed for time make sure you visit the majestic houses of Parliament, trek to the top of the Baroque era Church of our Saviour and take a stroll through the gorgeous Nyhavn district. Round it all off with a drink or two at the Downtown Hostel bar during happy hour and head out on the town, provided you still have the energy of course. And finally make sure that no matter what, you always follow the rules.

The Christiania rulebook. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Coaches provided by Eurolines, passes start from €195 for 15 days and can be purchased from www.eurolines.com/en/eurolines-pass/ 

Accomodation provided by Copenhagen Downtown Hostel and Europe's Famous Hostels. Prices start from £23.50 per person per night. www.famoushostels.com/hostels/copenhagen-hostel/ 

Copenhagen card provided by Visit Copenhagen. The card provides free access to over 70 attractions and unlimited use of public transport. Prices start from €48. www.copenhagencard.com/

Bicycles available to rent from Bycyklen, prices start from 25kr per hour for non-members and 6kr per hour for members. http://bycyklen.dk/en/

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