COPENHAGEN (AFP) Deftly rolling a joint, 14-year-old Trygve says he
revels in being able to light up freely in Christiania, Copenhagen's
"free city" and Europe's last refuge for hippies, artists and activists.
But Christiania's days may be numbered, with the Danish government
determined to clean up the giant squat, which was founded in 1971 and
is now the city's third most visited attraction.
Trygve sits at a picnic table with his friends Morten and Christian,
the trio enjoying their free time after school "in this tranquil
oasis where anything goes."
"It's cool here. There should be places like this in other
countries," one of them says, wishing they could live here where
"life is good."
Drugs are officially banned by law.
"But you can still get it anytime of day or night," insists Trygve.
On September 26, 1971, a band of guitar-laden hippies made an
abandoned army barracks in central Copenhagen their home. They raised
their "freedom flag" and named their new abode "Christiania, free city."
It is now home to some 1,000 hippies, artists, activists and misfits.
There are restaurants, cafes, shops and some unique-looking homes
designed by residents and the area attracts more than a million
But its existence has been threatened since the arrival in power in
2001 of the Danish centre-right government.
Christiania has been the scene of regular police raids and violent
clashes, and even bloody settlings of scores between dealers.
In March 2004 police officially dismantled the hash market on Pusher
Street, the enclave's most famed thoroughfare, estimating the soft
drug market controlled by criminal biker gangs at one billion kroner
(134 million euros, 174 million dollars) a year.
But given the resolute determination of Christiania residents, police
have a hard time keeping drugs out.
"We don't have the resources that are necessary to be present in
Christiania," admits Copenhagen police spokesman Flemming Steen Munch.
"We're resigned to accepting hash sales at a reasonable level," he
says, adding that riots ensue after every major police raid.
"One joint doesn't hurt," says Jens, a Copenhagen resident doing his
"shopping" in Christiania, huddling by an outdoor fire near Pusher
Street to keep warm in the November chill.
Dealers hang out on the street, ready to scatter if their lookouts
signal the arrival of the police.
At "Cafe Oasen" and "Woodstock", the walls are covered in graffiti
and psychedelic murals. Inside, the sweet smell of hash hangs heavy
as regulars sit around drinking beer and discuss a current court case
pitting the Danish state against Christiania.
The government wants to clean up the area, build housing and open it
up to the general public, a move Christiania dwellers are resisting.
They have taken the Danish state to court, insisting that they were
given the exclusive right to use the area as they wish, a claim the
state rejects. A verdict is expected at the end of February.
"They want us to fall in line. But we'll fight," says Ole, who lives
in the 32-hectare (79-acre) enclave located on the outskirts of Copenhagen.
In her art gallery, Jane Olschansky, who is married to Leonard, one
of the founders of the "free city", says she thinks "Christiania has
lost some of its soul, idealism and solidarity over the years."
But she "defends tooth and nail the freedom" of the community and
firmly rejects authorities' attempts at "normalisation", which she
says would be "the beginning of the end" of the "unique" experiment.
Anita Conte, a student, says she believes in "Christiania's ideology
of an alternative lifestyle," stressing that some of the community's
initiatives have long since been adopted by the mainstream, citing as
an example its "green revolution which even the prime minister has adopted."
Thirty-seven years after its creation, Christiania, its red flag with
three yellow dots fluttering in the wind, still intrigues people.
But will it survive? Many have their doubts.