Since for the Life on Earth course the topic of last semester centred around gentrification and squatting as a form of protest against gentrification, Copenhagen was of special interest to us because it contains a prime example of citizens taking matters into their own hands in the autonomous area/free city of Christiania.
On the way there we stopped at an amazing church tower, which is constructed in a way that after climbing up various rickety wooden stairs on the inside, you finish the last bit to the bubble at the top on a winding staircase around the outside of the spire. Even though most students were a bit spooked by the prospect, everyone but one made it, some even to the very top where the staircase just becomes so narrow you have to squeeze in sideways to get any higher.
Basically, what happened to create Christiania was that in the seventies a group of squatters moved into some abandoned army barracks that were situated in the borough of Christianshavn and over the years established a sort of colony. „Christianites“ have made up their own rules and for a long time governed themselves via a council in which every inhabitant gets a say. One of the main goals of the original „settlers“ was to legalise weed, which is why even today it is sold more or less openly in this tiny area of Copenhagen. This deviation from Danish legislation is made possible by Christianites reacting extremely aggressively to interventions from outside as well as – it seems – the general support of other locals. The police normally won’t enter the area. In principle, Christianites tolerate outsiders, so there are lots of tourists walking around, but still the few blocks of houses have a wild feel to them. Even though recently the inhabitants bought the area from the state for a more or less symbolic price (it’s a lease, actually, so their children can’t inherit the ground), the area still looks like a squatting due to all the colourful paintings covering the walls of houses as well as lots of fine examples of urban gardening (citizens taking over the city space to grow decorative plants as well as vegetables).
Christiania is a fascinating example of the struggle to accommodate various opinions in one system and the difficulties idealistic groups face when they attempt to live together for a long time. Even though everybody basically was supposed to be allowed to do whatever they want, lots of rules exist (don’t sell hard drugs, no gang activity, you can’t move to Christiania unless the council approves, no cars on the streets, don’t take pictures, etc.). Also, since the inhabitants bought the ground they were squatting, the question remains in how far they can still bee counted as rebels or whether they have not succumbed to the rules of plain old capitalism.
It remains to be seen whether when all the original inhabitants have deceased, the ground will be taken back by the city and sold to build luxury accommodation, which is probably the most lucrative option for the state, or whether a new generation of idealists/non-conformists will take over and invent Christiania afresh.
Plan for tomorrow: Bike trip along the coast towards the north, which is an area scattered with big mansions and castles.