Danish hippie haven struggles to raise cash to survive
COPENHAGEN — “Become a Christiania stockholder today!”: on its Facebook page Copenhagen’s “free city”, long a refuge for hippies and artists and a popular tourist destination, pleas for help to save the 40-year-old enclave.
Following a court ruling, the self-governed hippie community needs to come up with 76 million kroner (10.2 million euros, $13.4 million) to buy the area at the heart of the Danish capital.
Christiania was founded on September 26, 1971 when 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 one of Europe’s last remaining hippie enclaves, counting around 1,000 artists, activists and misfits as residents. There are restaurants, cafes, shops, a flourishing drug trade and some colourful, psychedelic-looking homes designed by residents.
The area attracts more than a million visitors annually.
On the emblematic Pusher Street, misfits and tourists saunter among stalls decorated with colourful pictures of hemp leaves and decked out with small plastic baggies of hashish and cannabis seeds.
If not for a ban on taking photographs, which might dissuade drug purchases, the boulevard would look like your average village shopping street on market day.
But Christiania’s existence is now threatened.
The enclave needs to raise more than 50 million kroner by July 1, otherwise the Danish state will move in and shut it down. The state wants to get its hands on the lucrative property and put an end to the illegal drug trade which some claim is run by international biker gangs.
Residents created the Christiania Foundation last July to raise funds and apply for a bank loan.
According to the free city’s lawyer Line Barfod, the state has promised to guarantee 100 percent of the cash borrowed for the project, so getting a loan should not be difficult.
But the squatters are balking at the deep cuts to their cultural activity budget that would be required to help cover the heavy monthly payments, explained Risenga Manghezi, a Christiania spokesman.
The commune pulls in about 20 million kroner each year from voluntary rent payments from residents, many of whom have have normal professions on the outside.
To raise more cash, the free city started last September selling online and on site “Christiania shares,” or small posters stating in several languages: “Christiania Share — worth more than money.”
Nulle, a 47-year-old acupuncturist who refused to give her last name, handed over 100 kroner at a colourfully painted wooden booth on a side street, sheltered from the commotion on Pusher Street.
“It’s wonderful to have a place that is not necessarily regulated and where all kinds of different people live together,” said Nulle, a regular at the many concerts organised in the enclave.
Birthe and Kurt, a couple in their mid-60s who also refused to provide a last name, said they rarely venture into Christiania, where dogs run free and bikes speed across grassy paths off-limits to cars.
But when they read in the paper that donations to save the commune were lagging, they decided to help by adding 500 kroner to the pot.
Some 50,000 people have so far donated money, but by the beginning of March, the Christiania Foundation had raised less than seven million kroner.
“It has always been understood that the foundation would need to borrow most of that (76-million-kroner) sum,” lawyer Barfod stressed, insisting the amount gathered so far was “fantastic.”
Of course, some people refuse to pitch in because of the drug trade run by “organised criminals”, Manghezi acknowledged.
“As long as they haven’t kicked out the Hells Angels, I won’t invest!” insisted Torben Vemmelund, a 37-year-old communications consultant, referring to the notorious biker gang.
Manghezi, who works part-time outside the commune at a Copenhagen school, meanwhile, was quick to point out that the residents themselves are the ones who suffer most from the criminal activity in their neighbourhood, stressing that the squatters receive none of the drug trade money.
Kjeld Amundsen, a 72-year-old artist, however said he considered the residents accomplices, since they rent out homes to the drug traders.
The free city “has lost the sympathy of the Danes,” since it has become “the biggest criminal den in Denmark,” he insisted.
Tanja Fox, a 44-year-old former gardener who has lived in Christiania since she was a young child, doesn’t agree.
As she sells Christiania shares from her booth, she voices optimism the efforts will pay off, insisting donations will take off “in the spring when the sun and tourists return.”