Originally published in the Next Stop newsletter. Subscribe!
When you read “autonomous anarchist neighborhood,” you might imagine a place full of politically active individuals doing what they can to escape the claws of unfettered capitalism. You might also picture drums. Lots and lots of drums and circles.
I can’t tell you if you’re right or wrong. Because roughly 99 percent of visitors, based on my presumptuous calculations, don’t visit Freetown Christiana to stick it to the man or to slap some tightly pulled animal hide. They visit for the drugs, specifically pot and edibles.
Morally reputable man that I am, I of course am among the one percent who visited out of cultural curiosity. Melanie visited years earlier and had her own experience. It frankly didn’t occur to me to even visit until I awoke on Saturday morning and remembered that Freetown Christiana is a thing to do in Copenhagen.
We journeyed through the city on a crisp October afternoon, enjoying the mostly sunny skies and opportunity to walk long distances without worrying about getting too hot or cold. A stop at Coffee Collective in the city center helped us break up the walk and escape a brief rain shower that seemed to surprise everyone scampering inside without an umbrella. We cleaned our cups of filter brew and continued heading down the famous harbor to trot across the impressive Inderhavnsbroen pedestrian and bike bridge into Freetown Christiana.
A series of makeshift dirt paths with the occasional bit of concrete lead into the neighborhood. There are arched gateways absolutely covered in sloppy graffiti like a guy falling asleep first at a party and waking up with a penis on his forehead.
It’s not all drugs in Freetown Christiana. You can find clothes, food trucks, bars, art, music, and restaurants. We even stumbled into a hardware store of sorts. But you know when you’ve come upon Pusher Street where they sell, you know, the stuff. The brick buildings have giant “no camera” symbols painted on them as you mosey down the alley in front of makeshift bulletin board signs with “Weed 100g” scribbled on them. Most of these freewheeling entrepreneurs are at their humble stand, chatting with customers. Melanie and I did a lap and continued through the neighborhood.
Ironically Freetown Christiana has become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, which I’m not sure fits into the autonomous anarchist framework. But hey, it ain’t my circus and it’s certainly not my monkey. And it was our understanding that although these drugs are illegal in Denmark, authorities leave this neighborhood alone. But that clearly wasn’t the case.
Eventually we left the neighborhood to get some currency out of an ATM (for entirely innocent reasons). On our return, a young man sprinted past us. We thought nothing of it until four or so police officers galloped by in lockstep like a small gaggle of Stormtroopers.
Then, there was a loud caw like someone just scared the shit out of a crow.
Back at Pusher Street, there was a different young man in handcuffs. All of the sellers had abandoned their stands. We may as well have walked onto a film set long after wrap. One of the cops took a picture of a stand––ignoring the countless others for some reason––and continued on with his day.
Needless to say, we were a bit spooked about what to do with our recently withdrawn Danish bills. So, we killed some time with a beer and snacks at one of the restaurants. By the time we left the restaurant, a half hour or so later, the sellers were back––not that we spoke with any of them or bought a cookie. Definitely, definitely didn’t do that.
Recapping the experience, we decided that the caw we heard was an alarm system to warn others that Johnny Law was on the premises. Another giveaway was probably the guy on a dead sprint. I did read later on that there’s no running in Freetown Christiana.
So there you have it! Another life lesson to add to the rolodex. Don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant, don’t talk about fight club, and don’t run in Freetown Christiana.