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In the spirit of the Tour de France, which in the year 2022 is undoubtedly a completely drug-free zone and the only positive you’re likely to get is for Covid-19, we decided to go off in search of some dopers.
Luckily, this year’s French Grand Tour starts in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, which is home to Christiania, an “intentional community and commune” that began in 1971 when some free-spirited folk squatted on a military base and never left, instead growing their community to number more than 900 people. It’s also home to the unbelievably strong smell of hash.
But it’s not all hippies and free love. Whereas you used to be able to buy all sorts of cannabis on the area’s infamous Pusher Street, also referred to as the ‘Green Light District’, police have since cracked down and the sale of drugs is not so brazen as to have big ol’ doobies displayed in shop windows.
Local Copenhagen journalist, Rasmus Nowak Franklin, says the sale and use of heavier drugs was removed from the area and that normal people live there, he and his wife both know a number of former inhabitants. “It’s not like the Charles Manson’s type of hippies who go there,” he says, comfortingly.
Indeed, on the walk towards the entrance to Freetown Christiania, an old BMW has been pulled over by police, three young men are sat in the car looking sheepish while an officer puts the end of a joint in a zip-lock bag.
But once inside, the authorities seem to turn a blind eye. By the entrance a man gives a slice of pizza to a woman hawking graffiti artwork, children run around with a football and clamber over a property where the ground floor seems to be a mini skate park (see the cover image of this article) and the upstairs rooms where people live.
There are bars where people sit quietly enjoying a beer, a sort of solemn drinking, different to the raucous atmosphere at many of Copenhagen’s other pubs and restaurants. There is a head shop that sells all of the paraphernalia you’d need to smoke some drugs, though not the actual drugs, but there is at least one man standing on the street corner who whispers as you walk past that he may have what you want. There is a market that sells clothes and jewellery. Every few steps a fresh waft of hash hits, another individual casually getting high. There is a certain respectfulness to their drug consumption, a Big Lebowski ensemble rather than an I’m-going-to-chuck-your-iPad-out-the-window-at-3am energy.
There are sandwiches that cost £5 ($6) not exactly honouring the spirit of ‘Free’-town, although there is a library where you can donate and take books at will.
Continuing on past Pusher Street and the collection of bars and stalls, a dirt track leads you up and around to a scenic nature spot, where you can enjoy your kind-of-legal drugs in peace if the 60-year-old woman crushing a medium-to-large sized bifta alongside a large bottle of beer down in the main square wasn’t exactly aligning with your desired vibe.
Walking deeper into Christiania out along the peninsula, larger buildings start to appear, including this one below. Notice the stuffed dolls hung up on the roof, because nothing says ‘welcome home!’ quite like that.
But elsewhere there are a bunch of normal homes, people sitting out on their decks enjoying a drink and some dinner in the evening sunshine. Most buildings are made out of metal, with varying additions tacked on, each individual designing their home piece-by-piece as the owner’s needs and wants develop over time.
Of course, this is Copenhagen, so the bike is still king. Multiple machines are parked outside nearly every residence. It seems a peaceful place to live, at least, if there weren’t so many tourists and people wandering through having a nose around.
Soon, the houses start to fall away in number and the road widens. A river appears, a bike path running alongside it, and people potter about in boats and kayaks. An idyllic way to spend a June evening.
So that’s Christiania – not quite a hedonistic underworld, but also not your grandma’s tea party.