Denmark's famous hippy haven vows to resist clean-up

Walking through the totem pole-style gateway into Christiania, a familiar
smell hangs in the air. The unmistakable scent of marijuana thickens along
the leafy path to Pusher Street, where everyone, including the local dog
flat out in the middle of the road, seems to be affected by the
fumes.Pusher Street, in the heart of this Copenhagen suburb, is
Scandinavia's largest open soft-drug market, a cobbled lane lined with
about 15 stands where dealers display lumps of top- quality Moroccan
hashish, bags of skunk and masterfully rolled "super joints", all labelled
with handwritten price tags like cakes at a summer fair.
"We have some of the best stuff you can get in Europe here. People come
from all over to buy here," said one.

Tourists and locals make special trips to this part of the Danish capital
to admire the goods, compare prices and generally breathe in the "mellow"
atmosphere of an alternative community, staked out by flower-power hippies
more than 30 years ago and still going strong.

But all is not quite as chilled out as it seems. By a fence near the
entrance a young Christianite stands guard, walkie-talkie in one hand,
spliff in the other, watching for approaching police. The sale of drugs,
however soft, is illegal in Denmark and the new centre-right government has
a mission to shut down the hash market and clean up the area.
Narcotics police, backed by riot forces, have raided Pusher Street several
times in recent months, arresting any of the dealers who do not pack up and
run fast enough when the walkie-talkie alert goes out. They say they are
afraid there would be riots if they tried to close down the whole street.

But the hash market - thought to turn over at least $160,000 a day - is not
the government's only gripe.

About 800 adults and several hundred children live in Christiania, many of
them running thriving arts and crafts businesses and dwelling in fairytale
wooden houses which they have built for themselves on the 34 hectares of
green open land belonging to the ministry of defence a stone's throw from
the modern office blocks of central Copenhagen.

The Christianites describe themselves as "anarchists with rules". Since
their founders began squatting here in 1971 they have been tolerated as a
continuing "social experiment". The residents had a modus vivendi with
previous governments, paying for their electricity and water supplies and
$1m rent to the ministry.

Each resident contributes to the costs of Christiania's own postal
service, rubbish collection and children's nurseries. The community has its
own newspaper and radio station.
The Copenhagen police are not welcome, and in their absence, criminals are
tried by the community and punished by eviction.

But the new government says Christiania is an eyesore, a security hazard
and an unruly community that must be made to step into line with the rest
of the country. It plans to close down the hash market, destroy 98 illegal
buildings and build or upgrade hundreds of others, to "give the area a lift".

"Christiania's days as a hotbed for hashish are numbered," the Conservative
party law and order spokesman, Helge Adam Moeller, said.

But the Christianites, many of whom have lived in the area for many years,
are not prepared to be "normalised" without a fight.

"They hate us because we like to be different," said Peter Post, a former
postman and the community's elected representative. "But we have a right to
live this way. Our houses are not illegal; they are like flowers: where one
grows, others sprout.

"They want to put state-of-the-art flats here, like in neighbouring
bourgeois areas. But they know we won't be able to afford that."

Gitte Christensen, a blacksmith, said: "What this is all really about is
the price of land. This area has become too valuable - they cannot bear to
let us poor people live here any more."
Oscar Meldgaard of Nybolig Erhverv, one of Denmark's biggest estate agents,

"Christiania is on one of the most attractive areas of Copenhagen. It is
3km from the centre of town; it's a green area on the waterfront. Land
there has more than doubled in value in the past five years."

Pubdate: Aug 7, 2002
Source: Guardian Weekly, The (U.K.)
Copyright: Guardian Publications 2001