From a military compound to a symbol of autonomy, culture and community. Discover the highlights of Freetown Christiania
A popular entrance to Christiania is the gate accessible directly from Prinsessegade. It leads visitors straight to Pusher Street. But many people also enter from Bådsmandsstræde and take the path Sydrområdet, next to a little Burger shop. We will start on Sydrområdet.
In Copenhagen’s district, Christianshavn, lies Freetown Christiania, a place of short but intense history. It marks a story of change since the area’s original use was military. Before it became a “free town” and meeting point for free spirits, the territory was used for the military barracks of Bådsmandsstræde (“Bådsmandsstrædes Kaserne”) including the royal artillery. The barracks were erected in 1836 as a defence but lost their purpose after World War II. Besides that, Christiania is located on parts of the city ramparts of Copenhagen, which were built in 1617 by King Christian IV, founder of Christianshavn. These ramparts were extended into a complete defence ring between 1682 and 1692. Whereas the western elements of the city wall were demolished, Christianshavn’s parts are still standing. Nowadays, they are considered a monument of defence works of the 17th century.
The city of Copenhagen grew steadily beyond the location of the barracks, making it challenging to maintain a defence facility right inside the city. As a result, the military left the area in 1967, and since then, the site has been a blank space for some years, with only a few guards and several homeless people seeking shelter in the empty buildings.
At the beginning of the ‘70s, the area was occupied by groups of people from the surrounding districts. This movement quickly became an expression of protest against the Danish government, grounded in the fact of increasing prices in the housing market. September 26th, 1971, indicates the opening of the former military site by the journalist and member of the countercultural “Provo” movement, Jacob Ludvigsen, and Christiania’s founding. Little by little, the abandoned buildings were populated by a wide range of individuals – hippies, anarchists, artists and mavericks.
Copenhagen’s government tried to clear the area for a while but gave in to the occupation in 1972 due to the size of the area and the large number of people. As a result, Christiania became a political issue and an unofficial social experiment. However, for many years, the new community was confronted with several governmental attempts to keep the right of use for the area, starting with a change of government in 1973. Finally, in 2011, following political and legal resistance by the inhabitants, Christiania and the government of Copenhagen found an agreement which allowed the community to purchase the area officially.
Today, the old barracks symbolise the transition of a place with a history of war and defence into a refuge for freedom seekers, dissenters and people in need of shelter and comfort. The grey and dull past gave way to a colourful and individualistic community with its particular culture and spirit. Yet, crossing the entrance to Christiania’s lively inside, visitors can still see and feel the energy of liberation sustained by the residents and their drive to create an alternative way of living.