"Trees and plant life thrive free from human interference and pesticides. It is more racially diverse, culturally open and creatively expressive than your average Danish neighbourhood."
This is how a recent BBC article described Christiania - a town at the south of Copenhagen we visited during our trip earlier this month. After strolling through the town for a couple of hours on a guided tour and then returning to patronise a vegetarian restaurant there, I largely agree to what the above statements say.
The enclave was set up as a squat 40 years ago when some hippies broke down the fences of the disused military barracks there. The commune has been fighting for the legal right to run its own affairs for decades, and after a recent government ruling granted the small society a semi-autonomous status, Christiania is celebrating its independence and has been called Freetown Christiania.
The two residents interviewed by the BBC seemed to be of one voice when commenting on Christiania. "It's not a perfect society, but one of the nice things about being here is that it doesn't have to be," said one resident who lives there with his two six-month-old boys. Likewise, the other resident, one who has lived there for more than three decades and now takes curious tourists (like ourselves) on guided tours of her adopted hometown, admitted: "...it's not an ideal society - it's an alternative society." But she also said: "It gave me the chance to have a life that was not boring."
The way I see it, Christiania is definitely a colourful, pluralistic community that borders on idiosyncracy. Some places I visited and people I met there reminded me of scenes and characters one can only see in a Harry Potter film. There is no doubt that Christiania has much to offer for someone like me who would like to know more about it as a social phenomenon and appreciate the alternative lifestyle and art form. That is probably what makes Christiania Copenhagen's second most popular tourist attraction after Tivoli. But to live there is a totally different story. I asked myself whether, if I were a father, I would like my kids to grow up there, and the answer is a resonant "no". There are facilities and playgrounds for kids there, but a community where dodgy fellows loiter, where too many people smoke and drink and where deviant practices such as gang fights and open sale of soft drugs characterise its life is not a safe and healthy environment to bring up children. In this respect, I do not agree with the writer of the article that Christiania is "an attractive location for a family".
It was said in the article that "the founding fathers built Chistiania with an ideological vision of openness, love and altruistic living". But if the free society is truly to thrive, those who "kill the vibe" and those who exploit the freedom for their own financial gain would have to be weeded out.