Saturday, March 01, 2014

Copenhagen - Tivoli vs Christiania

Adopting a sample approach, the following are four short happenings from 24 hours in the Danish capital.


Grabbing some takeaway fuel for the night ahead, I started a conversation with an incredibly pissed off and sultry looking serving lady in a take out. After initially doing her best to ignore us, she about turned, became friendly and went on a tirade against Denmark. She was from Lithuania, had come over for work a couple of years back and clearly resented her hosts. She described them as condescending and racist towards Eastern European migrants. This was interesting given my only positive experiences of the Danes, but no doubt illustrative. The lady had fire in her eyes.


After a few more drinks we sauntered into the peculiar anomaly that is Fristaden Christiania (Freetown Christiana). Amongst the Copenhagen canals, lies an island which was at the core of the European flower power movement. A mini San Francisco ’69, in the early seventies this place was taken over by freedom toting, spliff toking hippies. They even declared independence as a sovereign state, barricading the bridges from the Danish state. A lot of police raids and public debate later, Christiania and its ageing hippies remain. I had only vaguely heard of the place before, but being recommended as an interesting sight by a local lady in the hostel bar we thought we’d give it a go. 

In the day the place is apparently inviting, complete with all types of clever ecologically minded housing designs (it has a permanent population of over 1,000) and invitations to tea. At night it had a vaguely intimidating atmosphere. Walking through a branded gate and down “pusher” street the place felt distinctly dodgy. The overwhelming feeling is one of shadows. Dark except for the odd patch enlightened by some form or other of neon green strobe light (tackily enough often in the shape of a hash leaf), we shifted down the path past derelict looking buildings and eyes peering out of the darkness.

We eventually reached the “centre” of Christiania dominated by a bar and surrounding weed stalls. A bit like Amsterdam, but far less welcoming. A good portion of the locals clearly did not want foreigners around. Ignoring such sentiment we went to the bar and grabbed a round of local beers (yup, Christiania has its own brewery producing really quite delectable beers).

The place was packed with quite probably the oddest assortment of people I have shared a drinkwith. On the one hand you had the core hippies from the original movement. With long grey hair, fisherman’s pants and brightly covered clothing, their exuberance seemed to shed off their age (remember the flower power movement is 45 years old). Alongside them were a good number of West Africans, students, a small  sprinkling of tourists from all over and random uncharacterised elements. 

The great thing was that everyone was mixed up and together in what became an increasingly exuberant atmosphere of WTF let’s party. Whether reggae or trance, 60 year old hippies were twirling around with young Africans, drinks were shared and a small Nepalese (I guessed) man was strutting his lonesome stuff as if this was the best thing that had ever happened to him… Leaving was like awaking from a dream, reconciling back to normality.


Fuelled with a significant brunch, we gingerly wandered through the charming streets and sights of old Copenhagen. We eventually found ourselves passing the palace of the Danish royal family. Being a long time Londoner I have oft cringed at the tourists posing next to the Horse Guards near Buckingham Palace. We soon discovered that the Danish royals are guarded by very similar looking guards complete with bear skin hats. With the shoe on the other foot, we jumped straight in for the quintessential tacky photo. Now I get it.


With Uwe back on the bike heading home to Rostock (mental guy), Dave and I headed to the renowned Tivoli gardens, the second oldest theme park in the world. Situated at the heart of the city in both a geographical and emotional sense, we thought it would be rude not to. What we found was strangely alluring. There are many worse ways to spend a lazy Sunday than kicking back on a Victorian deck chair under the sun, in the middle of a pristine lawn and before a gilded stage trooped by a brass bad. It felt like the Danish equivalent of Lords. Very civilised indeed.
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