Manifest Destiny on Pusher Street

Feb. 18 - In the 17th century, defensive ramparts were established east of Christianshavn in Copenhagen. The area eventually became a large military barracks. In 1970, after the army moved out, Christianshavn residents knocked down the gates and began using the deserted barracks for a children's playground.

Copenhagen was experiencing the same convulsions as most western capitals at the time. The streets were full of idealistic, optimistic, alternative young men and women who wanted somewhere to build their idealistic, optimistic, alternative dreams without all the hassle of dealing with The Man. There was a serious housing shortage in the city. The few landlords who actually had any vacancies were still bourgeouis enough to demand rent.

Through a series of happy coincidences, the happy young idealists became aware of the empty barracks and began settling them. Police tried to clear them out from time to time, but the sheer number of squatters ensured they could never be completely evicted. On November 13, 1971, the squatters founded the Free State of Christiania, which Danish authorities immediately declared illegal.

The Free State of Christiania has survived more than 32 years.

It's not exactly sovereign—the area is still technically owned by the Defense Ministry, and residents have to pay for water and electricity. But it's not exactly Copenhagen, either. The flip side of the welcome sign advises those leaving Christiania, for example, that they are "now entering the EU."

Abandon all faith...?

What's astonishing to me is that the Euro-hippies of 1971 founded their free state on the model of America's 19th century Manifest Destiny—I occupy, therefore I own. You don't expect to hear hippies proclaiming that possession is 9/10ths of the law. You don't expect to hear them say much of anything at all on the subject of real estate.

And that's a shame, because if their architecture is anything to judge by, they probably have a hell of a lot to say on the subject.

Christiania has achieved iconic status in Copenhagen, if not all of Scandinavia. Depending on whom you talk to, it's either a magnificent testament to the possibilities of self-governing communities, or a cesspool of drug-trafficking (and worse).

It's hard for Christiania to beat the rap on drug-trafficking, in the way it would be hard for any community whose most celebrated pedestrian strip is called Pusher Streeteven on maps. Pusher Street is basically a farmer's market for "alternative farmers." Pot, hash, and paraphrenalia are exhibited for sale at one open-air stall after another.

The authorities crack down on Christiania with predictable regularity—just unpredictable enough to make it worthwhile to remind you that despite the unabashed display of these narcotics, they're still illegal in Denmark and you can get yourself in plenty of trouble if you're in the wrong place when the politi come storming in.

These busts are annoying to the citizens of Christiania, who insist they can police their Free State better on their own. Toward that end, they maintain the appearance of a rigorous anti-drug campaign that's only slight less sweeping than similar campaigns in the United States. ("Just say no — to hard drugs," read a lot of signs in English.) Unfortunately, say the police, that's just the problem: it's only the appearance of a campaign.

To cut down on the number of runaways seeking asylum in their idyllic enclave, they've also launched a "no camping" campaign:

And to cut down on the number of undercover tourists narcing on them, they've also launched a "no pictures" campaign. (For obvious reasons I have no photograph of their "no cameras" signs, which are ubiquitous on Pusher Street.)

Naturally, Copenhageners themselves are split on the issue of Christiania. Some feel that it's time for the Free State of Christiania to be subsumed into the Kingdom of Denmark, whether to staunch the flood of drugs into Scandinavia or to contribute their fair share of property taxes. Others feel the experiment deserves to continue. You'll see "Bevar Christiania" (Protect Christiania) tee-shirts all over Copenhagen, sometimes on the unlikeliest-looking Danes (but more often on scraggly stoners like those with whom the DMG and I travelled to Prague last summer.)

Don't get me wrong: I'm not down on stoners or hippies. I've been both in my time, and some of my best friends are one or the other or both to this very day. It's just that the air of Christiania is thick with not only the fragrant smell of wood-burning stoves and pot and hash smoke, but also the sour stink of hypocrisy.

I mean, if you want to set up a free state for squatters in the middle of one of the great capitals of the world, fair enough. But "no camping?" What are you, landholders? You occupy someone else's property, declare it your own, form your own government, then tell other people they don't have the same rights as you? What if I'm a cool hipster squatter and I want to live in Christiania? Do I have to apply for residency and fill out a lot of forms? Can't I just come on out and squat the way you guys did in '71? Why not?

Power may corrupt, but property corrupts absolutely.

One Angry Man

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, there lived an angry German man. His anger wasn't of that common Teutonic variety so easily assuaged with a little sausage, beer, or conquest. He was a special man, and his was a special anger. He was so angry that he nailed ninety-five theses to the door of a church.

These were Very Angry Theses, as you can imagine, which is hardly surprising considering what they'd been through (being nailed to doors, etc). These Very Angry Theses proclaimed that Christians ought to despise priests who offered to sell them salvation for cash.

The angry German guy said salvation was free, and that the priests who treated it like any other commodity were perpetrating a terrible fraud upon their flocks. This was more than mere heresy: this was Really Big Heresy.

The Church tried to change the angry man's mind, but he wouldn't budge. They went so far as to feed him a Diet of Worms, but he said he would go no further and they were compelled to let him go (or, more accurately, not go).

There were a lot of poor people hanging around Germany back then, and the idea of inexpensive salvation had understandable appeal to them. They followed the angry guy around and eventually dropped out of the Official Church to start a New and More Affordable Church, which they eventually named after the angry guy.

That angry guy was Martin Luther, who died on February 18, 1546, of complications arising from that Diet of Worms.

* * *

A reader has rightly written in to chastise me for not keeping my floating holidays up-to-date on the holiday calendar pages. I remind my readers that floating holidays are a pain in my moronic ass and will only be correct once every seven years.

* * *

Molly Ringwald turns 35 today, and Matt Dillon turns 39. They share their birthday with Vanna White (1957), John Travolta (1954), Cybill Shepherd (1950), Yoko Ono (1933), Milos Forman (1932), Toni Morrison (1931), Helen Gurley Brown (1922), and Jack Palance (1920).

Today is National Day in Gambia.

The Moron's Index
Bean Counter: 13 weeks + 5 days
Days as a Non-Smoker: 4
Versions of Hair I've Owned on Vinyl: 3
Bongs I've Owned, Lifetime: 3
Grateful Dead CDs I'm Glad I Own: 1
Grateful Dead CDs I'd Give You if You Wanted Them: 2
Arrests on Drug-Related Charges, Lifetime: 2
Convictions on Drug-Related Charges, Lifetime: 0
Friends I Dropped Because They Got Me Arrested on Drug-Related Charges Due to Their Own Idiotic Behavior: 2

Dagens Ord (The Word of the Day)
Bevare. Keep, preserve, protect.

Happy hump day!

2004, The Moron's Almanac™

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