WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Burning Man Eternal

By on February 23, 2016

Welcome to Pusher Street, where artists, outcasts and drug deals abound.

The sole picture the author was able to snap in Christiania. (The anarchist neighborhood forbids photography.) (Photo: andrew munz)

The sole picture the author managed to snap in Christiania. (The anarchist neighborhood forbids photography.) (Photo: Andrew Munz)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – After journeying across the ocean via ferry for three days, I made it to Copenhagen with barely a scratch (I cut my hand on something at some point). Since my life in Iceland is fairly devoid of thrills, I was ready for a bit of Euro city culture—cafés, shopping streets, old architecture; the works. I initially stayed with Maja Johannesson, a classmate from Jackson Hole High School who spent the 2004-05 school year as an exchange student, and she was kind enough to show me around. When she asked what I wanted to see, I threw the choice back to her, saying I preferred authentic culture to dusty museums.

“Then I’ll take you to Christiania,” she said.

We left the apartment, took a few buses and trains, and meandered into the lawless grotto of Christiania, an alternative residential neighborhood in the center of Copenhagen. Beyond an archway heralding “Here There Be Dragons” lies a recycled alleyway shanty town, a gypsy park that exudes an odd mix of unnerving and peaceful. Extremely unsettling vendors with masks over their faces sell marijuana out of handmade stalls in an area known as “Pusher Street.” Signs reading, “No Running: It Causes Panic” are scattered throughout the central square. Maja and I walked squinting our eyes in the sunshine as an old, decrepit hound trudged along on the pathway in front of us leaking urine with every step. A man with wild red hair and tattered clothes smoked a cigar-sized joint.

We took a seat on some picnic tables where a handful of 20-somethings were rolling their freshly purchased weed into joints. Maja and I lit up some weedless cigarettes of our own and basked in the rare February sunlight. Conversations were spoken in calm, quiet voices and no cars could be heard. I felt like I had been transported out of Denmark entirely. And yet Christiania is almost indicative of the laid-back, relaxed lifestyle Danes are famous for.

It’s an unwritten rule in Christiania that one shouldn’t take notice of others, but I couldn’t help but watch the other travelers and locals as they partook in their illegal activity within such a bizarre nook of an old city. These young men and women had no problem purchasing drugs from masked vendors in their camouflage stalls, and were now spread out on picnic tables with their laptops and journals enjoying the bizarre freedom they had found.

“Oh, shit,” said one American girl, “there’s no Wi-Fi.”

With about 850 permanent residents, Freetown Christiania has been an autonomous neighborhood since 1989 when supervision responsibility was transferred away from the city of Copenhagen to the state government. Since then, it’s become a haven for artists, vagabonds, anarchists and outcasts. The government would like nothing more to clear out the neighborhood, but protests and tourist interest have, so far, thwarted their attempts. But that doesn’t mean Christiania is the type of attraction you show to your kids. Drug-fueled gang conflicts have erupted on Pusher Street. In 2009, a grenade exploded near Café Nemoland, injuring five or six people, blowing the jaw off one 22-year-old man.

Maja and I proceeded to walk around the perimeter, but signs indicated that we were not allowed to take photos. Scattered around the area are various handmade houses constructed from old slabs of sheetrock and aluminum siding. Graffiti blankets every surface, and cigarette butts and small pieces of trash litter the ground. We passed one dreadlocked artist painting a gorgeous Danish landscape under the awning of his shelter. I told him it was beautiful work and he thanked me, smiling with rotted teeth.

As we made our way out of the neighborhood we passed under an arch informing us that we were once again entering the European Union. The sound of sirens reentered my ears. Pigeons and people bustling about with their shopping bags filled the sidewalks. Looking back on Christiania, I realized that it’s the anarchist paradise so many 20-somethings dream of being a part of; a permanent Burning Man.

I experienced the unique culture I asked to see, but even though I’m an artistic adventurer at heart, I had a profound need to return to my first-world comfort zone.

“So,” I said, turning to Maja. “Brunch?” PJH

About Andrew Munz

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