People

Drugged up, Settled down

A chat with the longest resident in Christiania provides a glimpse of life in Denmark's self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood known as a safe haven for hipsters and drug sales. 

Away from Copenhagen's apple-pie-order urban area, enclosed by graffiti-ed redbrick walls, enveloped in tobacco fumes and whiffs of weed, the Freetown of Christiania has become a safe haven for hipsters and drug sales.

Here is where Ms Tanja Fox, 46, has been calling home – and loving it – for the past 42 years. She has lived in Christiania since the squatter community got its autonomous status in 1971.

Currently working at the self-governing community's Folkeaktie, or "Share Office", Ms Fox remembers the old days when she, as a rebellious teenager, ran away from home and took shelter in Christiania. But she could not recall the reason. "Maybe for the drugs," she said, and laughed.

Yet for the then 13-year-old, it was not her first time to set foot on this mysterious land.

When she was four years old, her family broke apart due to financial difficulties. For two years little Tanja Fox had lived with her mother in this neighbourhood filled up with "nice people that smell like weed".

"Believe it or not, as I remember it to be, people here are nicer than those out there wearing nice clothes and nice perfume," Ms Fox added, dangling a bone-shaped cookie in front of her three dogs, who accompany her to work every day.

Despite the prevalence of soft drug use, Christiania is gaining its popularity among immigrant families in Denmark, statistics by the Share Office showed.

No one owns his or her own house in Christiania, according to the Office. Everything is temporarily borrowed from the regional administration unit. Such "rule" emerged as most of the residents are too poor to afford anything.

The housing does not come for free. Successful applicants above the age of 18 should pay the Christiania membership fee of 1,200 kroner (about $1,714) per month. In addition, residents have to cover the expenses of necessities, such as heat, electricity and water, on their own.

"If someone moves out, the Office will take over the vacant house and post an announcement. Anyone can apply to move in, but it is the neighbours who decide which applicant should have the place," Ms Fox said, explaining about the application process.

"Choose likeminded people as neighbours" is what Christiania residents call the "Christiania rule". "It looks stupid to have someone that goes to bed early live nearby people that would stay up late partying," Ms Fox added.

While making peace and harmony, the rule also makes it difficult for newcomers to settle down, since people always prefer having someone they know next door rather than get along with a total stranger, the Office said.

Mr Luffe Jeppesen, 34, who lives five-minute away on foot from Christiania, has been working at a bar in the region for more than eight years. He has applied for the housing for two years, yet never succeeded.

"When children in Christiania turn 18 and decide not to leave this region, they get to apply for the housing," said Mr Jeppesen. "And vacant houses always go to them, because local people are more familiar with them than with us."

"Normally it takes a couple of years before Christiana residents count you as a member of them," an Office spokesperson said.

When the weather is nice in Christiania, people would get together on Pusher Street, a main strip that local residents refer to as "Green Light District", and cut up weed into blocks of dye. Vendors sell drugs open-air.

Soft drug use is a norm here, just like drinking and smoking. While it is illegal, authorities have been reluctant to launch a crackdown.

Ms Fox started taking drugs when she fled home to Christiania at the age of 13, but she "got tired of it" and quit after six years. "It was simply not interesting anymore," she recalled. "I think it is the same with many of us living here."

The prevalence and lenient penalties of soft drug use have made Christiania a favourable place of residence, Ms Fox told The Young Reporter. "What is more, I think people like to live here because we own our lives in Christiania."

"Here you have a say in who are to be your neighbours, although you might not be the only one making the final decision," said Ms Fox.

Residents say their views are taken into account in things from planting a new tree to amending the common law that governs the region. Everything is direct and paperwork is eliminated.

"Outside Christiania, power is away from commoners and it seems almost impossible for an ordinary citizen to get a seat in parliament," Ms Fox said.

 

Reported by Karen Lee

Edited by Coco Zheng

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