Copenhagen's Fading Alternative Enclave
Every society has its rebels and long before the "Occupy" movement,
there was Denmark's Christiania.
Located in the heart of Copenhagen, Christiania has been a source of controversy from the moment squatters first took over and 'occupied' a military area ~ Bådsmandsstræde ~ more than forty years ago.
It's hard for me to imagine desiring an even more progressive atmosphere than what Denmark already enjoys, but every society, even those stitched together by a sea of social safety nets, has its malcontents.
And so I came to Christiania to try and get an understanding of the place through the lens of my camera.
But Christiania is a bit of a challenge for a photographer.
The area has a unique status and is regulated by its own special law, the Christiania Law of 1989. Christiana has its own school and its own post office. And until recently, even its well-known cannabis trade was tolerated by the authorities.
And therein lies the tantalizing problem for a photographer.
Because of the unabashed, uninhibited, open air use of pot and hash, some residents get uncomfortable if you take out a camera ~ and spring upon you with yelps and gestures ~ which in any language clearly mean 'put the damn thing away before I smash it.'
And so, despite its nearly 1000 inhabitants, what I'm left with after my visit, is a series of strangely empty images ...
... of a ghost town ghetto of tagged surfaces,
imaginative playgrounds, and intriguing sets and stages ...
missing their actors.
But I also had another reason for coming ...
... memories of a 1984 film called "Midt om Natten" (Middle of the Night)
with Danish musician Kim Larsen (on the right) who has many times voiced his opposition to established society and instead advocated the right to be different from the mainstream.
(The songs on "Midt on Natten" reflected this philosophy, and it shouldn't surprise anyone acquainted with the Danish mindset that this album become the best-selling Danish album of all time.)
In addition to his music, Lasen is also famous for turning down the Danish Order of Knighthood a few years ago.
"Da jeg ikke synes, det sømmer sig for en gammel gadedreng og popsanger at føre sig frem med kors og bånd og stjerner, takker jeg pænt nej til ridderkorset ..." he said, by way of explanation.
"I say a polite thank you and 'no,' as I do not think it befits an old street urchin and pop singer to lead the way with crosses and ribbons and stars."
(He also said, with that wonderful Danish sense of humor, that "it would have been nice" to instead share a cigarette with the Queen inside the royal residence.)
And now, back to the film...
I saw "Midt om Natten" long ago with my long ago Danish boyfriend.
(et litografi from 1910 1984)
In the film, two unemployed bohemian plumbers, Arnold and Benny (played by Larsen), create their own little anarchic world in an abandoned factory, falling, along the way, in love with the same girl.
In love myself, I bought the album and memorized the lyrics.
What I remember most about that time, in addition to the music, is the sweetness of holding hands in a movie theater in Århus, listening in the dark to whispered translations, helping me understand the film ...
and my visit to Christiania, which some say the film was based upon, was a way to once again touch those memories.
And so, soundtrack playing in my head, my friend Lene and I wandered through the crazy tagged campiness that is Christiania.
This guy, once upon a time a Californian, discovered Christiania some years ago, and stayed. He was the only person who give me permission to take his photo.
In exchange, I bought a bracelet of beads from him, which he tied onto my wrist ~ a reminder of my visit to Christiania until, years later, I finally cut myself free from it.
No longer avant guard or edgy, these days there's almost a quaintness to Christiania, like a time warp where hippies from days of yore make candles and beaded jewelry and carve wooden things to sell, where they play music and use drugs freely...
In many ways, Christiania feels not so very different from my own town, Asheville.
Except in Christiania, I couldn't escape the nagging feeling I was visiting a zoo, a come and see hippies-in-their-natural-habitat, the place where they deposited the counterculture of decades ago, where we tourists of the new millennium could come and stare for awhile, and then leave for the real time and reality of our technologically advanced lives.
Has Christiania become ... a cliché?
In fact, it almost felt as if there was more freedom of expression outside the walls of Christiania ~
where just around the corner, taggers allowed me to take photographs ~
of them in action,
of emotions being expressed, and of art in process of being created.
"You are now entering the EU" it says.
As if we were about to go through customs.
Or, a warning....
© Kristin Fellows 2012