I arrived after sundown, and headed into the bitterly cold Scandinavian night to find my hostel. I walked through beautiful, wide streets – clean and lively, past great statues and grand buildings laced with quirky boutiques and neon corner stores. Teenagers were drinking and huddling from the cold on what looked to be the Town Hall’s steps. Danish men and women smiled back from their speedy bicycles. I was in Copenhagen.
My hostel for the night was an immaculate, grand place. I was tired but curiosity kept me awake. I joined a Liverpuddlian Chef, an Hawaiin writer/surfer with strong celebrity connections, a Venezuelan pianist and a London-dwelling Brazillian to go see the night. We found our way to a gritty bar called The Moose. Dingily lit and walls of every small winding room covered in graffiti, an eclectic mix of locals and travellers smoked inside. While I rather enjoyed feeling a part of the underground post-punk scene of 1990s Seattle, my lungs begged me to leave. I was more curious to check out this mythical sounding Christiana.
What I’d heard about Christiana (or Christianshaven) was this: In the 1970s it was formed as a sort of commune by some hippies, and gradually became its own state, and while it lies within Copenhagen it is completely separate from the EU. Until a recent crack down, marijuana has been legal, and is still bought and sold here. Christianans don’t pay taxes, but this also means they don’t receive electricity, water, or the right to attend Copenhagen schools, so this is all done independently. I was intrigued.
We decided to do a quick trip over there that night, and fought the cold as we navigated our way. Wiser souls may not have ventured there at night, and didn’t curiosity kill the cat? The main street, Pusher Street, strictly forbids photography, and we watched people dealing all kinds of hash as we warmed ourselves by one of the barrels of fire. ‘Can you move along please?’ said someone also by the fire, who until now I thought was simply there to warm themselves like us. ‘Pardon?’ ‘Move along, now…’ It was a shifty scene. We laughed as we ‘moved along’ wondering if the man was really an official of this underground business or just a cold and greedy guy.
We stopped in a Christianian bar around the corner before the hike home, and what awaited me was the most bizarre set of social circumstances I’ve ever found myself in; an anthropologist’s dream. Almost every single type of person in the world you could imagine was represented here, dancing and drinking harmoniously together. Rastafarians sat beside burly Lumberjack types, weathered, crinkly faced Asian women (perhaps the Greenland indigenous people, who have a strong population in Christiana) danced with young white hipsters and toothless old bums circled a scantily clad, otherwise well-to-do American diva while Swedish hippies and African musicians looked on. It was simultaneously heart-warming and unnerving. Although the scene was wonderfully diverse and peaceful, in the haze I sensed a collective escape in a repetitious cycle of delusion.
I’d had a colourful introduction to the city which was about to get a lot better; in the morning I met my gracious host and ol’ college friend Adrika, with her sister Shalini. I owe such a huge thank you to the Gautam family for not only having me, but being so generous with their insights, their outings and their delicious Danishes.
My first full day in Copenhagen had me thinking that maybe my hosts had some extraordinairy ties somewhere; After some delicious Denmark bagels, we waited with throngs of others along the sunlit streets for none other than the Queen of the country to parade by! In the nearby Lego store, a young clerk showed us with boyish excitement a model he’d constructed of the parade, with Her Highness in her carriage. This country loves their Queen. She passed us all smiles, and through vigorously waved red and white flags, I waved back thanks for her royal welcome. Later we caught an impressive demonstration of the guards at the Royal Palace, and of course what typical day in this city would be complete without a visit to the Little Mermaid? I’m always skeptical of such icons; ‘Do I genuinely like this or am I just being told to?’ But the Little Mermaid sits on a lone rock with such beautiful melancholia, I really did like her.
It was lovely to be back in the presence of a family as the next few days consisted of walking through lightly snow peppered parks climbing ‘upside down trees’, visiting castles and drinking hot chocolate to keep warm in between. We did a much safer, prettier trip to Christiana during the day, and a night out with some local Danish girls confirmed their open and friendly nature for me. One day Adrika and I rose late, had lunch at home (in Denmark) and casually rode the train to Helsinger (where lies the castle Shakespeare based Hamlet around!) and proceeded to catch a ferry over to Sweden for dinner! The town we visited there was as beautiful as its predecessor, its people as friendly too.
The city I witnessed is conservative when it comes to resources and liberal when it matters, home to royalty and rebellion, with a population benefiting nicely from heavy taxes and a community that seems to flourish from not doing so. Copenhagen itself is a bustling, clean and pretty example of metropolitan joys, while miles of fresh aired fields and pines are never far away – and no matter where you go you will find friendly, open and helpful people it seems. I was grateful for the chance to explore and discover a place so possibly perfect.