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“Roll up! Roll up for the magical mystery tour!
Step right this way!”
“The Magical Mystery Tour”
With the brisk, frosty morning air hitting my face it is hard not to hum the lyrics of The Beatles “Magical Mystery Tour” as I ride my bike through the gate into a trippy, art-fuelled parallel world. With the sun beaming from a clear sky I have set out to ride the free independent state of Christiania placed in the center of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Some 45 years earlier, on 26th. September 1971, my late-father’s cousin Leonard Olschansky had, with a group of other free-spirited souls, scaled the fence to the disused army barracks of the Royal Danish Navy, and on that very day declared the 34 hectares of wooden land the “Free State of Christiania”. Christiania soon rose to become a commune for hippies and others who wanted to leave the real world behind. A society lived and created in buildings with very little electricity, no heating and rife with hash, harder drugs and rock’n’roll.
Christiania soon became a thorn in the eye of the government and the establishment, and what followed the next 42 years was lengthy legal battles over ownership, clashes with authorities and police, who wanted to clear the land from its inhabitants, countless problems with drug dealings and Hell’s Angels and yet - the “Christianites” stubbornly held onto their right to build a new parallel existence in the very center of Copenhagen.
Today Christiania is the 4th. largest tourist attraction in Denmark, but let’s be clear - it’s not a theme park. It is a society created from disused army barracks, alternative housing and has its own infrastructure of shops, cafes, bars, bike shops, galleries and ecological supermarkets. You do not need a passport to enter, but over the main entrance to Christiania it clearly states: “You are now leaving the European Union”. As you leave Christiania you are equally informed you are now re-entering the European Union. Information is important!
By entering Christiania you do so at the discretion of its inhabitants. The people living here are used to having curious tourists walking around, but even though freedom reign there is also a level of privacy to uphold. A specific area known as “Pusher Street” is still the center of Hash-dealings, controlled by gang-land from outer Copenhagen, where a strict “No Photography” policy is being exercised. Meanwhile, everywhere else 630 people and 130 children, and an unspecified number of dogs and bikes, live quietly in peace and harmony around the lake in selfmade housing.
Riding your bike in these surroundings is like riding into a living art exhibition and architectural study. Everywhere you look alternative houses have been built, and everywhere you look around Christiania there are bikes to be seen. Christiania is pro “Pedal Power”, and its surroundings is a feast of narrow, wooden paths and lanes leading you around the lake on the old overgrown ramparts. But don’t expect to turn Christiania into a race course for your early morning group ride with 8 of your mates. People live here, life is slow and easy and the same should go for the speed of your bike. Go with the flow, settle into the surroundings you find yourself in. Stop and enjoy a view, a house, some art and you will be amazed that you can find such silence in the middle of the vibrant capital of Copenhagen.
With the sun slowly heating Christiania, and sleepy inhabitants wake-up or are walking their dog around the lake, I make my way through the overgrown paths and lanes of the area. Narrow sections taking me partly up on the former fences of the army base, and then down to a picturesque lake-view looking more like an art exhibition. On a cold morning like this there are no one around, but come here at the height of summer, and you will for sure find a busy spot where people hang out, drink coffee or have a quiet beer while the music plays.
As I make my way back to the “center” of Christiania I pay a visit to Christiania Bikes one of two bike stores in the state. Christiania Bikes is famously known for its cargo bike. A tri-bike with a large wooden box at the front where you can store your kids, luggage, food and everything. Christiania Bikes has existed over 38 years where they, together with consumers, have refined the cargo tri-bike. The company was founded in 1978 as part of the old smithy on the army estate, but actual production has since moved to the island of Bornholm. What you will find in Christiania is a lovely, sun-drenched mechanics room, next to the smithy, where the bikes are being assembled.
There are many ways to enjoy a bike ride. It does not have to be “Sufferfest” every time where you return home spitting blood. It is important to remember that riding your bike is also supposed to be fun. It can take you places giving you a different perspective of things, and places you did not even know existed.
My last visit to Christiania was 14 years ago, on my Stag-Night, paying a visit to my late-father’s cousin’s art gallery. At the time he was 75 years old, and had lived in Christiania most of his life, and even though it had been a tough life, since he scaled the fence in 1971, he was completely certain that Christiania would also be the place he would subsequently want to die. This morning I fully understand why.
“The magical mystery tour is coming to take you away
Coming to take you away
The magical mystery tour is dying to take you away
Dying to take you away, take you today”
“The Magical Mystery Tour”