Christiana is a weird, mythical place on many a counter-culture citizens’ bucket list. A sort of Slab City meets San Francisco, or maybe more well described as a hippy commune with running water and electricity? Whatever your takeaway of this hamlet in Copenhagen—although residents would insist Christiana is not a part of Denmark or the European Union—it is certainly unlike any other place I have been.
Founded in 1971 as a squat on a defunct military base, there have been battles with the authorities as gentrification has sought to strangle another neighborhood. Fortunately, the residents were able to secure their land by buying it from the government, saving the communal project.
Christiana has fostered—until recently—a mostly tolerated cannabis market. Pusher Street in the Green Light District is famous for its stalls selling many varieties of weed and hash, and it’s undoubtedly the main attraction for many visitors.
No matter which way you enter Christiana, if you keep walking you’re likely to end up at Pusher Street. If your nose can’t lead you there, ask just about anyone you see walking by and they’ll kindly point you in the right direction. We came in through the main entrance and within a few minutes of meandering toward the pungent smell of weed, we laid eyes on Christiana’s open-air pot market.
We stopped by the first stall we saw and gawked at the blocks of hash on the table.
The two guys working the stall labeled “Moana,” as in the Disney movie, were nice enough with letting us take pictures, but they definitely tried to double the price on a couple of first-time visitors.
The going rate on Pusher Street is 100 kroner—about $15 USD—for 1.5 grams of hash and/or weed. Most of the stalls also have some various forms of pre-rolls for sale. This stall tried for 200 kroner, before quickly backing down to the standard price.
Having grown up on the East Coast of the United States, regular access to hash for me is rare, especially the Moroccan, Lebanese, Afghani, Nepali and Indian varieties that are more prevalent in Europe. That is one of the greatest appeals of a place like Amsterdam or Pusher Street for the traveling stoner, but the unfamiliarity also made it somewhat difficult to know exactly what I was getting.
All of the stalls seemed to have more or less the same types of hash; the variety was much more noticeable in the flowers they sold. There was some Amsterdam-quality bud (nothing up to California standards), but in general the flower offerings skewed towards the bottom of the barrel. I only got some to mix with the hash because tobacco in a joint makes me cough too much.
The guy working the stall I got the weed from gave us a little bit of the low down on the scene in Christiana.
He said that cops raid them nearly every other day. To combat this, they employ a series of scouts and lookouts to alert them when the cops are coming. All of their wares are set up on a thick black cloth that can be packed up with the pull of a string, allowing for a quick getaway.
He told us that sometimes undercover cops will come stake out Pusher Street to see who the sellers are, and when they leave with the day’s take, the cops beat them up and take their stash of hash, weed and money. Depending on the mood of the cops that day, the pusher may get arrested or not. Hmm, I wonder what happens to all the contraband on the days they aren’t arrested?
By this point we were looking for a place to sit down and roll up a big hash joint, and the obvious choice was Nemoland.
Nemoland seems to be the epicenter of Christiana. There’s a bar, restaurant, a pool table and a bunch of picnic tables outside with mostly young people smoking, drinking and socializing. There is also a stage for performances and a lake nearby that added to the ambiance. Definitely come here to smoke your Pusher Street purchases. It’s an easy place to make new friends from around the world, and the food at the cafe will definitely satisfy your munchies.
The hash—labeled king hassan, but who really knows—was good and had that recognizable spicy taste of other Moroccan hash I’ve sampled around Europe.
Stoned, full of food and a few organic Carlsbergs we wandered around the town of about 1,000 people. We stopped at a couple of art studios, a sneaker store and to take pictures of all the graffiti adorning the buildings. But it wasn’t until I stopped to ask a man, who was fixing a stone pathway, what a particular tower was all about that we really got an insider’s perspective of Christiana.
Peter has been a resident of Christiana since 1973—almost since the beginning. When I asked him about the deal with Pusher Street, he rolled his eyes and said, “Honestly, we are sick of talking about it, we wish people wanted to talk about the other things going on in Christiana.”
Despite his slight annoyance, he went on to tell us that it used to be different; that to be a seller on Pusher Street, you needed to be a resident as well. But now, with the cops arresting so many people, the good guys have stopped and more sinister elements have taken over the Green Light District.
He explained that the old sellers were members of the community that went to meetings and worked with other residents to help the town grow and address people’s concerns. The current group on Pusher Street, “isn’t particularly interested in communicating with us,” said Peter.
The ones selling there now are the people who are willing to risk going to jail for a good stretch. Some of them also sell or sold hard drugs (the guy I bought the weed from said he used to sell heroin in Atlanta, Georgia), and few—if any—reside within Christiana.
An interesting lesson in prohibition: ostracize drug dealers and they will act like drug dealers, embrace (or at least tolerate) them and they are much more likely to be useful, functioning members of society.
When asked what he would rather people associate with Christiana, than hash, Peter didn’t hesitate: “The theatre, art, music, all the culture we have!”
One of his favorite ongoing events is, “Science and Cocktails,” where they will have a renowned scientist come and give a lecture, followed by plenty of booze and socializing. He recommended going to see a concert at the Grey Hall, the largest concert hall in Christiana. Bob Dylan, Rage Against the Machine and Metallica have all performed there.
It was starting to rain, so we headed out of Christiana, stopping by Pusher Street on the way. We heard someone get yelled at for breaking one of the three rules in the Green Light District.
The infraction? Running. It scares the vendors.
The other two rules are have fun, and no photos—always ask before taking any photos on Pusher Street.
A few seconds later and the instantly recognizable Danish word for police, “politi,” started echoing from the lookouts to the vendors. My friend and I looked at each other in slight confusion, and by the time we looked back, all the vendors had pulled the strings on their black bags and started scurrying towards the exits. The more organized handed off their inventory for others to mule out of Christiana.
Within a minute, we saw a wall of police descending on the stalls, and everybody, including the tourists, had cleared out of the Green Light District. We took this as our cue to leave as well.
We came back a few days later and noticed that many of the stalls were closed. One of the sellers recognized me from the previous trip waving me over, “Hey it’s the journalist! Come check my stuff out!” He had some really nice smelling weed, so I got some and a chunk of hash for 100 kroner.
The guy told me that a lot of the people who ran, when the cops came last time, got arrested. He explained, normally, most of them would be out in a few hours or a day tops and back running a stall. If they had prior arrests or warrants, they might spend six to eight months in jail though.
When I asked him how it affects business he replied, “There will always be more hash to sell, and more people to sell it. They can’t stop us, it’s never going away.” Another lesson in prohibition.
While rolling our final purchase at the tables of Nemoland, we struck up a conversation with a group of Danes sharing our table. They said the scene on Pusher Street has improved a lot from the recent past, when there was high tension from the combination of hard drugs, violence and the police presence.
But they all agreed that it was better before the cops got involved.
There were more stalls with better dealers who cared more about maintaining their reputation through quality product. Two of them smiled in accordance when remembering a particular female dealer whom they had frequented for her consistent, high-quality offerings.
Although the same can no longer be said for the dealers of the Green Light District in Christiana, it remains a hash smoker’s haven.
If you are planning a trip there, you should definitely try to have it coincide with one of their cultural events. Take the time to explore outside the hash zone and talk to real residents of this truly unique niche of society.
Respect the community’s space, make some new friends, smoke a lot of hash, and remember: no running.