“No, no, no, no, no….no“, came the slightly worryingly stern voice not too far to my right. “NO PHOTOS.” In hindsight, even the tiniest amount of forethought should have led me to work out a little sooner that taking photos of a street full of cannabis dealers in the self-described “autonomous anarchist district” of Copenhagen probably wasn’t allowed. Ah well, live and learn…
Rewinding the clock a little bit, I hadn’t really planned on counting this work trip to Copenhagen as one of the 80 “runs”. However, a distinct lack of other running trips currently planned for 2018, a first work-free day in months, gloriously sunny weather and seriously twitchy legs were good enough reasons to dump my bags, scan the map of Copenhagen and head out before I’d had time to notice that, as I’d later find out, my hotel was squarely located in the middle of the red-light district.
I didn’t really have a clear plan in mind: a quick scan of Google Maps gave me a rough indication of the scale of Copenhagen (it’s small) so I guessed that a rough loop would be 15 or so kilometers. The majority of the city’s sights are within a few kilometres of each other in Old Copenhagen so I first headed eastwards as this would slowly take me towards Freetown Christiania, a.k.a. the above-mentioned drug den.
First off was a bit of tourist-dodging around Tivoli, the 175-year-old (!) amusement park in the centre of the city. From the outside, the attractions didn’t necessarily look almost two centuries old but some certainly looked like they’d seen better days, and I certainly wasn’t going to be for risking my limbs on them. Plus, it was bloody freezing: despite the sun, Copenhagen is actually quite a bit further North than I’d thought – on a par with Northumberland – and the winds are just as biting.
As I kept going East towards the University, I left behind some of the famously impressive Danish architecture in the hipster Meatpacker area (it used to do what it says on the tin), which is full of trendy restaurants that serve lots of vegan-friendly food like the euphemistically named “chickpea purée” I had that night (a.k.a. houmous…).
After a bit of aimless running face-first into the wind which brought back memories of living in Scotland, I made my way towards the shoreline and ran a little bit along what used to be the fortified city walls in the 16-19th Century . Now more “mound” than “wall”, they’re still pretty obvious on maps and nice and scenic! (I’m sure that’s what they had in mind when they built them)
As I ran along the river, I rapidly stumbled upon a ‘Freetown Christiania’ sign I had half anticipated and, just behind it, I found a steep dirt ‘path’ up to, erm, well, some sort of broken up wooden fence. I assumed that was the main entrance (it wasn’t – not even the fifth) so climbed up and braced myself for utter lawlessness.
Aaaand, at first sight, wow: the grass on that football pitch was certainly not even; who let those dogs out without a collar?; wait, erm, that couple’s geraniums were hideously unaligned; and don’t even get me started on the potholes. It. Was. Wild.
Once the shock had subsided, I went to explore. My initial impressions were that it was painfully unexciting: a lot of slightly decrepit looking houses, a coordinated village square with shops serving sandwiches and drinks and, overall, a huge amount of middle class tourists buying overpriced nick-nacks.
I then reached the ‘Green Light District’ – “how nice, I thought, this must be a lovely little area dedicated to their green environmental credentials”. Right, something like that. As I peeled my naïve filters back and looked down Pusher Street, a few of the cookie sellers started looking slightly shadier and the blocks of mushroom paté probably had a few other side effects.
This was, as you might have guessed by now, the commercial hub in Freetown Christiania: the emphatically commercially-minded operation that somewhat puts in question the anarchic and anti-capitalist core mindset which brought the community together, as its ‘anti-establishment rules which allow easy access to drugs’ is, by now, very much part of the Copenhagen establishment. So much so actually that, a couple of years back, the drug cartels which had slowly taken over the original Mom and Pop weed stands had a shoot-out which went a bit haywire and, ultimately, led to the dismantling (in appearance at least) of most of the cartels’ official hard-walled stands after a community vote.
And, as I gazed and thought ‘how lovely’ (or something like that), it was around then that I got a right bollocking for taking my camera phone out. Sir, yes Sir. After having very diligently observed the gentleman’s advice, I ticked another imaginary box in my imaginary notebook of ‘self-declared states with (alleged – no need for legal advice, thanks, I have no evidence) links to the drug underworld’ after my half marathon a few years ago on Sealand, another self-declared state in the North Sea.
The rest of Freetown Christinia is quite pleasant, though unexceptional. The sunny weather naturally made the trot around it very enjoyable but I can imagine it looking quite grim on a wet and windy day.
And, I should point out, the drug element of things cannot be ignored but the majority of people are, I think, here for more (non-drug) hippy reasons and escaping the rat race.
There’s essentially a main thorough fair through the middle with houses either side – exhilarating, right? Of what I understand, no one ever owns a place, you have to apply and, if you meet the right criteria and mindset, you get allowed in. It’s all very nice and quiet, and somewhat stereotypically anti-establishment (and therefore … actually an establishment in itself?).
After I left through the actual entrance this time and probably slightly higher than intended from the ‘aroma in the air’, I headed northwards, past some more striking Nordic architecture, around another old fortress (which gave my run outline a lovely star-shaped segment – one up on my normal penis drawings around Wandsworth Common) and towards the Little Mermaid.
And, by little, I mean LITTLE. I’ve no idea how this is one of Copenhagen’s most famous monuments. It. Is. Pitiful. But, it was still swamped by hoards of tourists, all looking very confused by its size (1.25m) but that didn’t stop the sea of selfies taking place.
As an aside, an amusing anecdote which isn’t overly shared by the locals is that there isn’t actually THAT much of the original statue that’s still there: it has had its head sawn off many times, been blown off its based by explosives, lost a few limbs and covered in indelible (or not) paint. So there.
By this point, I was actually beginning to get a little tired after 15 or so kilometres so I decided to take the fastest, and straightest, route home and end my tour of Copenhagen. It took me past many more grand houses, some nice parks and … quite a few sex shops.
Green Light District of Freetown Christinia, this was not. Red Light District of Copenhagen, it certainly was. Woops.