A winter weekend escape to the Danish capital in 2013 brightened up an otherwise dull grey February. This historic city, though, has a somewhat surprising side and on our first day we set out to find it…
But, not before some lunch. In the mood for some authentic Danish cuisine, we ate at one of the many colourful, cosy restaurants in Nyhavn, before jumping on a Canal Tour boat that squeezed under the city’s low-hanging bridges. The tour cruised past city sights and landmarks, including the Little Mermaid, the Opera House and even the Danish naval fleet.
We disembarked at the picturesque area of Christianshavn and were told to go and explore for an hour – our hotel receptionist had already briefed us on this part of town; “Go here if you want weed” she had whispered, marking a spot with a big cross on our tourist map. We weren’t in the market, but we were interested in seeing the famous free town of Christiania in Christianshavn.
Approaching from Pusher Street, felt like a ghetto or squatted area in Eastern Europe in the 1970s. Graffiti of teeth-baring dogs covered the concrete walls of the former military base, alongside various depictions of drug paraphernalia. Unwashed-looking skinheads, congregated around fire barrels, smoking dope. People stare. There was no grass; just mud, wooden shelters and stray dogs. Cameras and photography are forbidden. It wasn’t a particularly comfortable experience but probably felt even more intimidating due to the cold winter wind and bare trees.
In this semi-autonomous zone, there is a ban on Class A drugs and weapons, but there have still been shootings – with the most recent being on 31 August 2016 against two policemen and in reaction, the cannabis stalls on Pusher Street have now been removed. As the smoke begins to clear, it is still to be seen if this utopian style commune will be the same again.
Christiania is a large area, housing some 800+ people and by all accounts, there are some beautiful house boats on the canals, interesting and colourful wall murals, creative architecture and a fun hippy vibe in summer, away from Pusher Street. We didn’t get that, and reluctant to dig ourselves deeper into what felt like no-mans-land, we left and returned to ‘normal’ Copenhagen.
There are plenty of other attractions that are more family friendly in this beautiful city; we spent an afternoon walking the cobbled streets, exploring the royal palace and diving into the SMK – The National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst).
Copenhagen is of course, famous for its pastries and little mermaids, but it probably isn’t as innocent as it first seems; there is a grittier edge here. It has a unique character and one which wouldn’t be out of place in a nordic drama.
We stayed in a boutique hotel in Vesterbro – Copenhagen’s answer to London’s Shoreditch.