Paradise Found

September 25, 2012 3:40 pm

I recently travelled around Europe, visiting cities including Copenhagen, Berlin and Amsterdam. Although I have a mild interest in the “mainstream” sights in cities, the Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, for example, I feel like visiting is rarely different to looking at a picture of it (For this reason I have no interest in seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Piza). Don’t get me wrong, I imagine somewhere like Auschwitz would be a powerful experience, but that is not a purely superficial attraction. I like to absorb myself in the people of the city, and experience the culture the same way the locals do. Whilst in Berlin, my hostel advertised an “alternative tour of Berlin”, promising to show street art hotspots and to tell us the history that might be forgotten or ignored by other tours. Seeing as it was free, my friend and I decided to go along and check out some art. The tour was very interesting and took us to a part of Berlin called Kreuzberg, a district Jack Kerouac might describe as “beat”. This was the artist hangout; the place where all the hipsters and artists come to live cheaply and express themselves away from the expense of the rest of the city. They used to reside in Mitte, but as soon as the wall fell and businesses discovered the untapped potential of the apartments the artists had been squatting in, the corporations rolled in and took advantage of the “cool” tag that came with the district’s name. There is now a Starbucks there.

After Berlin was Amsterdam. There are two things that immediately come to mind with the utterance of the city’s name. Marijuana and prostitutes. Other than that, I’m not sure what I expected from the city. After Kreuzberg I think I imagined a city of relaxed people shunning the constraints of city life that entraps the rest of Europe. I imagined cool people doing cool things that would never usually enter my consciousness (I don’t know what exactly). I was, in part, disappointed. What I found was the English, Irish and Australian in their droves. I met a total of three Dutch people. Amsterdam had become the fun capital of the world, offering freedom that nowhere else on the planet could, in a safe environment. I was staying with an old friend who moved away from England, a prime example of what I am talking about. He works in a bar in the red light district and spends the rest of his time partying. His dutch is limited, and rightly so- Amsterdam is an English speaking city. One of his house mates also works in a bar, an Aussie, and drinks a bottle of Jaegermeister every night and gets stoned every day. I’ve never seen anybody closer to death. As fun as it was, I felt despised by any local, responsible for destroying what was once theirs. It is now everyone’s city.

In Copenhagen, surprisingly, was a little place that had found the perfect balance between Berlin and Amsterdam. Christiania. In 1971 a group of hippies moved into an abandoned army base, and little has changed since. They are self regulated, and although there have been several slight changes in law, they are on the whole left to their own devices. As we walked in, unsure of what exactly to expect, the smell of Marijuana became strong, and we were confronted with a sign, the only laws: “No photos, No running, Have fun.”  Three laws I found easy to follow. Within a few minutes, I paid for a joint and basked in the atmosphere. It was 30 degrees and we spent an hour relaxing and watching the world go by. There was beautiful art everywhere; every inch of wall had been covered in bright graffiti and murals, music could be heard everywhere, and there was no tension in the air. Everybody was happy except the 16 year old girl who was embarrassed to be seen there with her parents, because no matter where you are, hanging out with your parents just isn’t cool. Little does she know they are probably just reliving their youth.

I felt a little bad about being there, like I was intruding on their haven, but unlike in Amsterdam, I didn’t feel hated. I felt welcomed. They have a chance to show everyone else an alternative lifestyle, that drugs aren’t bad (although they do not condone any form of “needle drugs”, and in fact, openly oppose them), and that given the chance, people can regulate themselves. The tourism gives them the chance to earn an honest living selling clothes, food, and needless to say, weed, on stalls and remain self-sufficient. Also known as Freetown Christiania, the people there are exactly that. Free.


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