Saturday, July 24, 2010


In my proposal for this fellowship, I explained that I
hope to spend a day exploring Christiania, a non-conformist commune. “Fighting a rising tide of materialism and conformity,” says Steves, “they want to raise their children to be not cogs, but free spirits.” This experience will enhance my philosophy course as I teach my students to think for themselves.

After a 1.5 hour jump on / jump off sightseeing, I had a good idea of the location of sites in town. I took a peak at Christiania as our bus stopped there briefly to unload and load passengers. I didn't want to jump off, though, because I didn't know when I could get back on. The tables were not published. (Not like in London where those sightseeing buses come very frequently). I was very curious, so after I completed the full tour, I walked over towards Christiania. I knew I was getting close when I saw bicycle taxi drivers with colorful clothing and long dreads. Meanwhile, the buildings were decorated with colorful graffiti and stickers were posted on bus stops saying things like, "Still don't <3 the police." Christiania has had a history of difficulties with the police due to their alternative viewpoints.

I wandered inside, almost feeling like I was intruding. Yet as different as it was -- it was very familiar. The best way to describe this hippie place is -- imagine a Phish festival or the parking lot scene for a Bob Weir concert (or back in the day -- The Grateful Dead). These types of concerts attracted the same type of crowd, where art, music, djembe drums, colors, and a peaceful lifestyle dominated along with the scent of marijuana. This type of scene is both interesting but also a little offputting because I wasn't sure what the rules were or if they hated when visitors come in. They must be used to it, though, because it is a huge tourist attraction.

I took out my camera to snap a photo and then I ended up on Pusher Street, the main drag, and saw "No Photo" signs everywhere. It wasn't long before I realized why not. In the audio tour, they mentioned that until a few years ago, you could buy hash on Pusher street, although hard drugs were not tolerated. It was very clear that the audio tour was wrong, however, because there were stalls everywhere, right alongside organic cafes and clothing booths. I really felt like I was intruding, and tried not to gawk - but I had entered an alternate world.

Dogs roamed freely, and there were no advertisements for commercial things, just events like drum performances or parties. Some houses seemed nice, but there were a lot of ramshackle huts, some with tarps as roofs. I was trying to figure it all out. How does one move here? What are the rules? Advantages and disadvantages. How is it different than living just outside the gates? Do you have to live there to feel free? Just what kind of freedom do they have? With all my questions, I was torn. I wanted to investigate, but I did not want to gawk. I saw a sign for live guided tours at 3pm (it was too late for this day) so I decided to try again today if the schedule permits.

Away from Pusher Street, I no longer saw "No Photo" signs, but I was still weary of taking any pictures because I wasn't sure if it was ok. I think it would have been -- and I'm amazed that the travel show was able to get so much coverage. That was carefully planned. There are sculptures and artwork around, reminiscent of the work in Gaudi's Park Guell in Barcelona. I was trying to decipher who was a tourist and who actually lived there -- I figured the people on their front porches were inhabitants. As I walked further into the land, I saw a lake, with boats and a pier. A sign said "You can use the new grass, but take your litter with you." It was in English, so clearly a welcome to tourists. I kept walking, though, still trying to take it all in. After the lake, I saw some more huts, one house had a trampoline, some houses had a little narrow base and were raised high above the ground -- looking a bit like a tree house. I need the tour to understand all of this better.

To come back home, I realized the sightseeing busses were not running. The bus stops did not have detailed maps and I wasn't sure which bus to take home. I walked until I found a metro, and took it to an area at the end of the Stroget, then walked back from there. This city is best on a bike -- I should have rented one after my tour. Walking just feels weird when there are hundreds of people happily whizzing by you on the large and plentiful bike lanes around the city.

Today at 10:30 I'm doing a bike tour, and we'll see where the day goes from there. This is my last day in Copenhagen and my last day of this fellowship adventure. I leave for the U.S. tomorrow, my mind still spinning as I try to reflect and process everything I've learned, done, and seen.

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