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Changing Lifestyles : Hippie Paradise Hits 'Big Chill' in Copenhagen: It's Going Legal : Christiania squatter town is finally being nudged into the mainstream by fed-up Danish citizens.

March 28, 1995|MARY WILLIAMS WALSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COPENHAGEN — The mud-walled hash haunts and dusky bazaars of Afghanistan have been swept away with the anti-Soviet war and its endless aftermath. The high-altitude enchantments of Peru have been turned into killing fields by ultra-hard-line guerrillas. Bangkok has become a traffic jam, and Kashmir is a powder keg.

All around the world, cherished way stations on the old hippie trail--the string of charming foreign backwaters where American flower children by the thousands once came of age aboard rattletrap Volkswagen vans enveloped in clouds of marijuana smoke--have been overtaken by time, by war, by their own self-infatuation.

Here in Copenhagen, however, the old hippie paradise known as Christiania is meeting a "Big Chill" fate all its own: It is being "legalized" by the Danish government.

"Christiania has been the most-debated single matter in the Danish Parliament," says Bo Christensen of the Danish Ministry of Defense, which has authority for the troublesome counterculture haven, made up as it is of abandoned military buildings. "Now it's like Neville Chamberlain: 'Peace in our time.' "

An unfortunate analogy, perhaps, but an intriguing prospect. As outlaw European squatter colonies go, Christiania is one of the biggest and most firmly entrenched. It has inspired plenty of legislative blustering, newspaper headlines and university theses.

And now that the Danish authorities are finally showing some success in nudging the colony into the social mainstream, observers are touting the Christiania experience as a model for other cities with problem neighborhoods.

A visitor enters Christiania through the gaily painted brick walls of an old naval complex in Copenhagen's gritty Christianshavn District--and immediately gets the feeling of having traveled backward in time to an American college campus somewhere in the sex-and-revolution belt of the 1960s.

Here, sprawling across 85 acres of erstwhile barracks, munition depots and officers' quarters, are all the free-running mongrels, long-haired youths, tie-dyed T-shirts, experimental bicycles, macrobiotic food stands, psychedelic murals, cannabis and purple houses on stilts that a nostalgic child of the Age of Aquarius could ever want.

One of the main "thoroughfares" of Christiania--which, as it happens, does enforce a ban on cars--is Pusher Street, where hash dealers in roadside stalls ply their trade without hindrance from the state. Unconventionally designed houses--one is pyramidal--hug the shoreline of a narrow lake, an in-your-face violation of the city's building code. Wall paintings of a camera with a red slash through the middle warn the visitor not to photograph any of the extralegal transactions.

The first residents moved here in 1971, when the Danish military was scaling back and left the aging waterfront compound standing empty. By 1973, about 1,500 squatters were tapping into the Copenhagen power grid, helping themselves to free water from the city mains and writing themselves a three-part code of conduct: No violence, no hard drugs, no cars.

Beyond that, all was anarchy. Christiania declared itself a "free town"--free from NATO, free from the European Economic Community, free from taxes, free from all manner of normal civic obligations and responsibilities.

The radical intellectuals who supplied the sustaining ideology--to the extent that there was one--argued that, far from being deadbeats and parasites, the Christianites were "paying" for their homes in sweat equity, by keeping prime downtown real estate in habitable condition after the Danish armed forces had abandoned it.

Hordes of tourists, particularly from Sweden, started coming every summer to partake of the hippie colony's freely available hashish and live-and-let-live ways. And over the years, many Danes have told opinion pollsters that while they would not want to live in Christiania themselves, they like having the settlement there, perhaps as an enriching social experiment, or perhaps just as a handy and low-cost place to keep urban undesirables--drug abusers, alcoholics, the deranged--cooped up and out of the way.

But for every Dane who is amused by the presence of a "free town" in the heart of the national capital, there is another who sees the place as an affront. Why, Christiania's critics have long wanted to know, should ordinary people pay for electricity and water when Christianites are allowed to steal whatever they fancy? And why should everyone else be obliged to follow the building codes, or pay taxes, when Christianites live as they please, evade all taxes--and score handsomely from Denmark's bountiful social-welfare system in the bargain?

About 70% of Christianites, after all, are on the dole.

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