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Denmark: Locals rip up Christiania's famous Pusher Street

April 6, 2024

Residents joined police to clear out Pusher Street, where weed and hash had been sold freely. Locals in the libertarian neighborhood grew fed up with violence that had invaded the formerly peaceful area.

Men and women seen prying large cobblestones from Pusher Street in the Copenhagen neighborhod of Christiania
Out with the old: Christiania residents tore up cobblestones in the first step toward renewing their enclaveImage: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix/picture alliance

Residents in Denmark's famous hippie enclave of Christiania on Saturday joined police, the mayor of Copenhagen and the Danish justice minister to tear up cobblestones on the neighborhood's Pusher Street to make way for a restoration project.  

Long revered as a libertarian, hippie paradise, Christiania has been plagued with drug violence in recent years.

Known as Christianites, residents grew weary of the situation and took the drastic decision to close the street last August, after the enclave registered its fourth murder in three years.

Local spokeswoman Hulda Mader told AFP news agency that Pusher Street had "deteriorated" and was "really not a very nice place." Speaking of the scene in which hashish stalls had always returned whenever they were torn down, she said, "They fight each other, they fight people and they are violent."

The blue light of a police vehicle illuminates the night in Christiania, Denmark
Violence in Christiania spiralled when rival gangs fought for control of the lucrative drug sceneImage: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix Foto/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Locals happy that Pusher Street will now become something else

As locals, their families and friends tore up the street, Mader said, "We'll take the cobblestones and give them to people who want some. That's just a sign that Pusher Street is changing from a pushers' street to something else."

Copenhagen Mayor Sophie Haestrop Andersen said the commitment of Christiania's roughly 1,000 residents was crucial to renewal plans. "It is the first time ever that they united and agreed to take a stand against the rising crime and insecurity in their neighborhood."

The removal of the cobblestones is the first step toward integrating the community into the Danish capital. It will be followed by the city installing new water and sanitation infrastructure and repaving the street.

The Danish government had made its offer of 14.3 million kroner (€1.94 million, $2.1 million) in renewal funding contingent upon the removal and banishment of organized hash sales.

Denmark's Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard speaks to reporters as crowds throng onto Pusher Street in the Christiania neighborhood of Copenhagen
Local and national political figures such as Justice Minister Peter Hummelgaard were on hand Saturday as residents took back their streetImage: Johan Nilsson/TT/picture alliance

Anti-authoritarian collective and tourist magnet

Founded in 1971, the "Free City of Christiania" was created as a place that "belongs to everyone and no one," with decisions about the organization of life in the then-abandoned naval base being taken collectively.

The enclave became a beacon of free-spirited collective living where cars and police were not allowed, the government had limited influence — residents disregarded building codes and often refused to pay utility bills — and cannabis was illegal but, nevertheless, tolerated.

The latter was increasingly seen as a thorn in the side of successive governments, often putting residents and authorities at odds. Still, the neighborhood was the most popular tourist attraction in the capital for decades.

Copenhagen Police Chief Simon Hansen said, "About five or ten years ago it was primarily locals. But right now we see that it's mostly gangs and biker gangs that drive this drug market." Increasingly, those gangs violently clashed with police.

Long a colorful tourist magnet, residents last year decided to close the city to non-residents for one day in August, "in hopes of freeing Christiania from the tyranny of gangs." 

Copenhagen police said they made roughly 900 drug-related arrests in 2023.

A container, buildings and a concrete barricade sprayed with the words 'Pusher Street is closed'
Locals closed Christiania to visitors last August in an unprecedented moveImage: dpa/picture alliance

Christiania residents eager to start a 'new chapter'

The aging residents of Christiania — one-quarter of whom are over 60 — say they hope that by ridding themselves of the scourge of drug gangs they can begin a "new chapter" and return to the ideals that once shaped the idyllic island community.

"We'll paint the buildings and rebuild them and all sorts of things," said Hulda Mader. "We want to be associated with what we were associated with before… art, culture and plays… making it a nice place for people to come and chill out."

Residents say they hope to capitalize on the enclave's lore and its beautiful surroundings of greenery, water and colorful facades.

Another element of the renewal plan is to construct new housing for some 300 additional residents, scheduled to begin in 2027. With locals saying they hope to attract young families with children.

The desire for renewal was showcased on Saturday morning when two young children from the enclave hoisted the first cobblestone pried from the street to wild cheers and applause from all those gathered. 

A woman rides a bicycle past a brightly graffitied wall reading 'Christiania'
Residents say Saturday's collective action signals a return to the enclave's founding idealsImage: picture alliance / dpa

js/ab (AFP, AP)