The first squat and Christianias start
SPEECH TO UZUPIS MAY 2014
by Britta Lillesøe, Christiania Cultural Association
Christiania is the greatest victory of the squatting movement in the world, I suppose!
The fairy tale started in the early nineteen hundred and sixties, where many old houses in Copenhagen were ordered to be condemned by the municipality of Copenhagen.
The very first big squat was in 1965 in the other side of Christianshavns Square.
It was a whole block of 17’th century houses, which were condemned – unhealthy to live in, mostly because they were worn down by the proprietor.
We called the place for Sofiegården – means The Sofie Yard after the street, Sofiegade – The Sofie Street!
We were around 100-150 people living there for 5 years. We made a lot of culture and got friends with the neighbors, mostly working class people.
The municipality of Copenhagen did’nt like, that we lived there and the minister of buildings and the lord mayor of housing ordered 300 police men to get us out of the houses. First they took two of the houses in 1969 – then the rest in 1970.
The City Hall did offer us another house for a certain period in the neighborhood.
The Sofie Yard is the mother of the squatting movement in Denmark – and therefore also the mother of Christiania, and she got a very big daughter.
One day, in the autumm 1970, somebody knocked on our doors. It was some people from the early Christianshavns Citizen Council, who wanted us, from the Sofie Yard, to come and help the working class people in the other end of Christianshavn to tear down the fence to The Boatsman Street Barracks, the later Christiania. The people wanted green areas and a playground for their children. They knew, that the barracks were condemned and soon had to be emptied by the military people.
These Christianshavner people had tried to write to the minister of defence about getting a playground for their children on the Barracks, so they could get some fresh air. They had made deputations to the minister and they had made colourful parades with their children and music on wagons driving to the minister of defence. On their banners was written something like: RATHER CHILDREN WHO ARE SWINGING, THAN CANNONS THAT ARE SINGING! In Danish: HELLERE BØRN DER GYNGER, END KANONER DER SYNGER! But nothing helped!
Therefore they sat a whole night in their backyard making so called molotov cocktails to break down the fence.
When we, from The Sofie Yard, arrived to the Princess Street, we saw a lot of Christianshavner people trying to push their bodies against the fence surrounding The Boatsman Street Barracks…
We helped them and screemed and pushed and supported them the best, we could. They also threw the molotov cocktails on the fence. And at last the fence broke down…
So that was the first time the fence was torn down.
The fire fighters came and poured water on and the next day the authorities did put up a new fence…
After that the fence was torn down 2 or three more times…
In the meantime some young Christianshavner boys and a few girls had made their own holes in the fence, where they could climb into the fairy tale land. They knew the area, because they went to school with some of the officers’ children. So they had already partly settled down in some of the empty barracks. They caught fish there in the fortification canal and picked up apples and berries from the trees and the bushes.
One of those guys was Fisher Kim.
In September 1971 Fisher Kim meet with his friend, Jacob Ludvigsen, a journalist, in Christianshavn. He told Jacob, that there was laying ”a whole country with a little village with a town hall and many houses – and everything – on the Boatsman Street Barracks in Princess Street. Victor says, that the name should be Christiania!” Victor was one of the young boys, who more or less already had setted down on the ground.
Jacob was the head of an alternative newspaper called The Main Paper – in Danish, Hovedbladet.
The 26’th of September 1971, Jacob, his wife, two friends and a wellknown photographer drove in his car – a Citroen 2 CV, the most used car in our hippie radical milieu in those days – to The Boatsman Streets Barracks. They were dressed in a kind of soldier clothes – what they could find – and brought with them a picnic basket, a peace flag and a bolt cutters. They took pictures of the apperently empty area and saw only the shadow of one watch man… They wrote the words, Free State, on the ground with chalk.
When they came home, Jacob wrote an article with the pictures of the area in the Main Paper, with the headline:”Emmigrate with bus no. 8 to Christiania!”
After that a lot of young people little by little came and settled down in the empty houses on the new land, Christiania!
The Christianshavner people got after a while their playground – and we got a much bigger playground.
The new minister of defence was much more smart than the former minister, so he made a small council, a troika, of the minister of culture, the minister of health and himself. And they got good advices from a social advisor – ’the good fairy’ – connected to the Ministery of Health – and her advise was to call Christiania, ’A SOCIAL EXPERIMENT’! That came thrue and was realized early in 1972.
I am originally an actress, and on that time I was making theatre in a little alternative theatre in Jutland, but I was home in Christianshavn again in the summer of 1972, where I was living about a month with a friend here in Christiania. Early in 1973 I was moving out here for good.
So Christiania was only ’illegal’ around half a year, because we have had agreements, so called ’treaties’ with all the changing governments of Denmark since 1972.
Christiania – as a coherent ORGANIC neighbourhood – has values that need to be further developed and expanded, but also ought to be implemented in many places around the world, in the intimate societies – as is right now happening in places as far away as China and Korea – this we have just learnt and read about…
Yes, Christiania once was called a social experiment, grown out of the reality of Danish democracy – and for that we are very grateful.
Now we are no longer just an experiment. We have been legalized! Therefore you now might call this big playground, a continually cultural site of excercise – an ’EXPERIMENTAL ZONE’.
We christianites have for a very long time been a threatened group of people – a kind of tribe. Therefore we feel a great cohesion with the indigeneous peoples and their struggle to save their cultures.
You might call Christiania an urban tribe, part of a movement – together with for instance Uzupis in Lithuania, Ruigoord in Holland, Doel in Belgium, Boom Festival in Portugal, Umbrella House in New York, Huehuecoyotl in Mexico – and a lot more free cultural places – besides all of you being present here – a circle consisting of both the world’s indigeneous peoples, eco villages, freetowns, squatted areas – yes, of all free cultural spaces here on Mother Earth. Christiania is the ultimate victory of the squatting movement in Denmark, yeah, may be in the whole world?
“Live life artistically!” These are the words of one of Christiania’s many painters. And those words speak for the Freetown. Because Christiania is an artists’ town. Not only for ‘real artists’ – artists in the common understanding – but for people expressing themselves artistically in everyday life – in small and big things – and in ordinary things. If you see a hole in the asphalt on the road, maybe next day it will be filled with marble mosaic pieces or glazed tiles from another of our artists. And one of our scrap artists, makes the most beautiful chairs, sofas and tables from recycled and scrap materials – iron and bicycle tyres. Furnitures which are functional and at the same time artistic in shape. They are real sculptures, exposed for public use around in the Freetown, in many squares and places. Beauty is just as important as function!
Do you have to ask the municipality if you can exhibit your creative abilities? No, here it is the close environment that decides. Culture binds us together. And with almost 800 grown-ups and 200 children we have a lot of different combinations. From here grow both artists and life-artists. In Christiania, if you have a good idea, then most of the time it is not the money which governs, but the strength of the idea and the spirit. It is a place where young people can make theatre, play music, paint, do workshops – or maybe organise an event – and they only have to pay for the heating and electricity. They can do that in several of the beautiful common rooms and areas of the Freetown.
Christiania is almost the last bastion of culture. Here we always have – quite naturally – managed to blend so-called resource-weak and resource-strong inhabitants. Something which rarely happens in other places. It is therefore a very contradictory place. But the positive meeting of contradictions creates flowering and growth. This positive meeting can support artistic everyday life, the basis for many different expressions. We have a natural environment with many spaces where people can meet and exchange ideas. And it is in this way that new projects are born. You can also describe Christiania as one big cultural workshop, which helps to fill the cultural void of contemporary Denmark.
Yes, the Freetown has a very rich cultural life with a lot of associations, clubs, music venues, theatres, galleries, meeting places, a cinema, several sound studios, a radio and a TV station, many different art workshops, blacksmiths, carpenters, music and dance groups, indoor and outdoor skater ramp, night church and much much more. A lot of working artists live in Christiania, more than 50 painters, sculptors and similar, actors, singers, DJs, dancers, choreographers, theatre and film directors, light and sound artists, installation artists, designers, scenographers, architects, photographers, poets, writers, playwrights, composers and a lot of active musicians and bands who contribute to an overwhelming and colourful music scene. We are at the same time artists and organisers!
The Freetown is becoming a mix of Paris’ Montmartre in the last part of the 19th century and a village in Bali – with a little drop of the golden age – and the Skagen painters in Jutland from around year 1900.
Christiania is a living work of art and an artistic place to live in. A BIOTOP in the middle of the big city. A unity between humans, animals, plants, houses – life being lived. This artwork can be worked further on . But from the artworks soul itself.
Now I want to quote from Two Urban Tribes Meeting in Christiania, 18’th July 2008:
A manifesto of celebration. Enjoying our union, our differences, our common ground, our sharing.
Ruigoord and Christiania, both urban tribes of people who are different, slightly aberrant, conforming not to what the world dictates, but to their inner voice, their spirit. We feel connected in many ways and would like to express and explore that.
Urban tribes, as we are, share the following characteristics:
- We have our own style and way of living,
- We are organic, in the sense that problems are seen as opportunities, that we change as we go along.
- We are natural, in the sense of honouring the earth and what it has to give, of celebrating the seasons and making ’natural’ an inspiration rather than a label.
- We are a link in a chain passing on knowledge, wisdom and tolerance between generations, cultures and beliefs. That chain of human contact is basic and comes out in art, in festivals and in taking care of each other.
- We accept and tolerate deviant ideas and behaviour because we know that by judging others we judge ourselves. Being different is a way to be yourself.
- Individualism and collectivism come together in the tribal spirit, which is beyond the political. It honours tradition and yet despises worn out ways, we are a bridge between the prehistoric and the future, between the shamanistic vision and the age of Aquarius.
- We promote recycling of goods and materials, but also of ideas and ideals,
- We believe in a way of life that matters, that is worth fighting for, that fosters respect. A life where it doesn’t matter what you are but what you do.
- Harmony, bringing out the best in people in their varying colours and tempos and yet making ourselves heard and seen in a peaceful way. Conflict can lead to harmony, new perspectives.
- Small is beautiful, so we aim at small scale initiatives, democratic circles, to enable the freeing of the inner child to play, to create, to share and to feel safe.
We believe ideas come first, materialism, money and institutions are second
We honour the common ground, the physical as well as the virtual.
Urban tribes have a much wider importance than just being a nice way of living, an escape for a happy few. As the world is in dire need of new directions, the tribal model that has survived many a crisis in the past, deserves attention.
- We show the world that there are alternative ways of living, working and being together.
- We have visions and dreams to share, that can be an inspiration to a much wider group.
- We can show the planners and politicians that there are people and groups that care, that still hoist the flag of love.
- The world needs experimental zones and laboratories, where the alternative models of interhuman relationship, government, decision making and social structure can be developed. They don’t need to succeed but allow us to learn about processes and possibilities.
We relate to change, by refinding ourselves, using what makes sense, taking the best and recombine or reshape it into a new form.
Let others join our circle or be inspired to make their own. We wish to share our good intentions and our joy – let’s celebrate life, let’s make this planet sing!
Christiania, Copenhagen – 18’th July 2008
Britta Lillesøe / Actress / Cultural Event Maker / Chairwoman of Christiania Cultural Association