Friday, 23 September 2011

Taking my camera for a walk in Christiania

I have mentioned before the photowalks run by LINK and the September photowalk was not one to be missed. The destination being Christiania this was an opportunity to stroll through a very special part of Copenhagen and to have a closer look behind the scenes in an 'edgier' part of town.
Tell anybody in this city that you are going to take pictures in Christiania and they will rightly tell you that  'you're not allowed to take photos'. And it's true that along 'Pusher street', the main drag (pardon the pun), next to the stalls openly offering cannabis for sale there are signs banning cameras. Heather (the leader of our photowalk) instructed us not only to put our cameras away but to make sure they were out of sight. This wasn't, as I understood it, at risk of being mugged, but rather an act of deference to the people of Christiania and their request for privacy.
Because we had to put our cameras away for part of the walk, the great thing about the visit to Christiania was the challenge to capture the essence of the place in not just the pictures but through the experience of it too. Far too often new places are only seen through a camera lens!
I had heard about Christiania before we moved to Copenhagen. When we were looking for a place to live we had found a couple of contenders in nearby Christianshavn. Looking at the map and seeing the 'freetown', I wondered whether it was a hippie type place full of artists and free spirits or a more threatening neighbourhood of drug pushing and crime. As an outsider I simply didn't know. One Danish friend did say that with young children we would have nothing to worry about but once the children grew to be teenagers it might be of more concern!
In any event, we moved to the north of the city centre but Christiania continued to intrigue and I was eager to find out more when the chance to visit presented itself. It turns out that the freetown turns 40 this year and during the last four decades it has caused a good deal of controversy.
In summary, it started out as an area of military barracks (including some sites where the executions of world war II collaborators took place) that became home to squatters. The cannabis trade that ensued was tolerated until the beginning of this century. Since then battles have been raging in the courts to normalise the legal status of the 'freetown' and, as I understand it, negotiations have gone back and forth and they continue.
Learning of its history and walking through its heart, I saw in Christiania what I had expected for the most part: an eclectic mix of colours, textures and smells. It was not too dissimilar to walking through parts of Camden in London (except much quieter and, being car free, more 'chilled'). What I hadn't expected was the beauty of the residential areas. Each home seemed to be an expression of individual style and I found myself envying the idyllic settings of the waterfront properties. There was also an attention to detail that caught my eye: colourful timbers, painted murals, bright pitchers on the front porch and flowers in the windows.
It was a wonderful morning and my daughter and I enjoyed the stroll (it turned out to be the perfect space for a toddler to explore - no cars and lots to look at) and, when she napped in the buggy, I had the chance to take photos. That's one of the great things about photowalks - they are all about time dedicated to taking pictures, which is so difficult in the busy-ness of everyday life. If you're interested, Heather is leading a Copenhagen photowalk on Saturday 1 October as part of a Worldwide Photowalk organised by American photographer Scott Kelby. This is open to all and places are available on a first come, first served basis. For more information and to sign up, click here. Maybe see you there...

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