Yap Seow Choong

Yap loves design, travel and everything beautiful in life. He writes for various media about travel and design and has published works, including Wander Bhutan and Myanmar Odyssey. Formerly publisher of Lonely Planet (China Office), Yap is now Chief Content Officer of Youpu Apps, a Beijing based travel app company.

Freetown Christiania

10 2019 | Issue35

With an outstanding performance on the livable city chart, Copenhagen is known for its reassuringly tidy and clean streets as well as its quality urban environment. The city has also built up interwoven bike lanes to encourage low-carbon travel among the residents. You can not only find international brands in local malls but also a series of independent shops and cafés, which makes Copenhagen truly a role model in the era of globalisation. In Copenhagen, people have a perfect work-life balance. Even during weekdays, you can still see local residents parking their bikes in a small park by the canal, reading books and drinking wine quietly. Copenhagen has its own aesthetic standards. The city sets laws to forbid the display of what is regarded as ugly in public. For example, white plastic outdoor furniture is strictly prohibited. Even sunshades and ashtrays with trademarks are also not allowed in public spaces. During Christmas, only small white light bulbs can be used for decorating the city.


My admiration for Copenhagen does not come only from its high life standards, but also from its ability to create a tidy and orderly city while allowing its residents to choose whatever lifestyle they wish to live.


Located in the south of the city, Christiania, the famous territory of liberty, is considered to be an independent area without the control of the city government. When searching for the entrance of Christiania, I encountered a local resident named K, who was willing to show me the way into the area. “I am going to pick up some stuff,” she told me in a very natural way, just like she was heading to the supermarket to buy some groceries. Although the stuff she mentioned, marijuana, is no longer frequently traded in Christiania like it was in the past, many Danish people still associate marijuana to the territory of liberty.



At the entrance into Christiania stand a huge archway and also signs, reminding visitors to behave: no photography unless with residents’ permission; no running in avoidance of panic. This neighbourhood was once a deserted military base. In early 70s, a bunch of hippies came and occupied this abandoned government infrastructure, treating it like their home. As the population gradually grew, Christiania became a community promoting different lifestyles, with around a thousand residents now living here. The Danish government has tried many times to regain governance over this area by dispelling the illegal occupiers but the measure received strong opposition from the local residents and the government had to make compromises. Eventually, the government allowed the locals to purchase land at a low price so that the different lifestyles can continue to take roots here.


Christiania is a different world in Copenhagen, the rebellious side of the city that is recognised by law. The seemingly illegal compound is covered with graffiti and art crafts made from recycled materials that can be found everywhere in the neighbourhood. Local residents here advocate an environmentally friendly lifestyle. They don’t use any pesticide in their gardens and therefore the plants in the local neighborhoods are thriving in a vibrant manner, growing tall and wild.


Locals even grow marijuana in front of their houses. Pusher Street is the high street in Copenhagen. It is also a pedestrian street at which locals used to sell marijuana in public. This situation has changed and now the unkempt locals sell jewellery designed and made by themselves instead of marijuana. The hippie jewelleries, incarnated from their imaginations, are dotted with exotic elements from the orient. If the delicate buildings in the ancient plazas is an embodiment of Copenhagen, then so is Christiania, a melting pot of different lifestyles.


The definition of happiness varies from person to person. Why individuals cannot freely choose whatever lifestyle they enjoy as long as they don’t present any harm to others? “Every city should have a community like Christiania even if it is totally different from mainstream lifestyles. Only cities that can accommodate a place like Christiania are cities with tolerance towards being different. It is not like we dislike the mainstream lifestyles. It is just they are not something that I want,” K said, who lives in the old district. “And supposedly, you cannot find a place like this even in Paris or London.”


Once you step out of Christiania, there would be a sign alongside the road reminding you that you have entered the European Union. It is telling you that you should better behave yourself. This is Christiania residents’ humour.