I stood in the center of a somewhat spooky place I had randomly walked into while walking around the city and started taking photos of everything around me. It was spooky, like a ghost town shown in a B grade horror movie. It was called “Christiania” as I had seen from the arched gate when I entered the premises. At the time I had not known the background of the location. There were shops selling beads, trinkets, jewelry, scarves and such stuff. There were also small pubs and places where you could eat. Otherwise, the premises were full of dirty, unkept, derelict buildings with their walls decorated with quirky graffiti. There was just rubbish in piles here and there.
Some people standing in groups started to make some noise. I thought they were talking about me and sounding angry, but I was not sure. So, I continued taking photos and enjoying the spookiness.
A thin unkempt dodgy looking man wearing a hoodie accosted me. “Can I have your phone please?” He asked politely with authority. I was frightened and handed it without question.
“It is against the law to take photos of people and this place without permission. There is a sign,” he said looking at the photos on my mobile. He showed me the sign which I had conveniently but genuinely missed.
“I’m sorry”, I said. I was embarrassed.
“It is okay. You did not know”. He deleted all photos where there was a person from his group, handed my phone back and walked back to his group. He did not delete all pictures of the place though. I was glad about that. I could check up later what exactly was the deal with that weird looking locality.
Later I learnt that the place called “Christiania” was Copenhagen’s hippie neighborhood. It was established in 1971 and has its own mission statement, defining the lofty objectives of the place about creating a self-governing society responsible for well-being of the entire community.
Today it is Europe’s oldest still existing squatters’ community; a free town where cannabis trade takes place openly, which is elsewhere illegal. That explains the no photo diktat. It is also called the Green Light District because you get the “green” stuff there. Formerly a military base with a 19-acre expanse, the place has its share of shady stories. Gang wars, cannabis trade wars, shootings, grenade attack have happened there.
I did not know about this place before. Otherwise, I would never have walked into the premises alone.
What I did know about Copenhagen and did plan to see was predictably, the famous little mermaid. The iconic bronze statue has come to symbolize the city.
I started navigating on foot towards the statue. Meandering along on the way, I saw the royal palace, Danish Parliament, some castles, some churches, some interesting sculptures. Not having the time to explore much; I saved the castles and buildings and other attractions for another time. That day, the mermaid was calling me.
Along the way, I also heard an American teenager explaining her fascination with the statue.
“When I was little, we had a class project on Denmark and all I wrote about was The Little Mermaid. I was just so fascinated with her.” She sounded excited about finally seeing it for real. I felt a little juvenile myself for being excited about the mermaid.
I found my way around the city to the mermaid. She was little. Set on a rock by the waterside at a promenade in Copenhagen, she looked dreamy. The bronze statue depicted a mermaid becoming human. She has been through much since she was installed in the year 1913. There have been numerous attempts at defacement and vandalism, and she was restored each time.
That day she was surrounded by Chinese, who would not leave the mermaid alone for a split second. When one Chinese finished taking photos in all the twenty-one poses, another one jumped besides the mermaid. It was annoying to all who just wanted a picture for memory without anyone else but the mermaid and maybe oneself in the frame. After a few unsuccessful attempts to capture the mermaid alone, one woman standing beside me was reasonably annoyed.
‘Ah. The Chinese!!’ She said displaying a zillion times milder version of the emotion the world shares today. Those were good days when the world was still in love with China. I even bought a souvenir, a tacky little mermaid kitchen magnet, that was “Made in China”. It is still stuck on my refrigerator, not sanitized.