Christiania has arrived in Vilnius

  • 2012-03-21
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

WINDOW TO AN ALTERNATIVE WORLD: A glimpse of Pusher Street in Christiania.

VILNIUS - Those who have ever visited Copenhagen know what is Freetown Christiania. Christiania is a bohemian, somewhat hippie-style and somewhat controversial artsy district that is reluctant to recognize Danish laws. Interestingly, the Danish state chose artists from Christiania to represent Denmark in Vilnius on the occasion of Denmark’s EU Presidency.

The exhibition titled, in English, “Christiania In Art – CIA” is on show at the Radvilas Palace (a branch of the Lithuanian Art Museum) on Vilniaus St. 24 in Vilnius until April 1. Every year, 1 million tourists visit Christiania. Only Copenhagen’s Museum Erotica, which also claimed to have 1 million tourists per year, could compete with Christiania in tourist figures in Copenhagen, but the founding father and the business manager of the museum died in 2008 and the museum was closed, leaving Christiania to be the only exotic tourist spot in Scandinavia. It is a good attraction for those who need a warmer social atmosphere than Scandinavian towns usually can offer.

In 1971 hippies occupied an abandoned former Danish military base and established Freetown Christiania, which exists to this day. Its area is 34 hectares, covered with mostly wooden houses of weird construction built by local autonomous community members themselves. The entrance to Christiania, through an old stone fence, is decorated with the signboard “Christiania,” while the exit sign on the other side of the signboard states “You are now entering the EU.” The community of Christiania consists of some 1,000 residents, and many of them are artists. They are mostly from Denmark, although some people from Brazil, Portugal, Jamaica and other countries live there as well. Some natives from Greenland, which has close ties to Denmark, can also be noticed in local pubs.

Local pubs, which are decorated in the style of America’s Wild West saloons, sell cannabis joints, cakes stuffed with cannabis and beer in bottles decorated with labels presenting the cannabis leaf. The community of Christiania imposed a ban only on hard drugs. Anyway, the community believes in pacifism and does not tolerate violence and, therefore, the area is safe for visiting. Cannabis and hash are also sold on Pusher Street in a way that vegetables are sold in local farmer’s markets in the Baltics: lots of different sorts of weed, and prices written near each item. Pusher Street is the only street in Christiania where big signs on houses warn not to take photos.

However, visitors of the exhibition at Radvilas Palace can sit down and watch a video on as big screen presenting Pusher Street and the rest of Christiania life. They can watch a market which is situated on the square near Pusher Street, where various souvenirs are sold. Apart of pipes for cannabis, T-shirts with the inscription “Man created alcohol, God created grass” and other similar inscriptions are sold. Streets of Christiania are full of huge the-hound-of-the-Baskervilles-style dogs of mixed breed. They are peaceful, like the rest of the locals. The Danish laws banning tobacco smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars and clubs are also not valid in Christiania.

Christiania hosts many shanty art galleries. Examples of Christiania art is presented at the Radvilas Palace: paintings, sculptures, ceramics, posters and photos. The lifestyle of Christiania has some influence on its art: the colors of paintings are bright and jolly, and some echo from far Eastern cultures is felt, though there is an impression that an artist started the job but soon got tired and decided that the job was done. A metal sculpture of a twisted machine-gun reminds one of sculptures of a twisted revolver, which are placed in front of the United Nations’ headquarters in New York and the European Commission’s Jean Monnet Building in Luxembourg.  

The atmosphere of Christiania reminds one of some kind of mix between the Roma people’s settlement of Kirtimai near Vilnius, and Vilnius’ artsy Uzupis district. It is symbolic that the exhibition “Christiania In Art – CIA” ends up on Fool’s Day, April 1, which is the Independence Day of Uzupis, although the independence of Uzupis is rather a joke, while the autonomy of Christiania is a real thing.

Visitors to Radvilas Palace can also take a look at the exhibition of porcelain dishes and sculptures created by St. Petersburg’s Imperial Porcelain Factory in the 18th-19th centuries - this exhibition from Russia is on show until May 6.

The Radvilas Palace is opened on Tuesdays – Saturdays from 11:00–18:00 and on Sundays from 12:00–17:00.