I'm in Denmark for a couple of days – the only Scandinavian country I hadn't visited. It often has the "happiest population in the world" in those unfathomable surveys by interested parties. My first encounter with a Dane was my taxi driver and it was not promising – he was a naturalised Egyptian who had been in the country since 1994 and was about to move back to Cairo to be a dentist. "Why would you come here for a holiday?" he asked incredulously. "It's boring, incredibly expensive, the weather is awful and we only eat little potatoes." He was right about the weather and the place is eye-wateringly expensive. The people, however, are ridiculously lovely and almost make me forget that I am holidaying in what appears to be some sort of Aryan super-state - everyone being blond, blue-eyed and very tall.
As with much in Denmark, appearances can be deceptive. This country was the one that perhaps behaved the "best" under German occupation in the Second World War. When the order was given to deport the Jewish community to concentration camps, the resistance organised the escape of over 8,000 of them to neutral Sweden. Over 99 per cent of Danish Jews survived the Holocaust.
Copenhagen is a beautiful, neat capital city and I have been happily zooming around the place on my bicycle listening to music and singing rather too loudly. The most interesting place I've visited so far is Christiania. Described amusingly in a Tweet to me as "Disneyland for Tramps" this is a "free town" that was established by squatters in 1971 on the site of an old military base near the centre of the Danish capital. The residents announced that they had "left" the EU and the place has fallen into a kind of legal limbo where normal Danish law does not seem to apply.
It is easy to spot: the city's clean, tidy streets are abruptly interrupted by a heavily graffitied wall. Beyond, it appears that you have wandered on to the set of Escape From New York with quirky "stoner" architecture and confused references to Eastern religions. Little groups of thickset tattooed men with nasty-looking dogs keep watch at every entrance. I lifted my camera to get a photo and was immediately jumped on by a group who forced me to erase my memory card. It appeared that I had wandered into "Pusher Street" where photography is not allowed because of table after table of men selling every conceivable type of marijuana. The air was thick with the stuff, and the plant grew wild on the side of the street. I wandered nosily past shifty-looking dealers selling to pasty-faced customers.
The open sale of "soft" drugs, although approved by the residents of Christiania, was supposedly made illegal in 2004 but this has clearly had no effect. Still, things are better now than they were in the mid-Eighties when a very violent biker gang, known as Bullshit moved into the town and took over the drug business. The residents forced them out after a body was found cut up underneath some floorboards. Bummer, man.
"Alternative" communities almost invariably involve copious smoking of hash, scuzzy dreadlocks, hardcore techno, dogs on string and the inescapable feel of urban decay. Once, just once, I'd love to chance upon a group who have established an alternative alternative commune. Here, everyone is in pink cords, checked shirts and with a black labrador in tow. The Government is told "where to bloody go" if it interferes in hunting, speed limits or licensing laws and you can hear Dido floating across the perfect thatched rooftops of the community. I'd call it something like... oh, I don't know. How about Cotswoldia?Reuse content