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Travel

Copenhagen City Notes | Torvehallerne and Freetown Christiania

26 February 2017

there’s a spaciousness and air of calm efficiency that sets Torvehallerne apart

Exploring Cophenhagen, Torvehallerne. Photo: The Guy Who Travels

Near the Norreport metro is Torvehallerne (Frederiksborggade 21, 1360 København), a stunning example how Scandinavia’s urban design surpasses all else, and the first stop on day two for coffee and the all-important Danish pastry fix.

In 2011 the city’s old wholesale veg market was transformed into an open market with a focus on quality, freshness and diversity. Outdoor flower and farm produce stalls stand before two industrial style buildings, each boasting an array of traders from butchers to wine bars, with everything from spice shops to fishmongers in between.

Quintessential danish fare from HALLERNES SMØRREBRØD. Photo: Polarbur
Sticky, crispy, gooey caramelised deliciousness. Photo: Polabur

With most of the products being locally sourced and organic, something common to many UK farmers’ markets, foodies may draw immediate parallels to the likes of Borough Market, but there’s a spaciousness and air of calm efficiency that sets Torvehallerne apart from the maddening tourist honeypot that Borough has become.

Torvehallerne: over 60 stands selling everything from fresh flowers to gourmet cheese and cured meats

If you can stomach the sight and smell of so much good grub without immediately caving to the hunger pangs, it’s certainly worth doing a smorgasbord tour of the two glass buildings before committing. However, despite the array, we found ourselves unable to escape the satisfying lure of Grød for a second day on the trot. And despite coming at an extortionate price, the Acai breakfast pots from Fresh Market looked too good to resist (so much so that it was gone before the camera phone came out).

An abundance of fresh produce at Fresh Market. Photo: dejligedays
Porridge on the menu for a second day running at Grod. Photo: karawillow
Cold pressed juices, Ginger/Wheat Grass/Turmeric/Cayenne Shots and Coconut Water from Fresh Market

Being all-weather picnic enthusiasts and wanting to see as much of Copenhagen as possible, we sacrificed staying around to fill the lunchtime gap from the likes of Hallernes Smørrebrød, and instead picked up a couple of smoked salmon on traditional rye sandwiches from Laura’s Bakery plus a Danish pastry for the road.  Both equally delicious but the cinnamon bun an education in how pastries should be – their UK counterparts, those cinnamon plaits found squashed and squelching amongst the bakery shelves of UK supermarkets, paling by comparison.

Laura's Bakery: gourmet Danish bakery which draws on the nostalgia of grandmother's cakes
The real deal. Cinnamon buns from Laura's Bakery
Coffee Collective, Torvehallerne. Photo: Fierce Food
Photo: @coffeecollectif

To see a slightly less ‘sleek’ side of Copenhagen we headed south for Freetown Christiania (Bådsmandsstræde 43, 1407 København). A self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood established over 30 years ago after a group of local people knocked down the fence to a former military barracks and decided to inhabit it as their home. Despite ongoing struggles with the municipal authorities, the result was a large-scale immigration of people wanting to create an alternative life based on communal living and freedom.

Freetown Christiania: the graffiti quotient rises another notch here
On the edge of 'Pusher Street' where photography is strictly prohibited by the locals

A bone of contention since its creation, there’ve been numerous attempts to clear the area now known as Freetown Christiania – with many appeals to the Supreme Court to protect the survival of this communal living experiment. The introduction of heroin into Denmark saw some pretty dark years, with the trade of hash and number of junkies accelerating to the concern of many Freetown residents. Eventually, in 1989, the legal system dictated a plan of ‘normalisation’ which split the area into a rural part, free of dwellings, and a regulated urban section where the experiment could continue without any formal time span.

In spite of ongoing opposition and smear campaigns from the authorities, Christiania’s survival is testament to the power of a united defense against the status-quo. Rather than become another cappuccino quarter, the area is a living, breathing battleground for the protection of a ‘collective right of use’ – Christiania’s model of ownership in which nobody owns their own dwelling with the goal of protecting a space where diversity and social justice amongst all residents can manifest.

Details of Freetown Christiania. Photo: Zoran Djekic

Christiania's survival is testament to the power of a united defense against the status-quo

Freetown Christiania. Photo: Silver Linings Only

Divisive on many levels, but whatever side of the graffiti fence you sit, wandering down Christiania’s paths is nothing short of impressive when taking into account the fiery passions protecting them year upon year. With social responsibly so enshrined in the fabric of this ‘free-town’ culture, Christiania is also a good place for lunch and dinner at reasonable prices, boasting an array of vegetarian and organic food options.

Being a refuge for artists, iconoclasts, anarchists, hippies and the generally unconventional, a number of small businesses have thrived over the years. Most notably Christiania Bikes, inventors of the increasingly popular family cargo bikes. We also managed to stop by Kvindesmedien, known to be an exciting women artist workshop producing high quality wrought iron pieces, just before closing. Housed in a large wooden building, you can buy anything from small cast iron sculptors to large industrial mirrors all made in the adjoining workshop.

Kvindesmedien, Freetown Christiania
A range of products - large and small - can be purchased from this all-womens welding workshop

Copenhagen’s bohemian enclave is surely proud of its reputation as a self-governing “free town” with an alternative, anti-racist culture.  Yet sadly residents continue to feel the pressure from contemporary Danish politics, with frequent police raids, large fines and undercover operations.  With an exit sign that reads: “You are now entering the EU” there’s little doubt to the abundance of fighting spirit contained within this inspiring micronation, you just hope they can keep their borders strong.

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