Norrebro: The Radical District

Saturday, 13th September 2008 at 16:10 UTC 3 comments

So, Travel Blogging, seeing as I’ve now been ‘travelling’ for 4 days. The first day and a half was basically bus journeys, during which time I was joined by a couple of fellow activists, one who I knew was attending and one I didn’t realise would show up. The coaches barely stopped more than 5 minutes anywhere which meant very little opportunity for food, but after breakfast on the ferry to Denmark from Germany, we were ready to go enjoy Copenhagen pretty much as soon as we’d arrived, met our greeter and drunk coffee…

Those of you who know Copenhagen will not be surprised to hear that almost the first place I headed once I arrived here was the district of Christiania, essentially a free-state within Denmark, established in 1971 in an old Army Barracks, and one of the largest and most successful anarchistic communities in the world, with 37 years of experience in taking initiative for self management and in taking decisions collectively. It really was superb, and very easy to see how similar to Climate Camp it was, if one imagined Climate Camp putting down its roots for a decade or three.

Its certainly quite a challenging place. We in the UK have almost been indoctrinated to believe that a place which values individual freedoms will never work as a collective community and that a community based on concensus will eventually crack up with unfixable differences. Neither of these have held much truth in the history of Christiania, which seems to balance personal and collective freedom, and to manage a process that has mostly made the right decisions over time; its impressive to see a collective decision put in place to ban knives and hard drugs, for instance, when one is continuously told that anarchy means violence and denigration.

Anyhow, after our trip to the hip end of radical Copenhagen, we headed back to where we are staying: Norrebro (excuse lack of accents!) and to Solidaritetshuset, or Solidarity House, which is a sort of social centre, maybe quite a bit like LARC. We made dinner with people who were staying there and drank coffee, then beer, as we worked out how we wanted to spend the next day; by this time we had about 10 internationals hanging around, and it made some sense to go see the venue selected for the COP15 Summit, the Bella Centre, which seems to be a sort of cross between a conference centre and the NEC. Whether we’ll get anywhere near to it, I don’t know, but at least we’ve seen it to know what to expect if we succeed. Of course, this weekend is mostly about deciding whether, and if so, how, we should get there.

COP15 for those who don’t know means the 15th Conference Of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which arose out of the Rio de Janiero conference in the 1990’s. It brings together delegations from every UN-recognised country, and has generally taken the role of implementing the Kyoto protocol. The problem is, Kyoto runs out in 2011, so if there’s to be a replacement protocol, then we need something in place by 2010, and the COP15 negotiations are in December 2009. This makes it one of the largest and most significant summits to take place in recent years, perhaps more so even than Seattle. Oh, and talking of Seattle (or Settle, as people keeping saying it!), the pre-conferences open on 30th November 2009, the 10th Anniversary of the Battle of Seattle.

So thats why we’re here, and its what’s being discussed today and tomorrow. But the location of the discussions is quite interesting. Norrebro is a diverse neighbourhood (apparently, though it seems about as diverse as York! These people should see Bradford!) and one with a radical history. After some years of quiet, Copenhagen is now facing a rise in radicalism, mostly in response to government action to infringe upon the autonomy of Christiania and in response to the eviction and demollition of the social centre “Ungdomshuset”, Youth House, last year. Apparently things are still pretty hot around here.

Norrebro is full of exciting places, like Solidarity House and another Social Centre who’s name I’ve just forgotten, and Det Fri Gymnasium, the free high-school, which is where I’m currently sat. This is a democratically run school which for several years, topped the Danish league tables. Every week, the school meets to make decisions, and until recent years, these included something of the balance of the curriculum. I’m absolutely loving this place!

Speaking with a delegate who is also a student at this school, its exciting to hear of somewhere where the kids both runamock and have utmost respect for the building, the institution and for each other. The students made a decision many years ago that the walls were too dull, and that grafitti would be accepted on walls and doors, but not on windows (in the canteen area this hasn’t been stuck to, but upstairs its mostly OK), and the result has been some really beatiful artwork. Sadly, with government interference in the curriculum, the amount of creativity lessons, i.e. art and technology, have been reduced, and this co-incided with a drop in the standard of art in the school. Each term the students discuss ‘whiting’ some of the walls, to make space for new creativity, but some of the good stuff remains (or its more recent, its hard to tell).

Each weekly meeting includes a discussion of the Friday Night Cafe, which seems to involve the caretaker handing the keys to the students to run their own events in the school canteen. If we’d managed that, the keys would have mysteriously fallen down the drain. When they do it, the keys are returned promptly. The lesson: respect your pupils, treat them like adults, and they’ll respond with their own kind of affection. Apparently the kids are not given grades during the year, they instead meet their teachers individually to discuss their feelings about their work, and to decide on their future course of study. In Britain, we’re taught so clearly that our opinions aren’t worthwhile, that its hard to see how we’d implement this.

Sadly this is exactly what the ultra-conservative government is seeking to destroy in Copenhagen, but its truly inspiring to witness. Also, sadly its a unique school, so the number of people educated this way has always been quite low, and it has to run as a private school, although poorer parents can get government funding for their kids.

But anyhow, I’m loving this city, with its efficient public transport, really radical corners, but its still really cold at times and I’m regretting not putting my winter layer into my jacket! Oh well… I’ll try and write something about today’s meetings as soon as I can, but don’t hold your breath. In short, its all really exciting, challenging stuff and I’m enjoying it despite how tired I am.


Entry filed under: Culture, Free Space, Freedom, Travel.

Where life’s at Copenhagen completed…

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Saturday, 13th September 2008 at 22:56 UTC

    Oh Graham, why can’t climat camp just be about the climate? Why do you have to try and foist an alternative system of government on us at the same time? You may be able to get a barracks full of hippies to supposedly agree with each other all the time, and such systems may be good for you personally since you never have a problem making your voice heard. This doesn’t mean that people will take a radical climate message seriously if they think that all the protagonists are hippy fruitloops. Concentrate on the main point!

    As for that school, your feelings about how you’re doing may matter if you’re studying humanities, but they’re worth sod all if you’re running a power station or performing an operation on someone. What is this school’s performance like in the hard sciences?

    I’m glad to hear you’re having a good trip.

  • 2. rachel  |  Tuesday, 16th September 2008 at 9:24 UTC

    route planning – why were you on a ferry from Germany to Norway to get to Copenhagen???

    BTW, school sounds cool and my school did involve us having conversations with teachers about future plans of study and things, sometimes with parents involved as well – although we did also get grades – which in turn could help you discern which subjects you were actually good at and which you just enjoyed, so you could get a balance between the two in your ciriculum.

  • 3. Graham Martin  |  Monday, 6th October 2008 at 13:05 UTC

    Erm, geographic error corrected. Route didn’t feature Norway, now reads Denmark.


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