The King of Christiania
It’s rare to meet such a man.
He sits quietly outside his small studio as people walk past. His life’s work, oil paintings, are strewn about the floor and hung up, both beside him and inside his studio. They do the talking for him.
One painting immediately grabs me. It’s a picture of a sunset over some nearby buildings. Fiery orange and yellow, with subdued blues. Such boisterous colors! But what tugs at my soul is the aliveness of the sunset–like it’s happening now.
The promise of more vibrant colors lure me into his studio (which doubles as his living quarters). It’s like a cellar, but with fine art instead of wine. There are roughly thirty completed works, and some drying; canals and lakes, buildings and plazas. His brush strokes transforming scenes from the streets and skies of Copenhagen into portals for his lucky visitors to enter and linger awhile, if they so desire.
I stand in his studio, agape. His art, these colors, stir something deep within my soul.
Christiania is a place of sharp contrast to the rest of Copenhagen. It’s a little nook of a place, with 80 acres of cobblestone streets, alleyways, old brick buildings and a pond. But its essence lies in its people and its history.
It’s known by the people of Denmark as a free city.
It’s hard to separate the lore from the truth of Christiania, and I won’t try to do so. Simply put, it’s one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited. It can be slightly off-putting at first; like entering a psychedelic journey, it takes some time for the mind to adjust.
Whereas Copenhagen is neat, orderly and predictable, Christiania is a cornucopia of hippiness, punks, raucousness, laughing, unkemptness and the aroma of pot wafting through its narrow, cobblestone streets.
My friend, Greta, and I stop to grab some lunch. It’s like walking back in time a few hundred years. A wooden floor with a wooden counter. A little kitchen with a buffet of about five plates to choose from, a homemade soup and fresh bread. Two older women are in the back with aprons; a young, hip Dane weighs our food and smiles for no reason. I feel welcome in Christiania.
Taking our lunches outside, I choose a covered bench in what appears to be the village center. All around us are benches of people talking, many of whom are also rolling and smoking joints.
People are friendly. We join a young man at a bench. Mattias is a college student studying construction at the local university. He is enjoying a break in his day from school. And he’s rolling a fatty.
We ask him about Denmark and his life. His college is paid for by Denmark, he tells us, and he has a small side painting business that takes care of his basic expenses. He tells us about the weekly police raids that try to shut down the illegal activity of Christiania. But they never will, he says. The people won’t allow it.
Out of my periphery–at nine o’clock–I see projectiles being hurled skyward; an afternoon water balloon fight! We turn our gaze as one camp of jesters runs to the back of a nearby building, launching balloons over the roof at their intended targets.
I watch as the balloons reach their apex, some thirty meters high, before slowly beginning their Earth-bound descent.
I replay the scene of those balloons, high up in the sky, in my mind. For a few precious moments time slowed down and the god of gravity, seemingly turning a blind eye, allowed something magical to be witnessed.
It brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.
But doesn’t this magic work in our own lives, too? How the experience of doing something new or frightening can seemingly alter our perception of time (and with it the laws of reality) in that moment. How a piece of music, or a few bars, can take us to the beyond.
My mind’s eye takes this moment in and turns it into a painting. The old buildings, the narrow cobblestone streets, the jesters, the innocent bystanders, the onlookers, the water balloons defying gravity.
My painting captures a moment frozen in time–but adds an aliveness that still moves me.
Like an Orozco masterpiece.
For more about the artist, Marios Orozco