It may be that at some point in your life you have had a penchant for being a mod, rocker, Hell’s Angel, glamrock fashionista, punk or, as in my case, a hippy.
Sitting in El Medano, the modern-day hippies (or maybe they have another name?) who sell their leather and bead goods along the wall or in the market, seem to be dressed in a more careful manner than I remember in the late sixties/early seventies. The precise, twisted hair, tattoos, jewellery, general cleanliness and pricey, tie-dyed, sequinned clothes belie the rough, back-to nature life of the hippy of earlier times.
I dressed the part then with headband, Afro hair, patterned make-up and caftan, bell and beads, waved joss sticks, flowers and smoked cheroots. We used the word ‘fabulous’ a lot and talked of Nirvana and Marc Bolan. It was mandatory to sit cross-legged or in a yogic position; I certainly couldn’t do it now! Ouch! But this was at weekends. I had a rather sensible job during the week so wasn’t a true hippy but have met those who combined the two and still really lived the life.
With three hours alone to spare in Copenhagen (it was 1975) I decided to take a taxi to my then Mecca : Christiania. This is an old army camp in Copenhagen, which was taken over by numerous people with the idea of freedom, love and peace. I just had to see it for myself before leaving Denmark but felt less courageous when the taxi-driver dropped me off at the entrance. In front of a huge, colourfully painted wall with the swirly patterns and images of Indian influenced designs were stalls and people in various states of consciousness. How did they know I was English? I was asked what I would like to buy and realised that the first stall was laden with different types of drugs all laid out as beautifully as fruit and veg. in any market. Many were neatly packaged, some raw and samples were offered to try like any perfume store.
For once, I was stumped for a response and was rescued by a rather tubby, more conventional-looking man in a yellow t-shirt and jeans with a white kid-goat on a lead. He asked if I would like a tour of Christiania where he was visiting someone and I followed man and goat as the better option to the mystical myriad of sale items.
First of all, we passed a really large building that was about three stories high with no doors. There were windows at the top and Sven told me that any children in Copenhagen who were frightened or worried would come there. A rope would be let down for them to climb and they had a very safe refuge, care and counselling and were looked after until they decided it was safe for them to leave or the authorities were notified. I hope that was the case. It seemed logical and compassionate at the time and was long before Childline.
I was amused by the way in which hippy families had made their colourful homes of natural materials and had beautified the barrack buildings with the painting style of the era. There were gardens with fruit and vegetables in well-ordered lines and on attractive trellises and a real evidence of re-cycling in the buildings and structures.
The best smile was due to a group of very hairy hippies sitting outside, round a rickety table having late breakfast with a huge box of Cornflakes, a big tin jug of goat-milk and a bowl of fresh fruit.
Sven explained that although there were many sad cases of junkies there were also doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers and many other professionals living in Christiania with their families because they loved the ideals of the community and wanted to help each other and throw off conventions and red tape. So maybe I was a true hippy. They, like me, went off to work during the week and probably had to wear conventional clothing!!!
We moved on past many sculptural structures, trees and bushes to a ‘dell’, which was set up as a really imaginative children’s playground. The hippies allowed their children to learn through experience by swinging and climbing in the trees, fostered imagination through letting them play on brightly coloured boats and clamber up colourful constructions or finger the intricately carved totem pole. Then, this was really exciting and futuristic… very different to the classic swings, slide and roundabout of most playgrounds of the time.
I wasn’t terribly thrilled by the two bare-breasted women who were taking their turn to be in charge of the playground. They were slumped at the steps of a Romany caravan and obviously ‘out of it’ as they puffed on the long, curled up Danish pipes. But the whole atmosphere was relaxed, calm; the birds were singing and the children having a wonderful time. No Danish equivalent of OFSTED then but perhaps from a model such as this, schools with even more outdoor facilities became the way forward with more learning through play at an elementary level?
There was colour all around, enchantment of greenness, horror as we passed the huge building for the hard-drug addicts: terrible groans and screams. Until then drugs had appeared to be a way to create beauty in art, ethereal music, and inner peace. I was awakened to what was perhaps the time when the real unpleasantness of the harder drugs began………
Would I live in Christiania? I’m not clear about how it is today although it still exists. I would hope the ethos of peace, love and caring for each other would still be there. I’ll have to go back and find out. Now where are the more modern hippy’s harem pants, tattoos and thonged sandals? Do they still wear a bell and wave joss sticks and flowers???