Christiania moves forward on historic purchase

With an extension on payment deadline and brisk sales of Christiania Shares, freetown closes in on buying land

From a small, nondescript office, Tanja Fox oversees a bristling business. Since September, nearly seven million kroner have passed through her hands. In exchange for anything between 100 and 10,000 kroner, her customers are given a single piece of paper.

While that may sound like a raw deal, these aren’t just any old pieces of paper. They are shares in one of Denmark’s most valued – or despised, depending on who you ask – cultural attractions, Christiania.

Since striking a deal with the state last summer to purchase Christiania’s buildings and land, residents have been working to raise the requisite funds. The original agreement valued the price of the land and buildings at 76.2 million kroner. An initial down payment of 43 million kroner was originally due on April 15, but last September’s national elections and a governmental restructuring resulted in changes to the agreement.

Now, according to Marija Theiden – the head consultant of the Christiania Group, which is part of the government’s buildings and property agency, Bygningsstyrelsen – Christiania faces a July 1 deadline to make an initial 51.8 million kroner payment on a newly-adjusted total price of 85.4 million, though that too could change. Upwards of 30 million kroner can be deducted if Christiania renovates and repairs selected buildings on the land.

As Hulda Mader, a member of the recently-established Christiania Fund explained, the sheer scope of the purchase agreement means there is still a lot to wade through before July 1.

“Getting to July 1 is taking up all of our energy now,” Mader said. “This is the biggest single property purchase in Denmark in the last century or more. It’s 34 square hectares that are changing hands – something of this size has never been done before.”

It’s also probably safe to assume that no other purchase have ever been financed quite like this one. Fox said that the brisk sales of the Christiania Shares have been encouraging, even if it has left them far away from the total purchase price.

“I think that seven million in five months is quite good when we’ve had no big commercial campaigns or anything,” Fox said. “This is just people who love the idea of Christiania, who want to support it, and want to make sure Christiania remains in existence. In a small country like Denmark, I think it is quite good.”

She said that individuals from 26 countries have purchased shares, but that the real number could be even higher.

‘‘That’s just the registered ones who have purchased online,” she said. “Just last week, a guy from Jordan popped into the office to buy a share. He was just a tourist who walked in and said: ‘Wow, I really want to support this – here’s 100 kroner’.”

The freetown is now in the process of launching a video campaign, which it hopes will spread awareness and help boost sales. Still, Fox and Mader acknowledged that it isn’t realistic that the sale of the shares will cover the purchase price, so they are prepare to go to the bank.

“We’ll take a loan, just like everybody else,” Fox said. “Nobody buys a home in cash anymore.”

While Christiania has decided to take a loan, it was a hesitant choice.

“We don’t want to own anything,” Fox said. “We don’t want to own the houses, we don’t want to own the land. It’s a little bit like the American Indians’ idea that the land is for the next generation to own, it’s not ours. So the idea of owning it ourselves was really far out, but we were stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Like everything involved with the purchase, the details of a loan are complicated. Mader contended that they would be able to receive a 100 percent state guarantee, but Theiden at Bygningsstyrelsen said that there would be only an 80 percent guarantee, but that the terms were still under discussion.

Either way, the state guarantee would mean that while the Danish government would assure the lender it would cover the loan if Christiania can’t pay, doing so would put the property in the state’s hands.

But raising money is one thing. Dealing with the government is another, and according to Mader, it’s slow going.

“They are very slow in getting us the papers,” Mader said. “We are getting the final papers that we need to scrutinise as late as April 19, and that gives us a very short time to go through them if we have to be finished by July 1. So, we’re not talking that much right now, just sitting and waiting.”

But, Mader and Fox expressed guarded optimism that with the new government in power, relations between Christiania and the state could improve. Mader said the climate minister, Martin Lidegaard, whose ministry now oversees Christiania, seemed “sympathetic enough” to the freetown. Not surprising, then, that he has received a complimentary Christiania Share.

While they navigate finances and a relationship with a new government, Mader said they are already looking beyond the July 1 payment.

“We’re going to concentrate on making Christiania run,” she said. “We have to figure out how the foundation and Christiania can co-exist – how to make sure the foundation doesn’t interfere. We hope that we get permission to build, renovate and innovate. The former government completely laid us bare and sucked all of the life out of us, so we need to rejuvenate.”