It is hard not to be impressed by the sheer number of radical cafés, bookstores and social centres in Copenhagen. Despite its relatively small size (approximately one million residents), the city has at least a dozen different radical centres, not including the semi-autonomous area of Christiania, which is currently fighting a last ditch battle with Denmark’s right-wing government to stop the state reclaiming the area and selling it off to property developers.
This huge infrastructure is not a recent development; a fascination with the idea of fristeder (free places) has long been a dominant tendency in the Danish radical left. This tendency dates back to the squatters’ movement, the slumstormere, that developed in the 1960s. This died down after the authorities allowed squatters to live in the buildings they had occupied until they were demolished, but it has been revived in recent years.
Despite this background, radical centres in Copenhagen tend not to be squatted buildings. Tough laws make squatting difficult, while there are many legal alternatives for groups attempting to establish a space. On the one hand, many former squats still have plenty of space that can be repurposed for new projects, while on the other, it is possible to get grants from government cultural funds for radical social centres and other such projects. All of these different spaces have something to say about contemporary and historical radicalism in Copenhagen.
It’s well worth getting a bike to visit Copenhagen. It is one of the best cities in the world to cycle in and its wide bike lanes and sensible drivers offer a welcome relief from the perils of cycling in more car-centred cities. Unfortunately, it is hard to find bikes to rent and the city-bikes provided for tourists are clunky monstrosities, designed to be as unattractive as possible to steal.
Any radical tour of Copenhagen starts in Nørrebro. Historically a workers’ quarter and later a home to the squatters’ movement, it is now rapidly being colonised by an array of raw food restaurants, posh cafés and gourmet beer bars. Despite this development, Nørrebro is still studded with left-wing outposts.
A good place to start is Demos, an anti-fascist bookstore in a prime location on the corner of the now uber-trendy Sankt Hans Torv with a good selection of books, magazines and t-shirts. The shop is run by an anti-fascist collective, who publish a magazine of the same name.
From here, one can walk ten minutes down the road to Cikaden, a café, library and bookstore run by the International Forum, a group that organises international solidarity work. There you can browse the library, buy a souvenir t-shirt, or have a chat with the activists on duty. The building next door is the headquarters of the Socialist Youth Front. On a typical Friday evening passers-by might be greeted by the sounds of pop music and heated arguments about the Spanish Civil War.
At this point, it might be worth taking a break for a coffee at Café Under Konstruktion (CuK), on the ground floor of Folkets Hus (The People’s House). Open five days a week, CUK was started as part of the wave of activism that followed the eviction of the Ungdomshuset (Youth House) autonomous youth centre in 2007. During weekdays it offers a relaxed atmosphere for meeting friends and hanging out, without the price tag attached to most café culture, while on weekends there are often concerts and film showings. On a Sunday, you can get your bike fixed at Cykelværkstedet 71, a cooperative bike workshop also on the ground floor of Folkets Hus.
After a coffee, it might be worth buying a few flowers on Nørrebrogade and walking to Jagtvej 69, the site of the evicted Ungdomshuset. The building that formerly stood at Jagtvej 69 was first built by the workers’ movement in 1897, and functioned as a headquarters and social centre for the labour movement, hosting dances and boxing matches, as well as speeches by guests such as Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg.
In 1982, the then-derelict building was gifted to the squatters’ movement by the city council for use as an autonomous youth cultural centre. For nearly 30 years it functioned as a concert venue and a home for Copenhagen’s ‘autonome’ movement.
However, in 2007, after a protracted court battle and failed negotiations, the building was evicted by a huge force of police and torn down to prevent it being re-occupied. Riots lasting several days broke out across Copenhagen. Despite thousands of arrests, the police failed to kill the movement and a year later the city council offered the youth a new building as compensation.
This new building is located at Dortheavej 61, in the Nord Vest area, further out of town. It’s well worth paying a visit, either for the excellent vegan People’s Kitchen on Thursday evenings, a concert during the weekend, or simply to hang out and read a book in the well-stocked library and bookstore.
Also in Nord Vest are two other recent additions to Copenhagen’s radical cityscape, Bolsjefabrikken (The Candy Factory) and Ragnhildgade 1. Both are non-profit and non-commercial cultural centres run with support from city cultural funds. Ragnhildgade 1’s Thursday cafe is a good place to finish the day with a few beers after the vegan dinner.
You can start the next day with a falafel at one of Nørrebro’s many kebab stores before heading down to Christiania, the now legendary autonomous community. Christiania was founded in 1971, when squatters occupied a derelict military barracks close to the harbour. Since then, it has been run collectively by weekly general assemblies, although its existence has continuously been threatened by conflicts with the state over their right to use the area.
The first thing that strikes the visitor to Christiania is the thriving trade in hash and weed on Pushers Street. Walking a little bit further on, you can stop at Månefiskeren for a coffee or continue on for a walk around the lakes. Despite its centrality, Christiania is one of the most beautiful areas in Copenhagen. Trees and plant‑life are allowed to prosper and the area is bounded by water. The architecture is also worth admiring; the majority of residents live in repurposed military buildings, but there are also many new houses, which are often interestingly designed.
On another note altogether, Copenhagen’s Frihedsmuseet (the Freedom Museum) is an interesting spot to spend an hour or two. The museum documents the history of the Nazi occupation during the second world war and the resistance movement against it. Most interesting for lefties will be the exhibition about the Folkestrejke (People’s Strike), a strike movement against occupation and government collaboration. Also of note is the Danish people’s remarkable success in helping Jews to escape Nazi persecution.
The museum is located right next to a large section of well‑preserved fortifications from the 17th century. Formed in the shape of a pentagram, they were originally built as a defence against Sweden. They later proved singularly useless in defence against the British navy, which responded to the Danish refusal to enter an alliance against Napoleon by seizing the Danish navy and firebombing the civilian population.
All-in-all, Copenhagen is a great spot for a bit of radical tourism. The radical left’s long love affair with free spaces and independent culture means that there are plenty of interesting places to see around the city. Foreign activists might also use the opportunity to think about the role of free spaces and ‘autonomous culture’ in radical politics: are they a necessary part of a revolutionary movement or a distraction from the real struggle? Are they a model for a better society or a Neverland for escapist youth? After four years in Copenhagen, I’m still not sure of the answer.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill