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Copenhagen, 2009

I uncrumpled myself from the luggage compartment of the overnight train, where I spent the night and morning hiding from tickettakers that might have come into the sleeper cabin, and stole a blanket and pillow before filing out onto the grey Copenhagen platform. I wnadered around in the crush of excitable, crunchy dreadlocked ecoactivists who all disboarded the train at the same time, smiling and happy to be in town while I coughed and ached. Outside, I looked for a hotel I could check myself into, to get a day to recover, but finding none nearby I got on the buss and followed the directions my host apartment had given me to get to the neighborhood. Before I got on the bus, I dropped a fifty Euro note…a woman chased after me. “Hey, wait, wait!” and handed it back to me. On the bus, an older woman with gray hair, hearing my phlegmatic cough, handed me a package of strange gummi candies, which tasted like antihistamines. I rode the bus in silence, thanking her. Stefanstrade stop, across the river. Grey Copenhagen, grey dull morning.


Before knocking on the door, in case my hosts were sleeping, I walked around the neighborhood a bit–through the miniature, socialist-style gray parks and past all the tired-seeming immigrant businesses. When I finally rang the buzzer, I walked up five flights of stairs and was ushered into a luxurious, comfortable Scandanavian apartment by a pierced, buxom Danish woman who showed me around…this is the attic….this is the kitchen, and the living room, before we settled down to have tea. Several other gorgeous blonde women arrived, also housemates, and introduced themselves; I took a shower, and after explaining my trip and devastating sickness, crumpled into the room they had set up for me, a baby’s room at the house, and took a nap. I slept on and off through the gray day, measuring the progression by the windows…when it was dark I woke up and asked if it was time to eat dinner, but they smiled; “It’s only five o clock!” so I fell back into the bed and caught a few more hours before attending the collective dinner. The collective was made up of thoughtful, kind, mid-to-late twenties activists, as disallusioned as I am.


After dinner, caught up on the online news, staying up all night in the living room, while all the other collective mates went to bed. Finally descended on the tiny bed, waiting for me at five in the morning, and woke the next day in order to get an early start. Got up at 10 and started to make my way across the Norrebro neighborhood–I stopped at the radical media center, where activists were having impassioned discussions over minutia, and one British journalist was screaming at a girl to express himself. I stayed there until I was able to print some press accreditation papers, and then left the site and went to the main convergence space, Stoberiet. Hung out at Stoberiet for a while and then went downtown to another space called Rahuset, near the climate Forum. At Rahuset, I wandered around for a bit, and then found the mess tent, where I devoured some soup and bread, and had a brief chat with a girl from Sweden and guy from Brazil. AFterwards, a boring talk on Nordic People, and then wandering the climate convergence for a while—took the bus out to bella centre to attempt press acredittation–failed to attain it. Came back. Went to the Naomi Klein talk at the climate center…came back in the rain, in time for the collective dinner..afterwards bunkered down on a computer to write. Up all night writing, until five in the morning.


Awoke feeling great, at noon. Wandered down to the protest, which was squaring off and divided in two parts by the Queen Loisa Bridge…The police were blocking traffic across the bridge and divided protesters into two parts, a very efficient way to neutralize any opposition. Stranded on one side of the river, the scattered protesters drank cans of beer and stared at the cold river. One man played video game noises out of a solar-powered DJ bike set up–interested bystanders crowded around him, trying to understand the infernal machine, which abruptly stopped playing blips and bleeps and started playing country Western. People crowded around a photographer with his laptop set up on an oxidized, gigantic Danish statue–like Prometheus, a man creating some digital fire in the cold–to look at the photographs he had taken from the other side. One particularly incredible one showed a cop swaying, like some Aztec warrior in full regalia, doing a tribal dance in his headdress and swinging his truncheon. I stepped away from the milling protest to refill my camera battery, and when I came back the police had let the march over the bridge, and protesters in black were streaming past and congregating in the middle of the street to be interviewed by television and radio crews. One old squatter perched up on top of a Post box, giving an interview with a furry TV microphone dangling over him, like some kind of urban hobbit. I followed the stream of protesters to the Stoberiet culture house and activist info point. Inside, people lounged on couches and chairs drinking coffee, and a huge television played the news recaps of the mornings protests–a huge crowd watched the TV, laughing at the images of themselves. Milling around the place, I ended up talking to two Russian antifascists who looked like they were from Latin America–they said in St. Petersburg, all the punks and radicals carried knives and rubber bullet guns, for the ongoing war with the Nazis. They said that 7 antifascists had been killed in the last three years. Then I spoke with a wise-looking Ghanainian man who sat by the window by himself–he had an incredible lisp, and a very friendly way of speaking–and his total blackness, the fullness of his mouth–as if the entire world came out of his mouth. We spoke for a while and then I left the building.


In a colorful, DIY-produced magazine that’s being passed around for free at alternative spaces in Copenhagen for the Climate Summit, titled ‘Dealing with Distractions: Confronting Green Capitalism and Beyond” a couple of pages in above the table of contents there is a strange drawing that seems to wordlessly express the horror of modern life and absurdity of leaders getting together to talk about such a precarious,hated thing as nature–in the simple black-and-white drawing, a little girl sits among her things. The viewers first thought is “what does this have to dowith this magazine?” or initial cynicism like “did someone’s friend draw this and they just decided to throw it in?” pops up. Surrounding the girl are the symbols of nature found in every modern home–a plastic statue of a flamingo. An owl toy, a mickey mouse head, and several potted house plants, cactuses. Behind her is a giant landscape painting of mountains, yet another symbol for the ever-elusive ‘nature’. The girl’s shirt reads “Even if the world was to end tommorow, I would plant a tree today.” But the entire drawing is made by her eyes. They look to the side with dissapointment with the objects surrounding her, her mouth turned downward slightly. The look of a person seeing phoniness and simulacra clearly for the first time, it’s a potent and memorable image that seems to capture the emergent radical response to the massive worldwide greenwashing of everything. Their frustration and anger is warranted by their authenticity. After decades of living sustainably outside of the system and doing without, all of a sudden, the corporate polluters who never before cared now loudly change their tune and flout how much they care about the environment in their advertisements, while doing markedly little to reduce their consumption and production cycles. Rather, they utilize the new: new technologies, new approaches, new innovations as a smokescreen to avoid changing anything–but rather, using the greenwashing as a way to make more money, to sell more, different kinds of products.


Drunk, in a twenty-five year old squatted village in the center of Copenhagen, at a bar in a place called Christiania, I have my first of two distinctly distorting European experiences. Horrible, strange noises are coming out of the back of the bar–a guy is DJing. Like most expirimental musicians, he’s sitting on the floor and twiddling with knobs. But the sounds he is making are unlike anything I have ever heard. Like some infernal doom contraption, grinding to a halt, tape splaying everywhere. A dark, vibrating beat that shakes your insides is the spine of the whole thing. Another guy smokes cigarettes and projects videos from his computer–the videos are like some extremely dark Nickolodeon cartoons–cartoon couples fucking, aliens smoking weed, black metal kids, demons, people being engulfed in flames. The audio and visual pair together to make a uniquely disorienting experience. The Danes love it–they dance to this strange, mutated form of breakbeast and techno the way American audiences dance to punk bands. They mosh each other and raise their beers in the air and freak out.


Another bar in Christiania reminds me of the Jackpot, the hipster bar in Raleigh, North Carolina on a Friday night. It has all the lonely backwoods ambiance of a barn hoedown. Inside, people crush against each other and smoke. A couple of guys sell coke in the bathroom and all of the urinals are filled with fluid, perched on the brink of overflowing like those gambling coin games where quarters add up and the last to put in their quarter gets a flood, a jackpot. Old haggard squatters wander the place, throwing their arms around strangers, looking like lonely sea fishermen who have just washed ashore and are in search for some kind of human brotherly love. When we come in, people in the bar are dancing and swaying wildly to ACDC. Then this song comes on.


In my eyes, the Rammstein song ‘Amerika’ best embodies the truth of Europe. I first seriously encountered the song in a packed squatter bar in Christiania, a former naval base and now squatted autonomous village in the center of Copenhagen. In the bar, everyone had just finished freaking out and dancing to ACDC. People swayed and walked in circles, going nowhere, like drunk and disoriented insects.

And then ‘Amerika’ came on. It is a song…if you haven’t heard it…a song unlike any other song you’ve ever heard in your life. A forceful and terrifying prophecy, not unlike Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Amerika speaks the truth. In one drunken, moshy unison chorus the Danes and Europeans flung themselves across the bar, grabbing each other and shouting in one beery uniso,

“We’re all living in America! America! It’s WUNDERBAR!”

This statement, in the form of a German nu-metal song rings crushingly true. It seems that Europeans, no matter how much they buck at the thought, and trash the US, are in fact living in their own parallel universe America, the EU–the EU is like America in many ways–the omnipresence of advertising, technology and modern lifestyles. One uniform currency. Massive superhighways pocked by cold, dull gas stations and fast food joints, most of them American.

But the European version of America is colder, somehow depressing–it doesn’t have the necessary spice and proper landscape. There is something, to me, inconceivably sad about the tiny little cars on massive highways pumping techno, driving hundreds of miles to go to some festival. And the euro guys, with their greasy hair and faux-leather jackets and femme cigarettes. Mostly, there is something sad about Amerika being the universal point of reference–Europeans know American books, American movies, American politics, American pop culture, eat American fast food, and shop in American shops, and then in their spare time feel resentful and make fun of America, their cultural wellspring. A quiet pastoral Europe without the globalized American input is dead and gone, but it feels like the new self-sufficient Europe is yet to be born.


Aaron Lake Smith

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