How do you measure a year?

“We had the pleasure of spending many lovely and witty hours with him. We will keep a fond memory of him as a humorous, sensitive and empathetic man. The rememberance of his down-to-earth, uncomplicated and kind humane character continues to serve us as a beneficial orientation for the shaping of relationships in our lives.”

March, 30th: “It used to be a perfectly ordinary day but now it sticks up on the calendar like a rusty nail” (D. Tartt, The Goldfinch)

Release the grief

The Swedish Church is an instutition that is remarkably good at reacting to changes in its target society. This shows both in their attitude toward e.g. women’s rights and homosexuality, the programme in their churches and their take on digital life and social media. The head of the Swedish Church, German-born Antje Jackelén, twitters like a pro and -of course- has her own podcast; the Instagram account is curated by alternating church staff and the Facebook account is flawless in terms of social media evaluation.

And this time of the year, the Swedish Church helps an Americanized country remember what this weekend is originally about in Sweden and Germany. (No, Halloween is not a long-standing tradition in those cultures.)

The weekend serves as a time to remember the deceased and the annual celebration is  held on 2 November and is associated with All Saints’ Day (1 November) and its vigil – you guessed it – Halloween. People go to their relatives’ graves and light candles. The Swedish Church probably realized that many people don’t live close enough to the graveyards anymore. So they introduced the Digital Light Trees. You can go online, choose where you want to light a candle (from Kiruna to Berlin, there are participating Swedish Churches), enter who you wish to dedicate your light to, and click on “send”. The website then shows you the webcam of the tree – that actually exists, I passed one last year on Östermalm -, and your light that just has been physically lit by your digital click. There are speakers next to the trees where you hear famous bloggers and writers talk about their experience with grief.

Once you have lit your candle, you can share it on social media with the hashtag #mittljus (#mylight). Of course the whole theme of light is complaisant for a Nordic country in which darkness and light is a central theme. Countless people light candles at the Woodland Cemetry in Stockholm in November and most hymns are about light. Still, I personally think reaching out digitally and combining the old ritual with new cultural techniques is brilliant.

The campaign goes under the name “Release the grief” and the Church writes, “”We rarely talk about grief, neither our own nor others even though we all have a need for it. But during All Saints we want to release the griefby talking about it or lighting a candle for someone we miss sadly. Together, we can light up the dark“. I lit my candle at Junibacken, the Astrid Lindgren museum.

What will remain?

Outside the forum, there is a small area marked "dance floor".

Outside the forum, there is a small area marked “dance floor”.

When I proceeded to the exit of the train in Hamburg, a young lady before me got off as well. She was talking to someone on the phone and, upon stepping onto the Hamburg platform, exclaimed: “Dude, no more Düsseldorf ever! Or Frankfurt! I am staying in the North, digga!” Well, that’s a statement. And while I can’t but agree that it is a wonderful sight when the train rolls into Hamburg, I tend to think that it is rather un-cosmopolitan to limit oneself to one place only. Even if that place happens to be the best one in the country. Of course it would be a lie to say that I do not entertain longing thoughts of homesickness but I remind myself of my other friends who have left Hamburg for professional reasons (you know who you are, you brave and pioneering spirits). They do manage a good life away from The Free and Hanseatic City and thus serve as my examples.


Yesterday, I seized the opportunity to take advantage of something Dizzel offers: an exhibition that was open until late on that Friday. I had the pleasure of having Henrike visiting me and we went to see “Was bleibt? Das Prinzip Apfelbaum” in the NRW-Forum. That forum is a place that looks like a prime example of Nazi architecture from the outside (or at least what I, the architecural amateur, imagine to be Nazi style) and is surprisingly lovely on the inside. The exhibition is a joint project by several charities that try to raise awareness for the idea of bequeathing an organisation of your choice in your will. A renowed photographer, Bettina Flitner, met eleven famous Germans and asked them, “What will remain?” It was very interesting to see how different a scientist, an actor, a bishop, an astronaut answered this question. Even though most of them were thought-provoking, I liked Anne-Sophie Mutter, the famous violinist, best who said that she believed the meaning of life to be “the radiation of one’s soul and being permeable for other souls”.

"This is not a work of art" it says above this. In a modern art museum, you never know. Not even now when it says that above it: it might be a Magritte-copy!

“This is not a work of art” it says above this. In a modern art museum, you never know. Not even now when it says that above it: it might be a Magritte-copy!

On grief

“During the time closest to her death, he thought every morning when he woke: I shall live this day without her. Tomorrow I shall wake and live through the entire day and do without her. The same I shall do the day after tomorrow. That is how it shall be for all my days I have left. During all the time that is left to me in this world, I shall be without her. This was every morning’s reminder. (…)

And the days without Kristina accumulated into weeks, months, and years. He could already say: It was last year I lost my wife. Soon he would say: It was the year before last year I lost my wife…One day it would be: It was that year when I lost my wife…it was long, long ago…And then the bereavement soon would end when his own life would be finalized (…)

In the evening, he would stand on the path between the shieling and the dwelling house, as if he was waiting for her. Here she should come walking with her milk cans, one can in each hand, and he would help her carry if he was close by: Can I take one, Kristina? She replied: That is nice of you, Karl Oskar. But now she did not come on the path where she used to go and he was left standing disheartened. Did he not know it? Would he never be reconciled with it? He had no more cans to carry for Kristina. He had no wife. He had raised a cross over her at the graveyard.

On tepid summer evenings, he would go outside of the house and (…) then it happened that he, surprised, listened and looked in through the open windows. At this evening time, he used to hear Kristina’s sewing machine from inside. It buzzed and rumbled so that you could hear it from afar. But now? No noise from the flywheel, no sound from the pedal under her feet. Tonight her sewing machine was completely silent. (…)

And Karl Oskar stood always likewise crestfallen when he was forced back from the past and into his present moment: Kristina’s sewing machine was put away in a corner and made no sound and in the loom her shuttle would never no again.”

(Vilhelm Moberg, The Last Letter Home/Sista brevet till Sverige, 1959)