Letting Christmas go

020-2

Personally, I find only few things as solemnly Christmassy as real candles in the tree. I can sit and look at it in awe and admiration for quite a while. The thing is only that my tree is really tired now, the twigs are bending down, the candles are dangerously wiggling on them, but they don’t  lose their inherent dignity. But this week, I fear, the tree and I have to separate. That’s okay since Tjugondag Knut is coming up anyway on the 13th. That day, the 20th days of Christmas marks the end of Christmas time for Swedes. Unlike Germany that ends the yuletide on the 6th, Sweden goes all in and has 20 instead of 12 days of Christmas. Or rather, it depends on who you ask – my grandpa used to say as a Catholic you can totally have your tree up until February 2nd which is Candlemas.

So instead of taking everything down, I actually bought a Christmas star on sale at Clas Ohlson and just put it up. Also because it is my usual inclination to immediately want to continue with spring or rather summer rightaway, but the Dizzel weather god is shaking his head heavily at me. Last week, my fingers almost froze off on my bike. I really have to get new gloves and have learned that that is quite an investment. Yesterday, my friend Nadine visited me and I wanted to show her the DĂŒsseldorf Medienhafen, the harbour, which as we noticed once we were there was extremely slippery. Slowly, my memories came back: when there is halkrisk, you link arms and go like a penguin. Of course! It’s not like it is not slippery for three, four months each year in Stockholm, just that I never thought I’d need to re-access that knowledge in Dizzel.

And I am already thinking about summer. This year, I want to learn how to properly go on vacation. By that I mean going holidaying and feeling recovered afterwards, something that is actually a challenge for me. So I told my closest friends that we should rent a cabin and put on a real clichĂ© Swedish summer. Currently, we are sending cabin research results to each other (of course, we work effiecently and have assigned regions to each, I am responsible for Blekinge and SmĂ„land) and only looking at these houses already makes me jump with pleasant anticipation. July, I’m already ready for you.

004

The DĂŒsseldorf Harbour is definitely imitating Hamburg. Who doesn’t think of Speicherstadt when you see this?

015-2

Baking frenzy happened again. I made cinnamon buns with honey which works rather well. But they’re not exactly sweet.

003

This Sunday, my dear friend Marita from Stockholm honored my home with a visit. We both wish we lived in the same city, really.

022-2

I went for dinner with a real DĂŒsseldorfer that I know and she gave me this lovely card, “Become one of us DĂŒsseldorfers”

031

Reading this rather hilarious book called “I don’t know how she does it” in which the protagonist has to go on business trips to Sweden.

Citatsamlingen del 24

Den andra februari Ă€r det kyndelsmĂ€ssodagen och det Ă€r sista dagen katoliker kan ha sitt julpynt uppe. – AlltsĂ„ Helen jag tror du har spelat lite för mycket Fictionary. Det lĂ„ter iaf ganska mycket som nĂ„t som du har hittat pĂ„.

Han Àr vÀldigt Äsiktsorienterad. Han har vÀldigt mÄnga Äsikter.

IgĂ„r lĂ€ste jag att Sigmar Gabriel hade operation och förminskade sin mage. – Jag trodde du skulle sĂ€ga snopp.

Om man tÀnker hÀrifrÄn sÄ bor han ju i fcking jÀvla Haparanda. AlltsÄ i Witten. 

 

 

Intransparency International

26brenyyxspoxlukk

Everyone is on holiday. I am just warm. Very warm. The annual heat wave (36 degrees Celsius) has come to Dizzel and like last year, 20 % of a day’s energy go to simply surviving in the heat. Like last year and the year before, I promise myself that next year, I will also take that three-week-vacation everyone else seems to be having. At least everyone who I am trying to call. Argh!

At least my intern is keeping me company and suggests daily trips to the ice cream store. He also drew my attention to an interesting cultural phenomenon, the cultural take on sharing information.

Sweden is notorious for its offentlighetsprincip, the principle of public access to official documents.  The idea of transparency is quite present in the Swedish culture and you can actually look up people’s salaries in the library in a catalogue. Of course, you can find anyone online with their full address, marital status and birthday. As well as a picture of their house. Creepy? The Swede does not think so.

Germany, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. Certainly also due to historical reasons, Germans are freaked out if someone can find out too much about someone else. That’s also the reason why Germans on Facebook choose extremely ridiculous names like “Ne Le” instead of their real name, Nele Schmidt, because they are so scared that the NSA will find out they attended the open air cinema last night or have their employer realize they like The Pet Shop Boys’ fan page.

As usual, the perfect world would be the one where the Swedish credulity would be paired with the German scepticism.

Some we have had contact with, though, take the secrecy to a whole new level. Like a large furniture store that also sells food and decoration (on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being extremely easy to find out and 10 being ridiculously simple to guess, how hard is this one?). We called them to find out if they still had enough princess cake in stock so that the intern wouldn’t go there for nothing. “Unfortunately we do not comment on our stocks regarding food and plants”. Eh, what? What is so mysterious about just those two categories? “I am just wondering if you still have eight boxes of the cake in stock”. “I am afraid I cannot release information on food and plants”. Deutschland, deine Geheimnisse.

 

 

Five first observations

I found this card at the office

I found this card at the office

My first days in DĂŒsseldorf have passed and I have been carefully observing everything in my new environment. My lifestyle has gone from well-organized home owner to pasta-eating traveller. During the days, I eagerly took in all the information our co-worker gave us, and at nights, I hung out with the two people I know in town. My action radius does not exceed three kilometres but at least I don’t get lost on the way to work anymore and I even found my preferred flower shop already. Here are five observations I have made so far:

1. Lethal lights

If I die in DĂŒsseldorf, it will be because of the traffic lights. I have walked across many different streets in my life, from the US to Sweden, from East Berlin with its special traffic light men to the only traffic light in the village where I grew up. Never have I encountered traffic lights that switch with the speed of those in DĂŒsseldorf. The very moment the cyclist/pedestrian gets a red light, the cars start to drive because they immediately got green. No five seconds of tolerance or anything. This circumstance has made me extra cautious (read: freaking scared) to cross the street. Also, if you stand on a big street that has two traffic lights behind one another, the one farther away will turn green but the one closer to you will not. If you are a DĂŒsseldorf-unexperienced street-crosser, looking too far can thus be fatal. There is also a significant amount of ambulances going on the streets.  I am not saying the traffic lights are life-threatening, but when I brought this to the attention of a local yesterday, we already contemplated writing a petition.

2. Friendly, chatty people

The general positive prejudice about people from the Rhine area is that they are friendly, happy folks. When I said I was going to move to DĂŒsseldorf, many Germans told me, “Oh, you’ll fit right in!” (This might be a misconception, I see myself much more as a distant Northerner.) As prejudice often is wrong, I was sceptical to the rumour that DĂŒsseldorf people would be oh-so-happy. But during my first three days (obviously not a real statistic period to judge from), I have observed the majority of sales and service staff being very friendly and willing to chat. It shall be most interesting to see if this trend will continue.

3. I might have to make some German friends

One of the most fun things working in a binational environment is the ease with which people switch languages. At my new job, Swedish and German are spoken and sometimes happily mixed. As the current ratio in our team is two Swedes and one half-German (yes, that’s me), Swedish has come to currently dominate our conversation. That’s lovely but it seems to actually already influence my brain. My mind went blank when I tried to say “frys” and “ihĂ€rdig” in German yesterday, and whenever I hear foreign voices in town, my brain wants me to think they speak Swedish. Which they of course do not but my ear picks up even Korean as Viking language. I might have to make a point of hanging out with German people.

4. The Japanese are here

DĂŒsseldorf has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. No one I asked knows why so this is another mystery I want to solve. Even in the short periods that I have spent roaming the city, I have been able to confirm that fact though: there are considerably more Japanese faces between the noble street Königsallee and the Rhine than elsewhere in Germany.

5 The biggest problem about my job might be the heat

So far, I have gotten a very good impression of my co-workers and our office roomies. (We share the office with two other companies.) We even have a traditional fika! The biggest problem at work might actually be the fact that it gets very hot in our rooms. In my head, summer is over because my vacation is over but no, summer in DĂŒsseldorf seems to just have started. And it is a cruelly hot climate they have here! There is already an unpleasant increase in humidity when you compare Sweden and Hamburg but DĂŒsseldorf takes it to a new level. We have a fan in the office that our co-worker said we could use but we decided that we cannot do that before the thermometer hits 30+ because otherwise we won’t have any further levels of escalation if we already use the fan at 28 degrees.  Frankly, the situation in my little attic room is much worse. Suggestions for cooling down are happily welcomed in the comment field.

002

Tips for an archipelago trip

071

Three tips for an archipelago trip:

1. Don’t miss the boat. Double, no triple check the route to the ferry pier.

2. Bring food. And bring bed sheets.

3. Yes, you need sun screen even in Sweden. No, factor 30 is not enough.

To just pull a light dress over your bathing suit and slip your feet into your sandals to go out into a bright 25 degrees already at 9 a.m., that’s the true summer feeling for me. Sweden is, like most of Europe as I hear, experiencing an intense heat wave right now. In the city, temperatures have stayed at 30 degrees since three days. The best place to be is therefore by the water. And the best place I know in summer is the Stockholm archipelago. I find this to be one of the major advantages of living/being in Stockholm: you can get out to the islands. Is there any place on earth more beautiful? Not for me right now at least.

078 004 017

The hostel

The hostel

Before, we made a stop in Vaxholm

Before, we made a stop in Vaxholm

022 025 026 030

Bianca has bought a selfie stick

Bianca has bought a selfie stick

036 041 043 044

This is where we were stranded (blue dot)

This is where we were stranded (blue dot)

048 049

073

075

However, a trip to the archipelago is not the most simple thing. I remember clearly how tourists would come up to me when I worked as a tourist information officer and say, “We want to go to die SchĂ€ren”, because the Germans somehow thought you could just put two German words into an English sentence. “But we only have two hours”. It usually takes at least two hours one way to get to a real archipelago island. The tricky part is getting on the boat. More than once I have been sprinted to the pier to make it just in time before the ferry leaves. Because that is the thing: if you miss the ferry, your archipelago trip is ended right there. Usually, you can only go once in the morning and once in the evening. It is therefore crucial to know the way to the pier, find it in time and not miss the boat. My friend’s GPS played a trick on her and she missed the ferry by 8 minutes. The island we were at was only some 900 metres from the pier but completely unaccessible without a boat. Because that friend had all our food, Bianca and I were stranded on the island without anything to eat. We checked in at the hostel and asked if we could buy dinner. No – only if you had ordered before coming, you would be served dinner. In the end, after some pleading, we were allowed to get a waffle for 50 kr. Waffles are great but not if you are really hungry for a real dinner. So bring food if you go to an island that is not known as a mecca for restaurants.

Also, it can be smart to bring bed sheets if you plan to spend the night. Because even though the hostel did not inform about that in its booking confirmation, it charged 150 kr per person for sheets. Needless to say, your archipelago trip became more expensive than planned…

Nevertheless, it was a beautiful little island we were on. Sunsets on an archipelago island – priceless. But before sun sets – put on sunscreen. Everyone thinks Sweden is  a cold country, but trust me, the sun can get strong. I managed to burn my face even though I had factor 50 (!) sunscreen on it.

In the morning, we woke up two hours before we had to because the other guests, a lot of them being children, slammed the doors approximately 32 times. Not our ideal idea of waking up but we compensated it by lying by the water doing nothing. Well, until Biana called, “There is a boat coming, I think it’s Nicola!” Because the ferries have a surprisingly high speed, I jumped into my beach dress and sandals and hurried to the pier to welcome Nicole (who had food with her!). It felt a tiny bit like being Tjorven welcoming the summer guests.

Three thirds of the island we were on was occupied by a big fortification that the Swedes built in the beginning of the 20th century. The Swedes have always been afraid of the Russians so it was important to defend the archipelago which is the way to get into Stockholm. In the 1700s, the Russians already burnt down most of the islands. The fortification on our island, however, seemed to be a half-hearted project. After years of building, they felt it was not really a good place and more or less abandoned it after a very short while. Talk about waste of tax money? At least we got to look at it during a tour..

069

072

070

In the afternoon, we made our way back to town where I met Tabea and Mia. Mia had the splendid idea to take us to one of my favorite museums, Hallwyllska palatset, that has opened a bar in their enchanting inner yard. Their cocktails have names related to the museum and its history and are in the normal Stockholm price range (which means 144 kr for a cocktail). I highly recommend going there.

We concluded the evening with another brilliant Mia-idea: getting ice-cream at Stikki Nikki. The ice cream shop serves fresh, home-made gelato, ice cream and sorbet with original flavors. I had beetroot. 

058

059

Four things I loved about Stockholm today

It is understood, I believe, that my heart overflows with (sometimes non-logical) affection for Stockholm and its surroundings, maybe even large parts of the entire country. Today, I noticed four especially loveable things that make my soul go out to this place.

Beware of the Vikings

Beware of the Vikings

1. The ground-breaking journalism

I was picked up from my early-morning flight by Malin who had made a lovely sign and even brought balloons. I think I must always ask for escorts to the city from now on because this is just too wonderful. (Side note: Now, they have taken down the entire Stockholm Hall of Fame and replaced it by uninspiring Ericsson ads. I am not amused.) When my feet hit Swedish soil, I usually fall into Stockholm-everyday-life-mode and that is not that strange given the fact that Evelina says, “It kind of feels like you commute between Hamburg and Stockholm”. Part of the every day routine of millions of people here is that you pick up the free newspaper Metro. In PR terms, if you want your client to be featured somewhere, it is there. Everyone reads and talks about Metro. That’s obviously because of its pioneering journalism – we witnessed that once more today. The front page headline read “If you sleep with an open window, there are higher risks that burglars will break into your house”. Wow. I am so glad they exposed this largely unknown connection between open access to your home and thieves. You might think this is a result of the so-called Sommerloch (“summer hole”) or nyhetstorka (“news dryness”) but let me tell you: Sweden was in the U21 soccer final tonight (and won! Something that never happens and if I say never I mean that their last success was coming in third 1994) and the most important political event Almedalen is currently going on. But Metro focuses on open windows. I love it!

2. The singing culture

020

After parks (Haga) and recreation (fika), Malin and I met Franziska to go to the open-air museum Skansen. I love everything about that place and in particular their summer singing shows. The Swedes describe their “live broadcasted national heritage” as follows: “AllsĂ„ng pĂ„ Skansen (Sing-along at Skansen) is a Swedish show held at Skansen, Stockholm, every summer on Tuesdays between 8pm and 9pm. The audience is supposed to sing-along with musical guests to well-known Swedish songs. The show started in 1935 on a small scale; about 50 people in the audience. Today about 10,000–25,500 people come to each performance.”

IMG_2513

I have been there several times before and it is quite a special sight with hundreds, thousands of people picknicking and waiting for the show to begin. The show is such a clear indicator of summer that only the start of the radio show Sommar i P1 can make summer more summery. 

So we bought a song book and sang along. Time and again, this is such great fun. At least if you like Swedish pop-schlageresque music – and we all know I do. We got to sing about a grandpa who feels taken back to his youth by his granddaughter dancing, about Sensual Isabella who is asked to dance on her lover’s belly, and some Pippi Longstocking songs. Afterwards, we discussed whether a show like this would be possible in Germany. And we had to conclude that no, because singing together is not something that is currently a cultural German practice. Actually, people would probably be weirded out.

3. The old elevators

027

If you are lucky to live in an old house in the inner city like Malin’s brother does, you stand a good chance of having an old elevator. Not the Paternoster kind that German politicians wanted to introduce a obligatory ‘riding license’ for , but a normal old elevator with two doors. I don’t know why but I love the sound of the inner door closing. It sounds like a magnetic connection, a graceful click. This might be the weirdest fondness for something I have, but I love those elevators and I find them here regularily.

4. The light

IMG_2538

I claim that there is a special light in Stockholm. Sunsets in Hamburg are certainly beautiful, but the light is different. The Stockholm summer sun pours light over all of town and reflects it in the windows of the houses, The city becomes a romantic postcard. Also, of course, the light remains with us until 11 p.m., making sure one really feels the summer.

IMG_2524

German summer

When it's hot, you feel how well populated the city is. Masses of people are in the park.

When it’s hot, you feel how well populated the city is. Masses of people are in the park.

 

As I write this, I know some of you will strongly disagree with me. But I just need to say it: I am not made for German summer. The current Hamburg weather does not gladden me at all. Since a few days, we are experiencing what is typical for German summer. Something that I had successfully forgotten after a few summers up north where there is usually a soft breeze and temperatures do not exceed 28 degrees celsius.

German summer can basically arrive at any time between March and October. You never know when, you never know how long it will last, you never know if it will come back. Here, you wake up to 26 degrees, no sunshine. You step unto the public transport that is not air conditioned. (Wtf, really.) In this sauna that you share with all the people of the rush hour, the sweat starts trickling down your back, and you are standing face to face with the other passengers. There is hardly a way to dress appropriate for both office and weather. I mean, we have a rather lenient dresscode policy but we are still expected to be fully covered. Also, the office has air conditioning so you cannot dress too lightly there anyways.

By lunch, the heat wave has boiled the air to 34 degrees. There is barely any wind even though we are at the harbor. The air is unpleasantly humid. You remember that you have tried to darken all the windows in your apartment, but you already know that by tonight when you come home, the place will be hot and sweltering. The sun has come out during the day at least and the young students opposite your work take off their shirts on their baloncy, opening a bottle of cold beer. In the evening when you are about to leave work, the clouds gather and the wind starts to blow. The natives know what is about to happen, and it happened yesterday, too. And the day before.

You have to always bring an umbrella in Hamburg, they told you. But not in 34 degrees heat, you thought. Wrong there, dear friend. This is like a tropical wonderland and after the sultry heat of the day comes the thunderstorm. The rain pours down, the thunder growls and the lightning makes you startle. Last night’s thunderstorm took six lives in West Germany.

To me, it seems like an allegory of the Swedish and German mentality. The Swedes pride themselves for their lagom approach while the Germans stick to the attitude of Wenn schon, denn schon. The Swedish summer is not too warm, not too cold, just lagom. The German summer makes a real effort, if there’s hot weather, there is seriously hot weather.

I personally stick to the motto of an Englishwomen, Jane Austen: “What a dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps one in a continual state of inelegance.”

If it's 34 degrees, it is okay to eat two ice creams, Ingrid says. Less than an hour after this was taken, the rain poured down on Hamburg.

If it’s 34 degrees, it is okay to eat two ice creams, Ingrid says. Less than an hour after this was taken, the rain poured down on Hamburg.

The happiest day in Andrea’s life

Last year

Last year

“Vi ska utflytka. Med svenska jordgubbar. Och med 90-talsmusik, fötterna pĂ„ handskfacket Ă€ven fast man inte fĂ„r, selfies pĂ„ strĂ€nder, vinden som vrĂ„lar genom ett öppet fönster, daimglass nĂ€r vi tankar och badklĂ€der istĂ€llet för underklĂ€der hela dagen. Rose i kopiösa mĂ€ngder i kvĂ€llssolen! Vi kommer dega pĂ„ klipporna och lyssna till Sommar i P1.”

“We are going to go on excursions. With Swedish strawberries. And with 90s-music, feet on the glove compartment even tough you are not allowed to, selfies on beaches, wind roaring through an open window, daim ice cream when we fill up the gas and bathing suits all day instead of underwear. RosĂ© wine in enormous quantities in the evening sun. We will hang around on cliffs and listen to “Summer on Radio P1”.

In my contract it says, “As a principle, no vacation is granted in the first six months”. Yesterday I went to ask my boss if maybe, possibly and only as long as it’s no trouble of course, could I get three days off? Because my former colleagues, dear friends, are meeting on the Swedish island of Gotland and I would love to be able to go, too. My boss said, “As long as it does not collide with my or your direct colleague’s vacation days, I am all for doing nice things”. And with that, he probably saved my summer. He wouldn’t know because he doesn’t know what only four days of Swedish summer can mean to me.

andrea

The reactions of the Gotland gang were very appropriate. Together we formulated the above mentioned plan, and Andrea, the Princess of Superlativstan, let me know: “I have never been this glad in my entire life”.

(Stockholm-based friends, I’ll be in Stockholm one or two days as well and brace yourself for me attacking you with requests to meet you.)