Letting Christmas go

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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.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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. 

 

 

Only tomten is awake

This morning, I had to get up earlier than usual because we had a work Christmas breakfast with our members. Yes, that is part of the job and no, it’s not simply sitting and eating. But it was nice of course. As the Swedish tradition goes, we ate julgröt, Christmas Porridge, and we placed one almond in it. In Denmark and Southern Sweden, finding the almond means you get a present, a custom we abode by. (In the rest of Sweden, finding the almond means you get married next year which also was true for the guest who found the almond.)

To heighten the Christmas mood even more, my co-worker recited, or well, read up, “Tomten Ă€r vaken”. I really like that poem that I first encountered back in the day as an illustrated children’s version. ‘Viktor Rydberg’s poem, originally published in Ny Illustrerad Tidning in 1881, is, to most Swedes, above all a Christmas poem, preferably to be read aloud on Christmas Eve, even though Christmas is never explicitly mentioned in the text. However, cozy and idyllic though this lyrical piece may seem, it is actually a philosophical poem, dealing with the eternal metaphysical questions of the origin, purpose and meaning of human existence. Where do they come from, and where do they go? – this is the enigma that the little tomte (“brownie” or “hob”) ponders as he performs his nightly duties on a secluded farm, where everybody but himself is fast asleep’ (says Stephan Larsen).

”Midvinternattens köld Ă€r hĂ„rd,
stjÀrnorna gnistra och glimma.
Alla sova i enslig gÄrd
djupt under midnattstimma.
MĂ„nen vandrar sin tysta ban,
snön lyser vit pÄ fur och gran,
snön lyser vit pÄ taken.
Endast tomten Àr vaken.

Last night, Linnea came to visit me and as I opened the door to the staircase, she had not turned on the light, instead she emerged from the dark, illuminated by the candle in her hand, with a glitter wreath on her head and a red ribbon around her waist – luciaing for me! She even had lussekatter with her and frankly, they were by far the best I have eaten this year. (I don’t say that because she reads this.)

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Din lÀgenhet Àr sÄ instagramable!

(om kontorskollegorna) De Ă€r sĂ„ högljudda. Tror du att vi Ă€r lika högljudda? – Jag tror att vi Ă€r vĂ€rre. Och med vi menar jag dig.

Du stĂ„r lite i vĂ€gen. – Kollega (som inte kan svenska): Tack!

In the bleak midwinter

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Lucia 2013, Hedvig Eleonora Church

It was a mistake not to travel for Sweden for December 13. I have gravely underestimated my Lucia-needs. Or I have very much overestimated DĂŒsseldorf’s ability to deliver a proper Lucia celebration. Exile, thy name is Dizzel.

Because it is not enough to bake saffron buns at home, to listen to Adolf Fredriks musikklasser on Spotify and to light candles. I need that unique experience of getting up way too early, walking through the snow (or the snöslask in Stockholm rather), all in the grim darkness that surrounds one most hours of the day. To sit in an equally dark church at 7 a.m., in the bleak midwinter, and to hear the bell-like voices of a teenage choir dressed in innocent white, illuminating the church, and the world, with their flickering candles.

We don’t do Lucia at work. Yet. Because I think I’ve decided that this cannot go on. We’re supposed to be the Swedish stronghold in town after all, so next year, dĂ„ gĂ€ller det! Even if I have to do it myself.

Meanwhile, my friend who does exchange in Stockholm right now, was first reluctant to get up at the crack of dawn to go to church.When I heard that last night, I leaned on her to attend the early morning Lucia celebration at “my” church. (Totally not my church, only go there for Lucia.) She had to give a presentation in class that morning, she explained. She’d go to a concert in the evening, she assured me. “No”, I insisted in writing. “Don’t spoil this for yourself. You have to go. You won’t regret it”, I urged her. In my desperation, I sent her the links to my description of my Lucia experiences from three years ago. It worked. She went. This morning at 8 am, I got a text, saying, “Thanks. You were right”.

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“Always listen to your Stockholm Ambassador”. “Helen, you know I do”.

Zero women

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”  Rebecca West

I remember three or four years ago, I cut out an advertisement from the Swedish newspaper. It said, “These are the 100 stock-exchange companies in Sweden that believe the best women’s movement is the one in bed”. It listed the 100 companies that had, despite 47 % of graduates at the Stockholm School for Economics being female, not one woman in their board room. The advertisement was promoting the AllBright Report by the foundation of the same name. AllBright is a politically independent, non-profit foundation that promotes equality and diversity in senior positions in the business sector. The foundation works continuously with reviewing how gender is represented in the business sector. Every year they release two reports.

This year, they started a German branch of the foundation – and gee, that’s needed! I am thrilled that AllBright now works in Germany as well and my co-worker sent me a picture yesterday morning of the first report on Germany that had been delivered to us. “You want to get to work early today!”, she wrote.

The report, which is very well designed I think, states that the best way to get to the top is being called Thomas. You should be born 1963 and should have studied economics or engineering.

Currently, there is one German stock-exchange company with 40 % women on their board. One. Then there’s 37 that have one women without coming up to 40 %, 122 companies do not have a single woman. There are even 18 companies that don’t have a woman on their board or directorate. The foundation sent out the reports to the companies in question, too. 76 %, that is 122 companies, got its report in a black envelope because they’re on AllBright’s blacklist.

If Germany proceeds at the current speed, we will reach almost-equality in work life in 2050. So shortly before I become a pensioner, I might experience 40% women in boards.

The smaller the company, the less likely/willing they are to take in women, their reasons being crystal clear: “We don’t need new board members”, “There are no competent women in our specialised field” and “Qualifications and competence are more relevant than gender to us”.

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In Sweden, companies that have 40 % of women on their boards (that is, just to be clear, not even half of the board) are twice as profitable. If you don’t believe in equal opportunities, shouldn’t you at least believe in economic effiency?

By the way, it was a man who founded AllBright. An old, white man. But his name is not Thomas.

 

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“Are you a quota woman or competent?” “Are you an heir or someone’s buddy?”

Reunification

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Happy German National Day, everyone! Yes, that was today. I spent the day meeting Germans and non-Germans and aspiring Germans, hopping across the Swedish capital. I discussed the Swedish health care system, the Polish abortion laws, tried on balloon sweaters, paid 10 euros for a fruit salad (three spoonful), was introduced to the magnificent new Haymarket (totally in love already), met my former (inoffcial) mentee (“you were right about everything, I don’t understand how you even had the energy to put up with me then”) and was fed köttbullar by Marita while discussing life on her sofa. Basically, on German Reunification Day, I reunited with lots of awesome people. That’s what I call celebrating as you should!

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Henrieke at the expensive cafe

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Laure at the wonderful Haymarket

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When the old-established department store PUB was to be closed and remodeled into a Scandic hotel, I was not enthusiastic. Located at Hötorget, the named the new complex Haymarket which I thought was phony because it’s literally just the translation of the square in front. But today, Laure took me to Haymarket which not only a hotel but also a bar, cafe and restaurant for walk-in customers – and most importantly, an interior design dream from 1920. So gorgeous, so sophisticated and thought-through!

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Evelina who now claims to be an adult and thinks everything I ever told her was correct. She’s planning to study German in Dizzel and then continue her academic career in Uppsala. I am pleased.

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Balloon sweaters

 

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“Hur var det i Alperna dĂ„?” “Jag blev bĂ€ttre pĂ„ skidor. Jag utvecklade ocksĂ„ jĂ€ttemycket klasshat”.

“Gud, vad du lever life.  Att bli ghostad Ă€r ju mer leva life Ă€n vad jag gör!”

“Om du flyttar dit sĂ„ trĂ€ffar du kanske nĂ„n och blir kvar!” “Jag vill inte bli kvar, jag har ju mina köpoĂ€ng i Uppsalas bostadskö!”

Ack, VĂ€rmeland

Just when I was starting to google, “Do I have a cold or am I actually dying of swine flu or something?”, my health condition improved. Today, I could be around people without them immediately noticing that I am not exactly in good shape. Malin and I took advantage of my return to the socially acceptable sphere and drove to Kristinehamn. (I have a vague recollection of having once written a story that was set in Kristinehamn, mere happenstance as I had never been there before.)

I like slogans and for some reason, we were going through Swedish town slogans on Friday night. Kristinehamn has one of the best/hilarious, I think. “Picasso chose Kristinehamn, you’re welcome, too”, it reads. Picasso is the creator of Kristinehamn’s biggest sight, a giant sculpture on the Lake VĂ€nern shore. Picasso himself had never been to the place but that’s insignificant to the marketing.

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Picasso was here, well almost.

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So pretty at the lake!

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On the way to Kristinehamn,  we stopped in Gustafsvik to see a recently renovated former manor. Actually, only parts of the manor because most of it burnt down 50 years ago. Now you’re wondering why we would go there. Well, it’s actually like a big deal – because Ernst Kirchsteiger was the one renovating it. This person with the extremely German-sounding name is

“well, he’s more of an institution really. “No summer without Ernst” is something that Swedes seem to all agree on. Ernst is the epitome of the word folkkĂ€r or loved by the people – which doesn’t mean that everyone loves him really, but rather that everyone knows who he is and will have an opinion on him”

Born to an Austrian dad and a Polish mom, he has become a hugely popular interior decorator who provides the Kingdom of Sweden with hilarious quotes such as “How is it that some fir trees actually decide to become a Christmas tree and others just are ugly?”, “When a cat lies in a room and sleeps, there’s not much more work to do for a decorator”, “Has it ever happened that you have found yourself falling in love with a stone?”, “You have to see the pillows like an orchestra” and “This window provides a very good contact between inside and outside. It’s like inside and outside want something of each other.”

The quote machine has, in any case, renovated the remaining parts of the manor and it was very nice! I, all event manager, immediately thought about how Kristinehamn could use these for company conferences and parties.

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But Swedificiation does not come about by simply idolizing Ernst, there’s many more things to it. Like folk dances.

Malin works with many different projects nowadays, one of them being a cultural encounter between refugees, or nyanlĂ€nda (newcomers) as the Swedes call them, and the local folk dance team and accordion orchestra. The newcomers live in the middle of nowhere, half an hours from little Kristinehamn, so we went there and did some extra advertising for the event. (Getting in direct contact with them and their living arrangements is quite an eye-opener. Not that the housing isn’t good but it’s just really far away if you’re trying to integrate/learn Swedish.)

A handful of young men got on the bus Malin had chartered and we took off to the HembygdsgĂ„rd which is the house of the local history association. Almost every Swedish village has one and they are often nice places. The Hembygds-organisations are not so much only about history but rather cultivate traditions and customs. Folk dance is one of them. The ladies and gentlemen first danced for us with the orchestra playing merrily, some tunes I even recognized, and then they made us join. What a sight – middle eastern men, Swedes and the German with a cold trying to coordinate a traditional Swedish group dance! It worked rather well though and it was quite an experience. I feel I can check off one more item off my list. Not VĂ€rmland though. Chance are rather good I’ll be back.

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After my 3-hour-train ride back to Stockholm, I met Andrea for dinner…

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…at the pretty Prinsen restaurant

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“Det var trevliga toaletter, i alla fall handfatsomrĂ„det”.

Bless you!

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Every move I make, every step I take – I was sneezing. People say a cold gets better after three days, well not for me apparently.We went to the pharmacy to ask for something stronger/more useful than what the German pharmacy had given me, only to be told, “Maybe you should be in bed”.

It was a rather slow tour of Karlstad we could do due to my condition but I did get to see some of VĂ€rmland’s capital. They have so many beautiful houses! “Karlstad seems to really have been spared by the war”, was my first thought which shows how deeply ingrained the effects of WWII are in my brain. Obviously, there has been no bombings here. But in 1865, the town burned down, however it seems to not have done too much to the charm of this place that has set up countless post-1865-buildings that had me marvel at them.

Karlstad is also full of water, here’s a stream, there’s a lake and around the corner waits a river. Just what I love in a city! They even have a beach literally in the middle of town where we sat and rested a while. The good thing with visiting close friends is that, even though if certainly it would have been interesting to be healthy to do more sightseeing, the main purpose of the trip, hanging out and talking to Malin, could be fulfilled even when sneezing like a crazy person. (She’s very tolerant and boldly takes the risk of being infected.)

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Quite a great slogan: “Lawyers’Office: We know about love, death and money”.

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At the very pretty VĂ€rmlandsmuseum they had quotes on the outside, this one saying, in local dialect, “Give me a globe but preferably one with only VĂ€rmland on it”

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Malin with VĂ€rmland’s famous son Nils Ferlin

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Malin with a moon balloon and the Karlstad Cathedral

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City beach

 

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“De skulle vĂ€l pĂ„ nĂ„t kyrkligt eller?” “Nej”. “Men du sa ju mĂ€ssa?” “Ja men jag menar företagsmĂ€ssa”. “Jaha. Hade nĂ„n annan sagt mĂ€ssa hade jag tĂ€nkt pĂ„ företagsmĂ€ssa men nĂ€r du sĂ€ger det utgĂ„r jag ifrĂ„n att det Ă€r mĂ€ssa i kyrkan”.

“Hur ser norrskensprognosen ut?” “Det Ă€r risk för norrsken ikvĂ€ll”.