Happy belated Valborg!

It was also Valborg last week! My second Valborg in exile after last year’s.
Somehow I fall for traditions and the Swedish holidays are deeply ingrained in my heart by now. To ignore Valborg is therefore not really an option and so I paid the Swedish Church in Frankfurt a short visit to hear those four spring songs that are guaranteed, get that obligatory grilled sausage, wear the student cap and shout four hoorays for the Swedish king. My theory is that the Swedes keep their traditions alive so well [because they really do even if they’d deny it] since they like the collective feeling and predictability. In today individualised society of uncertainness, who can blame them?

Valborg is the day that enhances my almost always lingering longing for Uppsala times and friends. When one of them texted me a photo of the celebrations on site, “You should be back next year!”, I got carried away replying, “Yes!”

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Frankfurt’s Swedish Church doesn’t blow the visitor away with their garden but the church is beautiful even if, for me, nothing can compete with Hamburg’s Swedish Church.





Opposite my office there is a lot of mysterious & going on

Tonight, my friend Tabea from Uppsala graced my apartment with her presence. We talked non-stop and the fact that I did not take a single photo speaks in favor of our encounter. She also brought me the two items I covet most from Sweden: Mavala Las Vegas nail polish (can’t find the same color in Germany) and my women’s magazine amelia. Ah, I’m thrilled – I feel like I’d have to cancel work tomorrow to delve into the magazine (and to watch the rest of “The Good Wife” and German “Ku’damm 56” which is being recommended to me from all sides, and of course continue reading the compelling “Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt which keeps me awake at night).

Why, no I wouldn’t cancel work when the week is so short anyway with Easter coming up. Today I sent invitations to twelve sister organisations for Swedish young professionals all over the world to invite them to our jubilee event I am planning. So interesting to learn where there are Swedish representations and what they do and to send out letters (remember I am obsessed with snail mail) to exotic cities and obscure street names. Then there is also more interns to meet and we’ve got an early fika tomorrow (as Friday is a holiday). So of course my feet will hit the ground with anticipation tomorrow morning.

Library Love

The impressive Stockholm Central Library (Photo Simon Paulin/imagebank sweden)

The impressive Stockholm Central Library (Photo Simon Paulin/imagebank sweden)

Remember how I suffered from the excruciating heat during my first weeks in Dizzel? Well, it seems that this town only offers two kinds of weather: burning heat or pouring rain. In the last week, I came home rain-drenched twice. And when I say rain-drenched, I mean completely wet to the bone.

Raininess does add to the mysfaktor/Gemütlichkeitsfaktor though – if you’re inside with a lit candle and a hot cup of tea. And – yes, a good book. Yesterday, I registered at the public library.

Libraries and me have history. We go way back. Some of my very first memories is the children’s section at Heidelberg’s public library. There was a dragon of some sort and a kind of reading arena (do I remember this correctly, mom?) and it was wonderful there.

Actually, I’ve gone through various public libaries in my life. In the small village where I went to primary school, I read through all the shelves. (They were rather limited numbers of shelves, to be fair.) In the small town we moved next, I was a frequent visitor in both the school library (with great enthusiasm, I read all of “Malory Towers” (“Dolly” in German) and “St Clare’s” (“Hanni und Nanni”) and we reenacted their Midnight Parties) and the so-called Catholic library (where the biography of a terrorist made the biggest impression on me).

Düsseldorf Library

Düsseldorf Library

As I moved to Bremen to study, I got to enjoy a large and most beautifully designed library. When my mom came to visit, we would plan spending an afternoon there, leaving with heaps of books. After relocating to Stockholm, I devoured all the Swedish literature I could finally access so easily. The Stockholm Central Library is a piece of architecural art, and the branches in the parts of the city are so many that it was never more than 10 minutes to walk to a library. They even have a library in the subway – so convenient! There, you could take “literature to go” with you in a paper bag that had “crime” or “love” written on it and preselected books in it.

Graduation Day, me in front of the Carolina Rediviva

Graduation Day, me in front of the Carolina Rediviva

In Uppsala, the dignified National and University Library Carolina Rediviva became my second home and I wrote my entire thesis in the cozy Karin Boye Library. Each Monday night, I would go to the local public library close to my student dorm and meet Janne and Britt, two eldery Swedes, who would practice language skills with me. The concept is called Medspråk and the library kindly hosted it. (I also took the opportunity to borrow a children’s book series on Queen Kristina there.)

Only in Hamburg, I never set foot into the library. In retrospective, this worries me because I kind of believe in the (allegedly Chinese) saying, “After three day without reading, one’s speech becomes tasteless.” I hope no one was bothered by my potentially tasteless speech.

So yesterday I took the important step to register at the Düsseldorf Library. It is squeezed between the main railway station, some weird sculptures, and the Consulate of Greece. I had very little time (and actually the last book of Moberg’s distinguished “Emigrants” series left to finish) but I remembered hearing recommendations about Donna Tartt who only publishes one book per decade and blows the critics away every time.

So now it’s me, the rain and “The little friend” for October.

The second week’s observations Part One

My second week has passed and I still observe everything closely like a foreigner. This is the first part of this week’s observations:

1. The students are rich

Because I find my housing situation desolate, I decided to look at the subtenant market. My case is tricky because I only need a furnished place for some months as I am planning to fully relocate next year. It is the same time that students are away when they go for their exchange winter semester. That’s great, I thought, and looked at three students’ apartments. I am seriously stunned at the size and prize of these apartments. When I was a student, we also paid a rent of 600 euros – for three people. Not for one person that lives on 60 square metres. How do they even afford it? I must suppose that Düsseldorf students are very rich. At least that’s what I thought when I was told, “You know, I don’t have rent out while I am in London, I just think it’s a nice gesture”. Of course.

2. Cycling is ridiculously dangerous

I mentioned the lethal lights before. As I expanded my radius by some kilometres, I only found more dangerous things about cycling in this city. For example the bike lanes that just stop in the middle of the street. Literally. I wanted to take photo evidence but I was too scared I would be run over in the process so you will just have to trust me. All bike lanes are completely randomly arranged, going on the car street, then to the sidewalk for 15 metres to then return to the car’s space to then end in the middle of everything. (Emily, you would be appalled.)


Meanwhile, cars preferably stop on the bike lanes to deliver goods or drop people off. I have never seen so many cars blocking the bikes lanes as in this city, it is truly amazing. And it shows the Green Party has not been in government long enough.

Still, I adhere stubbornly to my bike resolution and I keep telling myself if my ex-co-worker Sarah can get through all of Hamburg by bike, I should manage with a town considerably smaller. I may not be known for bravery but cycling in this city is a brave act.

3. There are churches everywhere and still, I have no orientation

There is an overwhelmingly lot of churches in this town. Churches by the river, churches sandwiched between two regular houses, churches flying lots of flags. Plus several centers for the young Christians. Wikipedia lists 95 Catholic churches alone and I was too lazy to count the dozens of Protestant and free churches. Even though I realize I am now in a very Catholic region (making me totally ordinary after years of my exotic niche existence in the Protestant diaspora), I sincerely wonder if people go to all these many churches. Personally, I am still baffled with the multitude of fanes so that I cannot even decide where to go on Sunday.

St. Andreas [photo Wikimedia]

Usually, churches have an orienting effect on me in cities. “Ah, that’s St. Nikolai, so I am close to the inner city”, I would think in Hamburg. “If I just proceed after Klara church, I’ll be at the Central Station soon”, was my orientation in very early Stockholm days. “I have no idea where I am but I know for sure I live behind the Cathedral”, always led me home at any time in Uppsala. In Düsseldorf now, it’s more like “This is the 12th church I have passed and I still don’t get how I got here”. Yes, orientation days are still continuing…

Tomorrow, I’ll get back to you with some more peculiarities concering the not-so-happy people, a shocking grocery revelation and a topographic adjustment.

Valborg outside Uppsala

Valborg 2014

Valborg 2014

It is that time of the year. It is the time when the lilacs, syrenen, bud. All over town – over that particular fairy tale town – there is a sweet smell of spring. It is the time of the year when you can get out the sandals but you need real shoes when the sun goes down. It is the month when the sun wakes you and your bike tires finally make the sound of tire against gravel again because the snow has, finally!, melted. It is the time of the year when Facebook tells me, “Nicola is attending Valborg på Värmlands nation” and “Christian is going to Kvalborg Kathuska”. And it is the first year I am not there, there where one should be, on the last day of April.

Champagne has an important role on Valborg.

Champagne has an important role on Valborg (Snerikes nation, 2014). Obviously, when I speak of the spirituality of spring, I don’t mean the drinking and wild parties. Even though they are an important element, too…

The last day of April never had any significance to me. In Germany, the first of May is the day you celebrate. When I started studying in Uppsala, I was taught what greeting spring really meant. After a long winter, I experienced a rush of happiness when we got to lie in the grass again. The longing, the joy, it was almost spiritual.

“With the sun finally warm again, against her skin, she grows stronger every day. She tells me how exhilirated she feels to hear the first drops of melted snow falling from the roof. And how joyous to see the first tender blades of grass! She says she has never felt more alive.”

This year, I consciously decided to not travel to Uppsala for Valborg. It is part of my fondest memories but it is also the day that can make you feel, oh, so old. But of course there will not – never? –be a last day of April for me passing unnoticed anymore. Today is the day the light, the warmth, the life is welcomed back, and in Hamburg it rains. When I look at the calendar, April 30, 3 p.m., there is that thought of “I should be on Carolinabacken right now, waving that hard-earned hat”. Nothing can compare to Uppsala. But – now the sun just came out, and I will grab that sångbok and lots of warm layers, we will go the beach and light a big fire. We’ll sing all those Valborg songs with the choir and there will be that Valborg speech. All those traditions will be brought here, just a little different, just somewhere else. And even if my heart yearns for that town and its people that I hold so dear, tonight will be a night to make new memories.

At the Uppsala castle 2013, hearing the Valborg speech and songs

At the Uppsala castle 2013, hearing the Valborg speech and songs

Gamla Uppsala Hills, close to the big fire

Gamla Uppsala Hills 2013, close to the big fire

That rear view mirror

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What is the woman doing!, you might be wondering? Well, I can tell you and it is just as unspectacular as always: working, following my weekly routine, counting the days until Ingrid returns and undertaking (more than usual) commitments for the Swedish-German commerce.

In that function, I met someone tonight who studied the same as I did. That rarely ever happens. Actually, I don’t think that it has ever happened in real life and outside of my university peer group. It immediately brought back all my Uppsala memories to me and ah, they are such beautiful, tender recollections! Even though my dramatic diary notes some ups and downs, in my photographic documentation and in my mind, it was two years of endless bliss. It has ever since been my wish to be able to time-travel (just not to Bonn maybe), and I would definitely not mind going back two years! (For a while. After a while, I’d get very annoyed with those kitchens I used to have to share.)

One of the many happy evenings

One of the many happy evenings

Uppsala, the boulevard of broken heels

Whenever time allows, I go to Uppsala. When I studied there, I did not only make a bunch of wonderful friends and epic memories, I also fell in love with this pretty little town. (Little from a German perspective. In Sweden, it is the fourth biggest town.)

Yesterday, I first made a short visit to Uppsala’s Tourist Center where a former colleague now works. I had my German friend Tabea with me and when my colleague asked how we met, Tabea said, “I joined a choir to meet Swedish people. But then I met Helen. I guess that’s almost better”. She sure knows how to flatter the dvensks!

In accordance with tradition, we took our fika at Cafe Storken and as always, I took the cake Storken Special with the Rooisbos Cactus Orange. I have been doing that for almost three years now and finally I asked where this tea could be bought only to find out, they sell it right downstairs. Now I have a bag that smells all orange and I personally think that’s a lovely smell. I hope Ingrid thinks so too, because that’s the tea we’ll be drinking from now on at nights 😀

Sweden acknowledging patchwork families: "Do you have an extra dad? Buy two teas for Father's Day!"

Sweden acknowledging patchwork families: “Do you have an extra dad? Buy two teas for Father’s Day!”

Going downstairs to the tea store was though not so easy. When I left Stockholm, Andrea recommended to take another pair of shoes, an idea that I dismissed because I would only be there a day. Fifteen minutes into my Uppsala stay, my heel fell off. There was no other way than to stand in the shoemaker’s shop with socks and wait for the repair. Uppsala, the boulevard of broken heels.

Malin and I made good use of the heel-investment and walked all around the city. First, we went to my student nation’s curator because my nation card never arrived. I am sure I have explained this sometime before, but in Uppsala, social life very much depends on having a nation card because otherwise you don’t get in anywhere and my noble plan was then still to go out at night. The curator and I, who had been emailing back and forth for a week, instantly bonded, also over the fact that he had the royals displayed in his office. (Malin phrased the bonding as flirting but I guess that is just the Stockholm air getting to my head.)

The exhibition in The Cathedral was called "Heaven is here" whcih I find a brilliant title. I kept looking for the new German-Swedish bishop, but to no avail

The exhibition in The Cathedral was called “Heaven is here” whcih I find a brilliant title. I kept looking for the new German-Swedish bishop, but to no avail

"Who is the one and who is the other? Or are they interchangeable?" "Malin and Helen intepreting modern art.

“Who is the one and who is the other? Or are they interchangeable?” “Malin and Helen intepreting modern art.

Another fika with home-made hallongrottor was consumed at Malin’s place (or rather Axel’s) and we then took a light walk through town. Uppsala has a wonderful light festival “Allt Ljus på Uppsala” (All Light on Uppsala) every November where the public space is decorated with light installations to brighten up the worst Swedish months.


The evening was spent with Tabea and Christian and I finally got to look through all the documents you get when you study SFI (Swedish for Immigrants). I am very fascinated with how it all works and what you learn and it does make me sad to see that Christian managed to learn stuff in 6 months that I needed years for. I mean, I am happy for him but I start doubting myself, haha. I am talking about “nog, väl, ju” in case you wondered. The school also had a list of rules which read, “We do not say mean things to each other”, “We let each other talk” and “we are careful with each other’s things”. It probably sounded like that because it needs to be in beginner’s Swedish but it was funny to read for sure.

The plan to go out was sabotaged by my extreme tiredness. Really sad, but despite the girls at Pressbyrån who asked me twice (at different Pressbyråns!) if I was over twenty, I must admit I am getting old…;-)



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Heimaturlaub:  [ˈhaɪ̯maːtuːɐ̯laʊ̯p], a period of time that soldiers are allowed to leave the battle field and return home. 

There have been many trips that I have anticipated in my life so far. But I actually think I have never been this psyched to go somewhere. In some 15 hours I will be sitting with my dearest Marita. And then I will enjoy a six-day-long series of meeting inspiring, beloved people. At this time, Sweden hosts the greatest number of people I long for. (Ingrid and I are working on an incentive program to make these move to Hamburg.) It will be a temporary break from my German struggle trying to understand transportation systems, administrative rules (well, I do actually have to do my taxes while in Sweden, but still), and finding a good fika place.

It does not get much better than that, does it?

I can say that this prospect has been the main motivation to live through endless days of completely idiotic work days, of dealing with the bad parts of German culture, of carrying on all together. Today, despite the eight and a half hours of typing numbers into an excel sheet, I have been walking up and down the corridor at work with a bright smile on my face, imaging myself in the cafés of Stockholm, on Carolinabacken in Uppsala. Going “home” and seeing you is the main source of my resilience.