Helen is a very active pensioner


photo: Rasmus Flindt Pedersen/Copenhagenmedia

Our brilliant assistant has started to learn Swedish. It’s a source of great delight when she starts throwing in new words and sentences she’s learned. Like when she walks to the kitchen and calls, “Vill du dricka te?” She also coined a phrase for me the other day. I openly tell everyone at the office that I have started crocheting (occupational therapy for my hands only, no ambitions) and that I actually read the supermarket leaflet to check if there are any good special offers. And yes, then when they have shoe trees that cost a fifth of what they usually cost, I get excited and mark the date down in my calendar. The new Swedophone nodded and quoted from her book, “Helen är en mycket aktiv pensionär!” I guess she has a point.

Anyway, what isn’t so old-people-ish about me is probably my constant travelling. For a person who doesn’t like travelling, I sure am on planes and trains often. Tonight, I’m hopping on the flight to Copenhagen. (Something that my extra colleague, awkwardly enough, acknowledged with the comment, “What’s in Copenhagen, STDs and bad cafés?”) The city of Borgen, the country where inhabitants speak very funny and the happiest people on earth! I’m going to see some of my Swedish choir friends, it’s our annual meet up. We’re close to where we once started this tradition: in 2012, we first travelled to Malmö together which is only a stone’s throw from Copenhagen. The last time I was in Copenhagen (and not just their airport) was more than six years ago, then, they had shipped off their biggest sight, the Little Mermaid to Shanghai. It’ll be interesting to see how the Danish capital is today – and if it’ll charm me more than Amsterdam. Farvel, Dizzel!


photo: Martin Heiberg/Copenhagenmedia

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Och du är lite snobbish för att du kommer från Hamburg.


Säger du med ett litet dolt leende, lite nöjd.

Inte en enda käft har svarat på mitt mejl! – Det låter lite grovt även för en svensk, men för en Helen…!

Tyskar som ska vara lite fräcka…alltså, jag bara smälter ihop i en liten hög och säger nej, ni är så löjliga!

I’m a Northern Light


In German, you call the people who hail from the North of Germany Nordlichter, Northern Lights. („The North“ is a region that is defined rather subjectively because if you ask me, everything down till Osnabrück and Hanover is the North while my aunt who lives north of Hamburg would probably say everything south of Bremen is basically northern Italy).

This weekend, I did a tour through „my“ parts of the North, just to realize – yes, I am a Northern Light. I might have been born in the South and live all over the place (it happened the second time in half a year now that someone asked me where I live and I had briefly forgotten my town of residence). But it is when I read the road signs around Osnabrück that I feel home, it’s the central station of Bremen that makes my heart sing and it is Hamburg’s waters that I am drawn to. It’s the flat landscape and the people who understand personal space.

Ingrid (ah, being with Ingrid!) and I attended service at the Swedish, our, church this Sunday. There’s a new priest who has started working there and I was excited to see what she was like. She’s rather different from her predecessor – female, very young and from the South of Sweden. I liked her and she has a great taste in church hymns, more than half of the songs were favorites of mine, almost all by Frostenson (for the Swedish church insiders among us). Coming to church was like coming home, too, with all these people welcoming me like the lost daughter („Are you back in Hamburg, have you moved back now?“). Definitely worth getting up with 5 hours of sleep for that. And travelling 800 kilometres for breathing some of the same air as the Northern Lights. Worth all the miles that are between us.


Visited home and the cat


Hamburg, where people keep life buoys outside their houses


Guds kärlek är som stranden och som gräset, my favorite since childhood


Flying visit to wonderful Bremen


8 minutes from the central station….


…meeting Annika

Delivery Day


Fancy Ape in Dizzel

Some people think I only post when I am travelling/in Sweden. Given the fact that I’ve haven’t produced anything since more than a week, I guess they have a point. But this week I’ve been busy with being somewhat under the weather as well as excessively watching „Call the Midwife“, my new favorite series that I recommend to you all. (Yes, it’s on Netflix.)

Last weekend, my friend Frederieke visited me and she was very insistent on seeing „the sights of Düsseldorf“. So I took her to Cologne and showed her the famous Cologne Cathedral. (Don’t worry, I also showed her some of Dizzel.) The Cologne Cathedral is a major sight of Germany and the people of Cologne are almost a little überfond of their church. But I will admit that there’s a special atmosphere there, I’ve never regretted popping in there, quickly saying hi to God so to speak. This time, we discovered they had acquired a real (!) refugee boat that they put into the church. Measuring seven metres, it had carried 100 people. Behind it there were pictures of full boats, in front of it, they projected in many different languages, „Christ sits in the refugee boat“. Very impressive and appropriate for the church, I thought.


It’s one thing if you hear on the news, „Eighty refugees were rescued by the Italian navy from their 7-metre-boat“ or if you see photos in the newspapers of super crowded catamaran. But it really has a different impact if you stand right before it and count how many people could somehow safely sit there (about 20). If it’s 100, some will end up under others, suffocated. I hope that those who believe people go on a boat trip like that for „an economically better life in the West“ get the chance of spending some time staring at this boat in the Cologne Cathedral.

At work, it’s been Delivery Day! Lots of deliveries came for me: a carpet (for my kitchen), the trophies for our event and five bottles of wine to test-drink.

Frederike and I also checked out all the expensive design stores in my hood, they had really nice things. I discovered a toy store which was absolutely wonderful and had laternas magicas.


The mall decorates with items you really need in Düsseldorf.

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“Jag är så glad att det är helg!” “Ja, du sa det tidigare”. “Men jag är så glad”. “Vill du göra en liten helgdans?” “Kanske det.”

“Är mattan bra eller är den för kökig?” “Kan det ens bli för kökigt?”

“Vi ska äta på den här asiastiska restaurangen, Ban Ki Moon eller vad det heter”.

“Det här regnat i dagar, det har regnat och det slutar aldrig” (sjunger Veronica Maggio) “Var hon kanske i Düsseldorf när hon skrev den? Fast nej, då hade hon skrivit, det har regnat i veckor”.

“Den moderna formen av en präst är en läkare”.

“Klingt ‘Nationales Wiedersehen’ rechts?” “Nö, gar nicht, schreib doch gleich ‘völkisches Treffen'”.

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”.


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.



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

I also want a Nobel Prize


“Is the real Queen of Sweden back in Germany as well?”, one of my journalist friends asked me yesterday. She was of course referring to the on-going state visit by King Carl Gustaf and Queen Silvia – and to my return to Germany. I am back, had kind of a sniffles relapse today, and at work I am struggling with an excel sheet.

My last day in Sweden started with meeting Linus and Nicola who both work at the German TV/radio. We were planning to meet at noon, but then I got a text saying, “Oh dear, I forgot the Nobel Prize is announced at 11.45, I’ll have to reschedule to 13!” For a news junkie like me, and a Nobel Enthusiast, that’s the best excuse you can produce. Some people think it’s a bit quirky how excited I can get about the Nobel Prizes, but Nicola sure understood. We discussed why the gravitational waves were not awarded (they published the findings too late, apaprently) and who could win the Peace Prize (Merkel is on the list).

After that, I met Magda who emerged from the tunnelbana looking like some business woman on the way to a board meeting. (“Do business women bring lunch boxes though?”, she wondered.) I summoned Magda who has been my fashion adviser last time to KappAhl to decide whether on not to buy a winter coat. I put it on, she looked at me and said, “It looks Angela Merkel. But in the best possible way, so I think you should buy it”. So now I own an angelamerklig coat, and I hope I make a stateswomanlike impression.



On the flight home, I read up on Swedish economic policies

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“Hans jobb är ‘ägare’, vadå ägare? Av sin tvättmaskin eller?”

“Tyskarna håller på att vädra sina sovrum hela jävla tiden. Det är ju ändå en mening med att man bor inom fyra väggar med tak!”

“Du är typ hela Sveriges flickvän, Helen”.

“Nåt är fel med din skärm”. “Nåt är fel med mitt liv”.



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!


Henrieke at the expensive cafe



Laure at the wonderful Haymarket


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!


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.


Balloon sweaters


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“Hur var det i Alperna då?” “Jag blev bättre på skidor. Jag utvecklade också jättemycket klasshat”.

“Gud, vad du lever life.  Att bli ghostad är ju mer leva life än vad jag gör!”

“Om du flyttar dit så träffar du kanske nån och blir kvar!” “Jag vill inte bli kvar, jag har ju mina köpoäng i Uppsalas bostadskö!”

Ack, Värmeland

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 Vänern shore. Picasso himself had never been to the place but that’s insignificant to the marketing.



Picasso was here, well almost.



So pretty at the lake!


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 folkkär 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.


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 nyanlända (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 Hembygdsgård 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 Värmland though. Chance are rather good I’ll be back.



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


…at the pretty Prinsen restaurant

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“Det var trevliga toaletter, i alla fall handfatsområdet”.