One of a kind

Even though I have been equipped with a large biological family, my life has been influenced largely by „chosen family“ or as Scandinavian puts it so brilliantly, bonus family. One of them was my bonus grandmother. She passed away on Wednesday and with the grief that this loss brings comes also a great deal of gratitude for the privilege to have her in my life.

When I was only seven, we moved from the city I was born in to a tiny, tiny village. It is an often retold anecdote how we met the landlords of what would become our home: the landlord was grumpy and strict, the landlady had baked strawberry cake and was radiated so much warmth we decided for the apartment they owned even though it wasn’t the nicest we’d seen. When asked whether she would like us as tenants, the landlady said, in her special dialect, „Oh, a little girl in the apartment down there, I would really like that“. I was the little girl and the landlady I would come to refer to as my bonus grandma and choose as my godmother at confirmation.

The village and we, May 2015

In the following three years, we lived closely together, she lived upstairs, I lived downstairs. I longed for a cat, she convinced her husband who was against pets. I wanted a second cat, she intervened again in my favor. Almost every night, I would come up to say good night and she would give me one single piece of chocolate, the Betthupferl, a bedtime treat. I still remember the brand and how it tasted.

She taught me how to bake and my mom uses her recipe for Bienenstich cake to this day. She read the yellow press papers with me where my original interest for royal families must come from. She also read the proper newspaper with me and I remember how she taught me the for me then unknown word „quickfidel“ [jolly] that I read aloud from the paper’s report on my class’ theater performance. A performance she attended, of course.

On Sunday evenings, we would watch the German weekly soap operas Lindenstraße and Die Fallers together. Every Sunday even today, I watch Lindenstraße.

Looking back from an adult perspective, I now see how much she must have promoted my educational development as well. When I was bored, she would write down a very long word (German has many of those) and gave me as a task to make as many new words as possible out of it. She taught me how to play nine men’s morris and sat countless hours with me playing. And all that time, she was not babysitting or doing her duty, no, she was enjoying the company of a child. She enjoyed having me around and she let me feel that. In an environment that was difficult to adjust to as a little city girl, that must have had an tremendous emotional impact on me.

Even though I had to move away from her when I was 10, I never lost touch with her. We wrote letters to each other, called and I visited. During my years in Sweden, there were only two people who got endless letters with photos about what I was doing: grandpa and she.

But most of all, she has always been a shining example for me, one of a kind.

She got married when she was 40 and had her children in her forties in a day and age (and place) where that was very unusual – being an exception like that never seemed to unsettle her at all.

When she experienced hardships, she met them with her never faltering positive attitude. Her way of dealing with irritations was a remarkable display of serenity.

When I saw her last four weeks ago in the retirement home, she was fragile and recently widowed, and still she said, as if giving me a final lesson in gratitude, „You always have to see the good things. You have to be thankful to get to live to 84“.

Ack är det redan här så skönt / på denna jord så härligt grönt / hur skall det då ej bliva i himmelen/ där Gud berett vad ingen här i världen sett/ och ord ej kan beskriva.” (I denna ljuva sommartid)

I think art Thou so good to us / and scatterest joy and beauty thus/ o’er this poor earth of ours/ what nobler glories shall be given / hereafter in Thy shining heaven / set round with golden towers.“

…magical!

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You might not know it but the end of an era is drawing near. The end of the Lil’ Pesto Era. The infamous intern and I only have six more working days together and it saddens my heart. What is the best antidote to heavy hearts? Exactly, parties.

So a couple of weeks ago I rounded up “our” group that met my suggestion of organizing a surprise party as his farewell with great enthusiasm. And yesterday, after weeks of keeping quiet, we shouted “Surprise!” when he entered his girlfriend’s room and another legendary party followed, with speeches in his honor, a wall of fame and a wonderful international mix of music and people. Lil’ Pesto has been an integral part of this group, forming a reliable basis for the activities that directly affect our work (positively!), and it’s going to be seriously weird to see him go. Both in the office and outside of it, his most used word will be missed: “…magiskt!”

 

Lost in transportation

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Symbolic photo of my face expression when I need to put up with Bahn bullshit

One of the things I usually lose when I move from a city is my sense of orientation. I noticed this in Hamburg this weekend – I took bus number 6 and went wrong twice. Looking out of the window on the bus does not help because my brain takes way too long time to figure out if this route makes sense. I am not completely clueless, but my orientation in Hamburg used to be very much better.

But I really got lost in transportation on the way back. Despite getting home at waaaay after midnight the third night in a row I attended service in the Swedish Church on Sunday morning and it was very much worth it. Our own choir and the guest choir from Stockholm performed together, a teenage boy was christened (very touching! His three little sisters helped in the ceremony which was adorable.) and following we had the annual church meeting. Consequently, I took a later train than planned and left Hamburg only after 5 p.m. Two hours later, I woke up on the train that had stopped. It would never start again. The locomotive was somehow damaged and the following three hours we waited in the middle of nowhere, close to where I went to school. During this time I got to witness what must be the new crisis communication concept of the Deutsche Bahn. If I remember correctly, they were critisized for being intransparent when delays happened. Apparently, they are now going for the opposite approach: we got eight statements in three hours that each were a few minutes long. In the beginning, the chief train attendant was still calm. He told us in detail that the fuse was broken and they would try to restart it. After a while, things got more desperate. „I can’t reach the technician anymore“, he said. Then the air condition system failed.

There are horror stories of passengers collapsing in trains because of failed air conditioning. I now understand why. Only half an hour without fresh air in a train with 600 people and things get very uncomfortable, breathing gets kind of difficult. As we were travelling close to the Benelux border, passengers started getting anxious about their connections to Amsterdam and Brussels. „Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sorry to inform you our train is entirely out of order“, the attendant made his return on the intercom, sounding more and more distressed. Outside, the sun started setting slowly. „We have contacted Bremen and Osnabrück for emergency help. We hope they can send us an empty train. Otherwise we will have to ask Hamburg or Dortmund for help but it will take them two and a half hours to get here. As our electricity is powered by the locomotive, we are now operating on the emergency electricity. I hope the intercom will continue to work so I can keep you posted.“ I started thinking about how clear-sighted it was of me to eat a decent dinner and buy the largest German newspaper before boarding the train.

„They are sending an empty train. I only asked for a locomotive that would replace ours so that you don’t have to change trains. But they refuse. That’s what happens when the theoretical planners who only work from their desks make the decisions!” People started calling their relatives who were on their way to stations to pick them up. „How did the election go?“, some inquired on the phone. Needless to say, we didn’t have internet and even phone reception was low in the countryside. „When the train comes, we will have to evacuate you“, the train attendant informed us. „We will provide bridges to step over from one train to the other. Those are narrow, so unfortunately prams and wheelchairs won’t be able to get to the emergency train. We will close off the tracks so that other trains don’t come through but please be extremely careful because there might still be trains running“. Um, I thought, what do you mean, you close off the tracks but there will still be trains running while we climb over narrow bridges to the emergency train?!„I am very sorry to put you through this and if I had anything to say, we would just have gotten a locomotive here but nobody listens to me, ladies and gentlemen, I am just the smallest wheel in this organisation and the studied gentlemen in the emergency unit who never atutally operate a train decide!“ By now our train attendant was very annoyed with his superiors and he did not tire of emphasizing his discontent. Meanwhile, rain showers set in outside the window that we could not open. A little while later, we saw a train, three waggons shorter than ours, arrive next to us. People started preparing for the evacuation when the angry train attendant accoustically reappeared. ”The locomotive kind of works right now. The emergency manager has decided that we will go to Diepholz on this train and let you change there in an orderly fashion as there are real platforms there. We won’t continue with this train afterwards because it might break down at any moment again“. We started moving and suddenly, we saw five trucks of the fire brigade by the tracks, ready to protect us for evacuation. Say what you want but the German public safety system worked here! I think everyone was a little sad we couldn’t let them do their job. Diepholz meanwhile saw the greatest number of passengers in 20 years. I doubt there are ever 600 people at that station at the same time.

Epilogue: The Benelux travellers had to spend the night in Düsseldorf. I really hope they weren’t booked on a late night flight overseas from Amsterdam. I got home way past midnight instead of nine thirty.

A fun time in the town of Hamburg, both at night

and the morning after on the way to church

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Ice in the stomach

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In Swedish, when you keep your cool, the idiom calls this “having ice in the stomach”. I actually recently read that one should have “varmt hjärta, kall hjärna, is i magen” – a warm heart, a cool brain and ice in the stomach. Those qualities are definitely something I need in my job. Like when someone emails you 24 hours before the event that they are a vegan or a kind-of-celebrity asks short notice if there’s still a spot left and you need to rearrange your entire seating plan. But let’s be honest, it’s the rush of adrenaline that makes me cope and love this part of my work. I am probably going to be a wreck on Sunday but it will most likely have been worth it.

This morning, Lil’ Pesto and I took the train to Hamburg and completed last tasks on the four hour ride. Which turned out to be four and a half because Deutsche Bahn. We stopped at Osnabrück and I told Lil’ Pesto how my grandpa would pick me up as a little girl at this station. We rode through the lush pastures of Diepholz and I told Lil’ Pesto about this district that I spend my high school years in. We passed Bremen and I rhapsodized about my university town’s beauty and vibe. When we arrived in Hamburg in what is the absolutely perfect weather, he said already in the impressive central station how much he liked the city.

“Suddenly I realized that my writing yearned for other places”. Assia Djebar, a very accurate quote found in my pretty little hotel room

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We parted ways and I started my race through town. Meeting a former co-worker and my former boss, attending a meeting with one of our own, making a short visit to the doctor’s (really need to get local doctors in Dizzel, I know) and finally met my dear friend Frederike for dinner. She lives in the most adorable house in the most amazing location. It’s like in a fairy tale and my descriptions or photos won’t do it justice. It’s a good thing I am not in Hamburg that often anymore, I just get too jealous.

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Del 33 i citatsamlingen

Jag kan inte tänka mig vara tillsammans med någon som uttalar Kina Kina istället för Schina. – Alltså, vad ska jag säga, jag är tillsammans med någon som säger kaahviar istället för kaviar.

Jag har bestämt mig, jag ska sluta dejta alltihop nu. – Du har väldigt lite trovärdighet när det kommer till sådant.

Europe Day

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Every street looked like this, every street.

When I was in New York City, I was very surprised how I didn’t feel it was very crowded. I had expected the city to overwhelm me with its many inhabitants and tourists, to give me some kind of claustrophobia with all the people and skyscrapers. It didn’t at all and after being in downtown Düsseldorf a sunny Saturday today, I start realizing that maybe it’s because this town has made me used to crowded spaces and people everywhere. I don’t even know where all these people come from in Düsseldorf, it feels like all of the Netherlands come to visit and every single local citizen also takes out to the street of the Old Town. It’s literally more crowded than New York City – how is that even possible?!

But I will admit, if it had been 20 % less people, this would have been a perfect day. Suddenly, unexpectedly, spring returned today and bathed the cobblestone streets in sunshine, bringing out the lush trees in the alleys. I didn’t have time to sit down at one of the crowded restaurants until late in the afternoon though because I had agreed to help with promoting Sweden at the annual Europe Day. I borrowed a folkdräkt from a friend, put on my Tre kronor charm Andrea once gave me and was ready to sell dozens of cinnamon buns.

It was an interesting experience: a Dutch young man, probably part of a stag night, stopped and sang for me, an old lady told me her story of interrailing to Narvik as a young girl, another lady asked me why Crown Princess Victoria wasn’t there (“She’s so nice, she’s so incredibly nice!”), a Frenchman who had lived on Söder tried his Swedish on me and people asked us, somewhat accusatory, why we were not all blondes.

It was not that easy to sell the buns because when Europe gets together, there is serious competition: Belgian waffles, Portuguese natas, British fish ‘n’ chips, Spanish churros. Whatever you say tomorrow, Marine, I’ll always love being United in Diversity.

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Don’t count your chicken

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Dizzel a few weeks ago

…before they’re hatched. Don’t praise the day before the evening. Or don’t shout hej before you’ve passed the stream. Basically, my excitement of spring in this town was, well, premature. Since weeks we’ve had winter weather, it’s quite depressing. This week, in an act of rebellion, I put on my “Swedish Summer” Spotify list but the rain would not stop falling.

The worst thing is that the weather forecast shows no betterment and I have an event in a week that would be so much nicer if the sun would shine. This event series (four consecutive events because sleep is very overrated) is nevertheless already an unpredecented success with guest numbers soaring constantly. I actually had to start saying no to people. Last year, we were fighting for every attendee, and I want to believe that this year’s run on tickets has to do with the fact that the event is taking placed in what used to briefly be my home, Hamburg. A lot of guests also means a lot of work for me (plus several presentations I have to prepare) and curiously enough, the fuller my to do list, the better my work motivation. I must be high on adrenaline or something.

Easter also happened. I spent it in the South of Germany with my stepsisters and my adorable niece. She told me she was two years old and I was five. We spent a lot of time eating (fish on Good Friday as good Catholics do; and we ate ourselves through the entire Cannstadter Wasn fair in Stuttgart, Maultaschen are seriously delicious), attended a Easter night mass which was an amazing show (now my resolution for next year is to experience that in the Cologne Cathedral, probably the most Catholic place in Germany), and I met my friend Renate from primary school who updated me on all gossip (people have actually started to inter-marry among our class mates…)

The following weekend, wonderful Anna graced Düsseldorf with her presence. It’s impossible not to have a good time with Anna. As she is still doing her A-Levels, we spent some time practicing how to analyse poems, but we also tried my co-workers’ curling iron and went to Restaurant Schwan that Lil’ Pesto could not stop talking about. At that restaurant, they serve Schwanitzel (a pun on Schnitzel that amused us a little more than it should have) that could feed at least two grown-ups.

May is full of holidays. If there was a party campaigning to put one of those in September instead, I would consider voting for them. Actually, elections are coming up in my federal state and as this is the most populated German state, it’s kind of a big deal. Since I am only listening to North German radio, I am perfectly informed about the election in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein and can barely name the candidates here. I tested switching to the local radio station but it sounded so wrong! I tried the political compass and it told me my views matched those of “The Purple Party – For spiritual politics” best. In an attempt to educate myself further I noticed a lot of weird parties are on the ballot in this state: “Departure C – Christian values in politics”, “Party for Health Research”, “Nicer Living” or the light green “V-Party³ for change, vegetarians and vegans”. You see, democracy is alive and well in North-Rhine Westphalia!

The many holidays in May and June also gave me an opportunity to go on a TantenTour, a trip visiting three of my four maternal aunts. One of them lives in the perfect country idyll, in fields of gold. My godchild and I had a good time enjoying the country life.

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It’s absurd how time seems to fly. Didn’t I board a plane to the U.S. just a week ago? Didn’t Lil’ Pesto enter my office life yesterday? How can it be May already?! That also means my 30th birthday is drawing closer – yes, it’s still ten months but today I checked out another venue. It’s a former nunnery in my neigborhood. I know now that is is way too expensive for me but you never know when I need a location for a work event. I must admit though that is feels a bit funny to arrange events in a church. The entire place breathed nunnery still and I, who was educated at a nunnery for almost a decade, especially felt that it was a little wrong to roam the corridors. It’s all still there: the gate where a nun would sit, the stoups, the beautiful decorations on the floor.

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Last but far from least, it’s Skam season again! On Sundays, I now consult with Lil’ Pesto’s girlfriend to know whether he has seen the most recent episode so that I don’t put any spoilers out there by accident. It’s the last season and the first that I follow in real-time, meaning I can enjoy the entire concept of them putting chat logs and instagram pictures on their website, making you guess what will happen in the next episode. Watch Skam. Nobody I told to do so has ever regretted it.

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Skam on my fridge: “So should we drop all our plans because a guy texts? The answer is no, ladies.”

Citatsamling del 32

Helen, du har en sån röst, du skulle kunna vara rösten i tunnelbanan. För mig är du redan det.

Man vet aldrig när kärleken checkar in!

Jag klipper mina naglar ofta, jag tycker det är avslappnande. Men jag röker inte, tar inga droger, då får jag väl ha det som min grej, att klippa naglarna.

Hur mycket får du för det där Brötchen som du köpte åt mig? – Helen, de 15 cent kan jag faktiskt bjuda på. Det är du värd, älskling.

Jag vill till Vapiano och hon vill till det asiastiska stället. – Då blir det Clash of the Titans på lunchen!

Ingrid was here

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“Ingrid is picking me up at the office today”, I told everyone last Tuesday. “Who’s Ingrid?” Lil Pesto inquired and I was like, Oh my God, how can you not know this, have I not told you all about my most (in)famous friend?

Now he knows her! The blonde who answered most of his questions with “Hm, jo”. The girl who came in with a giant Clas Ohlson plastic bag with my Christmas decorations. The friend who decorated my desk with a gingerbread heart saying “I love you”.

It was another flying visit, no longer than 16 hours of which we spent three and a half together. But with this always on the road lady (“Where are you coming from now?” “Hamburg” “And why do you have to leave so early tomorrow to Berlin?” “Going to Prague!”), that’s better than nothing. Sitting on my sofa, drinking evening tea and discussing life brought back fond memories of our Hamburg times when we would do that for hours and days on end.

The next morning she was gone, off to more adventures promoting female comedians, chronicling the world in sketches or getting CEOs to the dance floor.

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