Christmas Lowlight

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Not the church we went to, but the one I went to for “Christmas singing” the night before. It was packed, didn’t get a seat or a lyrics leaflet. Luckily, I am an experienced AllsĂ„ngs-veteran and quickly googled the lyrics each time a song was announced.

My friend Ingrid and I have a habit of texting each other reviews of church services we went to. This morning, I received her verdict on the Catholic Christmas Mass she attended in the U.S. last night. I went to a protestant Christmas service late last night, because he is protestant. We both agreed afterwards that this was a true Christmas lowlight. Not only did the church’s Christmas tree lack every other branch and they ignored the Christmas classic „Tochter Zion“ on their song list.

The service was apparently gauged to the needs and expectations of the people who go to church exactly one time a year. The entire liturgy was trimmed and cut to not indispose visitors. The Creed? Not really neccessary, eh? Confession, it’s not actually essential for Christian faith, is it? The reading was, funny to me, not about Christ’s birth but about the Three Kings getting lost. The pastor managed to steer clear of any sort of spiritual depth when delivering a sermon that barely referred to the Scripture she read. Instead, in the spirit of clientele mass, she read out a story about a family father who feels the Christmas Eve with all his offspring and all these presents – and oh, so much food – is just too much. But when he goes for a walk with his dog, leaving his wife with the dishes and his sons to freely express their populist right wing opinions („he didn’t say anything in response“) – when he finally gets out to the empty streets, the family father feels „that moment of silence that’s Christmas“. Just what Christmas is all about, the annoying family, the presents and the Christmas dinner. „Well, I’ve seen things on Netflix that had considerably more philosophical depth“, A said next to me.

„BĂ€ttre kan ni“, I thought when we left, „I know you can do better than this“. So when we got home, A pulled out my Bible to re-read the passages, and I downloaded the Swedish Protestant’s Head of Church’s Christmas sermon. And it was all there: the joy, the comfort, the calling.

Don’t worry, the service did by no means spoil our cosy Christmas Eve. But Easter we’re going to a Catholic mass.

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First Christmas at (my own) home

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A got mini dancers for Christmas. Well, and a dancing lesson with me. (No, not as the teacher, obviously.)

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How to know it’s Christmas at the post office

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Christmas Time is meeting friends time, and that’s maybe the best part of Christmas. Tabea and Marita came by to see me, and I had dinner with Michelle in Berlin.

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A look back at Berlin: location scouting took me all different kinds of places…

 

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At Berlin Central Station, they have a Christmas service. IN the very station.

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Can there ever be too much Lucia? Attended Lucia at the Embassy…

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…and the Berlin Cathedral which was filled to the very last seat

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Locations on water…

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…and with a view

Speaking of Berlin! I have been wanting to share with you a recommendation to my friend Annelie’s blog about her life in Berlin, Hemma i Berlin. We met when we both worked in Stockholm and moved to Germany at the same time, but somehow she managed to integrate more quickly and now has a whole German family with two small kids to show for! Chances are you have heard me talk about Annelie so here is your perfect opportunity to follow her:

She started blogging about Berlin a while ago and you should check out her take on the best restaurants, learn about her “Swede of the Month” or read her musings on things typically German (might be my favorite blog entry, esp. the part about KuchenbehĂ€lter).

 

Citatsamlingen lever Ă€n…del, let’s say, 38

Du weißt doch, wie mein zweiter Name lautet. – Danger?

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. 

 

 

The Holidays

It’s late and I should be in bed but it’s just too cozy keeping my parents company on the couch while they watch “Irene Huss”. These past days have been pretty much as mellandagarna, the days between Christmas and the New Year, should be: sleeping, eating, forgetting what day it is. 

I finished my work week with a business trip to Hamburg for site visits. Even with its not so nice weather, Hamburg – of course – suceeded to charm me. The charm was intensified by the opportunity to eat dinner with my dear friend Frederieke who just moved there and because I had the chance to hang out with Ingrid. And because I got to go to the first Clas Ohlson store in Germany! People who know me know that I have a certain fondness for this Swedish hardware store. “I can’t find a (insert anything for the home) in town” – “Did you check with Clas Ohlson?” is a very common conversation I’ve had many times in Sweden. And now finally I’ll be able to have that short and helpful exchange even in Germany, at least in Hamburg. And believe  it or not, Clas Ohlson Germany seems to be even better than in Sweden. (I did not think that was possible.) As I walked around there and marvelled at everything, I heard a German lady tell her company, “This is like Ikea, just without furniture!” But it’s more like Ikea without furniture and only useful things.

The train home at 8 pm on Dec 23 was virutally empty / checking out fancy ball rooms / Clas I love it Ohlson / Hamburg Dinnner

This year was a special Christmas because my stepsisters celebrated with us. That also meant we had the joy of having my n 2 year old niece with us, a child that is so charming it is really impossible not to love her. Not only is she smart and knows lots of words (and laughs when I don’t understand her pronounciation), she also has unconditional affection for the cat. She’d lie down next to him and tell him, “Don’t worry, I’ll stay with you, I’m your mommy”. I visited some friends and family during my stay here in the north and some nights, I tried to be home early so that I could enjoy the little one’s company. (For the record: The rest of my family is also very nice but it’s very hard to beat the youngest’s bewitching magnetism.) Unfortunately, she was sick during the first days and absolutely refused to sleep which gave me the splendid opportunity to get some more driving experience because once we put her in the car seat and drove around, she’d fall asleep within 4 minutes (I checked the time).

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Note to self: If I have a child, I also need a car

 

 

Hundchen-parade (I don’t know what’s his thing about the shower)

Christmas Evening / Mom and me (and Hundchen) watching Året med Kungafamiljen

Holiday time also meant attending our family gettogether. When my maternal aunts, uncles and cousins gather, we are 37 people. While my mom took on the responsibility for catering, I tried to get those 37 on a family photo and after quite some struggle, I suceeded. The day after that my bonus siblings, lots of friends and cousins and I went to try out Bubble Ball, also known as Bubble Bump Football. They had told me about it and I’d been all for it. Once we had booked and decided to go, I started to get second thoughts. Like, “eh, I didn’t bring any gym shoes” and “But if I fall, won’t it hurt on the body parts that are not in the bubble?” I decided not to chicken out though and tried what is being called the dernier cri in terms of sports. Now, four days later I can inform you that it is certainly worth trying but you barely see a thing through that bubble which makes it difficult to suceed in playing serious soccer and it really hurts when you fall (if you fall like an amateur, as I do), my legs do have some serious black and blue marks.

What do you mean, we look ridiculous?

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!

Lilla Julafton

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The hyacinths are blooming, there is a little fire cracking in the corner of my living room, jazz versions of Christmas songs are playing and the tree – complete with gifts – presents itself in festive splendor. What’s happening? It’s Lilla Julafton!

The Little Christmas Eve is a name I took from my co-worker for having a pre-Christmas gathering. Yesterday I already had some folks over för glögg, pepparkaka and lussekatter, today we had a girl night lighting the third candle.

During the preparations for these evenings, I encountered quite some problems with acquiring the ingredients needed. By now, I could almost make a list of “things Helen wants to buy that are unattainable/ridiculously overpriced in Gemany”.

It started with the saffron that you need to make lussekatter. In Germany, saffron costs ten times as much as in Sweden. I am not kidding you, ten times. While everyone gets their saffron gram for 4 euro at the Swedish supermarkt, in Germany, being able to bake with saffron screams “I am rich”. Luckily, my dear Malin in Karlstad acted immediately when my saffron-emergency-call came and shortly thereafter, a gram came to my mailbox.

On Wednesday I took a halfday off to go to IKEA to buy glögg. As Ikea is never in the inner city (except for in Hamburg), it takes a while to get there but since it’s the place to get glögg, I dedicated some hours to it. I also had a curtain rod with me that I didn’t need and wanted to return, so it was totally killing two birds with one stone. However, when I got there and asked to return it, they told me they wouldn’t take it back because I didn’t have the receipt. Well, a while ago, that store made national news with taking back everything anytime, but I guess those times are over? Well, okay, I thought, I get it, they can’t give me my money back. But I really don’t need that curtain rod anymore and I certainly don’t want to take another bike tour home with it. So I asked if I can leave with them to sell it again. No, they said. “But I’m kind of like giving this to you as a donation”, I tried to explain. The shop assistant just shook his head. Sighing, I took my curtain rod and walked to the info desk because I couldn’t take the thing with me on my glöggmission because you’re not allowed to take bought products inside. At the info desk, they told me they couldn’t keep it there and it was too large to lock it up. Seriously, I just want to buy glögg, I was close to crying out. But, contenance – instead, I nodded nicely, took the curtain rod with me to a corner close to the entrance and “lost” it there. Really, why is it so difficult to get rid of an IKEA product in their own store…Anyway, I walked through the store as quickly as you can, grabbing some candles here, a lamp there, you know things you just suddenly happen to need to get from IKEA. I got to the check out and looked for the glögg. Eventually, I asked the staff only to be informed that “Glögg is sold out”. What?! On December 7th? “You can go to the other IKEA in DĂŒsseldorf”, was their advice. Well, a) I don’t have a car b) I can’t take another halfday off to travel there by public transport c) IKEA does not reveal any information about plants and food in stock so I can’t call to be sure that they’ll have glögg. Not an option. Again, a friend came to my rescue, this time my new friend Linnea who gladly shared with me her family recipe on homemade glögg. It’s not that difficult, it’s just that, you guessed it, some ingredients are unattainable/ridiculously overpriced in Gemany. The cardamom capsules were sold at the pricey spice shop (once I figured they are not called “cardamom seeds” in Germany), but the pomerans or even its relatives were impossible to get a hold of. I spent quite some time going to different stores until I finally texted Linnea who now goes by the nickname “glöggakuten” in my world. She assured me that oranges would work too and letting the glögg sit for three hours would be enough. I think the only thing I did wrong was making it not sweet enough but no guest complained so that’s fine!

My last Christmas-related shopping difficulty (I’ve had non-christmassy too like trying to buy small plastic flower pots, impossible!)  was getting candles for the tree. I had to go to three shops and in the first two they looked at me as if I was completely out of my mind, wanting to put real wax candles on a Christmas tree. “Nobody does that anymore, I don’t even know where you could buy them”. Ahem, well, I actually know quite some people who still do that. And I refused to surrender to the electric candles only, next year they’ll force a plastic tree on me, eh? The third store thankfully conformed to my wishes and provided me with candles. I bought 40 right away in case they don’t sell them any longer next year!

 

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Renate receiving the first lussekatt (“We probably look very stock-photo right now”) / The tree, and yes, I need a drapery under it.

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At the Christmas Market with Linnea and many more of our organization’s juniors (“Rikard, you keep  capturing that handsome guy in the background in the photo!”)

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A star in the office, beautifully against the sunset.

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My plants are multiplying like crazy so now I have a lot of new ones for you to get as a Christmas present.

P.S.: My first Christmas present was given to me by the Ordnungsamt! (That’s the regulatory authority, literally the Office of Order.) Remember how a mean Dane stole my wallet and all that was in it? I didn’t get a new driver’s license and some other cards you can temporarily live without because getting new ones is expensive and also, I held on to the hope that a good Dane would find the wallet eventually so that its non-money contents would find its way back to me. And so it happened! Ordnungsamt wrote me a letter asking me to pick up my stuff, hooray! It will be interesting to see what came back and what the thief kept.

Gala ends, Christmas starts

A last look back at a night in blue

Now that I’m back safe and sound to Dizzel, the regional capital (because that is what Dizzel is) has gone from 13 degrees to minus 4 degrees. This means thermo tights while cycling! During the work day, I’m busy with the post-processing of the gala: sending people photos, writing texts about the evening for our magazine, thanking everyone involved, mailing out speeches to journalists, wrapping up the budget, well – you get the idea. The next event, albeit much smaller, is already around the corner and needs some attention, too.

But after the gala also means: before Christmas! Upon returning, I immediately geared up for advent, buying moss, oranges and candles, unpacking Christmas decorations from the basement, setting up my Christmas star in the window and listening and singing to Christmas music on repeat. I even got a tree! Yes, you heard right, and I transported it on my bike (totally possible). The proud fir is now gracing my living room – Germans (and Swedes) will think it’s too early but I pretend to honor the American tradition of putting it up in the beginning of advent…

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Ibland tror jag att jag har en internet-avstötande effekt i mig.

Hon önskar sig en deckare och parfym. Jag tĂ€nker jag kanske ger henne deckaren “Parfymen”. – Gud. Vad. Du. Är. O-Rolig. Om praktikanten hade varit hĂ€r hade han frustat över den lĂ„ga skĂ€mtnivĂ„n!

Wenn Drei HaselnĂŒsse fĂŒr Aschenbrödel im Fernsehen kommt, weiß man, dass Weihnachten ist! – Wie heißt der Film, Drei Hasen mĂŒssen verarscht werden?!

 

Friend Advent

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We also strolled across the Christmas Market

I am not particularily fond of Berlin. I find it big and dirty, it’s seem far-away and isolated to me, and it takes for ever to go from one place to another in the German capital. But – the city changes when I am with the right people. Berlin with Michelle becomes a cozy place, a city that I can (almost) imagine going to voluntarily.

We noticed today that this is the fourth year in a row that we have spent the first advent weekend together. That’s quite something if you consider that we have known each other for, yes, exactly, four Christmasses (but almost five years). The first one we spent together in Malmö watching the first episode of Julkalendern , the second we made paper hearts for my Christmas tree in Hamburg and last year, we decorated Michelle’s advent lights in Barcelona. This year, we had planned to attend service at the Swedish Church. We got up in time, hurried with breakfast and arrived at 10.59 a.m. Service is always at 11 a.m., in Hamburg, in Berlin, in Stockholm. (Not always in SkĂ„ne though.) We were all looking forward and had started singing our favorite Swedish advent songs at home. But when we got there, the pastors were walking out of the church, the last tones of the organ played. One single Sunday a year, the Berlin church has its service at 10. Only once a year, on the first advent Sunday. There we were, disappointedly looking at the people going out. Who saved the day? The church music director. He greeted us and we told him that we apparently had completely missed the 10-am-info online. „How about we go back and I play one song for you so you get into the advent mood?“ he offered. No sooner said than done – he sat down at the organ and played ”Bereden vĂ€g” (“Prepare the Royal Highway”), one of our absolute favorites, at our request. Blessed be he who came in the name of the Lord.