Helen hanging out in churches

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The Swedish Church, despite often being critized, seems to combine several characteristics that very much appeal to me and make me feel at home. That’s why I hang out in Swedish churches whenever I get the chance. The fact that, during July and August, most churches offer “music on a summer evening” only adds to the attraction that drew me to Brännkyrka Church, Blidö Church, Norröra Chapel, Norrtälje Church, Djurö Church. I got to swish my offerings, experience my friend Henrik playing live, introduce my mother to Evert Taube on a tribute evening, listen to an uncommon pastor, find a forgotten leaflet from a wedding the day before with a wonderful song, and just last night, I listened to a harp concert, reminiscing about my 6th grade music teacher because the harp played “The Carnival of the Animals”, that she introduced us to.

Hanging out in churches – very worth it.

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The most simple House of God I visited was Norröra’s chapel

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In a Swedish church, it is not uncommon to have a children’s corner

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Also, you can donate money by Swish (an app that lets you text money)

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Blidö Church

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My friend Henrik who played a concert at Brännkyrka church where I showed up as a surprise fan/groupie

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Brännkyrka Church

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Djurö Church

Church

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I am baptized and raised a Catholic, found a spiritual home in the Swedish-Lutheran church and attend Protestant service in Germany. I suppose I qualify as multiconfessional! What was definitely missing on my list though was going to a real gospel service. So this Sunday, Emily and I went to St Augustine. I have never been in the minority with my whiteness – but this church was definitely an African American parish. Such an interesting experience! The church was crowded with people, young and old, and the gospel choir, although small, and the musicians really got the atmosphere Europeans try to recreate in their gospel choirs going. During the general intercessions, they prayed for the homeless and explicitly named two men which I thought was so nice. They also prayed for „our country in these times of fear and insecurity, especially for immigrants“.

The candles at the Saint Mary statue had the national colors / Apparently the booklet for mass is new few months, this one is for November to April 2017

In Germany and Sweden, churches get money from taxes and fees, but here they ask for donations. We had to listen to a CD after the sermon in which their cardinal made a long speech about why you should donate. Apparently this is a yearly thing called The Cardinal’s Appeal and on our seats, we had fancy bilingual (English and Spanish) envelopes in which you could put your donation. „Please acknowledge God’s blessing in your life with a contribution of 1000 dollars or more“, it said, „Donors who give at this level become part of the Appeal’s Circle of Hope“. Luckily, you could split that in 10 monthly payments and then it actually isn’t that much more than church tax.

The entire service was almost two hours and at the end they did what I remember from our parish in Michigan when I lived there and which I always have found particularily lovely: they asked those who were there the first time to stand up. We stood up and people welcomed us, gave us an envelope with information about the church and the priest said, „If you’re looking for a church home, we invite you to be part of our parish“.

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 Skåne 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 väg” (“Prepare the Royal Highway”), one of our absolute favorites, at our request. Blessed be he who came in the name of the Lord.

 

 

Close, but no cigar

The funny thing is that even though Copenhagen tried to make a bad impression on me with the wallet theft, it still hasn’t suceeded to become a real turn off to me. And it even rained all the time!

My reaction to Denmark is very peculiar. My brain is constantly trying to reconcile the fact that I can read most things and I can pick up some, but not really. It’s like my head is having a crisis meeting all the time, “Why don’t we understand this? It looks almost like Swedish!” That’s both slightly irritating and intriguing, the entire Danish experience for me is a close-to-the-mark-happening. It’s Scandinavian in its cultural practices but has its own eccentricities (hygge!), the weather is almost like in Sweden, some shop chains are the same, some food is similar but not quite, they say hei, which is almost hej, but at the same not at all the same pronounciation. Close, but no cigar.

Of course that spurs my ambition to improve my Danish knowledge and grasp of their culture. But really, I get so confused being with a German-Swedish-English crowd as my friends that I can’t even get my four words, hello, thank you, excuse me, goodbye in order in Danish but keep falling into Swedish. When I tried to read signs, it just sounded like I was making fun of Danish.

Copenhagen is somehow like a mixture of Stockholm and Amsterdam to me, maybe a tiny little bit less pretty but the people speaking Danish around oneself make up for it. (I love listening to Danish.) Something that I noticed particularily was that in all the cafés, restaurants and shops we were in, they played really nice music that exactly catered to my taste, a rather rare phenomenon. We stayed in a hostel that had the highly euphemistic name “Sleep in Heaven” and offered the charms of a prison cell. (Their bathrooms were quite okay, though.) After their beds, my bed at home felt like a five-star-hotel.

Here’s a collection of interesting things I observed in the Danish capital:

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In one of the castles, they sell a card with lots of animals and their queen.

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The Danish chain Tiger/TGR has changed its name to Flying Tiger and still has great ads. This one says, “Misunderstandings”.

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Danes want their kids smart. So they sell educational books only, like this one about “The invisible world of microbes”

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This store is called “Normal” and advertises with a person that refuses to shop there because he is unique. Let’s not question their marketing team.

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If the Danish kids get tired of microbes, they can read about the housefly Astrid instead.

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Maybe the Danes’ way to keep in shape is painting ceramic cupcakes instead of eating real cupcakes.

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Danish interior design shops are heaven. Even their wrapping paper is worldclass.

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On public transport, Copenhagen does not simply say, “Please be considerate to other travellers”. Instead, they make lots of, sometimes cryptic, statements. This one with the books reads, “Support the smallest one when things get shaky”. Another one said something along the lines of “Ping pong is fun”.

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Because you always need a door painting warning you of colds.

Of course I also had to go to Borgen! You can hardly have missed my obsession with this brilliant TV show that is all about what happens in Christiansborg, short Borgen, the center of Danish politics. We took a short walk there on the way to the Black Diamond.

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PRESS RELEASE – On October 22, the government of Denmark signed an agreement with the Farmers Union of Sweden to grant further support to the dairy farming industry.

The agreement states that the Danish government will from now on sponsor the Swedish dairy industry in order to lessen the financial burden on the Swedish state. Danish Prime Minister Helen and Farmer Union Leader Malin signed the agreement at Christiansborg.

World leaders welcomed the news from Christiansborg, Denmark. “We appreciate the Nordics solving their issues without European financial support”, Jean-Marie Ducart, spokesman of the EU parliament said. “Today’s signing marks a significant development in the two Öresund nations’ collaborative efforts.”

Yes, we had some fun playing politics! The next fun, or rather impressive, stop was the so-called Black Diamond. It’s the Royal Library of Denmark and they chose to house it in a magnificent new building, the Black Diamond. Talk about appreciating literature!

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I was also recommended to look at Copenhagen’s Notre Dame, their cathedral. Man, these Danes sure have fancy churches! Their benches were luxuriously padded and they had small speakers at every seat. Some benches were even in communicative setting, facing each other instead of facing the altar.

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Opposite the church were lots of to-die-for interior design stores. I was recently asked if I was “one of those interior design girls” and I guess I am? But who does not get excited when a store sells super pretty small boxes, adorable stickers or original clocks and cozy plaids?

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Michelle and I taking a break after lots of walking

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Copenhagen’s famous postcard motif

076-2 On Sunday, we went to a Escape Room Game. I’ve always wanted to try that and it was smart that I tried it with my friends because I would never have gotten out of that room again. The game was a lesson for me in how bad I am at solving puzzles. But it was still quite fun! You get locked in a room and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles and escape within a set time limit. The room usually consists of a locked door, objects to manipulate, and hidden clues or secret compartments. The players must use the objects to interact with other items in the room to reveal a way to escape. In our case, we were in a monk’s room and the monk had disappeared. It was in a basement and I was busy being scared by the noises while my friends elegantly solved one mystery after the other. I was impressed! Once we had gotten out (it took us 57,5 minutes and the guide said we were not bad), our minds were set on finding codes and keys to open locks as you can see on the photo above where we inspect the love locks at Nyhavn.073-2

On Sunday morning, we had some time and while the others went to see the Little Mermaid (Tabea: “I’ve heard so much about how disappointingly small it is so I actually had such low expectations that I did not get disappointed!”), I took to the Swedish Church. You have to take the few opportunities you get! It was very interesting because I’ve only attended mass in Swedish Churches in Germany and Sweden and it was a bit different here in Denmark. It was much more traditional and Catholic, but at the same time the pastor (the oldest female pastor I’ve encountered) had a Lion-King-simile in her sermon and explicitly welcomed the noisy children (“The children may be heard, we will manage that.”).

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One of Denmark’s legendary kings was Christian IV. He is called Christian the Conqueror in Denmark and Christian the Tyrant in Sweden. Go figure. He also put “C4” on everything he built, like this tower. It reminded me of CR7.

Closing comment: I wouldn’t mind if one of my friends moved to Copenhagen and I had to regularily visit.

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Snart kommer julsångarna.

– Jag har redan börjat!

Det finns inget normalt läge med dig när det gäller sång. Det är inte det här, nu börjar vi sakta kicka igång julstämningen. Det är fullt ös medvetslös direkt!

Egentligen är vi som ett band ihop. Du är jukeboxen och jag är dansaren!

I’m a Northern Light

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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.

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Visited home and the cat

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Hamburg, where people keep life buoys outside their houses

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

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Flying visit to wonderful Bremen

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8 minutes from the central station….

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…meeting Annika

A nostalgic goodbye

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Most of my friends in Stockholm work so it makes more sense for me to be there during weekends than weekdays. So why on earth did I board a Saturday 8 a.m. flight back to Germany then? Because of the pastor!

When I moved to Hamburg, things were difficult at first. The Swedish Church became my refuge and their pastor took me in when I couldn’t find an apartment, he listened to me when I was down and he inspired me with his sermons. I on my part volunteered as a cafe girl and Christmas market sales woman, took out the church’s garbage cans and attended mass almost every Sunday. Long story short, this pastor has been the first one I really had a connection with, this church has been the first that felt like a home.

Today was his last day and I was not going to miss that even if it meant inconvenience to the travel plans. Ingrid and I did not want to left our pastor go without a proper goodbye – so we made a song. Actually, my mom and I made the song, a new version of “A student from Uppsala” (since he is from there) and Ingrid and I taped us singing it in her kitchen. We had just one take for it due to time restraints, let me assure you that’s difficult if you haven’t had time to rehearse either. But we’re both experienced choir singers so we managed!

The goodbye Sunday was nostalgic, but very nice, the church was packed. After church, we went for a walk in the harbor and some tourist photos, checked out the graduates’ exhibition at the art school which was shockingly bad, and hung out by the Alster lake. Ah, the Alster lake – so beautiful! But today my favorite cardigan fell into it. Luckily I have long legs and managed to recover it quickly. It does not smell nice now though…

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Hilarious catchphrase to recruit a Swedish teacher

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Such Hamburg – very water

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many harbor- many wind

 

 

“Are you Helen?”

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This weekend, Anna visited me. We partially grew up together and we still love being around each other. I was made her patron at her confirmation this year and my gift was that we would go to the Taizé night in Cologne together. Before that, we spent a day in sunny Dizzeldorf, trying to complete a city rally. The questions were tough, the solution word was ridiculously easy (“Welcome to Düsseldorf”, lame). We learned that Düsseldorf had the high-rise office building in all of Germany, built 1922, and discovered a very picturesque little square in the middle of town, well hidden behind two churches.

As we were standing there, trying to figure out where to go next to find out the next solution, two men stopped. “Helen? Are you Helen?”, one of them said, removing his sunglasses. My brain immediately started chattering. Was this someone from choir? Maybe from work? Have I met him at some newcomers event? Was this someone I knew from out of Düsseldorf? “Ralf”, he said and strechted out his hand. It dawned on me. Of course! This was my mother’s cousin, his mother had told me he lived here and she took my details then to inform him. I apparently have predisposition to meet formerly unknown relatives in the most unexpected places (see here). But how on earth did this friendly fellow recognize me when walking by given the fact that he has not seen me for, like, 25 years? “You resemble your aunt”. That’s not the worst.

Anna and I also went up the Rhine Tower overlooking town

Anna and I also went up the Rhine Tower overlooking town

The Taizé Night was impressive and meditative

The Taizé Night was impressive and meditative