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.

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 cafĂ©s, 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 julsÄngarna.

– Jag har redan börjat!

Det finns inget normalt lÀge med dig nÀr det gÀller sÄng. Det Àr inte det hÀr, nu börjar vi sakta kicka igÄng julstÀmningen. Det Àr fullt ös medvetslös direkt!

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

Helen is a very active pensioner

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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 Ă€r en mycket aktiv pensionĂ€r!” 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 cafĂ©s?”) 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!

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photo: Martin Heiberg/Copenhagenmedia

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Och du Àr lite snobbish för att du kommer frÄn Hamburg.

– URSÄKTA?!

SÀger du med ett litet dolt leende, lite nöjd.

Inte en enda kĂ€ft har svarat pĂ„ mitt mejl! – Det lĂ„ter lite grovt Ă€ven för en svensk, men för en Helen…!

Tyskar som ska vara lite frĂ€cka…alltsĂ„, jag bara smĂ€lter ihop i en liten hög och sĂ€ger nej, ni Ă€r sĂ„ löjliga!

Under the spell

Borgen

Photo: dr.dk

I am a little worried my co-workers will soon forbid me to talk about it. I am not even sure when it started but it hasn’t been long. It has led to very unexpected consequences in my behavior.

Are you wondering what I am talking about? Borgen, of course. I’ve briefly mentioned the Danish series before in a post, trying downplay my addiction by naming it in a parenthesis, but let’s face it: I am under the Danish spell. I’ve watched 30 episodes in two weeks and told everyone in my environment that they have to start watching. I try to explain to my co-workers that they need to see it so we can talk about it in order to strengthen our team relationship. I have started to love the Danish language and most uncommon for me started re-watching the entire show just two days after seeing the last episode. I never watch things twice. 

Borgen is the story about Birgitte Nyborg Christensen who unexpectedly becomes Denmark’s first female prime minister. The series won numerous prizes and has been sold to tons of countries; Britain is even showing it in Danish. (In Germany, of course, we dubbed it horribly and showed it on the intellectual channel arte…) Critics have reviewed Borgen as part of the Scandinavian Cultural Imperialism that had several brilliant Scandi-series being exported to the world (and I suppose the fact that Swede Max Martin writes every hit song in the pop music world adds to the Cultural Imperialism.)

Played by the wonderful Sidse Babett Knudsen, Prime Minister Birgitte is an idealistic  woman who “always does the right thing” as my co-worker (the one who’s watched it) put it. She is married to a man any modern woman would want to be married to (when she gains weight and can’t fit into her dress, he tells her the dry cleaner shrunk it and buys her a new in a bigger size, handing it to her conveniently when she is super stressed about a TV apperance, and of course he wraps the Christmas presents for the kids). Principled Birgitte is faced with all the typical issues of politics during her term (from dictator state visits to prostitution laws) and maneuvers the Danish coalition politics gracefully but not stress-free. PĂ„ köpet you get stunning views of Copenhagen and rooms all styled in Danish design.

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Even though I certainly am interested in politics, the actual appeal for me is the interplay between statsministern and the media. Birgitte has a skilled spin doctor who helps her to handle the media and the media is portrayed by his ex-girlfriend Katrine (played by superb Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) who is an ambitious reporter. It’s all about how to communicate what and when, what not to say and how to avoid scandal. The storyline is actually so real that in my second Borgen week, when our German vice chancellor claimed on the news that he had signed a bill that had been changed afterwards, I was briefly confused about what was reality and what was Borgen.

“Borgen makes it clear that even a virtuous politician can’t be as decent as she’d like. Birgitte backs proposals she doesn’t quite believe in to enact bigger policies that she does. She works with ministers she’d like to fire but keeps on because it would cost her too much to can them”, NPR writes. “And, she’s loyal to her old friends … until she has to sacrifice them when they’ve become a liability.  Borgen reminds us what it’s easy to forget in these polarized times — that no political decision is ever pure or simple, and that it’s childish to think otherwise”. A study conducted by the Copenhagen Business School even found that the series had stimulated political debate in Denmark and combatted Danish voter apathy.
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If you’ve watched House of Cards or The West Wing and think you’ve seen it all, trust me that you haven’t. One of the things I love about Borgen is that it is not American. It’s like a breeze of fresh air to be occupied with something else than dysfunctional Washington. Also: Female role models everywhere, hello! If you have the faintest trust in my judgement, you should really watch Borgen. (To add to your entertainment, you can afterwards read this very nice comment by The Guardian about each episode.)