Where I’ve been

 

You know something is wrong with your blogging routines when your mother says, “You were in Stockholm? I didn’t even know you went to Sweden!”

So, yes – I was in Stockholm for work and our event started at 8 a.m. which meant I had to leave the house before 7. Marita was legitimately impressed with me managing to be up and running at what is a super early time for me otherwise. But – if you start early you can do so much! By mid-afternoon, I had checked off the event and four meetings off my list!

Social media had informed the world that I was in the Capital of Scandinavia which prompted a former co-worker to write to me. “I assume you are already completely overbooked?”, she asked and when I replied I actually was free for several hours on more than one day, I think she secretly thought some alien had taken possession of what used to be Helen. Keeping a somewhat freer schedule (compared to other people it might still have been cramped) was nice though because it gave space to this kind of spontaneity.

Dance like a mother

What also enabled spontaneity was the fact that my host parents, eeh, friends Marita and Fredrik are the most hospitable people on earth. Not only do I always get to live there and feel very much at home (actually, I kind of want to move to their house so I can always have that life), I also get to have spontaneous parties in their apartment. Saturday saw the finals of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish pre-selection for Eurovision which is a huge deal in the country. I asked if we could watch it. Sure! And maybe could William join? Certainly! Now Paul is free, too, and would like to come. That’s not a problem! Evelina can only meet during the evening, how about we invite her too? Go ahead, the more, the merrier! Umm, she’d have to bring her dog. We love dogs! 

You get the idea.

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The songs had rather interesting lyrics: “I’m gonna dance like a mother, you hear my party voice” or “I feel your love coming at me like a train on a track”.

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Long-ice-skating

I don’t even remember how I came up with the idea that I want to test winter sports. Maybe it was something I read about how when you live in Sweden, you have to embrace the winter instead of hating the cold. Or maybe I was worried I wouldn’t get to tag along the next time my friends would plan a ski holiday. In any case, I suggested to go to a friluftsgård and rent equipment to do cross country skiing. Only that when we got there, they didn’t have that kind of skis and instead offered us långfärdskridskor. Living up to my new-found adventuresomeness, I was all like, “Let’s try it!” Långfärdskridskor are a kind of ice skates, just that their blades are longer than normal. Let’s just say this: Marita and Julia were not only much better than me, they were also very supportive. (“Well done, Helen! Look at you, going two metres all by yourself! Hooray!”)

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It does not look like it but I was actually a bit better at sledding than at ice skating

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The muscle soreness from one hour on the ice was, to say the very least, intense for two days

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There is an association for people who are extra sensitive to electricity in Sweden. In the church at the ski place, they arrange technology-free concerts and lunches. All electricity is turned off and phones may not be taken inside.

Shopping

I was very surprised to find that there was close to nothing worth buying this time in the Swedish stores. Some patterns and cuts were made for people either much more or much less boheme than me (depending on the store and item).

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Second-hand stores in Stockholm. Look like noble boutiques in Germany.

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I strolled through Fältöversten which used to be my local mall. They’ve redone it beautifully and now they put it light therapy lamps and are counting down to equinox,

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“Now we’re counting the days until they are longer than the nights”

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Small wooden Easter witches to hang up

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Something I noticed with great interest was the popping up of very nice restaurants in transit. At the airport, at the central station – bars and restaurants you’d actually want to hang out at.

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Not a bar in transit, instead the Stockholm Brunch Club Bianca took me to, adding, “This place is very instagramable!”

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Thirty

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I think my doctor jinxed it. Last Monday when I came to see her for some lab result, she said, “You look splendid!” Less than 48 hours later, I was in bed with a terrible cold, not looking splendid at all anymore.

If you wondered how I spent my 30th birthday, you now know: I sneezed, I coughed, I endured a headache, and yes, I felt a bit sorry for myself. Thankfully, there were factors that alleviated the misery. Like the unexpected flower delivery from Sweden, the fact that A had taken the day off and spent it with me, or the enormous rose bouquet my choir gave me.

The next days I spent actively working on improving my health. I know that a cold takes seven to ten days regardless of what you do (I mean, I’ve had like 4 colds in three months now so I am an experienced sufferer). But I still made ginger shots (without alcohol, obviously), drank hot lemon tea and took a hot bath with eukalyptus. “Until Saturday, I will stick to home remedies”, I informed A. “Because for the weekend, I need to be able to have another level of escalation, a chemical weapon”. He looked at me as if my cold was Kim Jong Un.

But I had to be on my feet on Saturday. Because on Saturday, the party that I had been planning for 18 months would finally happen. The celebration that I had hashtagged #statthochzeit, which means instead of a wedding. The festivity that would bring together nearly 100 guests from all over Europe. The birthday bash that should mark my entering my glorious 30s.

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A helped me get these amazing balloons

It was quite a happening, and I could be part of it thanks to Aspirin Complex. My friends Malin, Michelle, Ingrid and Axel who arrived a day before helped me with all the preparations, blowing up 80 balloons, ordering me to rest and save my energy for the night, transporting rum in a shopping cart and (this was a surprise to me) installing a photo booth.

And then it all happened. You would think as a professional event manager I would be able to visualize 100 people but I kept being amazed when more and more and more guests poured into the party location I had rented. So many friends from all walks of life, my parents, my stepsister, a bunch of “my” juniors, my former intern and my entire maternal family. People I had not seen for years, friends I just made a year ago, and companions that have known me since I was small.

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This is my mom and her sisters. They rewrote the lyrics to “Thank you for the music” and performed a song for and about me. Don’t you wish you had a family like mine?

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These two held a wonderful speech

The brain is, I learned, designed to be able to take in groups of 20 people. Maybe that is why I remember what people said to me but not who said it. Perhaps it’s why I kept feeling I was falling short of actually socializing with everyone who had come all the way to Dizzel for me. But that’s okay because the guests told me afterwards that they had great conversations with each other and how great the music was (thanks to always-amazing DJ Ingrid who never let the dance floor get empty even for just a minute). Upon leaving, more than one requested that I’d have another party like this when I turn 35. (Spoiler alert: I will need to recover from this until I am 50.)

The morning after, we had brunch with those who had travelled from outside of Dizzel. Despite two hours of sleep and a cold, I made it through brunch and through cleaning up the party place (thanks to the help of A, Ingrid and my cousin Felix), but at 6 p.m. I fell asleep.

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So. many. presents. And that’s actually not even all of them. Thank you!

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I let go of my age by releasing these balloons into the sky. Deep symbolism, eh?

 

Upstairs, downstairs

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“I’ll have to get the blog post done on the train home or I’ll never get around to it”, I told my friend Joraine with whom I spent last weekend in Luxembourg. Well, I did not post anything because already on the trip, my health deterioated (again! still?) and by the time I got home (spoiler alert: you have to take regional trains almost all the way, four hours, to Luxembourg, that, with their commuter train interior, are not beneficial to anyone’s health), I was so sick. The next day the doctor told me I wasn’t allowed to go to work all week in order to spare the co-workers my virus. So my days have been a blur of sleep and going to the pharmacy, starting to clear up somewhat by now – I actually know what day of the week it is today, but I am still coughing like a crazy person.

What can I tell you about Luxembourg?

It’s small. Like, really small. I somehow thought the country’s 600 000 inhabitants mostly lived in the capital, but no. We actually were looking for people all the time and only in the main square we found some while the other streets were deserted at almost all times. Looking for Luxembourgers is generally a difficult game because there are almost none – the population is made up of three thirds foreigners.

It’s high and low. I have never seen a city like this, there’s a upper town and a lower town and I don’t mean this in a socioeconomic way. The difference in altitude is impressive when looking at the whole city and navigating is tricky because Google can’t tell if you are upstairs or downstairs, showing your little blue circle on the same spot even if you just walked 15 minutes uphill. A better way to get up and down is the mountain railway which brings us to:

It has amazing public transportation. I would say I have had a mild interest in public transit even before I met Emily but it is surely due to her enthusiasm that I also got rather excited about getting around in Luxembourg. We used all public transport accessible including the brand new tram with its futuristic light design and a different melody played to announce each stop (however, no written information about the stops was to be found), the elevator, and the mountain railway which we got to use all alone late at night.

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It likes to strictly forbid things. It seems that the dominant language in the country is French. However, when we got to the hotel, I noticed that the prohibition sign was in German. I guess they pick their languages best suited to the desired effect. In Luxembourg, many things are forbidden, judging by the many signs I saw, and it’s not only prohibited, it’s always strictly forbidden. It’s strictly forbidden to play soccer in the yard or not to sort the trash. Lux and Order!

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The national dish? Yeah, not that great.

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Luxembourg is the seat of many EU institutions but it really does not feel as EU as Brussels

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In the MUDAM, the Modern Art Museum

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Maybe my favorite exhibit at the MUDAM, a moving carousel

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Yes, they also exhibit potatoes.

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Kate was in Luxembourg on a visit recently and since she seemed to enjoy the Luxembourg City Museum, we gave it a go too.

Hanner!

“Did you grow?” “Has your voice gotten higher?” “You’re like a totally different person?!”

Those were the things my friend Hanna uttered yesterday when she came to Düsseldorf to see me after more than five years. We met when studying in Bremen and instantly connected over the fact that people mispronounced our names (calling her Hanner and me Helln). Then, I moved to Sweden and she moved to Korea. Yesterday, she came all the way to see me: after a 20+ hour-journey, she got on a train through half of Germany to see me for one night. That’s what I call friendship committment!

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We went to Gill’s, the bar where I am kind of a regular (let’s say he still recognizes me though it’s been a while)

She experienced what Ingrid calls a dizzelpointment: After a few minutes in downtown, she asked me, “Shouldn’t Düsseldorf be, ehm, like prettier?” We all wish that but instead of taking her to nice tourist spots, I took her home and served her German Abendbrot, something that only an expat German like Hanna can fully appreciate. It’s difficult to catch up on 5 years in a few hours, but we did our best and had a wonderful night. When she had to leave at 7 a.m. this morning, I was so sad to already see her go. But I myself had to get going too because today I spent in Frankfurt, hosting one of my four biggest annual events.

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This also happened this week: my extra co-worker got a hairdresser to come during lunch hours and she cut half of the office’s hair, including mine.

P.S.: It is Nobel Week! As a Nobel nerd, I loved when someone at my event asked during lunch if the laureate for literature had been announced. And what an announcement: ever since I read “The Remains of the Day” in class 12 years ago, I’ve said that it won’t take too long until Kazuo Ishiguro will be awarded the Nobel Prize. I won my bet today – and I still know the first sentence of that novel by heart.

Immortalizing summer

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Today, I saw a sign in a gallery for tasteless photo art that said, “Immortalizing summer”. I couldn’t really understand how it related to the photos but it occured to me that my attempt to immortalize my lovely Swedish summer was kind of washed-up the moment I landed and started, almost compulsively, working off my to do lists again.

Actually, my trip back already began, let’s say, interestingly. I was planning to check in online and add a bag only to find that I was no longer booked on the 12-am-flight with airberlin but on the 9-am-flight with Eurowings. After 52 minutes in their waiting loop, they told me I should have gotten an email about that. Well, I didn’t.

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On my last night, Stockholm saw a lovely rainbow. The end of the rainbow is in Farsta. I am not surprised because that’s where my dear Marita lives.

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This last weekend I also attended my friends’ wedding in Örebro. So much love!

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They had lots of beautiful decorations around the theme music but this one was my favorite. We all had different parts of the song “Vilar glad i din famn” (I rest happily in your embrace) around our cutlery. Internet tells me it was written for Crown Princess Victoria’s wedding. No wonder I like it so much. “I stand holding hands with you / Darkness falls and you shine so […] Where you wander / my yearning wants to live […] Close to you I want to be / calm with your warm soul […] I look for you / I call out your name everywhere/ until I rest happily in your embrace”.

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Malin, Axel, Kristina and I were the Uppsala-choir-friends attending. Malin took a photo of Axel of me that looks as if I had just inaugurated something at Axel’s extremely successful company/super important state authority/very historic family castle.

And now that’s all behind me, the remote lakes, the best friends, the shopping sprees. Work made its demands on me the second I walked in, and it’s a lot these days, but it’s also the place where I was greeted so enthusiastically this morning that it almost makes up for not being Stockhome anymore.

“Jag har faktiskt semester!”

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“Jag har faktiskt semester”, I am actually on vacation, is my signature line since Michelle and I arrived på landet, at the countryside, two days ago. When I am walking slow, when I am sleeping in, when we buy lots of Swedish strawberries, I half-ironically inform that I am on vacation and have every right to do so. Michelle laughs understandingly and picks some more blueberries for me in the forest surrounding us.

We are not that far from town, but far enough to relax. I am not good at vacationing but I found that being in a cabin on the countryside is one good way to unwind. Yesterday night, Malin joined us and now complete for two days, we spent our time eating, lying in the sun, cycling to the Baltic Sea with one on the rear rack and hardly functioning brakes, an audacious adventure on the gravel roads. Sometimes a deer walks by our cabin that lies only some hundreds meters from a secluded lake. Bathing is the main point on our to-do-list, especially Michelle is eager to do morgondopp, lunchdopp and kvällsdopp, three daily bathing opportunities. “It looks good today”, she says about the bathing schedule, because we spent most of the day at the beach. Reading light literature, a seagull in the sky, the sun beaming down, the glittering blue of the Baltic Sea within eyeshot, I heard the delighted voices of children following the familiar sound of the ice cream truck, and I didn’t take off my bathing suit all day.

Becoming German

 

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Quite a few of my friends and acquaintances have changed nationality these past years. Some time ago, many European countries changed the rules about naturalization and no longer make you choose whether you want to be French or Finnish,  Swedish or Spanish, Danish or Dutch, Belgian or Bulgarian. This is an interesting psychological issue because I have never met anyone so far that would readily have relinquished their original citizenship despite the fact that it wouldn’t actually disadvantage them in their lives that they live in another country than their home state anyway. Dual citizenship is now the thing to have, it’s like the prolongation of Erasmus in a way. Just like I’ve almost never been to a wedding where two people from the same country married each other is an effect of the internationalization efforts of the EU so is the taking on new passports.

Now it was time for my friend Anthony to take that step. Coming from Britian almost ten years ago, he has integrated in Germany ideally. He married a German girl, he learned German up to level C2, he keeps a large map of Germany in his study, he recycles his garbage like a pro and he hands in his taxes on January 1st. I told him that if he, in the process of applying for German citizenship, needed someone to testify that he was a very suitable to become German, I’d gladly be called to the stand.

With Brexit upon us, he applied to become German last summer and it almost took a year for them to grant him citizenship. Hello, what happened to German efficiency? Now finally, however, he is one of us. A national, allowed to vote! Last Monday we went out to celebrate this milestone. I made him a card honoring this special occasion that was heavily inspired by the card I received years ago from my dear friend Malin when I acquired my personnummer in Stockholm. I also threw a big party then, something I am still trying to convince Anthony to do, too. In the meantime we celebrated with burgers at my new favorite bar. They charge 18 euros for a burger, which we noticed afterwards. Talk about a worthy celebration!

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This is what a German looks like, I guess!