Sweden? Norway? Hamburg!

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Last year, I decided not to spend Lucia without a real Lucia concert again and when I don’t make it to Sweden, the closest is – of course – Hamburg. “It’s basically Southern Sweden”, he commented when we went by all these stores, Indiska, Clas Ohlson, Sosterne Grene (yeah, I know that’s Danish). Because this weekend, it was once again time for #showhimthenorth.

When you go north from Dizzeldorf, you often have to take a Swiss train. They are older than the German ICE-trains but I since last Friday I know their unbeatable competitve advantage: their train restaurant! The interior is different, round tables, real tablecloths, the prices are directly converted from Swiss francs to euros, and the food is amazingly good. I had a risotto that was delicious. From now on, I will always have to eat onboard this train.

When you were sick for a week and couldn’t work and “just quickly” want to send a few emails at midnight upon arrival at the hotel…

We had booked a hotel in my former neighborhood (because nostalgia) and when we got there at midnight, it was full of Norwegians. Seconds after we closed our door, someone pounded on it and when I opened, a middle-aged, tipsy Norwegian couple looked at me, staggered. “This is where we live”, I told them in Swedish which, astonishingly, did not surprise them. Instead, they happily told me that the reason for the Norwegian crowd was the women’s handball world cup, “and we’re in the finals! Norway is in the final!” I wished them good luck and they rewarded that with being noisy in the hallways late at night. Oh, well.

Hamburg treated us well. Sunshine and cinnamon buns, Lucia concert and dinner with friends and family, stationery shopping and “Bereden väg” in the Sunday service (that he willingly accompanied me to). Now I am en route to Berlin where I will be working the next two days. Hamburg – Berlin is one of the fastest train connections I know, so I just had to seize to opportunity. Now let’s just see if the train internet is good enough to upload this post…

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Hamburg also has the funniest bulletins: this one says someone has lost their “sweet little bird of paradise that I danced for for 13 years, last year I stopped and now my bird has flown away”. Asking for for help finding it again, “I promise I will never imprison my birdie in a cage again!” (In German, bird of paradise mostly means a flamboyant person so I don’t even know how to interpret this notice, maybe it’s a story of broken love.)

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Here, someone is looking for his lost camera, saying, the finder will be rewarded “obviously!”

 

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.

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?

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

Almost famous

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Last week, I got a Büchersendung, that’s a package sent at book rate. I do order stuff but I was certain not to have ordered a book because I always buy them at my local book store now to support the Dizzel booksellers.

When I opened the package and found the title to be “Lost heart – found dog”, I was even more sure that I’d never order a book like that and it only gradually dawned on me that this was a complimentary copy. I am featured in this book!

In 2014, freshly arrived to Hamburg, I was about to become homeless and when all normal attempts to find housing proved futile, my friend Ingrid and I designed a bulletin that we put all over town. This led to all kinds of things, emails from romantically interested men, some apartment offers and a rather crazy lady who started texting me all the time.

A while ago, a journalist contacted me and told me she was writing a book about funny notices she’s found all over Germany and if I’d be up for telling her my story. Of course I was. So half a year ago, I told her my story and gave her all kinds of material and last week, I got the result. I don’t want to be mean, but I was not impressed. Not only did the book have spelling mistakes (really?!), it also simply copied everything instead of refining it, and worst of all, she wrote that I’d lived in Sweden “because like many Germans, Helen is besotted with Sweden’s Bullerbü, elks, Villa Villekulla, all this nature, so cute and peaceful”.

Okay, what?! I have always thought Bullerbü was way too uneventful, I don’t even like elks (I prefer reindeer), Villa Villekulla is definitely too colorful for true Swedish style, and the last time I spoke to the media about Sweden, it was about burning cars, so much for peacefulness. Talk about being misunderstood! If anyone falls victim to the thought of me being besotted with Sweden, I’d like to refer you to my co-workers and friends who, I believe, can attest my very differentiated, possibly even critical, perspective on Sweden. One that has much more to do with the public health system, national branding and the Swedish intelligentsia than with elks…

 

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