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

 

 

Diamonds are a Swede’s best friend

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Mingling and networking is one main part of the whole thing

Last night, I learned about diamonds. Not the ones you expect in the rings you get for engagements and giving birth (1950s women stereotype, anyone?) – the ones that cut cars. Yes, industry uses diamonds to cut e.g. aluminium for cars because the carbide material is so solid it is the best tool for cutting. We held an event at a Swedish company that is the market leader for these things. The fascinating part was that we all are constantly using their products or rather the results of their products: whether you shave (they cut the razor blade strip steel), use your iPhone (they milled the phone’s shell), change your baby’s diapers (they cut the material that became the nappy) or  if you travel through the tunnel to England (they also make tools and those helped build the tunnel).

I also always enjoy people talking about something they really are interested in, especially when it is an uncommon passion like the passion for milling heads. Our guide would proudly go on and on about the smallest drill rod (0,1 mm calibre) and the 4000 milling heads it takes to cut out a plane. Diamonds sure are a Swede’s  best friend, considering that the company employs nearly 11,000 Swedes (and 50,000 worldwide!)

The only bad part was that on the way home, I happened to be on the tram that just did not move for 30 minutes. It literally took 40 minutes to travel 2 kilometres so I got home very late. This morning, I popped into the office frantically working off my to-do-list or rather transferring everything onto my computer that I would otherwise access online because I wanted to work on the train to Hamburg. Here’s a piece of free advice to all train companies: you would totally increase your attractiveness if you had internet on the train.

Despite the crying toddlers and loud ladies talking about their spa treatments in Swabian dialect on the train (because we all want to know in detail how the foot massage went), four hours passed rapidly with me pecking my keyboard. The deadline for our magazine is today and that is one of the tasks I very willingly dedicate my time to. Also, it’s great when you’re suddenly in Hamburg! I was greeted by Ingrid and we hung out at our old favorite café. Now I’ve just sent the last work emails from her kitchen and I’ll be off to Haha Hamm [Hamm is the name of the part of town) to see Ingrid perform stand up comedy. Sounds like a good Friday night, doesn’t it?

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Hamburg has the best stickers

Five things I (and you) didn’t know about the Last German Kaiser

Last night was my first night without Wilhelm. It was an unaccustomed feeling indeed. Every night the past weeks, I would take up the three-kilogram-book and continue to learn about the last German emperor. Sadly, my assistant co-worker who had borrowed the book for me from the library had now renewed the loan three times and now I had to give it back because you cannot keep it longer than that. I haven’t gotten to the end of Wilhelm’s fascinating life but I followed him into young adulthood at least. And I learned lots of things I didn’t know (and while those evoke sympathy for Wilhelm, I still believe he was a catastrophe as Kaiser.)

  1. Wilhelm was sure that Jesus had whiskers.

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As a child, Wilhelm had a dispute with his younger sister Charlotte about faith. His governess witnessed a discussion between the two about which of them had God in their heart. Wilhelm quickly decided that “if you have God in your heart, I will have Jesus Christ in mine”. The governess tried to explain the idea of trinity to the Kaiser-to-be and God’s power to be in all children’s heart at the same time. Wilhelm refuted the concept of Jesus and God being the same by stating, “Oh non, Mademoiselle, Jésus et Dieu n’est pas la mème chose. Jesus Christ has some whiskers, I saw it in my book, and I am sure der liebe Gott has no whiskers”. (Wilhelm was educated trilingually, obviously, with a German dad, an English mom and a French governess.)

2. He made up interesting nicknames for his relatives (including his super-famous grandma)

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The Duck

The relationship with England is one of the most intriguing parts in Wilhelm’s biography. He was fond of his British grandmother, legendary Queen Victoria. Wilhelm loved his grandma but once she had died, he started an arms race against England resulting in the First World War.

He had an ambivalent bond with his mother, British Princess Royal Victoria, called Vicky. Yeah, everyone had the same name back then which is why it was so important to obtain a nice nickname. Wilhelm’s sister Charlotte became “Ditta” for life because Wilhelm as a toddler tried to call her “dear sister”. While this nickname makes sense, he called everyone else a “pickle” and his grandmother, Empress of India, Queen of the Commonwealth, Legend of Britian, “a duck”.

3. His mother wrote awful letters to him.

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As mentioned above, the relationship with is mother was to say the least difficult. Vicky was ashamed of her son who had a disabled arm due to complications during his birth and at the same time she was determined to raise a perfect liberal emperor of Germany. (Spoiler alert: That did not go well. At all.)

Her letters to her son reflect the tough mother-son ties: Vicky writes downright cruel messages like “I fear you three oldest [siblings] will be very stupid at drawing or do you consider that an insult?” interspersed with lectures on how to formulate letters: “I cannot give you any compliment for your handwriting, dear boy, both your hand and your orthography are bad, there is not one word without a mistake or a missing letter” or “Why do you write ‘Aunt Alexis’? That is quite a major mistake, her name is Alexandrine and the abbreviation is Alex”. She even corrected his letters and sent them back and never tired of commenting, often almost hostile, on what he had written. “Also, you begin with letters with ‘Dear Mama’ which is find rather cold – don’t you think you could find a word that sounds more loving? Then I believe you should sign your letters with respect to your parents, you write ‘Your loving son’ which would be appropriate for a sibling”. Give me a break, really. And she expected more than one letter a week and wondered why his letters became more scarce the older he got.

4. He was forced to put his arm into a dead rabbit. Every day.

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Wilhelm’s arm was crippled from day one of his life. Believing that the right treatment could cure the little body, doctors subjected baby Wilhelm to futile treatments ranging from having a freshly slaughtered hare wrapped around his arm, to electrotherapy treatment and metal restraints to keep his posture upright. Of course it did not work and possibly the only result was a traumatized tormented boy.

5. Bonn used to be the finest university

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Bonn University is indeed today one of the 100 best university in the world

If you ask the average German about a renowed German university, they might say: Heidelberg. Göttingen. Marburg. Maybe Freiburg, Munich, Tübingen. They will not think of Bonn of all places. But apparently, the West German provincial village (population 50,000 back then) was a hotspot for young nobility. All the gentry sons were sent there and also the rich bourgeousie studied in Bonn. Wilhelm immediately joined a fraternity, something that was not well-established until the late 19th century in Germany. Only when the Prussian Prince became a frat boy, the student league florurished!

6. (extra one that I didn’t learn from the biography): The Hamburg Dammtor Train Station was built solely for the Kaiser

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A popular story in Hamburg is that  Wilhelm II., as an adult, decided to visit Hamburg and wanted to arrive by train from Berlin. When he heard that the central station was constructed in a way that you take the staris from the tracks up to the street level, he rejected the idea stating that an Emperor “does not crawl up to his people”. The Hamburgers, obviously desperate for this visit, started to build what is today the Dammtor, a big station almost next to the central one, but with the tracks above ground level and stairs leading down to the people. Even today it is still used to receive important guests and still bears the byname “Emperor Station”.

 

Default Weather

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Rain in Düsseldorf / photo: myheimat.de

Before I moved to Düsseldorf, I decided to spurn public transportation and bike everywhere (“The town is small enough anyway”). Much to my own fascination, I’ve kept my promise and have not learned the tram and bus connections or accepted the ridiculous price level of the RheinBahn. If I had known the rain statistics before, I think I would not have made that decision.

The default weather in Düsseldorf is grey and rainy, at least between October and June. When it rains in winter, it doesn’t simply rain, it’s freezing rain slashing against the brave cyclist’s cold face. It doesn’t rain all day, of course, but you can be 90 % sure it rains between 8 and 10 when people go to work and 16 and 20 when people go home. While I early on began doubting the reasons of the earliest Dizzel settlers to build a town just here, my co-workers who’ve had a softer spot for the capital of North-Rhine-Westphalia only recently got fed up with the endless wetness from the sky. They even invented a new term, “regengestresst” (rain stressed), describing the stress you feel when you have to run through the rain to minimize exposure, to remember umbrellas or to get really warm under your rain coat.

As it proved it’s not just me, we decided this week to do a quick research.

Don’t you love it when actual statistics confirm an inkling you had? Like when I thought it rains so much more in Hamburg than it does in Stockholm, and when I contradicted the local here who claimed that “But if you’re from Hamburg, you should be used to much more rain!” Let me tell you this: in one year, Düsseldorf has 186 days with rain. That’s more days with rain than without in a year. Hamburg has 133, so almost two months less rainy days. Stockholm, then, has 100 days of total annual precipitation. And yes, that includes snow.

I bought rain pants recently. Here in Düsseldorf, I feel they have a high ROI.