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!”

 

Only tomten is awake

This morning, I had to get up earlier than usual because we had a work Christmas breakfast with our members. Yes, that is part of the job and no, it’s not simply sitting and eating. But it was nice of course. As the Swedish tradition goes, we ate julgröt, Christmas Porridge, and we placed one almond in it. In Denmark and Southern Sweden, finding the almond means you get a present, a custom we abode by. (In the rest of Sweden, finding the almond means you get married next year which also was true for the guest who found the almond.)

To heighten the Christmas mood even more, my co-worker recited, or well, read up, “Tomten är vaken”. I really like that poem that I first encountered back in the day as an illustrated children’s version. ‘Viktor Rydberg’s poem, originally published in Ny Illustrerad Tidning in 1881, is, to most Swedes, above all a Christmas poem, preferably to be read aloud on Christmas Eve, even though Christmas is never explicitly mentioned in the text. However, cozy and idyllic though this lyrical piece may seem, it is actually a philosophical poem, dealing with the eternal metaphysical questions of the origin, purpose and meaning of human existence. Where do they come from, and where do they go? – this is the enigma that the little tomte (“brownie” or “hob”) ponders as he performs his nightly duties on a secluded farm, where everybody but himself is fast asleep’ (says Stephan Larsen).

”Midvinternattens köld är hård,
stjärnorna gnistra och glimma.
Alla sova i enslig gård
djupt under midnattstimma.
Månen vandrar sin tysta ban,
snön lyser vit på fur och gran,
snön lyser vit på taken.
Endast tomten är vaken.

Last night, Linnea came to visit me and as I opened the door to the staircase, she had not turned on the light, instead she emerged from the dark, illuminated by the candle in her hand, with a glitter wreath on her head and a red ribbon around her waist – luciaing for me! She even had lussekatter with her and frankly, they were by far the best I have eaten this year. (I don’t say that because she reads this.)

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Din lägenhet är så instagramable!

(om kontorskollegorna) De är så högljudda. Tror du att vi är lika högljudda? – Jag tror att vi är värre. Och med vi menar jag dig.

Du står lite i vägen. – Kollega (som inte kan svenska): Tack!

In the bleak midwinter

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Lucia 2013, Hedvig Eleonora Church

It was a mistake not to travel for Sweden for December 13. I have gravely underestimated my Lucia-needs. Or I have very much overestimated Düsseldorf’s ability to deliver a proper Lucia celebration. Exile, thy name is Dizzel.

Because it is not enough to bake saffron buns at home, to listen to Adolf Fredriks musikklasser on Spotify and to light candles. I need that unique experience of getting up way too early, walking through the snow (or the snöslask in Stockholm rather), all in the grim darkness that surrounds one most hours of the day. To sit in an equally dark church at 7 a.m., in the bleak midwinter, and to hear the bell-like voices of a teenage choir dressed in innocent white, illuminating the church, and the world, with their flickering candles.

We don’t do Lucia at work. Yet. Because I think I’ve decided that this cannot go on. We’re supposed to be the Swedish stronghold in town after all, so next year, då gäller det! Even if I have to do it myself.

Meanwhile, my friend who does exchange in Stockholm right now, was first reluctant to get up at the crack of dawn to go to church.When I heard that last night, I leaned on her to attend the early morning Lucia celebration at “my” church. (Totally not my church, only go there for Lucia.) She had to give a presentation in class that morning, she explained. She’d go to a concert in the evening, she assured me. “No”, I insisted in writing. “Don’t spoil this for yourself. You have to go. You won’t regret it”, I urged her. In my desperation, I sent her the links to my description of my Lucia experiences from three years ago. It worked. She went. This morning at 8 am, I got a text, saying, “Thanks. You were right”.

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“Always listen to your Stockholm Ambassador”. “Helen, you know I do”.

Laminate and Lucia

There is the quiet before the storm and in my case, there is also the slump after the storm. Since the grand event in the end of November, it feels like much of my energy is hibernating.

Some things, of course, still put me in high gear. If you are an attentive reader, you know we have entered Lucia times and so I didn’t need to be told twice that the Lucias at Ikea in Dortmund needed additional Lucias with solid “Så mörk är natten“-experience.

One of the major misconceptions I have had about the region here is that every city is only ten minutes from the next. It is true, of course, that when you drive through from Dortmund to Düsseldorf, a lot of well-known large cities come up every few minutes Bochum Gelsenkirchen Duisburg Essen and between those it’s only a few minutes but if you go the entire route, it actually takes an hour. It only takes half an hour to Cologne and it’s about the same distance from there to Bonn, but that means it is in total one hour from here to Bonn. I can either explain this with ‘Maths has never been my strong side’ or with the fact that when going to Hamburg for four hours, the way to Dortmund always seems very short with one hour.

Lucia

I also attended the Lucia celebrations in Düsseldorf, passively.

However, even after understanding that a kilometre is still a kilometre even in the Ruhr/Rhein area, I did not let the Lucias down. In a train (that musically could not be compared to the Hamburg Lucias) we treaded through the furniture store, inducing delighted looks on children’s faces. The adults, I think, believed us to be some kind of elaborate flash mob with an unclear political message. (At least I hope no one mistook the stjärngossar [star boys] for Kukluxclan members.)

I received this wonderful baked advent calender from AnnaIMG_1467

My move is drawing nearer, too. The weekend after this I will already be unpacking boxes. Unbelievable, isn’t it! In Germany, finding an apartment to rent is not as hard as in, say, Stockholm. But there is another peculiartiy about the rental market: most times, kitchens do not come with the apartment. It is perfectly normal to bring your own kitchen and in my case even your own floor. I have grey PVC flooring in 80 percent of the apartment, giving off the charm of a school room in the 1970s. So I went all in SIW  Mode (Strong Independent Woman Mode) and went to the hardware store with my friend Jonna. I have hated those building stores since childhood and it does not help that I have to pay the stuff myself now. I am rather free of DIY knowledge but the friendly shop assistants helped us pick out what we needed. You think you’d only buy some laminate but really you also need skirting boards and other stuff that I cannot even translate but which costs a fortune. Jonna and I then rented a car, heaved the twelve laminate packages into it and unloaded everything at my new home. Let me tell you, laminate is very heavy. Especially when you have twelve packages.

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So much fun at at the Baumarkt. Not.

 

 

The Lucia hangover

Living on the edge.

Living on the edge.

When I woke up this morning after sleeping very long, I felt like I had been out all night drinking heavily. Everything hurt, especially my head. I later spoke to my friend Malin who had also been doing Lucia all day yesterday and she confirmed that she had exactly the same symptoms. So I guess Lucia hangover is a real thing!

We performed two more concerts today. Everyone was there, the most unexpected people: the Sweden-interested journalist I met on Twitter, my former colleague from Stockholm, a lady from Skåne I met a few weeks ago.

Before and in between the concerts, we sit in the basement eating cold pizza and clementines. It is quite a funny sight, 25 ladies in white dresses and a few star-boys with pizza cartons. During the last concert, I decided it’s time to get a little crazy and sang without any text. By now, I know all the lyrics by heart anyway to the extent that I am sometimes not even mentally present but the words just float out of my mouth.

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Now recovering from Lucia with lussekatter the church gave us. And the lit Christmas tree. (yes, real candles) with it new ornament – also from church – made of pasta.

So now it’s over for this year and while I am relieved (I love Lucia but there is only so many times you can sing the same songs without losing the feeling. Except for Koppången. Never losing the feeling for “men jag bär de gamla orden i mitt hjärta som förut”), it is also a weird empty feeling when you have focused to much enery on one thing that is then over. Let’s just hope tomorrow’s Lucia hangover is not as bad as today’s since it’s a Monday…;-)

My unintended Lucia solo

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Geez, I did not think that singing three Lucia concerts would feel like running a marathon. (Not that I have ever run a marathon but I imagine one is completely exhausted after that as well.) This morning, after welcoming my parents who were visiting and running hectic errands, I commenced my Lucia  day at IKEA where we sang for the customers. We got to go “behind the scences” which was very interesting and wanted me to work at IKEA even more. Our Lucia train went through the all of the store, including singing in the elevator, and our pastor said his step counter reported 4,1 kilometres walking. Singing in harmony, remembering countless lyrics and walking is something that can fully occupy you, I promise. The most wonderful thing about this performance was the facial expressions of the audience. Because people had not expected an advent celebration and were maybe even unfamiliar with the traditions, they first looked at us in astonishment which quickly turned into almost childlike enchantment. Priceless! They paused their shopping for a moment, sat down on the IKEA furniture or some even followed us through the house.

At IKEA

At IKEA

I skipped two of five concerts because my parents and aunt were visiting and also because it is – as I know now – rather difficult for the voice to sing five hours. We managed to through both evening concerts well and added a little twist to our last concert’s Staffansvisa. To honor our choir leader, we made up an additional verse. When we had finished the song, we restarted – much to the surprise of the choir leader – singing a verse about how well we sound with her as a choir leader and that we’re thankful for that. She seemed very pleased.

When I came down after the concert to talk to ‘my’ people, an unknown old lady approached me and said, “That song that you and the other girl sang as solos, that was so nice, what is the name of that song?” And I was like, “What do you mean, solo? That was supposed to be all of the altos singing…” The song was Koppången which some of my fellow altos find very hard to memorize lyric-wise and as layman choir habit goes, you just sing more restrained when you are unsure, so I guess that is why the lady thought it was only one other alto and me singing an intended solo, haha…At least she liked it!

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After one concert last night and three today, there will be two more concerts tomorrow. Really, all I’ve been doing this weekend is singing Lucia. (And I had the pleasure of dining in the wonderful Stockholmesque restaurant of the Scandic Hotel with my Chamber of Commerce group.) But as we sing in Staffansvisa, “Just once, one time a year”.

Let heaven and nature sing

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Tomorrow is the first day of our big concert series! The choir has sung several smaller concerts on the Christmas Market and for selected companies (we have two to come, IKEA and Scandic – you see, Swedes stick together) and we have toured to Hannover and Lübeck to sing there. But tomorrow night sees the premiere of the big Hamburg concerts which means singing the full programme seven times (as our choir leader reminded us, “Will you be able to sing this three times in a row without losing your voice or spirit?”). During the last two weeks, we had to learn five more songs which is quite a challenge. At least I have listened to it on repeat on Spotify so that I know the text. Since those four songs (“Bereden väg för Herran”, “Gläns över sjö och strand”, “Stilla natt”, “Koppången”, “Jul, jul, strålande jul”) are particularily beautiful, it is worth rehearsing them over and over again though.

Of course it’s the whole thing is bit jittery, it is like back in the day when the curtain opened for our Shakespeare plays in high school. Because I have been advertising Lucia so much, a lot of people I know are coming. Like my parents. My aunts. Ten people from the Chamber of Commerce. My colleagues. And my boss. Yes, we better shape up and deliver a good performance…!