What you get

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Photo: kulturhusetstadsteatern.se

#Vafanfårjag is this week’s most popular hashtag in Sweden. Meaning “what the hell do I get”, it refers to a quote by Leif Östling, chairman of Sweden’s largest business federation. Östling was among those mentioned in the Paradise Papers and when interviewed about tax evasion, he critized the Swedish tax system, asking, “If you pay 20-30 million kronor a year – what the hell do I get for the money?” Swedes are now twittering away about benefits of the tax-financed welfare state (of course intertwined with many critical tweets as well) and I have an item to add to the list: public film funding.

Tonight, I went to see a screening of “Sami Blood”, a film nominated for the LUX Prize. Since 2007, the award is given to a European film each year by the European Parliament. The objective of the LUX Prize is to facilitate the diffusion of European films in the union. The winning film is subtitled in all 23 official EU languages, making it available to all Europeans. Last year, the German movie “Toni Erdmann” won the prize. This year, I place all my bets on “Sami Blood” which I have just seen.

The film is a touching portrayal of 14-year-old Elle Marja, a Sámi girl, in the 1930s. Race biology was a big thing in Sweden then and the Sámi were heavily discriminated against. The amazingly headstrong Elle Marja tries to break with her family and heritage to become someone else, a Swede. Impressively showing the pain of cutting off your culture and home, the lead actress, as well as the supporting actors, deliver an exceptional performance. A nuanced story with lots of mood shifts in intense pictures lets the viewer partake in the struggle of Sweden’s indigenous people.

Adding to the appeal for me was that part of the movie is set in the stunning nature of Northern Sweden, the other part in Uppsala, my beautiful student town, where I can identify a place in a scene by only seeing a wall.

Oh, and I got to see it for free. I assume the screening was financed with tax money.

 

 

 

192 hours

In Germany, when you can’t afford to travel during your vacation (or don’t want to, like my late Grandpa), you spend your holiday in Balkonia. What sounds like a previously undiscovered Balkan state is actually just your balcony. I am lucky to rent an apartment that has a balcony and despite the fact that I’ve planned to travel abroad as well, I want to enjoy my extra room which is eight metres long (yay!) and one meter wide (nay). Last weekend, I thought I’d get it all ready for spring, clean it, plant flowers and acquire furniture. Well, in the end I cleaned it, figured out it was not at all facing south but east and took an ugly but functional bench with me that I found abandoned in the street. (Balcony furniture is unaffordable.)

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Now that the compass app told me my balcony faces east, it suddenly make sense that the sun usually wakes me.

The local art house cinemas (only meaning they show films that have not been made in Hollywood) had a Nordic Film Week last week that was opened by the Swedish film “En man som heter Ove”. I generally support these cinemas but if they give you free meatballs and wine before the movie, I am even happier to attend. The film was actually quite good, better than the average Swedish Sommaren-med-Göran-comedy. What I maybe liked most was the unproblematized existence of a non-ethnic Swede: Parvaneh was just there, spoke flawless Swedish and dealt with normal problems. The movie is out in Germany now, after taking Swedish audiences by storm, and if you want to see something that is not shallow but not so heart-wrenching you cannot sleep at night (unlike “Room” which is very good but hard to watch), you can go and see Ove.

 

I also went to look at a location for our junior organisation’s jubilee. I was lucky with that one, I’d heard of the location in connection to an event some years ago and took the chance to contact them. The place is right in the middle of Düsseldorf, but once you step onto their land, you feel like you’ve come to some oasis in the 1890s. I liked it so much I started to consider getting married there (but then I remembered by archipelago wedding plans.) The place has a park behind it in which you find interesting art, fountains with integrated rainbows and benches that have legs that look like twigs.

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German employees pay a lot of money each month to their health insurance. I think I might be one of the people who has a good return on investment there. I had my aching pinky x-rayed and am sent to the MRI this week for reasons I won’t go into here as “part of the answer would only unsettle you”, as we say in Germany.

I also went to the dentist who broke the news to me that I apparently heavily grind my teeth at night. The dentist made a good impression on me otherwise but I still find their motto a bit too, ehm, screaming.

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On the weekend, we were blessed with spring weather and I went to the People’s Park. A popular meeting point at the entrance is “the clocks”, an artwork I actually find very cool. After wandering through the park, we arrived at the petting zoo where some incredibly charming goats and a big pig called Doris lived.

I also saw a barefoot person in the local supermarkt, encountered a van owned by the family company “Low Butt” (Niedergesäss) several times and learned that something called trout pear exists. Now you know what I did in the last 192 hours. What did you do?

What’s Welcome in German?

Photo: Pier53

Yesterday night, I made a film director very happy. At least that is what he told me and a couple of hundred people. But let me start from the beginning.

In the afternoon, Tina, known from Come Dine with Me, asked if I wanted to come along and watch the new documentary about refugees in Germany and how Germans react to them. I had heard about the movie and would not mind seeing it but ah, going home and then go out again? Cycling all the way to Abaton when one could spend the evening on the sofa? Geez, I told myself, this has got to end. I cannot live in a metropolis where I have the chance to see the smallest documentaries on big screens and still always choose to watch Let’s Dance on my couch. I already vowed before to bring more inspiration into my life so I’d better live up to my own ideas.

Because I had an important phone call to make, I was late. When I stepped into the movie theater, they were just dimming the lights and a staff member told me, “There is only one seat left, in the front row there”. I had to walk past literally everyone and found my seat. Then I sat for 90 minutes and saw Larisa and Malik and Rrko and Herr Prahm and Frau Oelker and Herr Freudewald struggling with their respective situations. Larisa was longing for a home, Herr Prahm felt threatened by the 53 refugees that were to be placed in his 400-people-village. I got to meet Ingeborg and Eveline, two 80-year-old ladies that impressed me deeply by caring so lovingly for the refugee children. I got to see how authorities are trying to make refugees feel welcome and locals felt unsafe. I learned what it is like when you arrive and what kinds of adequate but simple lodgings you are placed in. The thought of my comfortable sofa made me feel rather lucky.

After the film, there was a Q&A with the director. He opened the conversation with saying how happy he was to see a movie theater filled to the last seat. “When we were about to start, there was only one ticket that had not been sold. And then someone came in, that last person, and I was so glad.” So that’s how I made a film director happy last night.

The movie “Willkommen auf Deutsch” (Welcome in German) is playing in selected cinemas now.

Girl Cousin Gathering

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My (extended) family is large. Both my parents have seven siblings and my stepdad has four. So it comes as no surprise that I have very many cousins but a funny detail is that I have only three female cousins on my maternal side. We are 14 grandchildren and only four girls. For the occasion of International Women’s Day, I gathered the other three in Hamburg for a girl cousin get together.
I am the oldest of the cousins (now you realize why I always act so incredibly responsible, right?). This weekend, I hosted a 23-year-old, an eleven-year-old and a nine-year-old. The two younger ones entered my apartment with their suitcases (who said you need less than a suitcase for one night?) to then inform me that they had pressing shopping needs. “I need shoe strings”, my cousin and godchild said. “They have to be really long”. Shoes seemed to be a theme because the youngest explained that she needed shoe polish “for my ma and pa”.
These items were so important that my young guests could only partly pay attention to my explanations about the city we were discovering. When we finally had acquired the items, concentration could shift back to the city hall, the old Elbe tunnel and a lot of Smart cars and yellow cars. Whenever they saw one, they patted everyone on the closest body part. It must be some kind of game I did not know because “you don’t even have a TV, how do you know anything?” Despite my older cousin’s and my efforts to draw the younger ones’ attention to alternative means of information (books, newspapers, internet), our cousins shook their heads at our ignorance.
Our main activity on Saturday was a tour in The Dialogue in the Dark which is an exhibition where you get to see nothing. Literally nothing because everything is pitch black dark and if I say that I mean entirely dark. For 90 minutes, you are blind. A sight-impaired guide leads you through the exhibition that shows typical everyday life situations like crossing the street, going to a bar or shopping (fruits and vegetables, not shoestrings though). Dialogue in the Dark is a most wonderful project, it is both fun and educational and it appeals to the senses in a very special way. When you come to Hamburg, this is where you should go.

 

Dialogue in the Dark

Dialogue in the Dark

The evening was spent with cooking spaghetti Bolognese (we actually let the little ones handle the hot frying pan) and laisser-faire bed times (“I am not tired”). In the morning, my two younger cousins wanted to wake me earlier than we had decided but their wake up strategies are not really cutting edge yet. It was easy to sleep through the first two hours of clapping and whispering, “Heleeeeeen”.
Sunday brought splendid weather in Hamburg so we decided to go to the park. In order to go to the park, you need to take the circle line U3. I live on U3 but Ingrid and I still occasionally fight about which direction to go in the circle. “Helen and U3, a never ending story”, she usually sighs. Because I wanted to equip my younger cousins with public transportation competence, we explained the circle plan to them and let them choose where we would get on and get off. In the course of this complicated endeavor, I started talking to a conductor who had just ended his shift. When we got off the train, my younger cousins gave me a strange look. “Do you always talk to random people?” Well, actually, yes. In the park, we climbed (okay, took the elevator) to the top of the planetarium and looked all over Hamburg. That’s something I can recommend doing, too, and it’s free.
Because there are no school holidays right now, my cousins had to leave on Sunday afternoon. I spent Sunday night watching “Still Alice” and yes, that is yet another thing I highly recommend. There were several things that appealed to me in the movie, not only Julianne Moore’s performance. I also enjoyed the portrayal of an intellectual women who was able to articulate herself so well (that is before her Alzheimer’s) and a couple that appeared so loving. Then, of course, it was not really realistic that Alice is a super accomplished Columbia professor with three children, the oldest in her late twenties, when Alice herself is only 50. Or maybe I am just not ambitious enough but it does not quite sound like the academic reality? That aside, it is a movie worth watching and brings attention to a disease that usually does not really take place in popular media. Go see it.

Why I am in love with Katniss

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Tonight was a night I had anticipated for, well to be honest, a year. Ever since the credits of “The Hunger Games 2” rolled through Saga biografen in Stockholm, I was waiting for part three. Evelina and I decided to go see it together and since Evelina needs to take steps to integrate, I presented her with the task of finding a theater that shows the original, English version and booking tickets. Let’s put it like this: She suceeded in booking tickets, but was late to pick them up (“I just do not know how to ride the metro here, Helen!”) and they were tickets for the German version. One of the worst thing with Germany is definitely that they dub all movies and thus destroy many jokes, intelligent puns and atmosphere. If someone can find out which party I have to vote for to change this problem, please let me know.

We did however get two good seats in the cinema that showed the German version. I tried to ignore the fact that they translated “Mockingjay” to Spotttölpel which sounds extremely wrong because a Tölpel in my German ears is a person who is dumb and dolitsh because that is how we use the word. (And yes, I do know that jay translates to Tölpel as well.)

I hate to hear Katniss associated with stupidity since I really love what she embodies in The Hunger Games: enragement, a strong sense of justice, stubbornness, family devotion. The fact that Jennifer Lawrence plays her makes it only better. The film was, once again, brilliantly exciting. Something that struck me more than in the books and the films before was the portrayal of women (see again: Katniss’ characteristics). I was very pleased to see how this movie did not only pass the Bechdel-test with flying colors, it excelled at showing women who can be everything: president, rebellion figurehead, director. At the same time, there were stil men around, still powerful positions, but there was a natural balance. Everyone could be everything. Women did not even need to be good,  pleasant or pretty. Ah, the freedom of choice! Geena Davis should be thrilled.

Throughout the whole movie, I was constantly reminded of the French Revolution (probably because it is the revolution I know best), Syria, Gaza, Iran, and if you are into history, politics, propaganda and freedom movements, you should really watch Mockingjay. (It is also enough if you are into pathos. You’ll love “Join the Mockingjay. Join the fight.”)