Europe Day

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Every street looked like this, every street.

When I was in New York City, I was very surprised how I didn’t feel it was very crowded. I had expected the city to overwhelm me with its many inhabitants and tourists, to give me some kind of claustrophobia with all the people and skyscrapers. It didn’t at all and after being in downtown Düsseldorf a sunny Saturday today, I start realizing that maybe it’s because this town has made me used to crowded spaces and people everywhere. I don’t even know where all these people come from in Düsseldorf, it feels like all of the Netherlands come to visit and every single local citizen also takes out to the street of the Old Town. It’s literally more crowded than New York City – how is that even possible?!

But I will admit, if it had been 20 % less people, this would have been a perfect day. Suddenly, unexpectedly, spring returned today and bathed the cobblestone streets in sunshine, bringing out the lush trees in the alleys. I didn’t have time to sit down at one of the crowded restaurants until late in the afternoon though because I had agreed to help with promoting Sweden at the annual Europe Day. I borrowed a folkdräkt from a friend, put on my Tre kronor charm Andrea once gave me and was ready to sell dozens of cinnamon buns.

It was an interesting experience: a Dutch young man, probably part of a stag night, stopped and sang for me, an old lady told me her story of interrailing to Narvik as a young girl, another lady asked me why Crown Princess Victoria wasn’t there (“She’s so nice, she’s so incredibly nice!”), a Frenchman who had lived on Söder tried his Swedish on me and people asked us, somewhat accusatory, why we were not all blondes.

It was not that easy to sell the buns because when Europe gets together, there is serious competition: Belgian waffles, Portuguese natas, British fish ‘n’ chips, Spanish churros. Whatever you say tomorrow, Marine, I’ll always love being United in Diversity.

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The Isle of Hope and Tears

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Whenever I don’t write about things right away, it becomes difficult to capture the impressions afterwards. With work and carnival and life getting on, it feels like it’s been much longer than two weeks since I set foot on German soil again.

But because this trip was so glorious, I will still try to recollect the experience, in pictures at least. Let’s get started with the first of my Throwback Thursdays: USA!

The Isle of Hope and Isle of Tears – that’s what they called Ellis Island where all immigrants were registered between 1892 and 1954. When you visit it today,  you are first taken to Liberty Island to see what they saw: the statue, Liberty Enlightening the World. I can only imagine what it must have been like to catch sight of this symbol when coming from oppression, poverty, hunger and persecution and it fills me with awe looking up at Lady Liberty. As we, actually both children of immigrants to our respective countries, walked around Liberty Island in brilliant sunshine, we learned, however, that she’s only been there since 1886 which means “my” emigrants from Sweden, namely Kristina/Utvandrarna, would not even have seen her.

“Freedom means the opportunity to be what you never thought you could be.” Daniel J. Boorstin, quote on a banner next to the ferry to Liberty Island

The next stop is Ellis Island itself. It is both the very well done exhibition at Ellis Island as well as the site itself that teaches the visitor about the history and that makes it possibly to grasp it, at least a little, emotionally, too. There, you get to go into the very registration hall that the immigrants sat in. Just think of all the people who waited there, people who built the United States, whose children shaped American culture. Irving Berlin. Cary Grant. The Trapp Family. They all went through the registration procedure there, proving their health and literacy and showing they had 25 dollars to enter the U.S.. Most people were admitted and many had relatives waiting for them at the gate. The officials, we learned, called it “The Kissing Gate” on the “Isle of Hope”. But some immigrants were rejected and for them Ellis Island became the “Isle of Tears”: in the audio guide, a Russian-American lady told the story of her whole family being granted entry except for their grandma who was sent back to Russia alone. She never saw her again.

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I was particularily impressed with how grand the registration building was.

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O’er the land of the free and the home of brave

 

Commute de luxe

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I can not overemphasize how great it was to have Emily as a guide. Not only has she lived in the Big Apple for 7 years, she also knows many fun things you would probably miss if TripAdvisor was your source of information. Like when we went to Grand Central Station, which is very grand indeed, Emily put me in one corner and walked to the other side of the part of the building and talked in a normal voice that despite being way too far away for me to be audible, was perfectly clear as if she was standing next to me. The reason were the special tiles that were used in the rounded ceiling that carry sound. Terrific!

She also showed me the very futuristic Oculus, the new commuter station at the World Trade Center. Now I really want to be a New Jersey commuter to enjoy those marble staircases every day. (I have learned, though, that New Yorkers look down on suburban New Jersey.) I will admit that my very first thought coming into the Oculus was not, as the architect intended, that it as a bird being released from a child’s hand, but rather that The Hunger Games were filmed there.

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Emily’s voice travelling to me

Little Sweden

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There’s Chinatown, there’s Little Italy and according to me there is even Little Sweden in New York. Well, tiny Sweden.

Last Sunday, Emily and I continued our Church Tourism by attending service at the Swedish Church of New York. I’m kind of ‘collecting’ Swedish Churches abroad and it is so interesting to see how they operate in different countries, what kind of houses they have, how many people go there. The New York church has two pastors which is more than any other church I’ve been to so far has had. They also serve Philadelphia and D.C. though so I guess that makes sense. We were lucky to be there when the Örnsköldsvik youth orchestra was visiting, heightening the musical experience by a lot. So nice!

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New York is also home to the Scandinavia House, the Nordic Center in America, the leading center for Nordic culture in the United States, that offers a wide range of programs. I had been reading scholarly research back in grad school about the House. Of course I wanted to assess with my own eyes if I could follow the scholar’s arguments on the architecture. However, our stay there was rather brief as those eyes decided to provide me with only a blurred version of the site and my entire body completely – and rather suddenly – „crapped out“ on me as Emily phrased it, resulting in a breakdown, an opportunity for Emily to show her excellent skills as a nurse, and my confinement to bed for 18 hours. It was awful, I don’t recommend it, especially because I missed out on meeting Emily’s friend who had come to see us. There is much better things to do in NYC than passing out in your hotel room. In the course of these events, we also accidentally left my scarf and favorite cardigan at the Scandinavia House and had to make two trips back to finally retrieve both items – it was almost like getting them new, that’s how glad I was!

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Swedish Church right opposite H&M – coincidence?

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Scandinavia House’s Children Area

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The Scandishop and restaurant Smorgåschef

From PA to NYC

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No, this is not New York City. This is South Philadelphia.

Greeting from Manhattan! I have arrived to the Big Apple and if Heathrow made me feel small, I am now tiny. Because Emily had to work and gets in late, I had had to master the first challenges alone: getting to the hotel (text to Emily: “Exactly how aggressively must one signal to the cab drivers?”), checkin (text to Emily: “They want to put 900 dollars on my card, I don’t even think that’s possible”) and finding a grocery store (text to Emily: “What do you mean, Trader Joe’s closes at 10, I thought stores in the US are open all the time!”)

I suceeded in all three endeavors and I tried very hard to look confident. After my wallet was stolen in Copenhagen, I am now paranoid that if I appear like a tourist, mean people will snatch my belongings. To blend in, I already jaywalked twice going to the store and back. By now I have really learned that Americans in that regard are a little like Italians: traffic lights and rules are recommendations, often you follow them, and many times you do not. It’s a free country. It’s the freeest country!

Pretending to be local worked so well for me in D.C. that already on my first day someone approached me asking if I work at the African American museum and on my birthday, three tourists asked me to take their photo in front of “the White House”. Unfortunately, they were standing in front of the building that houses the Department of Treasury and I could totally not bring myself to telling them that. Maybe they were testing me anyway, I mean the White House is WHITE. The Treasury is not white.

On my second day in Philadelphia, I went to the American Swedish Museum. I am immensly intruiged with migration (historical, not current) at least since I read Vilhelm Moberg’s “Emigrants” and so I absolutely wanted to learn more about the first Swedish settlers who came to the U.S. as early as 1638. The museum was not very, as Emily says, “transit accessible” which is why much of my time was spent waiting for the bus, riding the bus and walking from the bus stop. The American Swedish museum was, however, rather impressive for being dedicated to such a niche subject and even has special exhibitions, this time on Scandinavian spirits.

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In the “SkÃ¥l” exhibition, they teach you how to properly clink glasses in Sweden. Trust me, it’s something you wanna know how to do.

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I enjoyed the Golden Map Room (click to enlarge the panorama). I first thought someone who had never been to Sweden painted it because Härnosand is next to Stockholm but understood later that its painted from the perspective of standing in the Baltic Sea.

I also learned that the Swedish who travelled to the New World on ships with funny names like “Katt”, cat, and brought many textibles with them, especially bed linens,  had very friendly relations with the Native Americans. They learned their language and assisted William Penn in land negotiations. The Swedish first arrived with Peter Minuit who was appointed to establish the Swedish colony. That man was actually from Wesel, a small town close to Düsseldorf. He is also the man who bought Manhattan from the Natives! I assume in the 1600s, he was Your Man in America.

After a good two hours my attention span was severly reduced because I was so hungry. As I didn’t know that the museum would be in the middle of nowhere, I had presumed to find a nice Pret a manger on the way for breakfast, but no. I ended up at a very American diner. At first I thought that’d be a great real American experience. When the food came, I realized it was not. Seriously, why does everything need to be drowned in cheese?

Starving German in Swedish American Museum / Death by cheese

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My last stop was the University of Pennsylvania, an ivy league school. I checked out their bookstore (great!) and realized the Danes and their spreading of hygge is getting out of control. They have clerarly copied this kind of fika nation branding from Sweden.

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Just outside the central station in Philly, there are swings!