Beyond Nils Holgersson

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I am sitting in a clean, cushioned chair that obviously is part of an interior design concept and around me bell-like female voices sing about the importance of freedom. Did you guess where I am? Yes, at a Swedish university (hint: the cushioned concept chair) at my friend Malin’s choir practice. Her choir is due to perform at the welcome ceremony for the new students tomorrow morning and there is only one other girl in her voice who can be there so she did her duty and attends the practice. And I get to blog to a living testimonial to the choir culture in Sweden.

Yesterday, after more than seven hours of traveling, I made it to Karlstad where Malin lives nowadays. I am actually in Sweden for work, for a conference on Wednesday in Stockholm, but why flew up several times if you can combine trips. Karlstad is the capital of VÀrmland and the largest city in the province with 91,000 inhabitants. I have only been in VÀrmland three times in my life but I have had great times at VÀrmlands nation in Uppsala when I studied so I hold the province in high regard. It is also home to some famous Swedes, among them the founder of Ericsson, singers Zarah Leander and Monica Zetterlund, poets Nils Ferlin and Gustaf Fröding, and I believe most known: the grande dame of Swedish literature, Selma Lagerlöf.

Today, Malin took me to Lagerlöf’s estate MĂ„rbacka for a guided tour. As a preparation, I had even started reading the only book by Lagerlöf that I own, “The Emperor of Portugal”. On the tour of the house we were the only people under 60 but I attributed this to the fact that it was after all a Monday. The estate was impressive – and modern, as she had such things as internal telephone lines installed in the house. Selma Lagerlöf, I learned, was an overall rather avantgarde woman. She took a loan to study to become a teacher when her father denied her an education, she cut her hair super short in 1891 she was the first woman to be awared a Nobel Prize (and the first Swede!), the first woman to be elected as a member of the Swedish Academy that awards the prize, she became a very active political influencer (as we would call it today), fighting for women’s right and suffrage. And she dated a woman.

And here we thought she was just that elementary teacher who wrote Nils Holgersson…I am putting some more Lagerlöf classics on my to-read-list.

 

MĂ„rbacka has lots of apple trees and we tasted a tiny apple that was surprisingly delicious.

 

Selma Lagerlöf had a thing for peacocks. There was a sign with a story about how as a child, her leg was paralyzed and meeting a peacock healed her. Peacocks are still around and, as the sign informed me, are called “Sara and Pharao, as tradition demands”. I had no idea that there was a peacock naming tradition but I am glad I know now in case I ever get myself one.

 

 

 

 

What else I did

You might have thought I got lost at the paradise island. But I haven’t, I’ve just been busy bouncing around Stockholm. What did I do after A went back to Germany? Let’s see:

I visited a friend on a remote island

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Just looked at my scared face…

And when I say remote, I mean remote. First, I travelled 2 hours and 7 minutes by public transport, changing three times. I actually was the only person on the last bus which seemed to delight the bus drivers who dropped me off at a stop that seemed like a place humans hadn’t touched. But they have – and one human picked me up, we drove on gravel paths for ten more minutes and then I was handed a life vest. That’s how remote the island was where my friend has her summer house. No electricity, no water. Just paradiasic nature and calm.

I looked for the blood moon and saw a photo exhibit

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The evening I returned from the island was the night of the lunar eclipse. Together with a former fellow student from my Uppsala times, I walked all through Stockholm’s Old Town to see the so called Blood Moon. We just couldn’t find it! I started doubting myself (I mean who doesn’t find the moon in the sky?!), but later read it was too cloudy in Stockholm.

On Friday, Tabea came from the (for non-Swedish-speakers) unpronouncable town of Skövde that is now her home and we went to Fotografiska together to see the impressive exhibiting “Turning the tide”. Using dramatic and awe-inspiring footage, the exhibit captures endangered oceanic habitats and wildlife, and shines a spotlight on the oceans.

I saw a apocalyptic Swedish movie with Evelina (and ate plankstek)

Marita had told me about a new Swedish movie, “Den blomstertid nu kommer”. It is a film that originally was crowdfounded and is made by a group from the town of Norrköping. In the movie Sweden faces a mysterious attack, complete with poisoned rain, birds falling from the sky and the blowing up of the Swedish parliament. The movie has been reviewed critically because its story is not super deep, but I liked it, not expecting profoundness from an action thriller.

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The apocalyptic atmosphere is Sweden is not only reflected in the movie. Swedes have also received a governement leaflet this spring with detailed information on how to prepare for “When the crisis or the war comes”. Even the book stores display books about prepping and “The Survival Hand Book”.

I went to church, the park and the construction site

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I attended Sunday mass in Hedvig Eleonora (and couldn’t believe they did not pray for rain, considering the raging fires). At that church, they put a “christening drop” into a tree for each new church member that was christened.

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Bianca and I got picknick and sat in Hagaparken, close to Crown Princess Victoria’s house.

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After meeting Magda who walked (!) all the way through Stockholm to see me, I spent some time marvelling at the giant construction site that once was Slussen. (I wonder how many decades it will take to complete that…)

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Paradise Island

Ever since early childhood, I have fought a war against insects. I have been the preferred victim of mosquitos as long as I can remember. This has led to me developing an extreme acoustial alertness to the sound of tiny wings. If there is something flying in my bedroom I cannot sleep. I am in terror! (Will it sting? Will it give me another bite that will bother me for weeks?) So when two flies decided to settle in our room, the night was over for me at 4.22 a.m. A woke as I was battling the two insects who kept attacking my nose and ears, and said sleepily, “The advantage of Helen 1 A Tours is that you also get to partake in Helen’s insomnia”.

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The Fly Incident led to A letting me sleep in (when I finally won against Fly No 1. at 5:57 and Fly No. 2 at 8:12 and fell asleep again) which in its turn led to us taking a later ferry to – the Island. I had told A in advance that we had to go to the archipelago because if I was to sucessfully market Stockholm the islands had to be part of the experience. However, I had also advertised the archipelago as peaceful and deserted, I painted a counterimage of DĂŒsseldorf which bothers me with its density. When we got to Grinda, it seemed everyone else had had the same idea – it was crawling with people which earned me a skeptical look from A. I could only redeem my trustwortiness when I led him to a beach off the beaten track. Okay, more or less of the beaten track, there were 10 other people at first, but we were alone within an hour. While the sun was warming us and the waves were softly washing up to the shore, A said, “Well, you promised me paradise and I was not disappointed.”

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Spot me in the Baltic Sea!

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We stayed in a real hotel (uncommon for the islands)

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The view from the restaurant

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First course of our delicious dinner (such luxury!)

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To perfect the day, a skilled musician performed on the jetty at night

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Upon our return, I insisted showing A the Old Town before he left. We saw it all, including creative window dressings.

The one that got it all

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“I love boats!” A informed me this morning. Or actually, you would probably call it mid-day, when we scurried through the severly disrupted Stockholm public transport system. Apparently this spring, the city decided that everything needs to go under construction. I mean everything. I can hardly find my way anymore in some places. And it is not enough with that: One of the major construction sites for the past years, the new commuter stations, have been running for only one year to be closed off to traffic now just when we are here. The reason? They found, after only a year, that the escalators are faulty.

We still made it to the public transport ferry eventually. A loves boats, so Helen 1 A Tours took him on a boat to a boat. (Catering to the client’s interests is crucial for the success of Helen 1 A Tours!) The Vasa Ship, legendary and unique, awaited us. I had not been to the Vasa Museum in 5 or 6 years and I always find it impressive to see this historical ship.

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The hoardings at the construction sites have peepholes – for adults and of course for kids

I hope I don’t have to explain the significance of fika to my blog readers at this point. Naturally, our next to do was getting a fika at my favorite cafĂ©, Flickorna Helin, where aggressive birds steal your food and slow waitresses smile and tell you most things are sold out for the day. But the view! The view is stunning.

Also, they had the paper which I studied carefully. The front page had a German fire engine on it. Germany has now joined the team to battle the fires in the woods of Sweden. Several other EU-members have already sent help. Almost a billion Swedish crowns have already burnt down and it does not look like rain is coming any time soon.

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From my time as a tourist officer in Stockholm, I still remember well what the top three sights are and it was only the last one, the first and largest open air museum in the world (and zoo), Skansen, that was missing on A’s list. That’s pretty good for 24 hours! Also, my favorite TV-show took place there tonight, so coincidentally we went there just today.

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The animals also thought it was very warm. Occasionally, they lifted their head, only to surrender again and lay down

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The young reindeer were not dead, just very warm

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Marita and I posed against the beautiful scenery

I have been attending AllsĂ„ng pĂ„ Skansen for five or more years in a row now and gradually assumed my role of AllsĂ„ng ambassador which entails convincing friends to go there with me and educate them about this one-of-a-kind show. This year, it was Marita’s turn. We stood among all the Swedes and enthusiatically sang along to their summer songs (“The sand is wet, the girl is young, take me to the sea”) and I believe we actually ended up on TV! See below my five milliseconds of fame with my dearest Stockholm friend.

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AllsĂ„ng pĂ„ Skansen always starts and ends with a Stockholm anthem in which the crowd declares its love to the city, singing, Of all the towns I’ve seen in the world, you are the one who got it all. I am not sure if A entirely agrees but his verdict about today’s Helen 1 A Tour was very positive: “I love being on the ferry, I love looking at sailing vessels, I love meeting nordic animals, I love köttbullar. I love all of this.”

Show him the real North

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“I’ve booked my trip to Stockholm with Helen 1 A Tours. So I don’t worry about anything”, A said contendly as we boarded the plane to Sweden. Because today, he set foot on Swedish soil for the first time ever. I don’t take people to Sweden usually. I don’t give Helen 1 A Tours to anyone (even though several people have requested it). But I am on a mission to #showhimthenorth, as faithful instagram followers know, and it was now time to show him the real North.

So now we’re here and we’ve strolled through KungstrĂ€dgĂ„rden, took the boat sightseeing tour, sat at the Stadshuset terrace and shopped at ÅhlĂ©ns. Tomorrow Skansen and the Vasa Museum awaits. I am taking this tourist thing seriously. At the same time, it feels funny to me because it was so long ago I first did these things, 18 years to be precise. When we were at the Tourist Center and I asked if he wanted to take brochures, A said, “That’s fine. I have a walking brochure with me”.

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The great thing is, I am actually on vacation for three whole weeks. The first week I spent going to the Dutch beach for three days,

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visiting the National Dutch Railway Museum,

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with its impressive waiting hall,

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receiving a visit from my dear friend Jonna and

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going to the biggest fair at the Rhine with her

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and of course, going to the local lake twice.

 

The Day I gave the Swedish Prime Minister a Goat

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There are four days in my work year where I cannot be sick. This year one of those days took place in Berlin and so last week, I travelled to the German capital. Paris, Darmstadt, Berlin, OsnabrĂŒck in less than a week, including cancelled flights and other troubles. But I made it and at first, things were going rather smooth – until I, when getting ready for the networking boat trip we had arranged – made one wrong move. In German, we call this “Witch Shot” and a lumbago really feels like some evil power has seized you. But this was one of the four days when I cannot be indisposed so Diclofenac became my friend.

And actually maybe also adrenaline because I do believe the levels of that hormone are high in my body when I rush between people and places, organizing last minutes things like missing whiskey bottles or speakers stuck on airports. (What I couldn’t do anything about was the 32 degree heat that people had to endure as soon as they ventured outside of our air conditioned venue.)

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But all went well. At our dinner, we had a famous key note speaker, the former Swedish Prime Minister. Leading up to the event, I had sat in the office and wondered what to give him as a thank you present. When the evening came, my boss handed me the present and asked me to explain to the Prime Minister. “So we’ve been thinking”, I said to him, “what you’d like. But flowers are such a hassle to take on the plane to Stockholm. And you can’t bring liquids onboard. So we concluded we would give you a goat! Because that is so easy to take with you, right?” He looked at me in friendly confusion. “Well, actually it’s not you that gets to keep the goat”, I enlighted him. “We made a donation for a goat in your name for a family in need”, I said and handed him his gift certificate. He seemed very pleased – and I was delighted, too to have given a goat to a politican for the first time.

I also got to give away an award for the first time! My juniors and I have instituted a badge of honor for those facilitating junior engagement in the business community, and I, together with the chair of the junior network, got to award it.

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Very tired after a very full day in the elevator to the (unneccessarily) huge suite I was upgraded to

I went to bed at 3 a.m. but was up only a few hours later because I had the best brunch date: Ingrid! She met me in the park, me bringing unhealthy croissants and she bringing healthy fruit – and a polaroid camera!

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It might sound odd but I am rather glad to be back in my own home and to not have any travel scheduled for almost a month. Finally, I have time to catch up on things – I didn’t even have a single bottle of milk at home anymore – and live up to my long-neglected fika duty at work. Gotta run and bake that banana bread!

Ah, Paname!

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My point with going to Paris from DĂŒsseldorf was that it’s so convienent I would have to do it now while I live here. To not have to travel super far if I live somewhere else later in life. To be honest, after this, my third time, in the City of Lights, I expected to be through with the French capital. Been there, done that, can now go to, say, Edinburgh. Maybe Paris sensed that because she sure gave her all to charm me and this morning when I woke up, I said, „I really don’t wanna leave“.

Because who would want to leave a place that has the perfect temperature (never below 20, never above 25 degrees), these amazingly stylish people (I think they have better hairdressers in France than we do?), the food (I bought a regular piece of fruit at a regular supermarket and it tasted 100 % better than at home) and the overall flair of surprisingly laid-back, savoir-vivre attitude?

As this was my third visit, I had done the Notre-Dame and Louvre league of sights earlier so we went to see Sainte Chapelle instead. Described as a gem of gothic art, it instills a profound sense of awe in the visitor stepping inside this cathedral of church art. You stand surrounded by giant colored windows that were crafted in the 13th century and can’t help but wonder how much work went into this. I’ve actually never seen something similar and I believe I have been in a few churches.

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From this real church we proceeded to what A called the Cathedral of Consumerism, Galeries Lafayette. Not because we felt we needed to purchase Burberry toddler clothes, pre-printed shopping lists or retro monchichis (they still exist!?), but because it a) has a free terrace with a good view of Paris and b) boasts with a beautiful dome that you can marvel at from all floors of the shopping center. It looked more like an opera house than a mall but nevertheless was so worth the visit.

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Before we went to Paris, I had asked friends who are former Parisians for recommendations. This is why in the evening, A found himself being guided to an unsuspected little side street close to Temple into a tucked away little restaurant. At Au fils des saisons, we enjoyed French dinner that we only partly understood from the menu, compelling the waiter to assure us with the words, „fromage – cheese!“ It was very tasty.

One of my reasons for wanting to go to Paris was that I wanted to see Monet’s Water Lilies in real life for once. Nine years ago I was standing in front of the MusĂ©e d’Orsay on that trip’s last day which must have been a Monday – the day the museum is closed. Finally, finally I now got to go. After two hours of looking at Renoir, Manet and Degas, we were out of the impressionist section and I said, „Do the Water Lilies have their own room that we missed?“

The thing is – they have their whole own museum and it is not the MusĂ©e d’Orsay. That one has only one smaller Water Lily painting which happened to be borrowed by Water Lilies Museum, also called the Orangerie. Suddenly it made sense to me that they sold combination tickets to both museums.

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A: “This looks like one of these stock photos of people at work”

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This lady literally took a photo a e-v-e-r-y painting instead of looking at it

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Tuileries

So we took a walk through the Tuileries (what’s up with all the Parisian parks being so awesome? Why aren’t our parks like that?) and all the toil of walking all day, of taking in information and art, of trying to find one’s way left me when I stood and blocked my ears with my fingers to not hear the countless tourists giving their company directions on how to take their photo in front of one of the most famous paintings in history. I was there in Giverny and almost felt the coolness of the water and the peace of the lilies swimming, saw small animals and imagined faces on the water’s reflection.

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Assuming art in the wrong place seemed to be a theme of this trip because on Sunday we found ourselves in the Jardin du Luxembourg, ready to rilke as we called reciting the poem „The panther“ that famous poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote. We had just rilked the first verse, I started doubting A’s second verse and googled the correct order – to find that Rilke had not written the poem in the Jardin du Luxembourg. No, he wrote „The Panther“ in the Jardin des Plantes. What a Water Lily moment…! Luckily, the Jardin du Luxembourg was highly enjoyable too, and actually, Rilke wrote his „Carousell“ here. So we were not rilking completely without cause!

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Lush and green in the Jardin du Luxembourg

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In the Jardin, kids set out their boats in the fountain

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It seems there is after all a market fo advertising products with Swedishness even in France

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In France, all ad boards now say that the photos are photoshopped

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Sace Coeur where the people gather at night and sing and perform and watch the sunset

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The Sunday sunset I saw from the Thalys train on the way home and I fear I said at least four times how much less of a hassle I felt it was to just get on the direct train instead of having to fly to Paris. It feels so close I, consumed with a resurgence of amitié franco-allemande, would want to go back, well, next weekend.