Sweden’s romance with Germany

Sweden has many connections with Germany throughout its long history. As a nod to the growing German readership I have, I thought I would list a few of those connections.

German language influence

The Swedish language belongs to the North Germanic branch of the Germanic languages. Many words in Swedish are similar in German. I remember when I was on a trip to Hamburg, I could understand a lot of what was written in the German paper Der Spiegel. This was not because I speak any German, but because I speak Swedish. In fact the word ‘spiegel’, meaning mirror, is ‘spegel’ in Swedish. A friend of mine, originally from Rostock in Germany, learned Swedish very quickly. When I asked her how she had done it, she responded rather matter-of-factly that ‘Swedish is just German light’.

German merchants

In Stockholm’s Old Town there is an imposing church whose large Gothic spire dominates the skyline. This church is called ‘Tyska kyrkan’ – the German Church. During the 1500’s there were a lot of German merchants trading and living in Stockholm. In fact, they made up about half of the population. The King wanted to attract and keep as many Germans as possible, so he gave them attractive tax breaks and, in 1571, awarded them the right to start their own parish and place of worship. The church that we see today was finished in 1886, after restoration after a large fire. The German Church today holds services in German, and still serves Stockholm’s much smaller German population. Sweden today has still a lot of German merchants, in the form of large retail chains. Big players include the food chain Lidl, shoe shop Deichmann, home electronics retailer MediaMarkt and DIY store Bauhaus.

German Queens

Sweden’s current queen, Queen Silvia, originates from Heidelberg. Her German accent resonates clearly when she speaks Swedish. But she’s not the only connection the Swedish Royal House has with Germany. In fact, the King’s mother was also German – Princess Sibylla – from Gotha. And both his grandmothers. And, well, throughout history the Swedish Royal House has been peppered with German aristocracy and royalty. According to Wikipedia, 22 of Sweden’s monarchs were of German descent. So, one could probably say that the Swedish royals are more German than anything else.

German tourists

Sweden is an extremely popular destination for German tourists who are attracted by the forests, lakes, open spaces, cute red cottages and fresh air. German tourists spend approximately 3,000,000 hotel nights in Sweden according to the Swedish Tourism Institute. Sweden’s three main cities are popular destinations, as well as Skåne, which is the closest county to Germany. Due to the fame of writer Astrid Lindgren, her birthplace village of Vimmerby in Småland is also very well visited. Sweden’s attractiveness is also thanks to a long-running German tv show. Since 2003, the show ‘Inga Lindström’ has entertained Germans with an idyllic, romantic image of Sweden. The program is a series of stories set in Sweden, where the characters speak German, but have Swedish-sounding names, and the attractive Sweden that is depicted makes German tourists want to flock here in droves.

German sausages

Although food trucks are a standing feature in Sweden’s current street food culture, the original fast food place was, and is, the sausage kiosk. One can not underestimate how much Swedes love their hot dogs and they eat them late at night, for a quick lunch, at sport events, in cars, at weddings, barbecues, communal cleaning days, shopping excursions. You name it. The sausage is ever-present. Evidence exists that sausage-like foods were eaten by the Vikings, but it was in Frankfurt, Germany that the sausage was really developed as a snack. This food culture arrived in Sweden, via USA, in the 1800’s and has remained a firm favourite ever since. Even Sweden’s own patented sausage, the Falukorv, apparently came into existence by German immigrants training the Swedes in how to make them. Sweden’s leading hot dog brand is called Sibylla. Named after the current King’s German mother, this was said to be an honour and not born out of ridicule.

So, there you have it. Germany and Sweden have very close ties linguistically, socially, politically, in royalty, in business, in tourism and, even on the street corners.

How Sweden exposed the Chernobyl catastrophe

If you haven’t seen the HBO series ‘Chernobyl’, do so. Probably one of the best series ever made, it depicts the events of the nuclear disaster that happened in the Soviet Union in 1986 killing up to an estimated 200,000 people (ref Greenpeace). It’s a vivid reminder of the perils of nuclear energy, and highly relevant to the growing debate in Sweden about the expansion of this form of energy production.

The series is directed by Swede Johan Renck, and stars many Swedish actors such as Stellan Skarsgård. However, what I didn’t know was how important Sweden’s involvement was in the discovery of the disaster.

Here’s how, taken from the European Parliament news page:

The alarm sounded at Forsmark, Sweden’s second largest nuclear power plant, when one of the employees passed one of the radiation monitors on his way back from the restroom. When it showed high levels of radiation coming from his shoes, staff at first worried an accident had taken place at the power plant. However, a thorough scan discovered that the real source of the radiation was some 1,100 kilometres away in the Ukrainian town of Chernobyl.

The early detection by the Forsmark plant, one hour north of Stockholm, played a crucial role in forcing Soviet authorities to open up about the disaster that happened in Chernobyl in April 1986.

Thanks to the power plant’s early detection, they could inform the Swedish authorities at an early stage, who then told the world about the radioactive pollution coming from the disaster in the Soviet Union.

Today, most harmful materials have decayed. But some harmful materials, such as Caesium and Plutonium, will remain in the environment over a longer period of hundreds, even thousands, of years, though at lower levels.’

Sweden was affected in other ways by the radioactive cloud that blew from Ukraine across the Baltic. Still today, people in the north of Sweden are dying of cancer brought on by exposure. As recently as 2017, hunters found a pack of wild boar containing more than 10 times the safe level of radiation.

In Norway, the levels of radioactivity have reduced over time but there are still exceptions. Most recently in 2018, values detected in meat and milk suddenly doubled. The reason turned out to be an unusually widespread crop of mushrooms that year. Fungi have the ability to absorb a lot of radioactivity, up to 1,000 times more than plants. Those yearly variations mean that there will be a need for control for many years to come.

Thanks to its geographical location, Sweden played an important role in the revealing of the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe. But it also paid a high price, the effects of which will still be felt for generations to come.

Today, Sweden has 8 nuclear power plants producing about 40% of the country’s energy. This is despite a national referendum that voted to phase nuclear energy out by 2010. In 2015, decisions were made to phase out four older plants by 2020.

The constant question is can a disaster like Chernobyl happen again? And are we willing to take that risk?

One thing is for certain, the Chernobyl disaster showed us all that pollution has no borders.

Where do the names of Swedish weekdays come from?

norse-god-iconsThe things you think about on a Monday afternoon. Sitting quietly, I started to reflect over where the Swedish words for the days of the week come from. After a little research, I found that all of them stem from Norse mythology. Additionally all, but one, are named after the Gods and Goddesses of that period.

Do you know which day is not named after a Norse God or Goddess?

  • Måndag – Monday – named after the Norse God ‘Måne’, which means moon.
  • Tisdag – Tuesday- named after the Norse God ‘Tyr’, a God of War
  • Onsdag – Wednesday – named after the Norse God ‘Oden’, the King God of Wisdom, War and Death
  • Torsdag – Thursday – named after the Norse God ‘Thor’, the God of Thunder
  • Fredag – Friday – named after the Norse Goddess ‘Freya’ or ‘Frigg’, the Goddess of Love and Fertility (also by the way Oden’s wife)
  • Lördag – Saturday – named not after a god, but after the Norse tradition of bathing – called ‘att löga sig’
  • Söndag – Sunday – named after the Nordic Goddess of the Sun – ‘Sol’ or ‘Sunna’.

If you’re interested in knowing how to pronounce the Swedish days of the week, check out this little film, and put your dancing shoes on!

Sweden’s most horrifying and thought-provoking monument

On the main square in the western Swedish town of Karlstad, there is a statue. A striking statue. A significant statue. A statue that was once voted the ugliest statue in the country.

The statue represents a strident woman holding a broken sword, with her left foot placed firmly on the decapitated head of a ghoulish soldier. It’s fairly gruesome. And it certainly has impact. But the message might surprise you.

Raised in 1955, the statue is actually a peace monument which commemorates the dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway in 1905. Previously, the two countries were unified under the same monarch, and their separation could have led to bitter and bloody conflicts but it didn’t. It was carried out peacefully and paved the way for long-term cooperation between the two neighboring nations.

The statue has many nicknames amongst the town’s locals – ‘the old bitch with the wash paddle”, ”horror woman’ and ‘monument of horrors’.

Even if you find the statue unnerving, there’s no denying that it’s inscription is poignant. Using clever Swedish alliteration, the message reads:

Feuds feed folk hatred, peace promotes people’s understanding”

If you’re ever in the area, the monument is worth a look. She is a powerful representation of a significant moment in the history of Sweden and of Scandinavia.

Wondering about Sweden in the middle of the night

It’s 4am and I can’t sleep. One of those nights with a million thoughts churning around in my mind. Outside, the city of Stockholm is quiet. Daylight is starting to slowly break. As I lie here, a question about Sweden pops into my head. Something I’ve never thought of before.

Where does the English name ‘Sweden’ come from?

I should be sleeping, but I decide to google for the answer and I am catapulted into the world of historical research, language theory and ethno-cultural writing. And now I have the explanation and hopefully I can sleep.

Would you like to know? Here’s what I found:

The English name for Sweden was loaned from Dutch in the 17th century to refer to Sweden as an emerging power. Before Sweden’s imperial expansion, Early Modern English used Swedeland.

The Old English name of Sweden was Sweoland or Sweorice, land or realm of the Sweonas – the Germanic tribes of the Sviar. The name of the Sviar itself is derived from a proto-Norse Swihoniz, presumably a self-designation containing the Germanic reflexive ‘swe’ – one’s own, self”.

The modern English name Sweden

was loaned from Dutch. It is based on Zweden, the Dutch name of Sweden, and in origin the dative plural of Zwede. It has been in use in English from about 1600, first recorded in Scottish Swethin, Swadne.

So there you go. Perhaps I can now zleep. Zzzzzzz.

Great Swedish Women Part 1 – The Catalyst

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day.

In support, I am writing series on Great Swedish Women, past and present: women with stength and passion, women with a voice, women who create change.

For seven days, I will write about these Great Swedish Women, one per day. I hope you want to join me in celebrating them.

Fredrikabremer

First out is the 1800’s writer and feminist reformer Fredrika Bremer, a kind of Swedish Jane Austen and one of the catalysts of the early feminist movement in Sweden.

Many of the women’s rights that we take for granted in Sweden today did not exist in the Fredrika Bremer’s time. For example, in 1800’s Sweden, women were not free to educate themselves as they liked, marry as they liked, live as they wanted, to have economic independence or to vote in elections. Married women were controlled in all manner by their husbands, unmarried women by their closest male relative. Fredrika Bremer was born into this kind of society in 1801 in Åbo, Sweden, which today is part of Finland. At the age of three, her family moved to Stockholm where Fredrika and her sisters were raised to marry well. Fredrika found the limited and passive family life of Swedish women of her time suffocating and she described her family as “under the oppression of a male iron hand’. Fredrika never was forced under the shackles of marriage, so had a certain level of independence inaccessible to married women at that time. Throughout her adult life, she became a world traveler, an accomplished author (at first anonymously) and a political activist. She was very interested in social reform regarding gender equality and social work and she participated actively in debates around women’s rights in Sweden.

Fredrika Bremer was a catalyst of the first real feminist movement in Sweden. There is much in modern day Sweden to thank her for. In 1853, she started by co-founding the ‘Stockholm Women’s Fund for Childcare’ and the following year, the ‘Women’s Society for the Improvement of Prisoners’. However, it was in her novel, Hertha (1856) that she issued in most change, making it probably her most influential literary work. In the book, she wrote about the lack of freedom for women, which subsequently raised a debate in the parliament called “The Hertha debate”. This directly contributed to a new favourable law for adult unmarried women in Sweden in 1858, and was a starting point for the campaign for women’s rights in Sweden. Hertha also raised the debate of higher formal education for women and, in 1861, the University for Women Teachers was founded by the Swedish state.

In 1860, Fredrika helped to fund Tysta Skolan, a school for the deaf and mute in Stockholm. Now an established and respected citizen and patron, she supported giving women the vote in the electoral reforms of 1862. In the same year, women of legal age were granted this in municipal elections in Sweden. The first real women’s rights movement in Sweden, the ‘Fredrika Bremer Association’, founded by Sophie Adlersparre in 1884, was named after her, 19 years after her death.

Fredrika Bremer’s leaves a legacy of equality and autonomy behind her. Her legacy extends far beyond Sweden’s borders. Not only is she recognised as an influencial writer and reformer, but the town of Frederika in Bremer County Iowa, USA is named after her.

 

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Reading the city

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One of the best things about walking around a city is that you can read the layers of architecture which gives you an insight into the lives and times of current and earlier city residents.

And Stockholm is no exception.

On the island of Södermalm, there is a cluster of old red, wooden houses perched amongst blocks of flats from the twentieth century. Most of these houses originate from the 1700’s and were homes to workers in the nearby tar yard and the docks. These were stinky, tough and perilous jobs. And, just like today, Stockholm was rapidly growing and people migrated into the city in droves. And just like today, there was a housing crisis even then. In the 1800’s and 1900’s these small, red houses were so overcrowded and filthy that they became dilapidated and dangerous.

Eventually in 1956, the government decided to renovate and improve the living standards for the poverty-stricken residents.

Today, the area is protected due to its cultural relevance and is still a residential area for a lucky few.

So next time you’re out walking, lift your eyes up. Look at the buildings around you – what does it tell you about your city’s earlier dwellers?