Category Archives: Scandinavia

Christiania: Danish Hippie Haven

In 1970, a peaceful invasion took place in Copenhagen. A  small group of anarchists broke through a fence and took over the grounds of a former military barracks.


The area had defensive ramparts dating from the 1600s, when Denmark fought endless battles with Sweden. After about 1950, the military more or less abandoned the site. Hippies moved in and set up shop, making up the rules as they went along. They eventually gained legal use of the land and became one of the top tourist attractions of Copenhagen, right up there with Tivoli Gardens.


Today, about 900 people live in Christiania. Over the years, they’ve worked out ways to police themselves and cooperate with local authorities to provide some services. But it’s still all about freedom, just as in 1971.

I ventured inside early on a sunny but chilly spring morning. What would I find?


I had read that photos were generally ok, but to ask permission before taking any photos of people–especially those selling marijuana, which is illegal but freely sold when police are not around. Maybe it was too early, or maybe I was oblivious, but I didn’t see anything remotely like a drug deal. Residents themselves outlawed “hard drugs” some years ago, and they enforce the rules strictly.


Much of the artwork was a throwback to the psychedelic 60s and 70s.


Other murals looked more contemporary. I liked it all.


I liked the sculptures too.


I didn’t bring a skateboard! Too bad.

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Hippies were the first great recyclers. They figured out how to survive and thrive on the leftovers of materislusm. Christiania has a huge warehouse stocked with recycled toilets, sinks, bathtubs, stoves and refrigerators, and all kinds of building materials.


The community depends on tourist traffic. Restaurants look friendly and appealing, but there are probably no Michelin stars.


Venturing out of the main tourist area, I found charming handcrafted homes, bright with flowers.


Nobody is allowed to actually own a home or property in this enclave. If a resident leaves, the community decides whether to invite someone else to move in. I’ve read that about 180 of the original residents remain.


After I left, I learned that tourists had been assaulted for taking pictures of residents. I figured this dog, supervising the warehouse, wouldn’t mind.


There are plenty of grungy sights within Christiania, but my impression was of a tranquil haven of social freedom. Yes, I’d go back!

Travel offers so many doors to open! Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia.

My Scandinavian Fathers

Actually my Scandinavian father and father-in-law are no longer with us, and I only knew grandfathers back one generation. But they were all descendants of families from Sweden, Norway and Finland who made the perilous journey to America in the 19th century. (The one exception was my British grandfather, who made a perilous journey of his own). The sculpture above is from Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland’s fantastic outdoor collection in Oslo, where the city gave him an entire huge park and studio for his lifetime. It’s a carefree image of fatherhood.

My forefathers did not have carefree lives in the Old Country. I never heard any of my relatives speak longingly of returning, although my grandmother used to croon Finnish lullabies to us in the rocking chair. My people were no doubt poor potato farmers trying to scrounge a living from rocky little plots of land. They were very happy to arrive on American shores and begin new lives in the rich soil of Minnesota. I was not particularly motivated to visit Scandinavian or Nordic regions–I guess I vaguely thought of these lands as poor backwaters, maybe lacking paved roads and indoor plumbing.

Over the past few months, I finally got around to visiting, over four different trips: first Sweden, then Denmark, then Finland, then Norway.  Now they’re my new favorite destinations.

Looking at Scandinavian art, I was struck by images of children parting from parents they would never see again.

This painting, by Adolph Tidemand, is “The Youngest Son’s Farewell.” It was painted in 1867, when the great wave of migration was well under way. It’s in the Kode Gallery in Bergen, Norway.

In the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo, there’s a similar poignant scene painted by Harriet Backer in 1878, “The Farewell.”

What’s going on here? It’s either a scene of emigration, or possibly of going off to war.  One of the reasons for leaving the Old Country was to escape compulsory military service. A servant hauls the young man’s duffel bag.

Whatever the reason, the parents are devastated to part with their son. There was no email, no Skyping, no jet planes for quick visits home.  Leaving very often meant leaving forever.

Life in Scandinavia was full of peril as well as poverty. In this 1858 painting by Carl Bloch, a Danish family looks anxiously out to sea was a storm approaches.  Will Father return, or will they all be left to fend for themselves? “Fisherman’s Families Await Their Return in an Approaching Storm” is in the Hirschsprung Gallery in Copenhagen.

In Vaxjo, Sweden, I stopped by the House of Emigrants, full of fascinating displays about the great wave of migration that brought my people to America starting around the 1850s and continuing well into the 20th century.

 

The museum contains a replica of the writing hut of the Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg, who meticulously documented the immigrant experience is the four historic novels “The Emigrants.”

Moberg spent a lot of time in the very Minnesota counties where my ancestors put down roots, just north of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

I had already watched the fine Max Van Sydow/Liv Ullman movies “The Emigrants” and “The New Land.”

While still traveling, I downloaded the four novels and devoured them.  Suddenly, I wanted to know all about my Scandinavian fathers.  Travel constantly opens up new doors!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe, the British Isles, and now the Nordic and Scandinavian countries!

Jugendstil in Helsinki


The island of Katajanokka, just outside the center of Helsinki, might have more Jugendstil buildings per square mile than anyplace else on earth.


It seems that in the early 1900s, when industrialization was drawing rural Finns into Helsinki, there must have been a building boom.


Builders must have raced to create castles for the common people: fanciful and beautiful apartment buildings with turrets, towers, interesting windows, and beautiful decorative elements.


We stayed in one of them, and I’d have cheerfully stayed longer. I could see myself living in beautiful, friendly Helsinki. The city is known for its style. Now I see why!

Helsinki Jugendstil Doorways


For some reason, I expected Helsinki to be a  rough-around-the edges modern industrial city. Instead I found a city full of delightful architecture, much of it dating from the early 1900s. This was the heyday of the worldwide Jugendstil or Art Nouveau movement.


I’m stopping constantly to snap a picture of yet another inviting, witty doorway. I’m loving Helsinki!

A Swedish Valentine

 

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The Nordiska Museum in Stockholm devotes a great deal of space to Swedish courting and wedding customs, for good reason.  In Sweden, folk art is still revered.

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For centuries, humble rural people in little towns and villages all over Sweden celebrated love and marriage and family using the materials at hand: wood, yarn, thread, and simple fabrics.

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A young man courting a young woman used to spend many hours carving an elaborate wooden spoon as proof of his devotion.  The woman’s parents would also be interested in the young man’s skills and willingness to work; wood carving was a necessity of life in poor farming communities where most anything had to be made by hand.

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After the wedding, the courting spoon was hung on the wall of the new couple’s kitchen, but wood-carving never ended. Country people took inspiration and materials from the natural world around them. The handy little table above incorporated a twisted tree branch as a decorative snake. Did the wood-carver’s wife appreciate having a snake forever in her house? Personally, I’d have relegated the snake table to the guy’s Man Cave.  But that’s just me.

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I’d have loved the little dog bench, though.

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Brides spent many hours making wedding finery which was then passed down through generations. The hours were precious, stolen from housework and farm work.

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Material could be precious, too–colorful scraps of silk and cotton lovingly worked into heirlooms.

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Wedding finery was carefully packed away for future brides and grooms.

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A bride might surprise her groom with a special wedding vest.

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I love the handwork on this one, and I’m sure the embroidered designs had special meaning for the couple.

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A colorful wedding proclamation was another treasured keepsake, for those who could afford it.

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A special tapestry or painted wall hanging might do double duty as a Biblical lesson about Adam and Eve, and a decoration on the wall at the wedding feast.

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Then as now, getting married can be tiring work.  A mannequin in the museum shows a bride falling asleep in her wedding outfit, maybe during the feast.  But I’m sure she’s about to wake up full of energy to start her married life.

Happy Valentine’s Day to lovers, past, present and future!

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Waldemarsudde: Favorite Room in Favorite House in Favorite City

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Considering the national election turmoil that’s going on in the USA this week, I’d like to transport myself to a more peaceful place:  Prince Eugene’s blue-and-white dining room in his beloved lakeside home in Stockholm, Waldemarsudde.

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It looks inviting, don’t you think?  Come on in and have a seat at the table. Here, between about 1900 and his death in 1947, the Prince entertained his friends, fellow artists, writers, and the odd anarchist.

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Eugene’s state-of-the-art kitchen, all shining white tiles, is now a little cafe. Photos of the Prince decorate the walls.

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Eugene was a handsome fellow, and must have been a charming companion. He fulfilled royal duties when asked, but mostly he lived his own life exactly as he pleased. As a younger son of the monarchy, he was under no pressure to marry.

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Whatever his lifestyle choices, it appears the Royal Family left him in peace, to pursue his art and his friendships. In his Salon, Ernst Josephson’s painting “The Water Sprite,” 1884, dominates the room.  It was considered so scandalous at the time that the Academy in Stockholm didn’t dare to accept it as a gift. I don’t think the nudity was the problem; it was the new-fangled Symbolist style.

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Eugene hung a portrait of his mother, Queen Sofia, directly across from the daring Water Sprite. She gazed gently and benevolently on her son’s private goings-on, however raffish. I’m guessing Eugene was a loving son who never caused his mother much worry.

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Eugene loved flowers.  His sunroom, overlooking the water, was always blooming.

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He designed a pretty ceramic flowerpot that’s still in use all over Sweden. I’d have brought one home if I didn’t always travel light.

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I’m already planning a return trip to Stockholm in the spring.  I’ll see Eugene’s flowerbeds filled with tulips, I hope.

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Meanwhile, I can dream of my favorite room in my favorite house in my new favorite city, Stockholm.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!