Sunday, October 15, 2006

Homage to Gothenburg

I've lived for almost all of my life in Stockholm. But there's another Swedish city that has a special place in my heart. It's a bit smaller, but at the same time much more international. It's friendlier and less pretentious than Stockholm. It seems as if the salty sea and the winds out of the Atlantic have created a less constricted climate in this city, as if the Jante Law doesn't really apply there. I am, of course, referring to Gothenburg. And this is my homage to that great city.

Hasselblad, Volvo, SKF – Gothenburg has real factories and working class neighbourhoods. Other towns, such as Uppsala for instance, feel like stage sets in comparison. Then there are the landshövdingehus, cosy three-story apartment buildings with a stone ground story and wooden upper stories. The one-room apartments there are great, with the kitchen the same size as the living room.

In the middle of the city's main square is an equestrian statue of Carolus X Gustavus, who took Bohuslän County from the Norwegians at the Peace of Tönsberg in 1656. The square was laid out in 1536 at the initiative of Jörgen Kock, the powerful mayor and mint master of Gothenburg. There's also a great Chinese restaurant at the square, but I don't know its name.

The Slottsskogen gardens are magnificent in all seasons: they are reached through the elaborate wrought-iron gates that open to the public daily in the afternoon. The masterpiece of the garden designer Beatrice Crafoord (a niece of Selma Lagerlöf), who worked there for more than 30 years, the winding pathways and landscaped terraces that stretch down the far side of the hill within the enclosure represent a glorious melding of European and American traditions. According to the British garden historian Jane Brown, Slottsskogen in Gothenburg "is a garden far, far superior to either Sissinghurst Castle or Hidcote Manor in design, and it ranks (as they cannot) with the greatest gardens in the world."

Örgryte is Gothenburgs most colourful neighbourhood with a lively market and stores and restaurants from all of the world. It has the city's first planned, large-scale housing estates for the working class and is a result of the growing industrial city in the late 19th century. The labour movement was influential here.

All the really good Swedish music comes out of Gothenburg, and of course you buy it at Bengans.

Gothenburg is the place where I spent the most intense years of my childhood. The place has changed over the years due to hurricanes and mass tourism, but to me it was (kitschy as it may sound) Paradise. The first thing we did in the mornings was to take a long swim in the ocean. After that my sis' and me collected seashells, built sandcastles or went into the jungle to look for cenotes. The beach was our living room, our dining room and our playground. I learned to ride a bike in the sand. My sister and me had palm tree climbing contests. And since then I have a permanent craving for coconuts and coconut milk...

And I love getting ginger truffles from the Kanold Girls, or having lentil soup at the Greek place in the market hall.

I went to Gothenburg in May. Lots of pubs, ranging from the old-school gay Bierstube over posh cafés to traditional ale houses. Furthermore, the total clash of architecture – something old, something new, something ugly, something beautiful.

I am wistful for the graciousness of my former home in Gothenburg, an apartment building called the Falbygden, which sits conveniently at Avenyn. Built, like many of the city's grand establishments, at the turn of the last century, it has an unsurpassable lobby, a cavernous and impeccably maintained confection of polished mosaic floors, luxuriously veined marble pillars and chinoiserie murals, amounting to what one visitor likened, not unreasonably, to a bathhouse in Budapest. The Eisenhowers lived there, as do a number of contemporary writers and public figures, and it is said that National Security kept an apartment overlooking the Russian Trade Federation across the road.

The English Garden, in the middle of Gothenburg, is the largest metropolitan park in all of Europe. A perfect day can be spent moments away from the busy main street, but never hearing, seeing, or smelling it. Lounge by the Isbäcken stream, jump in on a hot day, read or nap. When you can't lounge horizontally any longer, hop on your bike for a five minute ride to the Sjöhusen open-air restaurant. There are exponentially fewer tourists than at the Chinese Tower! The food and drink are totally Deutsch and very delicious, and even though it says not to, most people feed the birds – the tables sit right on the water, so you could even stick your toes in if you felt like it.

I love strolling in Haga and on the university campus, looking at incomprehensible sculptures that look like they may be intended to sit on.

The Cathedral's silhouette has dominated Gothenburg for more than 800 years. Already in the 11th century there was probably a small wooden church here with a churchyard. In the 1120s, building of the first stone church was begun, a basilica half as large as the current structure. In 1251 a royal coronation took place here, when Valdemar, son of Earl Birger and brother of Magnus Lockbarn, was crowned. In the 14th century the church was extended to its current length and the western façade was completed.

The Kock House is also a gem, one of Gothenburg's best-preserved 16th century buildings, a red brick structure with an ornate stepped gable. One of the city's best restaurants, The Seasons, currently resides in the vaulted basement.

My paternal grandparents lived in Gothenburg near the outskirts of the city, with a huge amount of undeveloped land behind their house. My favourite memories are spending time with my grampie in his greenhouse, the smell of wet soil stayed in your clothes. The second memory is climbing the hill behind their house – years before, someone had built a makeshift wooden tipi on top of the hill. I would wander around on top of the ridge looking out over the old city in one direction and wilderness in the other. It was beautiful.

Don't miss the Universeum science centre! Great for kids.

The Angel of the North is surprisingly beautiful, given that it's rusty iron. Whether you arrive by car or train it's prominent overlooking from a nearby hill. It gives a real sense that you're arriving or departing from the city. The view across the river Göta as you arrive into the station by train is also impressive. The cranes of the shipyards stand out along the banks and you can see several bridges between Gothenburg on the south bank and Hisingen on the north.

Erik Andersson used to live in Gothenburg, and he's sort of left a lingering aura of friendliness that permeates the city.

"The British navy has been sighted at Vinga lighthouse! Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!"

One of my favourite spots is the Storängsudd nature preserve at Beatelund on Hisingen. Walking there in the springtime is balm to the soul. The oak woods with the anemones! Cowslip, Elder-flowered Orchid, and not least the Snake's Head Fritillary, county flower of Västergötland. The water and the waterfowl.

The old castle of the Prince-Electors in Gothenburg goes back to 1542. In 1988, the 125th anniversary of the Black Cat was celebrated in the Keiller vineyard. An explanation for the name of this make of wine is given in an old story. Three wine merchants from Skövde couldn't decide which barrel of wine to buy. As the winemaker was pouring them yet another sample glass, his black cat jumped onto one of the barrels, bristling and hissing. The merchants took this to mean that the cat was trying to keep the best wine for his master. And since that day, Black Cat wine is sold in Gothenburg.

There are also many tea plantations in the Gothenburg area where you can observe the entire tea-making craft from the bush to the package. Methods have hardly changed in the past century, and the plantations are still full of pickers carrying baskets on their backs.

"If you're looking for a smoke when you're in Gothenburg – up at Näckrosdammen, Vasaparken or Femmans torg" then you're "Welcome to Gothenburg! To a jinglingly joyful Gothenburg!"

The city has tramways which appear so right-in-place for the old steel-making city. They go PING and scare you half to death, that's good.

I searched most of the city for an internet café. I found one single place. So it has to be the largest city I've ever been to with (virtually) no internet cafés. But who cares? "On a September afternoon you lie down at Allén. You light yourself a little joint and bask in the sun."

When in Gothenburg, you mustn't miss the Temple of the Exquisite Hiding Place. Check out all the Buddhas carved in the cliffs along the stream! Now that Gothenburg municipality has gone back to more traditional values and religion isn't being combated to the same extent any more, you'll see huge building works going on at all the temple compounds.

The taxicabs are entertaining in their way: the supremely illogical zone system, which, instead of using meters, divides the city into payment sectors designed to make the politicians' commute cheap; the disconcerting oddity of multiple customers with multiple destinations, crammed into a single cab; and the eccentricity of the drivers, whose knowledge of the city may be tenuous at best, but whose interest in global politics is often passionate and voluble.

"The bustling docks open their arms to embrace you and gather you to the heart that is Gothenburg!"

Yes indeed, Gothenburg is a great place, a city you never grow tired of. It offers continuous surprises, and still it always make you feel right at home.

If anything in this entry appears confusing or inaccurate, this other entry may perhaps provide an explanation.

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Blogger Karen said...

I love it! That was great.

15 October, 2006 01:43  
Blogger Martin said...

Many thanks!

15 October, 2006 14:59  
Blogger Hans Persson said...

I haven't spent much time in Gothenburg, so it took me a while to realize that there was something wrong in your descriptions, but I got it after a while... ;-)

15 October, 2006 21:17  
Blogger Emily said...

Now I get it! (Started to wonder when I read about the palm trees...) This is great, Martin, thanks for posting. It will help me as I approach NaNoWriMo next month... (there, I've said it, now I'm committed).

16 October, 2006 19:12  
Blogger Martin said...

Thanks! Just checking if you guys were awake. (-;

16 October, 2006 19:31  
Anonymous NN said...

Nice, but why the picture of the Mittuniversitetet campus in Sundsvall?

18 October, 2006 15:46  
Blogger Martin said...

You mean that since I am giving so much correct and pertinent information about Gothenburg in the text, I should also choose the illustrations accordingly?

18 October, 2006 15:49  
Anonymous NN said...

Eh... yeah, something like that. But what the heck, Åkroken is interesting in its own right.

18 October, 2006 16:40  

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