Though I grew up in the northern part of Germany, Schleswig-Holstein, which borders onto Denmark, I know little of Scandinavia. As a child I visited Denmark. And a couple of years ago I was invited by Finnish publishers to Helsinki. So Stockholm was an exciting discovery.
I loved the solid old buildings – unharmed by any WWII bombs. The clean, icy breeze. I was astonished by the emptiness of the roads. By 9pm the center was a ghost town. I relished the calmness of the museums and galleries. There were just a few civilised visitors and they gave you enough space to contemplate the paintings. And beautiful, healthy looking, families everywhere.
London in comparison is crowded and noisy and dirty. A dense patchwork of buildings and people and tastes. A precarious, daily balancing act between pulsating life and chaotic mess.
Envy plagued me all weekend. Why did I end up in London? Thirty years ago when I left Germany the world was my oyster. I could have gone to live in Sweden, married a handsome Swede and would now live a life of beauty and ease in a high-ceilinged 19th century apartment.
Instead I chose this rainy island in the middle of the North Sea.
Upon my return, Peirene showed no sympathy with my weekend agonies.
‘You had a great break.’ she commented dryly. ’You gained insights into the Scandinavian soul. And you know precisely what you found in London: a publishing company and an Ancient Greek Nymph.’ Then she added with a sly smile in the direction of my desk: ‘So count your blessings and get back to work.’
Yes, my darling Nymph knows me well. As I walked those lovely Stockholm streets, it did cross my mind: Scandinavia consists of some of the richest, most democratic, gender equal countries in the world. Yet, Peirene’s darkest and most disturbing books come from there: The Blue Room, White Hunger and The Looking-Glass Sisters.
Scandinavia may not be the civilised paradise that it appears to be on a weekend trip. But my goodness, Stockholm puts on a good show.
Image by Frank Douwes.