Thomas

Thomas is a retired IT professional, who lives alone with his golden retriever Ziggy Stardust in a small townhouse in a small town in the southern half of Sweden. He has two grown-up kids and at least five grandkids – "as far as I know". Thomas enjoys daily long walks with Ziggy in the forests around town, he loves cooking for his guests, and he likes to make things with his hands. He says he loves good food, good wine, people who smile and make him smile. Having spent most of his life developing things, methods and organizations, he's passionately interested in all kinds of technology, natural science, politics,... anything that raises a problem, whether it can be solved or not. Consequently, he is consistently short of time. While he was professionally active, he lived in San Francisco a few years, working as software engineer down in Silicon Valley. He claims that he did leave his heart in San Francisco, and is constantly planning to go back and pick it up. Quoting Hoagy Carmichael's Hong Kong Blues, he says "... every time I try to leave, sweet opium won't let me fly away... ...i.e. my opium is Sweden, my kids, my dog, my friends, my forest,... you know, I'm Swedish."

Why Buildings Are Red in Sweden and more!

A little red cottage by the edge of the forest.

A little red cottage by the edge of the forest.

Hell on earth, falukorv and little red cottages

Ever travelled through the Swedish countryside? Or at least seen it on TV? Did you notice that the majority of all buildings – homes, barns, boathouses, every shed – are red?

Red cottages with white corners and other white trimmings are as iconic for Sweden as Dalecarlian horses, a Swedish signature mentioned in many songs: “den röda lilla stugan invid grinden” ( ~ the little red cottage by the wicket).

The history of the red paint goes back to approximately 850 AD. That’s when they started mining in Stora Kopparberget (= the Great Copper Mountain) in today’s city of Falun. Over time, the mine developed to a major industrial center, at times delivering two thirds of all copper used in Europe.

In 1347 AD, a Letter of Privileges was issued by king Magnus Eriksson for the foundation of Stora Kopparbergs Bergslag. Today, having extended its operations to several other industrial sectors under the name Stora Enso, this company is considered to be the oldest company in the world still in business.

 

The ore in Stora Kopparberget contains not only copper, but also sulfur, iron and several other minerals. The methods for extraction were rather primitive and very destructive to the environment. Visitors to the area described the place as a hell on earth, covered by thick black smoke, stinking of pungent sulfur. The air in the nearby city of Falun was so thick of soot and sulfur that people ran into each other, not being able to see more than a few feet. The mine itself was a narrow hole in the ground more than 1,000 ft deep, and there was no vegetation around it for several miles in any direction.

Hell on earth, abandoned in 1992.

Hell on earth, abandoned in 1992.

The great scientist Carl von Linné (a.k.a. Carolus Linnaeus) visited the mine in 1734 AD and described it with horror as the hell on earth. He climbed down in the hole on the sinuous and flaccid ladders to find ”twelve hundred black demons working in the caverns, surrounded by darkness, soot and smoke”. The workers died young, coughing, with noseblood, headache, and skin like leather. And the security arrangements were poor: many died in accidents in the darkness. One of the supervisors wrote ”Där går mången till arbetet frisk och röder, Men blir upwindad lytt, förlamad, lem-löös, döder” ( ~ “Many a man goes to work being healthy and red, But is hoisted up maimed, lame, limb-lose and dead.”

The tools used to quarry the rock and copper ore was sledgehammers, chisels and wrecking bars. But before the workers could use these tools, they had to make the rock crack, creating small fissures and become brittle: this was achieved by lighting a fire against the rock wall, keeping it burning for many hours, and finally pour cold water on the rock. This procedure smothered the clime with black sulfurous smoke and a haze of foul-smelling steam. And once the ore had been hoisted to the ground level, it had to be further roasted for several months (!) to get rid of the sulfur content, before it could be refined to copper. Huge amounts of wood was needed; it is estimated that in the middle of the 17th century, more than 3,000,000 cubic feet of wood was burned each year. In 1687 AD, the mine collapsed and created the giant hole that can be seen today.

The smoke from the open fires contained not only sulfur dioxide but also arsenic, lead, and mercury. The consequences were scary: all vegetation around Falun died, wildlife fleed and fish died. In short, Stora Kopparberget was a major ecological disaster. The mine was finally closed down in 1992, and since 2001 it has been defined as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today, the mine is open for visitors with guided tours in the underground. (With greatly improved security.)

Now, what has this to do with falukorv and little red cottages? By the way, what is falukorv? Wikipedia defines it like this:

Looks like falukorv but may not be labeled as such.

Looks like falukorv but may not be labeled as such.

Genuine falukorv.

Genuine falukorv.


Falukorv is a large Swedish sausage made of a grated mixture of pork and beef or veal with potato starch flour and mild spices. …
In the EU, restrictions apply to what may be labeled ‘Falukorv’ since 2001.”

In plain language, falukorv is one of the most common dishes found on Swedish tables; sliced and fried, baked with cheese and onions, grilled, chopped and mixed with fried potatoes and herbs,… The size of a typical falukorv is about 1 kg.


The mild flavor allows you to add any spice you like – it’s a versatile base for everyday’s dinner. Falukorv means “sausage from Falun” (sausage translates to “korv” in Swedish). But why is it named after Falun?

 

The ore quarried at Stora Kopparberget had to be hoisted 1,000 ft to reach ground level: this was accomplished by oxen walking in large treadmills. The oxen were of course exposed to the same hazardous smoke as the workers and had to be killed – i.e. slaughtered ­– ever so often. And the meat was used to make large sausages, that had to be “exported” to other parts of the country… the number of slaughtered oxen and the amounts of produced falukorv were bigger than what could be consumed in the vicinity.

And what about the little red cottages?

A second reason for the time-consuming roasting of the ore (besides getting rid of the sulfur) was to oxidize and thus get rid of the content of iron, which created a cinder of red iron ocher or hematite, called rödmull ( ~ red soil). This was regarded as garbage and was piled up beside the mine. A few hundred years ago, someone noticed that a wooden pole that had been sitting for years in the mound of rödmull showed no sign of rot or decay. This was the start for the production of Falu Röd (Falun’s Red), the paint that soon was on almost every house in the country, since it was cheap and could be mixed on site, boiling rödmull and linseed oil with rye flour and water. (However, since it was rather cheap, people of wealth preferred to paint their houses with more expensive white or yellow…)

The deep red color of Falu Röd is still popular in Sweden and Finland, also imitated in other kinds of modern paint, even if the original still has a large market share. But today you don’t mix it yourself – you buy it in large buckets like any other paint. And it is no longer cheap…

World Champions Again!

2013 Ice Hockey World Championship

This year’s Ice Hockey World Championships were held in Stockholm and Helsinki (arranged in cooperation by Sweden and Finland).

Those of you who are interested in ice hockey have of course followed the reports from the games, many of you with despair and raised eyebrows. For you who didn’t keep up to date with the news, here’s the final report from the games:

Tre Kronor, the Swedish team, won the gold medals, thoroughly beating Switzerland in the final.

The Swedish Team Tre Kronor a few minutes after the gold was won. Picture from aftonbladet.se

The Swedish Team Tre Kronor a few minutes after the gold was won.
Picture from aftonbladet.se

It was the ninth time Tre Kronor won the gold medals. This is how it happened this time:

Russia, last year’s champions, appeared rather washed-out but managed to reach the quarterfinals, where they were eliminated by the US team.

Slovakia was eliminated by Finland. And Czech Republic was beaten by Switzerland. Actually, all of the teams from eastern Europe, usually being hot contenders for the medals, looked rather pale.

Sweden played even with a star-studded Canadian team in the quarterfinals but won in the end by penalties.

After beating Russia, USA was beaten by Switzerland in the semifinals, to many people’s surprise. But Switzerland, which for many years had been in the B-series, surprised everybody this year by winning every match so far. Switzerland had not reached a final for more than 70 years!

In the other semifinal, Sweden won over Finland, thus qualifying to meet Switzerland in the final.

The Swedish team, Tre Kronor, also started out rather pale in the tournament, but gained strength as more and more Swedish NHL and KHL players joined the team. Still, the final game in Stockholm Globe Arena was a nail-biting thriller for two periods: the Swiss put up a hard resistance but were finally beaten by 5-1.

Thus, Switzerland received the silver medals, and USA got the bronze after beating Finland in the match for bronze.

Giving Tre Kronor a big hand.

Ice hockey fans giving Tre Kronor a big hand.

As this was written, a couple of hours after the final match, celebrations were ongoing all over Sweden – in Stockholm, people headed for the fountain with the huge glass sculpture on Sergels Torg (Sergel Plaza): celebrating with a bath in the fountain is tradition, but alas – the water hadn’t yet been turned on. Official celebrations will be held Monday afternoon in Kungsträdgården.

Paramount stars in Tre Kronor were (of course) the twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin from Vancouver Canucks. But even if their contribution was important, the win was most of all a team effort.

Other fortunate contributors from NHL were Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche), Loui Eriksson (Dallas Stars), Erik Gustafsson (Philadelphia Flyers), Henrik Tallinder (New Jersey Devils), and last but not least the young goalie, Jhonas Enroth from Buffalo Sabres, who founded a world class reputation.

Two players from KHL were also praised: the captain Staffan Kronwall from Lokomotiv Jaroslavl and Fredrik Pettersson from HK Donbass.

The magnificent Alexander Edler from Vancouver Canucks was however unlucky: focusing on the puck instead of where he was heading, he collided with Canada’s Eric Staal in a knee-on-knee hit which was deemed reckless and rendered him suspension for the rest of the games.

Dancing With The Devil

horgalåtenThe hambo is a traditional dance with origin in the 19th century. It is a couple dance in ¾ time; the music has a strong accent on the first beat and a tempo that varies from moderate to fast (100 to 120 beats per minute).

The hambo is a dance with a fixed pattern and tunes almost always have a corresponding eight measure structure. The name “hambo” is derived from the name of the parish Hanebo, where the dance is said to have originated.

In the province of Hälsingland, about 300 km north of Stockholm, in the parish of Hanebo, lies the small village Hårga at the foot of a steep and rocky mountain, Hårgaberget, i.e. Hårga Hill or Hårga Mountain.

Twenty thousand years ago, the mountain and the entire landscape was covered by a huge continental glacier, which, like glaciers always do, was sliding towards warmer regions, scraping and polishing the bedrock. When the ice, another ten thousand years later, finally receded from the rocky landscape, it left the top of Hårgaberget polished and flat as a tabletop.

This unusually shaped mountain, with its flat top and wide view in all directions, has of course attracted people in all times, and even if there are no signs left on the flat rock face, we can imagine that it has been a place for ceremonies, rituals and celebrations for many thousand years. And there are old legends that talk about bloody sacrifices, of animals, slaves and prisoners.

View from Hårgaberget

View from Hårgaberget

But even if the rock face bears no sign, it has made its mark in people’s minds: there is a dark age-old tale about what once happened on the mountain. The first known written version of this tale is dated 1785, written by the then vicar in Hanebo, but the core of the legend is probably much older.

Long time ago, in the evenings of early summer, when haymows and barns were empty, awaiting the upcoming harvest, people used to sweep the barn floors and arrange dancing nights, called logdans (~ haymow dance).

On a Saturday evening many, many years ago, a number of young men and women had gathered for logdans in Hårga. The dancing had been going on for several hours, and the short midsummer night was giving away for the light of dawn.

Suddenly the door opened and an unknown fiddler entered, wearing a long coat and a wide-brimmed hat. He began playing a wild tune that grabbed the dancing youngsters and gave them new force and energy. The fiddler’s eyes were like burning coals under the brim of the hat, and his pointed goatee beard wagged up and down as he played.

 

Folk dancers Photo by Arne Winderlich

Folk dancers
Photo by Arne Winderlich

The music went on incessantly, and the dance became wilder than ever. The fiddler led the procession of young dancers out through the neighbourhood, ”out through doors and in through windows”, over hills and meadows, up to Hårgaberget.

It was Sunday morning, and the church bells were ringing, summoning people to church service, but the dancers didn’t hear, couldn’t stop dancing.

Only one person, a girl, heard the bells and threw herself down. Lying on the floor she noticed that the fiddler had cloven hooves under his long coat! She tried to warn the others, but no one listened, and she was left alone lying on the barn floor when the dancers went on dancing up the hill.

Another version of the tale says that a boy, seeing the cloven hoof, tried to stop the happening by hacking his knife into a doorpost ­– goblins, ghosts and devils are said to be afraid of steel – only to find that his arm, still holding the knife, was torn off.

 

Contestants in Hälsingehambon Picture from treffpunkt-schweden.com

Contestants in Hälsingehambon
Picture from treffpunkt-schweden.com

The dance never stopped. The youngsters kept on dancing on the flat hilltop in Hårga; they wore out not only their shoes, but their feet, the flesh from their bodies, and the bones in their skeletons. In the end, there was nothing left but a number of skulls rattling around in a circle on the flat rock face.

There’s still a circular pattern visible on the mountain top. The tale says that on dark and cloudy Saturday nights you can see shadow-like, restless souls dancing on the flat mountain top.

–––––

Hälsingehambon is a Hambo Dancing Contest (claiming to be the Hambo World Championship) which is held in Hårga every year in July.

–––––

The tale about dancing with the devil is retold in a song, Hårgalåten (the Hårga tune), which is a hambo. The hambo dance tunes, in ¾ time with a strong accent on the first beat, is rather catching, even to people like me who don’t practise folk dance or aren’t particularly fond of it.

The Hårgalåten tune is popular and there are numerous recordings. You can hear one version here:


(Sung by Sandra Dahlberg, accompanied on guitar. Pretty, sounds romantic, but really totally wrong: it should be a fiddle in higher tempo, arranged so as to reproduce the horror of the text. But as said – it’s pretty. :-) )The Swedish original lyrics are rendered below, in parallel to my flatfooted translation; it doesn’t rhyme, it doesn’t follow any previously known metre, but…

(For those not familiar with the Swedish alphabet: the letter ”å” looks like an ”a” with a ball on top, and it is pronounced like the ”a” in the word ”ball”. Easy to remember, isn’t it?)

HårgalåtenSpelmannen drog fiol ur lådan
och lyfte stråken högt mot söndagssolens kula.
Då blev det fart på Hårgafolket,
de glömde Gud och hela världen

Dansen gick på äng och backar,
högt uppå Hårgaåsens topp.
Man slet ut båd’ skor och klackar,
aldrig fick man på dansen stopp.

Varifrån kommer du som spelar,
säg vem har lärt dig detta spel det vilda galna?
Stannar du inte brister hjärtat,
å Gud bevare han har bockfot!

Klockorna hade ringt i dalen,
och där gick far och mor och bror till socken kyrkan.
Var kan nu Hårgas ungdom vara,
å herregud de dansar ännu!

Dansen gick till Hårgalåten,
högt uppå Hårgaåsens topp.
Man har nu inte långt till gråten,
dansar nu sönder både själ och kropp

Hejda din stråke spelman innan,
vi dansar liv och själ och alla ben ur kroppen.
Nej inte slutar han sin dans
förrän allesammans faller döda!

The Hårga Tune
Fiddler took the fiddle from its casing
lifted bow to greet the dawning Sunday sun
In Hårga village people started bustling
Once was God and all the world forgottenDance, they did over hills and meadows
to the crest of Hårga ?mountain
Soles and heels ?they soon wore out
Since the dance? could not be stopped

Wherefrom are you, amazing fiddler
tell, who taught you play this wild and mad?
Our hearts will burst unless you stop!
oh help us God, he walks on cloven hooves!

The bells were ringing in the valley,
god-fearing people went on their way to church
But where are all the Hårga youngsters?
oh Lord, my God, they are still dancing!

They swirled and danced to Hårgalåten
high on the crest of Hårga ?hill
Exhausted, nearly weeping, crying!
Their souls and bodies ?torn asunder

Fiddler, hold your bow? before
life, and soul, and bones leave our bodies!
No, he doesn’t stop, his tune goes on
Till all of us at end fall down.

And Now What?

SwedishFreak’s condensed Swedish history continues today with the sixth and final episode.

Prime Minister Olof Palme, assassinated on Feb. 28, 1976

Prime Minister Olof Palme, assassinated on Feb. 28, 1986

The internationally most noticed incidents during the last 40 years in Sweden is undoubtedly the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme, and the murder of Anna Lindh, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Officially, both incidents are explained as impulsive, random killings by misfit persons. This may be true about Anna Lindh. But Olof Palme had many enemies, domestically as well as internationally, for being unusually outspoken, equally obtrusive on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Consequently, many theories have been put forward about foreign agents as well as domestic conspiracies.

Sweden joined the European Union 1995 after a referendum with a narrow victory for ”yea”. Swedes are however reluctant members: another referendum about the currency yielded a ”nay”, why Sweden deliberately has failed to meet the conditions for the Euro zone – currently a good decision. Voices arguing for EU exit are heard increasingly often.

The current neo-liberal government are losing support after dismantling the welfare system and failing to halt the increase in unemployment. Next general election will be 2014… and then what?

If you missed the first episodes, check out our history page (Culture/History) which presents each of the six episodes, or dive directly into Today and the Future?