Tuesday, 6 June 2017


"Quite impossible!", you may say, and I may be forced to agree with you, looking at the two pictures above. Whereas a group of eleven year olds had, once upon a time, been frolicking up this mountain top like sprightly chamois, I barely made it, and only on all fours, lest I lose balance and tumble down into the abyss.

You are witnessing here a re-run of an event from way back in 1955. Pupils of a renowned high-school, the venerable BEA Graz Liebenau, had rounded up their first year of studies with an excursion to Teichalm (Austria). The mountain top they had ascended was Hochlantsch. Their older selves decided this year to have their 55th anniversay-of-graduation meeting at the same place.

Speaking of our Alma Mater, this was no ordinary school, so permit me to tell you its engaging story. It started out as a Cadet School, founded by Emperor Franz Josef in 1854. After the Great War, when a smaller Austria emerged from the Empire's ashes, fumbling for its raison-d'être, the state decided to restart the school as an elite gymnasium and boarding school, especially targeted at gifted pupils from modest backgrounds or from remote regions without access to such education. 
BEA Graz Liebenau. Main school (former Cadet School) building.
Photographer: Wolfgang H. Wögerer, Wien

After a short (and sad) interregnum, when the Nazi regime put its own imprint on the institution, the reconstituted Republic of Austria decided to restore the school to its former glory in 1947. It regained its status as elite gymnasium with universal teaching and kept it until the end of the 'seventies, when it was integrated into a reformed system of federal boarding schools.

In its heydays, the BEA's (there were more than one) contacted, each year, the elementary school teachers in Austria, asking them to single out, among their fourth-grade pupils, the most gifted and send them to the Länder capitals (e.g. Graz in Styria) for entrance tests. Out of them, some 90 boys were enlisted for an eight years' elite high-school education in Graz Liebenau. I happened to be one of those admitted to the cohort of 1954. This thanks to Frau Pieber, my first teacher, who had prepared me for the tests with special tutoring, during the afternoons when ordinary pupils could enjoy their free time. 

The education in our school was not only utterly comprehensive, encompassing both humanities and natural sciences – not to speak of art, music and sports – but also utterly demanding. Three classes of thirty students in the beginning were trimmed down to one class of some twenty in the end, and, out of those four students had joined the class years later. There are tight bonds between us, the few – the precious few, who made it; thus we are meeting every five years to celebrate our good fortune of having passed the "needle's eye".

Most of the few – the precious few, who made it!
Photo: Herman Farnleitner

Now on to this year's excursion, celebrating the 55th year of our graduation. As usual, it started with an inspection tour of our old school grounds, where the above picture was taken. Thereafter, we had lunch in our former students' mess, and – you may be surprised – even with two of our teachers present, Professors Jungwirth and Gugerbauer. Like most of our instructors, they had been in their twenties in our school days, due to the state's ambition, no doubt, to deliver us from any bad spirits that may have lingered from the totalitarian regime that had been terminated only a decade earlier. 

After lunch, off we went to Teichalm, following in the footsteps of our younger selves from 1955. There festivities began, with many a pleasant chat over dinner, to relive our eventful days of yore. Amidst the general ruckus, Herman Becke, the most hardy hiker among us, rose and challenged us all to climb the prominent mountain in the area, the Hochlantsch, the following morning. 

Sure enough, a small group of five assembled in front of the hotel at 9 am sharp next morning, eager to make the climb. The track started just behind our hotel, the Teichwirt and was quite pleasant to tread at the outset, inviting us to keep a lively conversation going along the way.

Here I am in lively conversation with school friend Volkmar Lauber
Photographer: Herman Becke

But soon enough, the path lost itself in the forest and changed into a steep incline, reminding us of the fact that we had an altitude gain of some 600 meters ahead of us, along a track that went straight upwards and into the clouds. No more chatting for me, thank you! Step after step, I stumbled upwards, rather stoically, keeping the eyes on the stony ground ahead of me, and this for almost two hours!

A short break for the Hardy Five.
From the left: Volkmar Lauber, Emil Ems, Helmut Kroiss, Hermans Becke
and Herman Farnleitner
Photo: Herman Becke

At long last, and to my great relief, a marvellous vista opened up, showing the top of an immense glistering limestone cap, as if rising to the occasion of our memorial efforts. If you put your eyes on the cross, in the picture below, and let them slide towards the right from there, you are looking at a rather narrow ridge which we would have to clamber up on our way to the top. The last bit of this access proved embarrassingly difficult for me, since it implied balancing on narrow and slippery lime stone, always with the risk of sliding down into the abyss.

For a moment I considered to give up and back down the way I had come, but the prospect of reuniting underneath the summit cross gave me the necessary impetus to keep going. My friends, who seemed to maintain more vigour and balance in their steps, watched with amusement my manner of  proceeding on all fours.

A narrow ridge to reach the "Top of the world"!
Photographer: Herman Farnleitner

The reward came, when our small team assembled around the cross for a triumphant group portrait, emulating the title picture taken so many years ago!

The Hardy Five on "Top of the world", el. 1720 m
Photo: Herman Becke

From then on, it could only go downhill. However, as foretold by Herman Becke, who had been here many times before, the first part of the descent, down the back of the mountain (to the left of the title cross), would be quite intense. But, in fact, a new path had been forged out of the lime stone and we had no major problems getting us through those stony traps. Furthermore, after a good hour's labouring downhill, a welcoming vista could be discerned, even if still far below our feet. 

This was a well placed – and visited – restaurant, situated halfway down into the valley, just perfect for having a leisurely lunch before returning back to Teichwirt. We were quite exhausted by then and spent a whole two hours there eating, drinking and gossiping.

Like a mirage: the welcoming tavern "Steirischer Jockl"
Photographer: Herman Farnleitner

Not quite two hours, though! Well before that, Herman Becke, our indefatigable leader, urged us on, or rather down an innumerable number of steep steps hoed out from the sheer limestone cliff below the tavern. This turned out to be the sidetrack to Schüsserlbrunn, one of the holy springs found at many a place in Austria.

It is a peculiarity of the Alpine regions, especially limestone mountains, where springs are rare, that natural wells are being venerated as blessed by Virgin Mary and considered curing all kinds of disease for those taking a sip or two. So it came to be, for this humble crack in the cliff, within which water is appearing drop by drop, that it was adorned with a small cross and chapel, as seen in the picture below. But not only that, a quite substantial church was added, like plastered to the cliff, welcoming pilgrims all through the year, but especially on 15 August, when it is difficult to find even a place to stand for those worshipping Godmother and her holy spring.

Schüsserlbrunn, a humble well, blessed by Virgin Mary
Photographer: Herman Farnleitner

Whilst admiring this simple but venerable crack in the wall, it occured to me that my water bottle needed filling. So I approached the crack with reverence, hoping for sustenance, if not healing for my ailing body. But getting into the hole proved quite impossible for this well fed senior citizen, with a stiff back to boot. Herman Becke to the rescue. He had filled his bottle there many a time before and knew how to spiral himself into the crack. It took some time to get the bottle filled, drop by drop, but eventually I had it back in my hand and could take a healthy gulp.

Herman helping me out with his flexible demeanour
Photographer: Herman Farnleitner

Thus refreshed the hike back to Teichwirt worked like a charm. There was just one bit of experience missing from the schedule. Early on, Herman Becke had promised us the experience of watching a rare animal, the Alpine Ibex. I was astounded to hear it, having thought this long-horned goat to be long extinct in our mountains. 

True enough, the last specimen was shot in the beginning of the 19th century. Not all, really, since the King of Italy, an avid hunter, wanted to keep a herd for his private shooting pleasure, and declared a small area in the Italian Alps, in the Gran Paradiso region, to be his Royal Hunting Preserve. Nowadays it is a national park. From there, the Ibices, or Steinbocks, have been replanted in several Alpine mountains, among them the Hochlantsch. 

Apparently, not having been hunted for almost a century, and much admired by visiting hikers, they are no longer as shy as they used to be and rather fond of us humans. Unfortunately, they had other plans for the day, so we did not get hold of a single bock. But a young lady we met in the tavern, a friend of Herman's, had indeed seen a flock and lent us her picture so that we have something to show for in this blog. 

This about ends this interesting outing of us veterans. But let me just round up the exposé with a little music, to vent the artistic aspect of our schooling. It is a melody that inspired us greatly, when we were young, and got us to start our own small band, in the upper classes. 

The picture below shows our ensemble performing at an outing in eighth grade, just months before graduation. We were then visiting our sister school (there were BEA's for girls too, in those days!) in Altmünster near Gmunden and tried to impress the other sex with our performance. Unfortunately, the music we played is no longer with us, but if you click on the picture, you will hear one of our forebearers, albeit from some thirty years before our time. 

Our teenage school band performing in Gmunden
From the left: Emil Ems, Udo Jonas, Raimund Wurzer and Claus Weyrich
Photographer: Herman Becke

Thursday, 5 January 2017


"Winter Blues" at 8 am.

I was greeted by a rather surprising view at 8 am today. After several weeks of warm weather, almost autumn-like, winter cold came back with a vengeance and, suddenly, Hammarby Sound had begun to freeze over at night. For 36 hours already, snow had been falling intermittently and I was quite unprepared for this clarified view. Alas, I shouldn't be surprised. Standing on the balcony in my pajamas I suddenly started to shake. I had to rush back in and put on a dressing gown before taking the mandatory picture of the event. It does not pay off taking pictures with cold shaken fingers! It turned out that it was more (or should it be less) than minus 10°C outside.

Speaking of snow; another surprise: when I left the apartment building later on, to trudge stoically uphills towards my favourite breakfast haunt, the snow had been cleared away from my porch, and all the way up to Luma Square! And this only after 36 hours of snowfall! Yesterday morning still, after more than 12 hours of downpour, I had to wade my way uphills through decimeters of the white powder; today, going was much easier!

Clearing the paths only after 36 hours is still quite unsatisfactory, you say? I tend to agree, but have to point out that it is still better than not clearing at all; which happened last time around (see Decline and Fall of a Great Country).

In my favourite breakfast haunt.

The question still remains: why does it take such an awful amount of time to clear the sidewalks around my apartment building? I have only two alternative answers to this against the background of snow clearing being contracted out to private enterprises. Either, the contracts permit such delays in order to save money; or, the contracts are badly written. Both could of course be true.

The first named cause of delay should be acceptable to me. After all, saving money leads to lower municipal taxes. Who am I, a privileged member of the Baby Boomers generation, to deny such bonus to those who come after us. What is a little hip damage or broken knee, compared to younger people being able to spend more money after tax?

But I am much less forgiving when it comes to writing bad contracts, leading to bad service for good money. It is in the essence of private enterprise to look after itself rather than society at large. In consequence, there is a a need and responsibility for the municipal contractor to write approptriate contracts, which lead to the result we expect and pay for.

Have we not recently awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics to Dr. Bengt Holmström, the famous Finlander and Professor who explained to us how such contracts should be written and enforced? The Award Ceremony took place just a few weeks ago (and I saw the King handing over the prize to him, since I attended the ceremony), but regrettably, no one asked him for advice on how Stockholm's contracts with their snow cleaning entrepreneurs should have been written.

Be that as it may. When coming back from breakfast, and whilst I am writing these lines, flakes are again starting to tumble down. And the weather report is promising us intermittent freezing colds and heavy snow falls over the weekend. Time to prepare for a prolonged weekend in bed!

Heavy snowing again, at 10 am!

Looking back at what I have written just now, it appears a bit morose. Time to lighten up the text a bit, don't you agree? Why not revisit the Nobel Prize Ceremony for a moment. Attending it was a first for me, very engaging for a septuagenarian, I can assure you. I witnessed the ceremony with wide open eyes and the childish admiration even an oldtimer can show for an event not experienced hitherto. In that context I couldn't help noticing the dignified respect paid by the audience and participants to the proceedings.

Even a life-long performer of the arts was so aw struck by the surroundings that she got stuck in the middle of her recital of a Bob Dylan song. She was able to continue first after uttering the by now winged words "I'm sorry, I am so nervous".

                  Patti "The Nervous" Smith singing "A hard rain's a-gonna fall"

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


When I am writing this, at 3.30 pm, it has been snowing for all of 42 hours already. No way am I going out for dinner today. Better stay at home and warm up one of those Lidl bean cans. But it is not the cosyness of my home that leads me to take this decision. Rather, it is the sad truth that there has been NO PLOWING OF THE SIDEWALKS OUTSIDE MY HOUSE since it started snowing.

It is as if the snowplowing authorities woke up suddenly, when the first snow flakes appeared, complained half-asleep "Oh my, oh my!", only to go back to sleep again. If this is not a sign of decline, so say!

The title of this blog post does not allude to the recent Presidential election, even if I suspect that Trump may well ring in the "beginning of the end" of the Great Republic. No, it deals with a far more profound issue, the degradation of infrastructure in our own Great Kingdom.

Historians tend more and more to see the decline and fall of her much greater forerunner, the Roman Empire, in secular neglect and decline of infrastructure. In its heydays, the power of the Empire rested in its road-net, the greatest hitherto seen in the world, which permitted commerce and trade to flourish, but – in particular – legions upon legions to move rashly from one corner of the Empire to another, wherever there was a threat to counter on its borders, which stretched almost limitless along the "shining sea".

From the middle of the fourth century AD infrastructure started to become neglected in the Empire, letting roads decay and communications slow down ever more. Eventually, it became a necessity to divide the Empire into two, since no ruler could keep it all together against internal and external enemies. And finally, the weakened armies succumbed to barbarian invaders, bringing its Western half to a bitter end.

We are not quite there yet in our own Kingdom, even if foreign migrants have been streaming in already in their hundreds of thousands. But we are beginning to see signs of secular break-down of public service and infrastructure alright.

Take the railways, which used to go by the watch almost like the Schweizer Bundesbahn in olden days – that is, when I moved to Sweden in the 'sixties. Nowadays there is a distinct possibility of breakdown whenever you are planning at trip from Stockholm to, say, Malmö. Better take a plane nowadays. You think I am exaggerating? Of three trips to Malmö by train I took in the past five years, two had considerable delays of at least an hour. One of them had us blocked on the rails not far from Malmö for THREE HOURS, without possibility to leave the train!

Crime rate is drastically increasing in the suburbs of our big cities. The murder count has more than doubled in those hotbeds of gang criminality, but – what is worse – the clearance rate has skydived. And her I am not even speaking of lesser crimes, like home burglary, which hardly warrant any police investigation anymore.

School results are, to judge from international comparisons, among the worst in Western countries. Medical service in our great hospitals is ever getting more happenstance, with corridors crowding with needy people waiting, more or less patiently, for a doctor or at least a nurse to appear.

And now this! No snow cleaning outside my doors. This is not such a big deal for me, I have collected a substantial number of Lidl food cans to prepare for the worst. But what about mothers having to wade through the snow to deliver their doddlers to kindergarten? Or people doing their utmost to reach their working place, despite snow barriers, unplowed roads and the tram not even arriving due to snowed-over rails?

I think it is about time to take matters in our hands. I count four building co-operatives on our block of unplowed sidewalks. Surely we can afford to invest in a sturdy snow-blower – and the devil take the municipal services! This way we can be sure to make our way at least up to the tramway and the great throughway, which, thank God, is still being serviced by the municipal snow cleaners!

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


Yesterday morning, when I went out of bed at my usual time, at 7.30, I was greeted by the light of a new-born day! We are on wintertime now since Sunday last. Thus there is a grace period of about a week, when it is still light when I am waking up. Of course, I had to bear witness to this fine event by documenting it for you, dear readers.

The sun had just about crept above the horizon; the whole scenery was clad in mild pastel colors, just as to nudge me on my transition from drowsy to fully awake.

I have tried to do these colors justice and am showing you a picture a bit unlike earlier ones, which were high of contrast and saturation due to the sunny season. Permit me to add that I begin to appreciate delicate details in nature and print, now since I am getting older, and my aesthetic taste is getting fully developed. Of course, when I put pictures on the blog here, most of the time I give them an extra boost of saturation; I know from my own experience that most of us react more actively to stronger motives and color, and I would not like you readers to become disappointed in me.

Surprisingly, whereas I more and more prefer delicate colors, which shows in the prints I prepare for sale, the opposite seems to be the case for many great artists. Picasso comes to mind; in photography one has to look no further than to my forbearer Ansel Adams. As a photographer, he produced picture after picture on demand from a few early negatives, so you can follow the development of his aesthetic taste over the decades. The prints from his later years shine in high contrast, whereas those of his youth are much more delicate in appearance.

To continue on another thread, I am rather pleased with this kitchen window blog and am grateful that I started it some six years ago. Whereas, at the beginning, I saw it a bit as a necessity – produced only grudgingly, since it kept me from my main mission, to produce my two books, I have begun to understand that it now has become a main outlet for my creative endeavors. It is an easy format to work in and I will be able to keep up the good work for many years yet.

I am dedicating this post to a great man, not only a great artist, but also a very brave person, who kept going with his creative verve until the edge of his demise. When he received the verdict that his death was imminent, he produced a musical dealing with the travails of his last days. He went on by producing an album with the songs from the musical, which was released only two days before his death.

Long live David Bowie – In memoria!

Wednesday, 5 October 2016


One of the pleasures remaining to us of a certain age is to have unplanned encounters with hitherto unknown fellow humans. I have to admit that this is a relatively new experience for me. When I was younger, I tended to avoid coming into contact with strangers for several reasons.

I am by nature a solitaire, quite clumsy in using the various modes of getting into and keeping social contacts. To that has to be added a slightly paranoid affliction – stemming from my early childhood experiences, no doubt – which shows itself in fearing my integrity being threatened or being manipulated by people I am not familiar with. Fortunately, age has whittled away most of these concerns.

This process of liberalization took off when I went on my quest to California, back in 2010 and thereafter. People in the US, especially in California, are very easy to address and I got a lot of interesting and warming contacts, whilst busy with documenting student life and city life in Berkeley and its surroundings.

Since then, I am trying to maintain the good habit of opening up to other human beings. I even have gone so far as to invite readers of my website to contact me and seek counsel, if they feel the need for it. To date, only one person has taken me up on that offer – in the four years the website has been on Internet – but I am glad to say that it was to mutual benefit. I could help the person carry his thesis project through, in view of difficulties to communicate with his thesis adviser – quite common – and we keep having pleasant lunch meetings ever since.

The other week, when I was on my way home along Lumagatan, I happened upon a vehicle that I first thought to be a movable office van. But inside was a woman doing housekeeping chores, so it was a camping car I saw. We came to chat about this and that and, gradually, it dawned on me that she must be from Californa, to judge from her pronounciation. So I decided on the spot to invite her home for a coffee. She graciously accepted but asked me, could her husband come along? He was at a repair shop in the surroundings to get his "drone" fixed – Yes! We have shops for even this in my neighborhood. 

Eventually the couple arrived at my doorsteps, but accompanied, to my surprise, by a young Norwegian friend of theirs and a lot of food they had thought to prepare for dinner and brought along to my place instead. A cosy evening followed, with chat, food and drink, and we had a great time. Especially since the view from my apartment was at its most generous, with a grand sunset as shown here in the two pictures.

An interesting topic came up during our conversation. The husband, although a lot younger than me, but apparently in the middle of a career make-over, told me of his plans to start giving seminars to people about to retire. He saw it as his duty to help the soon-to-be pensioners find their right path through the remaining 30 years of their life (as he expressed it). To my surprise he went on to say that it should be each person's duty to round up his life as if writing the most important, albeit final chapters of his book.

I was astounded! Had I not seen my life after work in exactly the same fashion? Had I not produced not only one, but two books as the final act before the curtain would fall? At the same time I was in a quandary: had it not taken me "only" seven years to accomplish this task, and now this new friend was talking about having to fill all of thirty years with meaningful activities?

Long after my guests had left me, I continued to ponder this issue. Austrian as I am, my life would not extend to fully 23 more years, I was sure; already an odd type of consolation. But wasn't it reasonable to count on living at least ten more active years? What to do with the remainder of my active life, since my life's project was already accomplished? 

But I should not have worried. Our brains work in mysterious ways, and circumstances contribute, to bring meaning to the life of even an old geezer like me. For instance, looking back only to the beginning of this year, I have since then already been amazingly busy with doing what I like to do most; to work with pictures and to design books. As a result, a good friend of mine received his book in excellent shape and could publish it this summer; and a new book is in the making, an anthology of articles written by my retirement association. 

Rounding it up, I got a new job, as Member of the Board of Fulbright Sweden. This makes me content: am I not a Fulbright grantee myself, and don't I have Fulbright to thank for my year in Berkeley in the 'seventies, which eventually gave rise to my first retirement project? Last, but not least, I am invited to make a guest appearance at the University of Stockholm next week, to get young students familiar with the dramatic financial crisis years in Sweden in the early 'nineties. 

To sum up, filling your life with a plethora of meaningful activities can bring as much pleasure and satisfaction towards its "blue hour" as laboring on big projects like "The Great American Novel" or the two books I have produced within the past seven years. Speaking of the "blue hour", just before my guests left me after a cosy evening, we made a last detour to my balcony to savor the views. You may glimpse my neighbors at the dinner table, enjoying the same view whilst eating. With autumn cool sneaking up on us, a jubilant bounce like that of June last was not in the air.  ;–)

Thursday, 4 August 2016


This morning I suddenly felt the urge to tell you about a wondrous experience I have had over the past six years.

It all started with an old friend, Per Wijkman – whom I have known since back in the early 'seventies – contacting me and asking me: "Could I help restore some old glass negatives from his family?". This was in 2010 and I had just begun my training in digital photo processing. I gladly agreed since the work would fit in nicely with my other schooling in the field.

It turned out to be a major piece of work, since the "some" negatives turned in fact out to be more than a hundred, all rather deteriorated by age and damage. These were pictures taken by Per's father in the 1910s. It took me about half a year to get to grips with all the pictures.

Father Per (Gustaf Adolf) and son Per (Magnus) Wijkman

With the work on-going I got, however, to know intimately – and appreciate – the people depicted in the negatives, as well as the town they lived in – Köping, west of Stockholm, at a distance of 120 km as the crow flies –, the property they owned, the great festivities in their family, their frolicking whilst on summer excursions, etc., etc.

When the work had been finished, I encouraged Per to publish this unique set of pictures, together with a short essay depicting the general background against which they had been taken. I envisaged this as an important presentation of the "Zeitgeist" in a bourgeois family, living their happy life unaffected by the Great War that devastated most of Europe.

A festive Wijkman family dinner in 1915.
The patriarch, Per Magnus Wijkman's grandfather, in the middle

Per did not quite follow my advice. He is a born scholar and thought it far too simplistic to take advantage of the pictures in this way. Instead he embarked on a loong journey of scholarly research, charting his family history as well as the history of the town, Köping, where the main part of family drama evolved. The result of his five years' venture into the past is astounding.

Whereas the pictures showed a happy family during a period of about five years, with the younger generation just beginning its journey through life, his research weaved a large and detailed tapestry of family, town and property history ranging over a period of more than a hundred years – a Swedish "Buddenbrooks", even in a shorter and more modest form!

One of the sisters Wijkman (second from right) in (still) joyful company. 

In Per Wijkman's own words: "The pictures are forward looking, full of youthful enthusiasm and faith in the future, whereas the text [in the book] is backward looking, written about 100 years later by someone who knows what happened thereafter. Set-backs and misfortunes later in life cast a dark shadow over the idyl that appears in the pictures." [My translation from the Swedish text].

When it dawned on me that a major tale was being weaved by Per, I was glad to help him design a book with the content he intended: a book, where family tale is intertwined with the old pictures and where text and images form each others' counterpoint. In this way the reader would get an enriched double view of the content; as if meeting a young love again for the first time after fifty years and viewing the mature person juxtaposed with the image still kept in your mind as forever young.

The elder Wijkman brother with his beautiful wife

I would love to explore in detail this surprisingly rich tale, but all but a short overview would breach the frame of this blog post. In the book we learn above all about the younger generation Wijkman, all five of them, born towards the end of the 19th century.

The eldest, Per's uncle, had the good fortune of marrying a woman of beauty and character, but lost all his wealth after the stock crash of 1929. He died shortly thereafter, followed within 10 weeks by his lovely wife, leaving six children parentless.

A budding scientist, still in Grammar School
A younger sister turned out to be a talented scholar, who went on to study mathematics and chemistry at Stockholms Högskola (the precursor of University of Stockholm). In her research she discovered already in the 1920s what later would be called penicillin, but without getting any recognition, in terms of academic honors, for her findings. Discouraged, she went to Germany to continue her research under the foremost chemists of their time. Alas, circumstances took a turn for the worse with the advent of the Nazis, and her research was usurped by colleges she had trusted. Disappointed and depressed she returned to Sweden never to retake her research, and lived the remainder of her days in desolation and poverty.

Our generation lives in a cocoon, where most of life's risks are being mitigated by the welfare state and is therefore lacking insights into what living was like in the old days; like treading on a knife's edge, where at any time a misstep to the left could mean sickness, sudden death or desolation, but a step to the right also could mean success and long life. This book is rich in examples of those turns of fate.

It is amazing that the author, at his advanced age, could gather his resources and produce such an impressive story. This leads me to an appeal: At our age, one of the few things left for us to enjoy is friendship. I am now addressing all of the readers of this blog who speak Swedish and know Per Magnus Wijkman personally. At his age, it would make him happy, if his friends and acquaintances were to appreciate the research he has done and the tale he has wrought during many lonely hours. Why not grant him his just reward and, at the same time provide pleasure to an old friend, by buying the book?

The book can be bought at BOKUS, where you can also look at sample pages, to get a first impression of this publication's quality.

Allow me to thank you in advance for your gallant support of an old friend with a tune that tallies nicely with the pictures of a happy family in the 1910s, I think. Please click on the picture to listen to the song!

Mary Hopkins: "Those were the days …"

Sunday, 31 July 2016


Mauve early morning sheen over Hammarby Sound

I am writing this blog after the fact. The last three weeks have been alive with small activities that would take an ordinary man a day or two to settle. But I am retired now and – for some strange reason – am enticed to let even small tasks stretch out to last at least a week or two.

So, let us travel back in time to beginning of July! On the very day when the Swedes by tradition head off to a four weeks' leave, my sleep was interrupted at an early hour, at 3.30 am already. Whilst one eye was still firmly shut, the other was greeted by a strange mauve sheen, alighting the blinds. Intrigued, I stumbled out of bed and out to the balcony to investigate.

An otherwordly scene welcomed me out there. A broad but narrow band of intense light hovering just above the horizon, like neon above the entrance of an old-time movie theatre. It appears that the rising sun labored to outshine a thick cloud bank hovering just at the horizon and preventing it from breaking through. In desperation it spread its rays to enlighten a full 45° of the horizon with a completely even and strong shine, ranging from Northwest to straight West.

My watering hole – breakfast at "finefood"

This view got me wide awake, so I decided to work on the queue of small tasks I have been talking about above. By 8 am I had come a long way and felt quite satisfied with myself. Suddenly, I got the idea of enriching my usual morning walk, by taking a camera along and documenting some of its highlights for you, dear readers. Said and done: on with my shoes, a Nikon over my head, grasping two Nordic walking sticks to get me on my way with speed, and off I went to my usual breakfast place.

I am a lucky man, having access to at least two cafés at 5 minutes' walk from my apartment. The one pictured above (fine food) is my favorite and I have had breakfast there (almost) every morning since 2009! Although the girls serving customers here have changed over the years, the owner couple is still going strong and has adapted the place to changing times and circumstances. It started out as a shop for gourmet food (thereof the name) with just one table squeezed in for people like me to have coffee and a sandwich. Nowadays, it is a fully fledged café and restaurant with still some "fine foods" for sale.

Sjöstadsparterren, a Park with award ---

Refreshed from fine breakfast in a fine café, my feet got wings and I hastened to my morning trail. Its first part lies along a nice town park, called Sjöstadsparterren. This is a beautiful piece of greenery and sculptures that is laid out, in between townhouses, for almost a kilometer towards the East. I can tell you that it is very pleasurable to perambulate, due to its humane proportions and delicate features.

About halfway through there is a nice water sculpture greeting you. Since it is still early in the morning, we are missing the small toddlers that just LOVE to stumble around among these "geysers" of ever changing shape and intensity. So we have to do without the delighted giggles and screams of children getting a surprising splurge of water on their faces and feet.

... and "geysers"

I am not the only one being in love with this place. It was even awarded a cherished architectural prize back in 2005, the Kasper Salin Prize. I am not surprised since I count this park among the most pleasurable in Stockholm. A pity that more recent building frenzy is preventing its continuation beyond the old Luma factory, which divides this part of Hammarby Sjöstad into two.

My apartment lies towards the West, beyond the factory, where town planners have left it to the building companies to plan our part of the district. As a result, the counterpart of Sjöstadsparterren on our side is a plain street, with cars driving along and a rather drab mid-section trying in vain to be pleasant. Shame on you, you Stockholm City planners, for a abandoning us when we needed you the most!

True love – being active together in the morning!

But back to my walk. As I enjoyed the nice greenery along Sjöstadsparterren, my eyes caught a lonely couple who exercised their young bodies in camaraderie. Did the mirrorlike symmetry in their movement indicate a happy meeting of body and mind, I wondered? I couldn't tell, of course, but could still wish them all the best for their relationship.

By then, I approached the Eastern end of the park. There lies a cosy little daycare centre, which is pretty busy on ordinary working days. In Sweden, children can be delivered there as early as 7 am, so I am usually greeted with the steady buzz of children rushing in and out of doors and happily doodling around the various playthings adorning the outside. But this was July and holiday season, so the centre was closed and I was the only person ambling around those children's delights.

Rare view of playground without kids 

From this juvenile paradise, there is just a small set of stairs to navigate before arriving at the pleasant oak glade already mentioned in an earlier blog post (Young Virgins' Summer). But what a difference in apparition! Where there was, at that earlier occasion, a sunny glade with eloquent light shining through budding leaves, I was now greeted with sincerely green trees, rendering the scene a somber dark.The deep green of deep summer appears – to the photographer – rather drab and boring, but to the hiker i provides welcoming shade after a stretch of sunny walking!

The oak glade again – this time in deep summer green

Continuing along the road through the glade, I soon arrived at the lock that leads boats from the Baltic Sea up to the bucolic lake region lying on a plateau to the South-East. Whenever I am in a vigorous mood – which happens less and less these days – I will deviate to the right and have a prolonged hike of two hours or more into that rejuvenating region of forest, lake and moor.

But this was not the right occasion; instead, I just crossed the small bridge above the lock to get access to the cosy boardwalk along Sickla Peninsula, Sjöstaden's nucleus (where the building of it all started 15 years ago). I can tell you that this boardwalk, with its slightly bouncing wooden planks, lends your feet wings and is pure pleasure to hike along. It stretches for a mile along the waters and I can be seen there prancing with my sticks every morning!

A boardwalk for eager Nordic Prancers

With the picture below we are at the usual endpoint of my board hike. It was taken whilst standing with my back against the railing, catching breath before stretching, with eyes resting on the buildings in front of me, which lie in the Fredriksdal block of our district. At this early hour, I am usually alone with my thoughts but, "Look!", wasn't there a fellow resident taking it easy on the pier?

Relaxing on the pier, as I am on the boardwalk!

But soon I got the urge to take up the sticks and start my quick march home. Just a bit along the way, a nice view opened up to me, with Sofia kyrka throning on the Southern Island, as if to encourage me to put on some extra speed. I had admired this view many a time, but always without camera, so I was glad to get it documented this time, with nice sunshine and all!

Get on with it! – the loong return

Whenever I return along the sidewalk, there is this beautiful detour, with wooden paths that lead exactly nowhere but are nonetheless inviting me to tread them. I had taken them up on their invitation many times before, but this once I contented myself with taking a picture of the delightful mix of boardwalk, water and reeds.

Swans and ducks are finding this a convenient place to hatch in. There are even beaver hiding in the thickets but I did not see them this time. Instead, the ducks rose to the task and formed a line for me to photograph, as if showing me the right way to the quay opposite the peninsula. Unfortunately, I could not follow them, since I needed a means to gap the waters in between without wetting my shoes.

Ducks urging me on

Fortunately, there is a bridge just 50 meters from there, where I soon arrived by taking vigorous steps, aided by the sticks. The span looks a bit peculiar but there is a reason for it. It is constructed completely in steel, said to be among the first bridges built with this material.

Bridge of steel. Architect Erik Andersson

Having passed this bridge of steel and looking back, it appears even more peculiar. From two concrete bastions on its left and right, thick steel cables emerge that project towards, and are anchored in, the bottom of the span. I used to wonder about the reason for this strange arrangement, until I happened upon a small plaque hanging rather discreetly on the left railing. It turned out that this bridge, called Apatê, is famous for its construction; it even received a prize for it. The cables have the task of easing the weight of the span, where it rests on the marches at the fringe of Sickla Peninsula.

I sometimes get visitors who have a training in engineering. The above explanation causes consternation to some of them, since they doubt that cables placed underneath a bridge can give it a boost upwards. Others of the same inclination point out that the bridge is formed like a bow; the cables anchored underneath it keep it under tension and thereby prevent it from sinking into the marches. I think we are forced to accept the latter interpretation, especially since it tallies with the official explanation given by the architect. ;-)

Steel cables – to prevent the span from drowning in the marches

This about finishes the tale. We are back on my side of Hammarby Canal and have just another kilometer to go. A last picture of the track should suffice, before arriving at the Harbour Crane, the great marker of having arrived back home.

Almost back home!

It would be a pity to leave it at that, though! Even if the remainder of the day was rather eventless, as is often the case for us retirees, there is another treat in store for you dear readers! Late in the evening, at 10 pm to be precise, we were able to admire this beautiful sunset, rarely seen even in Summer time. The more rarely since the sun will not set again as far North as this until July 9 next year!

Sunset at 10 pm – at North-North-West!

I would be a bad blogger, if I did not have yet another story to fill out this post with. This as a reward for you, the most hardened and patient of readers, who have staid with me until now.

After having admired the gorgeous sunset I spent the remaining hours to midnight in front of the television screen, since an engaging movie was being played that evening. After that, I was tired enough to go to bed, or so I thought! Instead, the television having been shut off, I started to notice quite loud singing and laughing from below the balcony. Hoping that it would soon stop, being midnight and all, I kept reading for a while in bed. But, by 1 am, there was still a lot of commotion outside.

Enraged, I rushed down to the quay in pajamas, to admonish the malfeasants. What I saw was four young girls acting out, by singing and dancing, popular songs from musicals, such as, Mamma Mia, Grease and Sound of Music. As reaction to my angry words, they apologized profusely, telling me they did not realize that their happy go-together had disturbed the neighborhood. I almost felt sorry for having interrupted such girly-girly ebullience, but again, there is a limit even to female artistry. They were gracious enough to desist and leave, so we parted as friends and I could get a good night's sleep – or what remained of it – at long last.

Let me now round up this blog post about deep summer with some music in the same vein. A lazy season needs great artists to get us engaged: George Gershwin, Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong!