Airlift vs Luftbrücke

Logistics have seldom been more important than during the Berlin Blockade 1 April 1948 – 12 May 1949. Aptly described in the book Armageddon, the insight that a plane not being able to land should return to base immediately instead of hovering over Tegel, Tempelhof or Gatow was crucial in establishing a flow of supplies. A procedure established when it was clear that the blockade would last more than the anticipated three weeks and by the operation commander Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner,

Aircrews from the US, UK, Canadian, NZ and South African air forces flew over 200.000 flights in one year, providing to the two million Berliners up to 8,893 tons of necessities each day. I suppose they also got a lot of experience in addition.

When I visited Berlin last week I was struck by the differences in the words used to describe this situation in English and German. I must say that I'm not really sure of what "lift" stands for in this case other than taking items from one place to another, often involving vertical travel.

The German word "luftbrücke" is similar to the Swedish one "luftbro", meaning "air bridge". I think this is a better word for the situation, signifying not the transport of goods but the connection between places. I can imagine that for the people starving and freezing in Berlin, it meant a lot from a psychological perspective to have this bridge. To know they were connected, know they were not forgotten.

I also suppose that the blockade helped the german people to become something else than nazis in the eyes of the other Western countries. Now they became victims, fighting against a common enemy: the communists. When the Berlin Wall came up in 1961, this image became even stronger leading to the famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech by John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Bridges are often used as metaphors for change. A bridge brings hope, closes gaps, allows us to travel to something better. Being on the bridge makes us to see both sides. Sometimes bridges are burned, making the transformation permanent. However, another aspect of the bridge metaphor is that it points to differences, emphasising separation between the two entities connected by the bridge. It allows two people to go their separate ways, with a flimsy potential of reconnection.

With its current strong role in the EU embodied by Angela Merkel, not the least demonstrated in the current negotiations with Greece and in the dealings with Russia, it's no doubt that Germany made good use of the Luftbrücke.
From Berlin 2015


Magical Night

I remember the first time I went to see A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was in 1994 in Melbourne where I was spending my last month in Australia working on my PhD thesis. My colleagues at the RMIT had a tradition of going to this outdoor "theatre" in the middle of the Royal Botanic Gardens and they kindly asked me to come along.

We went there in the afternoon with our blankets and picnic baskets. There was a nice lawn sloping gently towards a large pond where we sat down to eat. In the trees, large black fruit bats were hanging very still.

The confusing play started and not only acting followed, but also acrobatics, torches and fireworks. The sun set and the bats begun to look for their dinner. First just a few, and then the velvet sky was filled with their muffled flapping. The air was cool but not cold and the light breeze contained faint traces of the exotic flowers around us.

I think it is safe to say that the play A Midsummer Night's Dream is all about transformation, although a huge number of various analyses have been made and it will continue to inspire aspiring literature critics for ages to come. I'm not sure I was transformed into something, but the evening definitely changed me in some way. It created a memory I will bring with me forever, I hope.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk roses, and with eglantine.
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lulled in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enameled skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in.

Australians do like their fairies. You find them on postcards, in gardens, in the house, on television, everywhere. The adorable adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs are well-known and when in Australia, you soon you begin to see gumnut babies everywhere.

From Australia October 2007

Apparently this year the Shakespeare Under The Stars event switched to As You Like It, but I'm sure it was good too. Should you be in Melbourne in February-March next year, I really recommend you get some tickets!


Pleasant Street

According to professor Ebba Witt-Brattström, it's sad that Swedish people cannot make a list of classical Swedish literature that made a major impression on them, the same way people from Finland or Germany can. They cannot make a list of Swedish literature at all, unless you count recent Nordic Noir. And especially not classical books written by female writers.

I must admit that although I have read a fair share of Swedish literature (although I was more into Maria Lang rather than Selma Lagerlöv but I have read Moberg, Fogelström, Bengtsson, Lindgren, Tunström, Ekman, Fredriksson, Lagerqvist, Axelsson, Strindberg, Jansson and many more), I've always been more interested in British and American literature. Very early on, I started to read the books in my Mother's bookcase and later I read the books from her book club. 

This led me to authors such as Leon Uris. I have read several of his books: Exodus, Armageddon, Topaz and QB VII. However, I think that the one that made the most impression on me was Mila 18. How to continue to fight on, even if the opposition is overwhelming and all hope is gone. How to stand for what you believe in. But also what humans are capable of just to survive. When it was published in 1961 it soon became a success, apparently forcing Joseph Heller to change the title of his debut novel from Catch 18 to Catch 22

Walking around modern day Warsaw I'm struck by several things. Of course, I'm impressed by the way they have rebuilt the old town making it very cosy and tourist-friendly (probably more quaint than it was before the WW2). Lots of statues of men. In the area of the former Jewish getto you find only new buildings and more are developed.

Of course you need to learn the history of your own culture and the country where you live, and reading fiction is a good way of doing that. I know that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. However, I think it is also very important to learn about other people and places, otherwise you will end up fearing the unknown or different, and that is probably worse.

From Warszawa 2015


Swedish Anthem

The Swedish constitution does not mention a particular national anthem. What is custom to use in ceremonial situations since the end of the 1930s is the song "Du gamla, du fria" ("Thou ancient, Thou free"). When it comes to lyrics, the song does in fact not mention Sweden. It talks about live and die in the North, refering to the Scandinavian countries which could be considered as a longing for past times (when Norway was a part of Denmark and Finland was a part of Sweden and we all shared the same union), or as a wish for the future (we often talk about attacking Norway and surrender really quickly to get the benefits of their oil reserves) or simply because it sounded grand at the time it was written.

The first verse focuses on the characteristics of the nature of Sweden and perhaps Swedes. Maybe Tim Rice picked up on this when working together with former ABBA members Björn and Benny while making the song "Anthem" for the musical Chess. This is a kind of pedagogical song, trying to describe the differences between the concepts "land", "country" and "nation", although it seems to get it a bit wrong. However, sorting them out is by no means an easy task, nor is defining how many countries exist since it depends on which country is doing the counting. Let's say it's around 195. I've been to more than 50 of them, although not all of them were countries when I visited them.

"Du gamla, du fria" is based on an old folk-ballad from the north part of Sweden called "Kärestans död" (The Death of the Sweetheart"). When the racist Swedish party "Sverigedemokraterna" tried to claim that Swedish folk music was an example of "pure" Swedish culture, the folk music community sent a very clear message that they by no means would like to be associated with that kind of thinking. The folk music festivals at Bingsjö, Boda and Delsbo in the county Dalarna made an appeal and publicly announced that folk music by tradition is inclusive and continues to mix influences from many countries and cultures. For example, a very famous folk musician, Calle Jularbo, made the accordion popular in Sweden but few people knew he was a Romani. My guess is that not that many Swedes know that Romani is an official (minority) Swedish language together with Finnish, Meänkieli, Sami, and Yiddish.
From Tjolöholm 2014

In comparison to the festivities in Norway on May 17, the celebration of the National Day of Sweden June 6 is rather modest. That could, of course, be related to the fact that Sweden has not been to war for more than 200 years and that the date refers to the time when we dissolved our union with Denmark in 1523, something we don't talk about that often. However, since it became a holiday in 2005, the festivities have increased. Now many municipalities organise that which include welcoming new Swedes. Today, around 20% of the population in Sweden were born in another country or are the children of international migrants. The Swedish Royal Family is a good example, since both the king's mother and wife was/is from Germany and one of the princesses married an American/Austrian born in the UK.

More people than I are using the Swedish Royal Family for pedagogical purposes. For example, in his blog "Rymdslottet" (The Space Castle) journalist Andrev Walden illustrates space-related facts with photographs of them talking to each other. The latest series depict Prince Carl Philip and his bride-to-be Sofia where she (having a background as a nude model/reality-show actress)  explains the role of imperfection for the existence of life on earth to him. More than 85% of the Swedish population can speak English. I really wish everybody could read Swedish, because the dialogues in "Rymdslottet" are so funny!