THE STOCKHOLM SYNDROME – 7/10 August, 2015

en hälsning från Junibacken

You wake up at nine o’clock in the morning, sun is already high. Today is your son’s Mitia’s birthday: sixteen years ago, in a hot Milan August night he showed up one week late for the date. A 4 kg chubby guy, if you lived in the U.S. today he could eventually get the driver’s license, Heavens (God only knows how much that would be useful right now, eh?). You quickly celebrate for breakfast: the camping concierge is really sorry but no, there are no candles available!

You take the underground and in a glimpse you reach the Gamla Stan maze of streets for a walk. Then you take the ferry to Djurgården, and after the umpteenth hot dog you visit the Vasa Museet; the kids are excited by the huge ship, evidence of one of the greatest Epic Fail in history: sunk the day of the launch just a few meters from the harbor, because it was just too BIG to float.

little girls and huge ships

300 years after they fished it and built a museum around. A note: as many others, the museum is free for all under 18.

In the afternoon you stroll along the elegant Ostermalm, silent and a little strict. You then transfer to pass the night in Södermalm, Stöckholm’s former working class borough and today bohemienne district, stuffed with coffees, young designers boutiques, second hand trendy shops. All definitely swedish-style: which means elegant, smart and low profile . In Nytorget, a square full of young families with naked children bathing in the fountain, you have a brief relax. Greta Garbo was born here, one century ago. You think that you would love living here: you would make do with a flat in the tenement building facing the square; or even better, a small attic in the cozy corner house, example of the clean Swedish architecture of the 19th century beginning, with circular bow windows on the corner; or maybe, even one of those wooden maisonettes on the east side of the square, with white framed windows and backyards.

I’ll take the second on the left, thanks

You asked for Sweden as Erasmus project location, a little more than sixteen years ago: who knows, if you didn’t had to renounce you would live exactly in this lovely square, and you would be one of those Italians who get back to Milan just to celebrate Christmas with the family. But what matters in the end is that, now, you got here with Mitia that turns exactly those sixteen years.

You celebrate properly with a full, meat-based Swedish dinner at Pelikan’s, gorgeous traditional restaurant in the neighborhood. You chat with a couple of Swedish, they ask you where you come from and you tell them your story. They wish you a safe and merry travel, and repeat what a lot of people did before: it’s a beautiful experience for your kids. Goodness knows. Goodness knows if they appreciate like you this city and all the wonderful places you are visiting, as a prize for the thousands miles you stack up driving the big Volkswagen bear.

You take the underground to get back to the camping, placed in suburbian area. To reach it you need to walk through a grey popular housing neighborhood, while finally (it’s 10:30 in the evening) the sun goes down.

Suburbian sunset in Bredäng

You all feel cheerful and stupid, while you walk the deserted streets: Mitia explains his theory regarding Peppa Pig’s brother that, he claims, has been adopted (“the name of all the characters has the same initial as the animal species they belong to: Peppa Pig, Danny Dog, Susy Sheep… all but her brother, whose name is GEORGE. Why? Because nobody knew what animal species his parents belonged to: because he has been abandoned!“).

You sleep badly, that night: the meat feast reveals hard to be digested. You have strange dreams you don’t remember in the morning. Woke up late, you take your time to have breakfast. It’s another beautiful day: you decide to reach the city with the van. You park it easily close to the bridge that leads to Djurgården. You have a picnic on the island meadows and then take the girls to Junibacken, and let Mitia (he’s too adult now for such children leisures!) to visit the Nordiska Museet happy to be on his own. You feel a little reluctant about your visit, instead: a small theme park focused on Nordic children literature, what the hell do you know about this? Though, a lot of people recommended it, and little Maia is too excited by now. And eventually it is a surprise: a little magic place, with the actualization of the settings of last century’s Scandinavian children literature, all of them recreated with such an unexpected gentleness and artistic sensibility. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know almost none of the characters: the girls are so enthusiastic, in particular Maia rings with happiness and curiosity, running, jumping and crawling in each and every room. You hardly succeed in taking her away from the realistic copy of Villa Villekulla, with chests filled with costumes and disguises for children. No video, no sound or special FX, no animatrons: we are light years far from Disneyland world of plastic. It’s just like entering in a 3D watercolor or crayon drawing, where you can touch everything. The main characters, anyway, you know them very well: Pippi Långstrump and the Moomins. And now may you be allowed to present an

extremely controversial invective about children’s literature and pedagogy: Scandinavia Vs Italy

Pippi Långstrum, anarchist and happy: lives on her own, doesn’t attend any school, brawls with boys, eats loads of junk food, smokes (probably drinks shots regularly, in the white spaces between the chapters, you think), has a ridiculous idea of order: though, she’s doing pretty well, and even her conservative bourgeois neighbors love and respect her.

The Moomins, gloomy, psychedelic and provided with a surreal empathy in a world where no living being is totally good or evil (is this maybe the reason why they have had great success in Miyazaki’s Japan?); in Italy they were published just by Linus magazine in the 70’s as an unconventional comic. Both of them were created by female artists, whose nonconformist lifes arouse your curiosity (in particular the Finnish Tove Jansson). 

And then let’s say it: our Pinocchio, whose moral sense can just be originated by the menace of punishment or the fear of criminals, that coward hypocrite conformist he is, is a children reading you NEVER liked. And regarding the “Cuore” book by De Amicis, then, let’s forget about. (End of the invective)

A quick visit to the Fotografiska Museet (temporary exibithions not much exciting actually, but the space is wonderful), and you get back to the van,

Stockholm remains one of your favorite cities: elegant but warm, endowed with a spectacular but subtle beauty. Tomorrow you leave for the North, Höga Kusten is waiting for you.




Rømø beach
Leaving Berlin you get trapped in such a traffic jam that is worthy of the roman GRA; luckily in a temporary orgy of Wi-Fi offer in a coffee place you had downloaded a bit of maps with, so you find an alternative road to get out of the city. Soon the panorama of the idyllic German countryside starts to slide, which reminds you of the illustrations by Richard Scarry: factories, warehouses, small forests, road works perfectly tidy, absurd means of transport like giant motorbikes with three wheels, lorries carrying cars of one same color, tractors with the trailer full of hay. It´s only missing the talking cats or the worms with the Tyrolese cap and one shoe only. You stop by at Hamburg to do the groceries and refill the tank (a bit more than 1 euro/liter, and the highway is FOR FREE: Deutschland über alles).

If one can trust your intuition, then Hamburg is a place to take into account: crossing it you instantly have the impression of a live city, a real one, with a strong and well defined identity. Canals with canoes, streets packed with bikes, houses with and Anglo-Saxon flavor, so many trees and then young people everywhere. Something rare in an occidental city nowadays.

You leave behind the German Jutland and enter Denmark while it starts pouring rain.  

fifty shades of grey
 The kids fall asleep and the car gets invaded by Bach´s cello sonatas. This moment all for yourself, with the rain outside accompanying the sound of the cello, has the power to open up a whole wave of memories from your childhood. Very clear memories of some afternoon in Autumn at your friend T.P´s place, the smell of pipe smoked by his father in the studio while you interrupt your games to run soaked in sweat into the kitchen and have a snack. It was an unrepeatable state of grace, where each thing imagined in the game was real and fantastic at the same time. A marvelous childhood, right T.P.? Now we both have kids, and we face our lives separately; and still that thing is always there, somewhere. Do our kids live such a happy childhood? I try my best, T.P., to protect their enchanted age, but it´s not easy. Sometimes the sea is rough, probably more than what it was for our parents: and is difficult to show up always strong, secure, sweet and able to drive away the threat for them. And maybe is stupid to even question it, happiness belongs to whom is able to perceive it.

You go fast through the strip of earth that connects Rømø with Denmark, in the horizon under the clouds you can see a stripe of light: the rain will stop soon. You stop in a campsite, while the night comes down you prepare chicken and basmati rice for everyone. It´s cold, but tomorrow will be nice, you feel it.

And actually the next day at 6 in the morning the sun is already up there. The occidental coast of the pseudo island of Rømø is an immense beach of thin sand, where you can access with the car, like the bad guys at Daytona Beach. Your day goes by collecting shells, that in some parts are so many that they cover the sand and crack under your feet when you walk over them. You and Emma venture into the sea, cold but not freezing. Then you wander around the island, browsing between the funny Danish houses with the roof that looks like fringe haired girls.

The next day you clear out and leave again. You stop for lunch at Ribe, delicious antique village, under a splendid sun: like in Berlin, also here you have brought the summer, you joke with the kids.  

 Mitia wins the prize on the surreal lunch by ordering nachos with guacamole in a typical Danish coffee: the waitress comes to highlight that they are “freshly homemade”. Ok, well..

You overtake the gigantic bridge that connects Copenaghen with Malmö and you land in Scania, all yellow with the dark blue sea in the background (it loos like PUGLIA). Sweden welcomes you with a thousand car Volvo in the highway, some of them really absurd (the Swedish have a particular eye for vintage cars). The way to Stockholm is long: you stop for dinner (you prepare risotto) and you sleep right next to the highway.

Today you´ll drive to Stockholm; you arrive around 5 in the afternoon, but the campsites are all full: full for the Swedish, which means that between a campingvan/tent and the next there is enough space to park four Volvo, but that is right. In reality, there is so much space in Sweden, what´s the point on squashing all of us together? Somehow you pull out a big smile and some words in Swedish to the tattooed receptionist, who must be around the 15th month of pregnancy, by the size of her belly. You make her notice the three tired, hungry and dirty kids (wich is true, though ALWAYS). At the end she grants you a place with electricity and even a discount. Tack så micket!

 After dinner, you wash the dishes with Maia in the common washing room. It´s half past nine, and here we go, another of those killer sunsets shows up. They look like nuclear explosions, the sun fires up the clouds, which streak the sky in thousand shapes: you leave Maia alone for a moment to admire it once again. At your return you find her concentrated on washing the pots.

“What a good girl you are, Maia. Dad has been distracted by the sunset. He is such a romantic, uh?. “Hehe, yeah, a little bit way too romantic”.

Mmmh. That’s it. Shit.


“we children from Bahnhof Zoo”; please NO

DISCLAIMER: this thing about “ah, in northern Europe there is free internet almost everywhere”, well, come´on. When it´s for free it´s automatically overloaded by cheeky Italians like you,

german station candy hell

therefore is useless: this comes to say that you are posting from a service station near Hamburg and using the phone, so any mistake/inconsistency/nonsense could be blamed on the auto-corrector and not only to my own dumbness.

Thursday evening, after dinner, you finally get the kids back. They are tanned, tired but happy after one month at the sea. You missed them, you would like to let them knock you down with their stories but you have to take them to bed soon, tomorrow you need to leave early.

But no: the next morning, a thousand of small glitches make you leave late. You wake up under a light rain, the kids are half asleep and until the Swiss border they will be on semi-comatose mode. After you pass by Lugano, you drive over San Bernardino pass and finally the sky is cleared up. You stop for a picnic in a meadow somewhere: you wouldn´t be able to tell exactly if it was Switzerland, Lichtenstein or Austria, is there anyone actually able to tell the difference? You allow yourself a little “siesta” in the grass while Mitia devours a book by Neil Gaiman

comfortable reading position

and the girls collect some branches, just so we can already fill the van with random stuff only three hours after departure.

You arrive to Nördlingen in the evening, one of the perfect medieval towns on the Romantiscischiskenkische Strasse or howthehellyoucallit, the kids love the colored houses with the pointed roof, the bas-reliefs, the flags with eagles and swords… A small German city, so perfect that it could have come out from the idealist brush of a Japanese cartoonist, with its “rounded”, friendly and a little bit awkward inhabitants.

not made with marzipan, you tasted them

In the morning you get a light shower while you take a walk on the streets invaded by a flömarkt that has attracted people from all around the region. You buy some relics from the 80s and you continue your way, the road goes through sleepy small towns and forests with red trunk larches and some birch trees here and there.

When you are about 100 km from Berlin you stop for a late snack at Dessau,

“dad, none of us wants to grow up to be an architect”

deserted and immersed in a surreal silence, illuminated by a nordic light that brings out every detail: perfect cornice for the meeting with the Bauhaus, which stands out metaphysically over the blue and clear sky. You stop for a snack, enjoying all the peace of that moment. You think that in reality it has all been that book by Argan´s fault that you had decided to study Architecture, long time ago: it´s not that you understand much about it now, but the rhythm and the lively simplicity of the Bauhaus were fatal for you. An all of that to find yourself, years later, designing boiserie and looking for golden WCs for… Well, let´s forget about it, that´s another story.

You arrive to Berlin in the evening, you are hosted by German friends who live in an elegant villa at Dalhem Dorf (quartier with the peculiarity of having an U-bahn stop that looks like the house of Bilbo Baggins).

probably trains are towed by ponies

The kids go to bed exhausted, while you chit-chat in the garden with the owner of the house, former Italian teacher now retired.

It´s hot in Berlin: you spend the Sunday on your friend´s boat over the Wannsee, the kids jump into the water every time they can, trying not to get caught by the German swans. In the afternoon you take them strolling around the city: the center has now become one of those free trade area for tourists that you can find in any european capital, even the big palaces after Alexanderplatz, with its squalid and romantic grayness, have been enhanced and filled with Zara shops and hipster coffee places. In some squares specifically after DDR, with the 35 degrees it feels like being at the EUR, only missing the watermelon and heroin kiosk.

You decide to get away from the center then, and you take the kids to Printzlauerberg, to eat an ice-cream in Kollowitzplatz. The gardens are full of young couples, German, American, Italian, French… with eighty kids each and as many tattoos. Maia starts playing with an English girl, communicating with her in some mysterious way, while you lay down in the grass staring at the fauna of this little Brooklyn. You finish the evening at Kreutzberg, with two typical ingredients of Berlin´s culture: the kebab, and a pair of Italian refugees. Ah, adored Kreutzberg, your first impact with Berlin was here and 20 years later it hasn´t change much: there are still stoned guys hanging around the streets, the smell of fried food everywhere, groups of turkish teenagers with Adidas sweaters, the stinky S-bahn…

kids in Görlitzer park

You spend the second and last day still hanging around: Maia even manages to drag the three of you to the Zoo (in front of which there are still, unbelievable but true, some heroin junkies, now reduced to a simple touristic attraction) where she strives to see a lemur live. A lemur. But from where the hell has this obsession come, it´s still to be discovered.

You have dinner with your hosts and their friends in the garden: the kids, the three of them, are happy and humorous, irradiating sympathy. You feel so happy for them tonight, and also a little bit for yourself. Or maybe is just the red wine?

You go to sleep now though; tomorrow you leave again and it will be less easy than here. The weather forecast for Denmark is rain, cold and wind…

I remember Berlin used to be a little, well, colder