Last week Göteborg was transformed from a little town bracing itself for Autumn to cosmopolitan city full of art, food, folks and culture, carrying an umbrella just in case.
The festivities had begun on Sunday, the day that we returned from our Stockholm weekend. My partner slid back into the normal working week and I began the next level of Swedish classes, so plans to visit the Kultur Kalas faded into the background. Whenever I passed through town I’d be aware of some commotion, and a gathering of tents just around a corner. The local papers that I grabbed as I caught my bus to class featured pages of schedules, descriptions of events and reviews, all trying to pull me in.
It wasn’t until Wednesday that I was finally dropped into the middle of the party, in an authentically Göteborgare way.
We had just finished our evening at a Swedish language cafe, when we tagged along on an exploratory mission to the city centre. Via tram and feet we approached the hub and after turning a corner were suddenly in the middle of a crowd of people, circling, gathering and rushing past food stalls. I completely lost track of where I was in town, and had to rely on the ‘Älg kebab’ and ‘British Fish and Chips’ signs to navigate.
Once we reached the other side of the crowds, we wandered to the main square of Kungsportsplatsen where an audience was gathering in the shadow of Kopparmärra. An American was jokingly threatening the oncoming clouds as his Swiss compatriot tried to sort out wiring and keep the audience distracted. They started their show, acrobatics and music and silliness that had the audience clapping along, but even the most skilled performance couldn’t keep us tied to the stands as the rain began to pour down. After sheltering in a cafe, we used a break to run to a floating restaurant to dry and drink. As the evening wore on we tailed off, facing the rain and still milling crowds for the trip to our warm, dry homes.
A drum band in a canal
In the meantime I read in the paper that a singer I had heard of was going to be performing on Thursday. I had read about Sofia Jannok in Swedish class, an interview in which she discussed the feelings of distance and difference that she felt as a Swede raised within Sami culture. She sings in Swedish, Samisk and English, and is a very strong supporter of native rights and Sami culture, and so my interest piqued, I looked forward to seeing her in person.
On the day of the concert I had fika planned in the city, and as I had not had time before, I decided to get lunch from one of the stalls in Brunnsparken. Drawn by nostalgia and curiosity, I got in the line at the Australian tent, and ordered a crocodile burger. The best way I can describe it is a mix of chicken and fish, and not necessarily in a tasty way.
After fika, during which I was happy to remove the flavour of the crocodile, I wandered around the many displays and activities. Most were for children, who ran around under the supervision of their parents, playing in giant see-through balls or trying out crafts of various kinds. Unlike the crafts that I usually see at such festivals, these were actually engaging and useful, ranging from weaving and carpentry to making porcelain cups. I saw many children and their parents tackling the construction of small wooden carts and twisting strings through looms, with an intensity that I don’t often see for crafts.
As I exited the park, leaving the cries of the children behind me, I saw a crowd gathered along the side of a main road that was fenced off. A closer look showed two sand tracks on the road, and my suspicions were soon confirmed when a pair of horses with trailing buggies flew past. Horse racing along a main road is also something I haven’t seen before at a festival, but I have to assume that people just do things differently here in Sweden.
The winning horse
The crowds, food and festivities continued as I made my way to the concert area, where I settled down to wait for my partner and friends so join me. The atmosphere of festivity was contagious, and the afternoon quickly passed, bringing friends and then Sofia Jannok. She was wonderful, and though I couldn’t understand much of what she said, she had great passion and an ability to yoik. Our evening ended after another journey around the food stalls at Brunnsparken, losing ourselves among the fudge, crepes, goulash and sausages.
A bridge from a canal
Our final visit was on Saturday, which started with an activity that I had been hoping to try for some time.
Göteborg is criss-crossed with canals, some of which were originally the moat of the old city, and for much of the year a small boat makes it’s way under the bridges and through the canals, showing people the city from a different perspective. I had not yet done this, so decided that a day with so much on display in the city and lively crowds wandering around, would be an ideal time. The tour started well, the guide giving us facts I hadn’t known in both Swedish and English, as we ducked under low bridges and waved at those on the land. Soon we were in the harbour, seeing the old heart of the city whose fate now hangs in the balance.
The old harbour
As we rolled over the waves, we were also confronted with a makeshift boat, planks of wood stuck onto two inflated tubes and covered with comfortable sofas and a table. We were also treated to the sight of mooning from some of those enjoying their day out. Aside from their questionable greetings, I would have quite liked to float along on their boat, nibbling snacks and seeing where the boat drifted.
The tour finished and we spent a while walking around, listening to a trio of sisters from Ireland, then an underground rock band from Iran. Smells and sights surrounded as, and as the night approached we had a bite to eat and then walked down the street to the harbour for the final event of the night.
On a stage and mingling around stalls were people in 17th century outfits, some carrying guns and all trying to look authentic. Crowds were gathered on the steps of the Opera House and along the waterside, peering downriver constantly and impatiently. Finally a ship slid out of the distance, tall and graceful even without it’s sails out. Soon after another ship floated towards us, this one with a Danish flag.
A sudden boom rang out, accompanied by a flash of light, and then the costumed soldiers on the river side erupted into a barrage of shots across the water, backed up by blank, but still deafening, shots from the cannons on the Swedish ship. The Danish ship soon ‘sank’ and was replaced by another, which was also seen off. This repeated a few times to cheers, booms, crashes and flashes as the sun slowly set and cold began to set in. Finally the Swedes won a decisive victory, and the two Danish ships disappeared down the river, to yet more cheers.
The Danes depart
The excitement passed, we made out way through the crowds to the centre of town, the boom of cannons and taste of exotic food following us home, ending the first but not last Kultur Kalas that we will enjoy here in our not as new home-city.