Eesti Elu
Bird Droppings. Part 3
Arvamus 01 Dec 2011 Hilary BirdEesti Elu
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Other interesting events included visits to rummaging round runes , an exploration of Brodalans Church (Brodalans kyrka), built in 1250 with some good 18th century paintings by Christian von Schönfelt and an inclusive evening around the municipal gardens bandstand listening to local talent where the audience included a smattering of disabled folk and persons of assorted cultures.

My visit ended in Göteborg; (Gothenburg) a handsome, modern city with fine buildings , spacious boulevards, lots of bridges, two prestigious universities, the HQ of Volvo cars, a vibrant cultural life and lots of fish restaurants. It’s named after the Geats (see above).and was founded to protect Sweden’s equivalent of a ‘window to the west.’ Göteborg is the second largest city in Sweden and the largest seaport in the Nordic countries. It was the exit point for 850,000 emigrants who left during 1840 to 1900 - quite a lot when you consider that the population of Sweden was only 5,1000,00 in1900. The migrant’s left (as migrant’s always do) for a variety of reasons: to escape hunger, to acquire land, to get better jobs, to pay lower taxes and to escape the strictures of an established state church and monarchy. Most Swedish migrants went to America’s mid west travelling via Hull and Liverpool.

Göteborg’s city charter was granted in 1621 by Gustav II Adolph (Gustavus Adolphus), known as ‘the Golden King,’ ‘the Lion of the North,’ or, in German, ‘Der Löwe von Mitternacht,’ ‘The lion of midnight.’ Gustav, siding with the German Protestant princes against the Holy Roman Emperor, stormed out of the north at the end of the corrosive Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) to turn the tide of the counter-Reformation, to change the course of European history and to make Sweden a great power for much of the seventeenth century.

King Gustav also made a huge difference at home with wide-ranging reforms in administration, education and economic development that gave Sweden the most modern and efficient European central government of its time. He created a Supreme Court, a Treasury, a Chancery, an Admiralty and a War Office thus moving away from rule by the divine right of kings to the direction of modern bureaucracy. The king was able to do this because he was a natural diplomat - his speeches reveal him (says Encyclopaedia Britannica) as a master of debate and an orator of extraordinary eloquence and force - and because he got along swimmingly with his Chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, the leader of the noble estate. It was Oxenstierna who, in 1611, presented a charter to the new king that guaranteed the nation protection against the sort of arbitrary and violent abuses perpetrated by Gustav’s father, the usurper Charles IX. This could well have led to conflict but Gustav made Oxenstierna his Chancellor . Adolf and Axel became ideal collaborators and share the credit for the achievements of the reign. Which are considerable. Among one of the most notable, unique in 17th century Europe, was the inclusion of representatives of the peasants in the Riksdag (Parliament) alongside the nobility, the clergy, and town burghers, an arrangement that lasted until 1866.

Gustav’s creation of a state grammar school system intended to train talent for government administration gave Sweden its first effective secondary education system and his generosity to the University of Uppsala was crucial to its development. His promotion of education spilled over into the Swedish provinces of Livonia and Estonia. Grammar schools and printing presses appeared in Riga, Tallinn and Pärnu and Gustav’s foundation of the University of Tartu provided the first centre for higher learning in the Baltic provinces. By the end of the 17th century the king’s legacy meant that many Estonians and Latvians received at least an elementary education in their native tongue, that Swedish army manuals and public proclamations were written in Baltic languages and that clergymen could address their congregations in the native tongue. Practically all of this was swept away by the devastating Great Northern War and the rise of Russia but that does not detract from these achievements. No wonder some Latvians want the Swedes back and that every 6th November is celebrated as Gustavus Adolphus Day not only in Sweden and Finland but also in Estonia with chocolate or marzipan medallions of the monarch being munched in Turku, Tartu and Torneträsk. See King Gustav at and, what I really like, is that he doesn’t look a bit like a military genius, inspired administrator and general all-round hero should. He’s tubby, neat , quite simply dressed and looks well, like a genial old Uncle Gus …

Göteborg was only one of the many town charters granted as the king stimulated the Swedish economy , encouraging immigration and the infusion of foreign capital and technology. The Dutch wielded political power until 1652 when the last Dutch politician in the city council died. The town was designed by Dutchmen (who knew how to build on swampy land) on an Amsterdam-style grid system and the town law was originally Dutch, there were even propositions to make Dutch the official language . The Scots too were important. Many of them (as mercenaries) served with King Gustav and many settled in Sweden. Göteborg-born William Chalmers, was the son of a Scots immigrant who became a director of the Swedish East India Company and willed funds to create a craft school for poor children that, in 1829, became the Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg’s second university. Alexander Keiller founded the Götaverken shipbuilding company in 1841 (that still exists today) and his son James Keiller donated Keiller Park to the city in 1906. The Scottish influence can still be felt with names like Glenn and Morgan that are rare in Sweden generally but are not uncommon in Göteborg

Our small party had a great time walking, talking, noshing and visiting museums. The art museum has a fine collection of Nordic art, some good Impressionists and some impressive 20th-century daubs. The city museum, meanwhile, has tableaux from everyday life: including a 19th century room with a notice “Objects on display may reflect culturally constructed gender roles” – the man was in a suite and the woman wore a dress. Here was a fine example of the fabled Swedish political correctness! But, give me fair mindedness and liberality any day rather than the brainless crassness that permeates much of western popular culture… In the meantime, Bristol and Wales, I haven’t forgotten you. You get the ‘Droppings’ treatment in the next epistle…so watch out! In the meantime.. Head sügis! Have a good autumn!
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