Friday 11 November 2011


After two loong cold winters, it seems that this one will be reverting to the long-term trend: generally humid days with intermittent snow or slush, soon to be gone again and replaced by periods of milder weather. November has hitherto been exceptionally warm, foreboding a relatively benign holiday season. With warm days and cool nights, fog is building up at dawn, to be dissolved only later in the day. When I stepped out on the balcony this morning at 11 AM, this enticing scenery met my admiring eyes. As you can see, I did not forget to document a picture for your benefit at the mystical date of 11.11.11. 

The scenery and foggy air reminded me somewhat of Summer mornings in San Francisco and Berkeley, when temperatures were not that much higher in the morning. There too, they could hover around 10 degrees C. Of course, later in the day, they would rise rather harshly towards the twenties and thirties, whereas it was not getting any warmer here in Hammarby Sjöstad today. The fog cleared off eventually and the late afternoon brought with it another nice scenery to admire. The setting sun illuminated, just before 4 PM, the clouds over Hammarby Sound in a kind of cosy Alpenglow that is rare to behold around here. 

Thursday 6 October 2011


Rainbows are among the most endearing landscape motives to capture on film, but also the most difficult to render. You may recall that I had the good luck of seeing my first rainbow over Hammarby Sound already shortly after moving in, back in August 2009 (Rainbow over Hammarby Sound). But there was a certain dearth of those wonders of nature further along; let's face it, there has been no single picture of a rainbow since then. Well, I simply was never at home, or when at home, never looking out of the window, when these dramatic views appeared. They are not so rare, after all.

But this autumn I was doubly blessed. Already three weeks ago, the first lucky moment arrived, with not only one, but two of the beauties manifesting themselves at 4.20 PM. The second occasion came today, just half an hour later in the day. But that half an hour, together with the three weeks' delay, make quite a difference in the general appearance of the motive, don't you agree? As landscape photographer, you have to be grateful for whatever light is prevalent at the moment, and make the best of it in post-processing. But nothing compares with mother nature when it comes to proper dressing of a dramatic scenery!

Sunday 28 August 2011


I woke up rather late today, on this calm and slightly hazed morning, after having slept only a few unruly hours.  More about the bad sleep later. Let's begin by enjoying the scenery, put on record around 8 AM! The air was completely still, not a sound to be heard, no boats, cars or buses disturbing the serene Sunday morning peace. The Sound felt fresh and anew again and I regained the feeling that life was good.

What a difference to the evening before! The business community of Hammarby Sjöstad had implemented its long-time plan to organise a "Harbour Festival" along Hammarby Sound. This turned out to be a pêle-mêle of tents, events for kids, sailing lessons and what have you, with a lot of ruckus along the unbuilt stretch of beach starting some 100 meters east of my apartment. During day-time, this was quite an enjoyable event, even if I did not have any special inclinations of participating in the crowdy pleasures. Problems started at sun-set, when a band started to play, to entertain an, after all limited, crowd of restaurant eaters and, in general, listeners on a small opening just below the old Luma factory. The music would not stop all evening, getting louder by the minute. Even after closing all my windows (each of them with three glasses and quite sound-proof) it was impossible to hear the television set. Huge waves of terrible noise wallowed across the sound, disturbing half of the population of the Southern Island opposite us, and was thrown back to us with a vengeance as a monumental echo from the buildings and hills you usually see on my pictures in this blog. 

It may interest you that Hammarby Sjöstad is proud to call itself the foremost example of environmentally sound management of all the boroughs of Stockholm, if not Sweden. It does not seem to have occurred to the arrangers of this outrageous evening event that reasonable calm is an important element in an environmentally sound city. It has to be considered as quite irresponsible to subject tens of thousands of peaceful inhabitants (on both sides of the Sound!) to noise far beyond the standards permitted even in heavily trafficked cities, just to impress on a limited crowd of active listeners who certainly can be counted only in the hundreds! It would have been very easy to turn down the loudspeakers to, say, half the volume used that night, leaving us other tens of thousands to have some reasonable quiet in our apartments.

There, this gave me the occasion to vent some anger! Let's finish this "tirade" with another serene morning picture, taken in the other direction. Fortunately the pandemonium went on only for two evenings; let's hope that sound reason will prevail in future, whatever festival would again be organized along Hammarby Sound.

Thursday 4 August 2011


Photo courtesy Stephie Lierzer Pichler

This is not a view from my kitchen window, you say? Well, I am forced to agree with you. Still, it IS a view and not a bad one either I think. Furthermore, a window IS involved, a window into the past, as well as into my soul.

In the picture, I am standing on the lofty ridge of Gleinalpe, the majestic divide between Upper and Lower Styria. You of course are well aware that Styria is one of the oldest Duchies in Austria. What on earth was I doing there, when instead I should be shooting nice pictures of Hammarby Sound for your benefit?

Yesterday was the last day of a prolonged hiking trip that had, 7 days earlier, started in Neudau, which lies in the Lafnitz Valley on the old border to Hungary. After days of steady trudging, drenched in drizzles and scorched by intermittent sunbursts, laboring uphills and downhills and treading treacherous mountain paths on steep declines, I was met, on the morning of this final day, by two nice ladies - Stephie, my godmother's daughter, and her friend Ingrid - who carried me in congenial triumph across the ultimate rises and on to the expedition's destination, Knittelfeld.

I trust you agree with me that a man, when reaching his 65 years or more, has to gain a perspective of his existence or, if you prefer, start writing the Chapter "Summing UP and Conclusions" in his great book of life. This preoccupies my mind a lot lately, following some forceful signals from way down in my subconscious.You may recall that last year was spent reminiscing the most dynamic and challenging years of my youth (Déjà vu - down memory lane in California). This year, already, I made a nostalgic journey to the Canaries, to relive a period of distress and its resolution later in life (A felicitous isle for a troubled soul). With the seven days of labour just accomplished, I went FAR BACK in time for once, re-experiencing a corresponding expedition in the very early days of my existence, more than 65 years hence.

My mother Maria Ems on her wedding day in early 1944, together with my godmother Steffi Lierzer

I was born in December 1944, in the last trembling days of the greatest European war of our times. Our village, Neudau, was still spared and my mother lived alone in our bakery, with my father on the front, somewhere in Bulgaria, she believed. But the clouds were darkening over the idyllic Lafnitz Valley. The German Army had built a last line of defense along the hills just across the river, the "Südostwall", hoping to stem, at long last, the hitherto irresistible onslaught of the Red Army masses. But in early spring of 1945, the night horizon towards the East took on a vermillion shade, the Earth started shaking and noise like of thundering cannons was keeping the trembling inhabitants of our humble hamlet in a permanent stage of fright and despair. Soon desolate remains of the German defense came stumbling down the hills and across the river and it became evident that the end was near.

My parents Maria and Emil Leopold Ems, as betrothed

In the stage of extreme fright and chaos that followed, my mother had no choice but to grab a few belongings in a bag, put me on her back and follow the lead of other fugitives westward over the foothills of Lower Styria. The first stage of her flight took her to Gleisdorf, the hometown of her parents (Johann and Leopoldine Resch) which was not yet invaded by the Russian forces. There was hope that the town would be spared the terrors of direct warfare, since German capitulation appeared imminent. And, indeed, armistice was declared on 7 May and we all started to feel relieved. On 8 May, the Red Army entered the city, seemingly orderly. But the calm proved false. After some shootings by fanatical German soldiers, who had remained hidden in the church tower, the Red commander declared the town free for plunder and bloodletting during two days.

How we all (barely) survived this terrible ordeal will have to be told another time. Suffice it to say that my mother felt obliged to flee again from the occupiers' threats and this time aimed at reaching Knittelfeld, in the mountains of Upper Styria, hoping to escape the red danger once and for all. Before the war, my grandfather had been stationed at the post office there and my mother's dearest childhood friend Steffi (also my godmother) was still living there on her parents' farm. After a hardy and dangerous hike across the mountains, Maria finally reached her destination, just to find that the Russians had arrived ahead of her, having taken a more comfortable route along the river Mur.

My mother and godmother as teenagers in Knittelfeld

Fortunately, the Soviets' bloodlust had abated some at that stage, so we managed to recuperate on Steffi's parents' farm. Soon after, in July that year, the Allieds reached an occupation agreement that left it to the Britains to occupy Styria, and the Russian troups had to withdraw back behind the river Lafnitz. About a month later, my father suddenly appeared at the farm, to the great relief of everyone, including myself I have to assume, and brought us back home to Neudau, where both parents lived out their days in an again peaceful Lafnitz Valley, taking care to forget the troubles of the past.

Now back to the present: Upon arriving in Knittelfeld, I had hoped to meet yet again, and have a long talk, with my godmother, who is the only one, but me, still alive to tell the tale. Surely, I presumed, she would be able to render the events of those days alive again and to complement my scarce bits of knowledge with her own memories. But this was not to be. At her advanced age, illness is getting the better of her and she has to spend, bravely, her remaining energy just to stay alive. But at least, we were able to see each other once again and to experience some precious moments of togetherness.

I am dedicating this post to two courageous women, always humble and nonpretentious, but always ready to live up to what it takes, even in times of extreme danger; in short, a shining example for us all.

Tuesday 21 June 2011


In case you didn't know, today is the big day of the year, highly venerated since ancient times. In stone temples of yore, like Stonehenge and Ales Stenar (the Swedish counterpart; "Yes!", we have them here too) the very minute of the solstice was being carefully registered and ancient rites, long since forgotten, executed by high priests of venerable faith. Today, there would have been big disappointment in the crowd awaiting the event, if the monuments had been kept standing unaffected by the ages and the druids of yore still practicing. 

No sun is visible from my balcony as I am writing this. Instead, a terrible and sudden thunderstorm spoiled the magic of this yearly summer festivity, complete with flashes, thunder and even hailing. It is as if the weather gods did not agree with the way Europe is managing its affairs at the moment. European Council, "Beware!", best you get your house in order!

The sun is back! There is still hope for the druids, if not for European Affairs!

Wednesday 25 May 2011


No nice extemporations on weather conditions today, I am afraid! Instead, I will give it a go as crime reporter.

I did not notice anything special when returning from my daily morning walk around 9.30 AM. Deep in thought as I was, planning for a forthcoming trip to Karelia together with Per Wijkman, an old friend of mine, I just bypassed all the excitement on the quay without even seeing all the activities going on there.

But I woke up abruptly, when opening the balcony door to let in some fresh air. There was noise on the quay, with a huge barge letting its engine idle, which caused the balcony rails to vibrate and annoyed me some. Stepping outside for a closer look, I saw the view you have in front of you. Apparently, a car long sought by the police, had been found submerged just below my kitchen window and was now being recovered by the mobile crane of a barge.

I gather that there is an interesting story behind this event but am, to my regret, unable to provide you with more information than this. We have to leave it to the valiant reporters at "Sjöstadsbladet" (the local newspaper) to report on this in their next edition. Or maybe, if they are generous, they could do us a favour and put some information into this blog, in the form of a comment. What do you say, Sjöstadsbladet, shall we make a trade? You may use my pictures of the event in your paper if you put in a small comment here at the blog, explaining to us what all the excitement was about!

Wednesday 27 April 2011


Just three weeks ago, the sidewalks in this picture, showing the quay opposite mine, were still  covered with snow and the two willows showed naked branches, hanging hapless along trunks darkened by windy winter slush. A week ago, the first signs of green appeared and now we can witness the delicate beauty of newly budded twigs. So dear is this green marvel to us Swedes, that we even have a wording for it, "skir grönska". In English you would call it something like "delicate green", but this does not have the same flavour to it, since you are missing the Northerners´ longing for spring, so nicely encapsuled in our expression.

It is intriguing how quickly the mood is adapting to this newly seen color. Winter seems far away and you almost have the feeling that it will never come back, in this pastel world of great expectations. No hardships anymore, the world feels anew fresh and inviting! This gets me to think about a trusted German adage "Wenn die Not am Höchsten scheint, Gott der Herr die Hand uns reicht". Believe it or not, this is the text of a famous aria in the opera "Hansel and Gretel"; that notwithstanding it expresses the mood of the day: just when you are completely worn down by a loong winter, salvation comes with the first budding of trees and flowers!

Am I the only one to feel uplifted by the delicate scenery? By no means! Have a look at the second picture. It shows two workers having climbed the large crane adjacent to our apartments, which has been left standing as a memento of the busy harbor that once occupied the quays. Their task was, I trust, to clean the crane of bird droppings accumulated over the years. Suddenly, they stopped all activity, getting entrapped by admiring the glory of our early spring. It took them quite a while to tear themselves away from the scenery and get back to the task they had come to carry out.

Friday 1 April 2011


"No!", this is not a prank on April Fool's Day, this is the real thing. All night long, there was a steady drizzle outside my, always open, bedroom window, brandishing welcome humidity to my thankful nostrils. And the drizzle did not stop at day-rise either. Whilst we are shivering in all that cold wetness, we are also grateful to get rid of the banks of icy snow that still adorn most of our sidewalks. They will all be gone within the day.

Hammarby Sound, with its brackish water, is already completely free of ice, but the freshwater lakes feeding into it aren't yet. But it is a question of hours now until their white blanket, already turning grey-ish due to rotting ice, will be completely gone. The seagulls and ducks are already rejoicing and looking forward to a healthy swim in fresh waters.

Readers on the continent certainly may be asking themselves how we Northeners cope with our seasons. The answer is simple: we have learnt how to ENDURE. After the looooong, dark and, respectively, slushy and icy winter, we are sliding into our summer, which, being short and rainy, gets us to look forward again to the next nice cold winter.

To round up this optimistic post, let me make an exception to the rule by showing some pictures taken from the opposite side, that is, from the side I usually am looking at from my balcony. It shows the ice still lingering, blanketing the outlet from the upper small freshwater lakes into the Sound. I had to hurry to take those pictures, tomorrow the ice will surely be gone!

Saturday 12 March 2011


Late yesterday evening I arrived back home from a short trip to Germany. Just like a month ago, I had no occasion to savour the temperature, stepping from plane to train, from train to cab and from cab to my apartment door. This morning however, I noticed a big difference to my last return (remember the glove freezing to the doorhandle?). The air was fresh, but mild. Although white snow was still blanketing the lawns alongside the streets, the Sound was completely ice free and you could hear the odd bird starting to kvitter.

Whilst appreciating these forebodings of spring, I could not help noticing that there now were two ferries crossing Hammarby Sound. I then recalled that since recently, the ferries no longer go straight across, but make an intermediate landing on the quay you can see just behind the two ferries. Above that quay, building activity is approaching its end and soon the last "immigrants" to Hammarby Sjöstad will be able to move in there and are already being serviced by ferry transports. This adds to the charm of this nice neighborhood but, of course, diminishes my views. If you would like to see how the quay looked without the new buildings, take a quick glance back at the "Rainbow picture" in an earlier post.

But why two ferries of a sudden? Well, this is an example of Swedish efficiency. Going straight across, the trip takes only five minutes and there is a ferry available each 15 minutes. With the present triangular traffic, the trip takes ten minutes to the other side and you have to wait 20 minutes between the boats' arriving. Having to wait 5 minutes longer for the transfer is deemed to be unacceptable during the morning and evening rush hours, when people are hurrying to transport their children, as well as themselves, to and fro their daily hide-outs. With two ferries, you are back at the 15 minutes' interval.

However, every 40 minutes or so, the two ferries tend to "collide" and have to execute an elegant wait-and-dance manoeuvre so that traffic can continue without unnecessary delays. Isn't it nice to live in such an efficient country?

To celebrate my good luck of living here, let me present, for your amusement, a little video with the two ferries "dancing" to music. You just have to click at the icon below to join in the fun.

Monday 14 February 2011


Late last night I came back home from a refreshing trip to warmer fields. Jumped into the cab from the airport and did not feel the outside temperatures. However, back at my apartment building, I could not help noticing that the port opener (where you push some buttons) did not work. Well, I used the key and thought no more about it.

After a good night's sleep I stepped out onto the balcony this morning around 8AM, in my pyjamas, to taste the fresh air of Hammarby Sound again, so sorely missed during my absence. The air was a delight to breeze and the view of the sound no less delicate. A light mist threw a veil over the view, rendering the buildings and boats opposite my balcony in precious pastel colors. I was back home in my little cosy paradise!

The big surprise came when I went out to get a bite to eat and buy some newspapers. When trying to enter the press office, my glove FROZE SOLID TO THE OUTSIDE DOOR HANDLE. I had to rip it off and will have to buy new gloves. Now it dawned on me that it was REALLY FREEZING COLD. In my excitement for being back home, I had not noticed a difference in temperatures of more than fourty degrees (Celsius) between the Canaries and my home. Extraordinary, isn't it?

Wednesday 26 January 2011


Barely had I foretold a mild winter season in the latest blog post than weather conditions changed again abruptly. The harsh Polar High is back, edging uncomfortably close to the Icelandic Low, and impeding the western winds that bring mild and humid air to Stockholm. We are again shivering at temperatures in the minus tens and ice is anew forming on Hammarby Sound, as can be seen in the picture taken this morning at 8 AM.

I think I have had enough of this! This weekend, off I will go to warmer climes. Gran Canaria is beckoning with unusually green coasts (due to early winter rain). If you would like to follow me on my voyage, have a look at where I will keep a diary of the trip.

Wednesday 12 January 2011


You may recall that my earlier posts this winter have delved into matters of extreme cold and related idiosyncrasies. This discussion topic may soon be left aside, I believe. During last week, the last piece of ice on Hammarby Sound has dissipated, foreshadowing a more normal Stockholm winter. And indeed, when looking out of my window this morning at ten, I was greeted by an intense wet snowfall, of a kind well remembered from winters past.

Despite its location way far to the the North of Europe (Stockholm has about the same latitude as Kodiak in Alaska) my hometown usually experiences mild and slushy weather all the way through March. This is due (1) to the Gulf Stream that caters for the Atlantic to be cosily warm and ice-free up to Murmansk in Russia and (2) more importantly, to the GRAND NORTH ATLANTIC OSCILLATION (well, it has to be grand, with such a denomination!).

So what does this grand wording mean? For reasons apparent only to experienced meteorologists, a permanent low pressure zone seems to reign over Iceland, being balanced by an equally permanent zone of high pressure far to the South over the Azores. The imbalance between those two acts as a giant ventilator, pumping wet and warm air with great insistence westward over the North Atlantic and over Southern Scandinavia. This translates into an oscillation of rain and wet snow falling over Hammarby Sound well into March. Temperatures usually waver around the zero point (in Celsius terms) and would be quite agreeable, weren't it for the constant humidity either hovering in the air or falling upon us as slushy downpour.

Why then did we experience such a long time of rather extreme cold lasting until last week? For this we have to blame another weather zone, the GRAND ARCTIC OSCILLATION reigning over the polar regions. Off and on, an arctic High that you can liken to a mighty ice bear, is getting tired of his position on top of the world and moving sidewise into Iceland, which has the effect of stopping the westward pumping action and replacing it with northerly winds, blowing icy cold over poor Stockholm. Last winter, he located himself uncomfortably close to Iceland for a prolonged period, leading to one of the harshest cold seasons in Stockholm for decades. We had our expectations up also in the current season, hoping for another Jack Frost to lead us into March, but it seems that this will not be the case, we probably will have to content us with the Slushy Season.