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A long weekend in Gothenburg, Critical Mass and Hammarkullen Carnival

Ian Fiddies | 28.05.2006 12:49 | Ecology | Free Spaces | Social Struggles

Cycling, food, dance, sunshine, salsa and fellowship across cultural boundaries, if it wasn’t for the hangover it would have been a perfect weekend.

Friday’s Critical Mass went down without any incidents. A score of riders met up outside of the town hall and cycled round the city centre to the dulcet sounds of Freddy Mercury, no prizes for guessing which song. The threatening clouds that had loomed all afternoon had disappeared by five and we got to ride in the first sunshine we had seen in a week. The police didn’t bother us, no one got run over and the evening continued with a cycling pub roll. I can safely say that a good time was had by almost all. One poor soul in a white Volvo, after threatening the back of the mass with overly enthusiastic revving decided to break the traffic laws and jump up the curb onto the tram tracks. Zooming past us and narrowly missing a teenaged first time rider spending quality time with his father.

I do hope the poor guy in the Volvo saw the funny side of him knocking his exhaust pipe off when he nipped back down the curb onto the road, though I doubt it.

Saturday was the main day of the Hammarkullen Carnival, a fine Gothenburg tradition of the last thirty years. Hammarkullen is an area built in the 60s as part of the Swedish million project where a million homes were built in ten years. Placed eight miles outside the centre on top of a hill surrounded by forest with the world’s fastest tram connecting it to the city it’s a fine place. Hammarkullen is the kind of estate where people let their children play in the streets. Cars are banished to the outskirts and neighbours have been known to talk to each other. Hammarkullen is to some extent stigmatised as a ghetto. The only way to live there and be happy is if you can cope with rubbing shoulders with clean and honest foreigners. Many Swedes that have left the area give the reason that their children where coming home having learnt phrases of an immigrant language. Dread the very thought that our children might grow up with an understanding and simple acceptance of other cultures.

The carnival, which happens on the last weekend of May, is a celebration of food, dance and spontaneous meetings. Local politicians allow themselves to be met and really give the impression that they care. Residents of the more affluent parts of town leave their Volvos in their double garages and take the tram out to Hammarkullen. Proving that they really are hip and politically correct. But the dark cloud of self-righteous tolerance does not spoil the day. Hammarkullen Carnival is without doubt as much a success this year as it was last year.

My memories include the ecstatic faces of children dancing on the stage and the firm handshakes of real people who do not want to sell me anything. Carrying a petition for a car free city centre I couldn’t help noticing the fear on some peoples faces when asked to sign their name. This reminded me of the freedom of expression we enjoy and I normally take for granted. That somebody who has been forced to flea their home for taking a political stance once, should dare to add their name to my list has not left me entirely unmoved.

Ian Fiddies
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