Issue 29 May 07, 2023

Different cities, different people


I’ve been in Berlin for the past week, visiting friends and enjoying the city. It’s been great in almost every way. The only thing that wasn’t good was the nighttrain back home to Stockholm. Abysmal in every way, including a three hour delay, which is unfortunate since trains are much better for the environment than flying. They clearly need to improve if I’m going to subject myself to that particular route again. Anyway, I don’t want to digress too long on negative things. We got home, let’s leave it at that.

It was interesting to see how Berlin differed from Stockholm. I’ve been there before, but that was over two decades ago, a lifetime, it seems. This time, I was struck not only by the different approach to city life, but also how the people was. Stockholm, and Sweden overall, is known for being a cold and harsh place. While that is true in terms of temperatures right now, it’s something people visiting Stockholm tend to comment on. And yes, I think there’s a hostility lingering here. This became even more apparent after visiting various parts of Berlin. Overall, it felt inclusive, everyone was nice and inviting, even in places where they didn’t need to be. You can’t really compare how people are based on the service you get at a five star hotel, for example. They’re paid to be nice to you, and while they might be genuinely so, it’s hard to tell. The corner shop attendant at midnight, a taxi driver, your waiter, or the guy making jewelry for nightclubbers, those are the people that, alongside people living there, will set the general vibe of a place. And I have to tell you, it was a gentle and kind vibe, more than I remember, and a lot more so than I expected. This was just as true in Neukölln or Kreuzberg, as in Charlottenburg – fundamentally different areas of the city.

Berlin has a natural influx of people. They might be there for the party scene or to work at a startup. Either way, they’re people from elsewhere looking to find a place in life, for a time. I’d say that’s a lot easier in Berlin than in Stockholm, at least based on my week there, the people I met, and the conversations we had. There’s no real reason for this, Stockholm is also a mix of people, especially tech workers coming here to work for companies like Spotify or Klarna, but it’s different.

One reason for this might be the different approach to alcohol and dining out. Despite the strong euro, compared to the Swedish krona, it was fundamentally less expensive to eat and drink in Berlin. This is due to heavy taxation in Sweden, and I do mean heavy. Case in point: I found a bourbon I like that costs north of €48 in Sweden, for €25 at a late night corner store. And don’t get me started on the price of beer. The availability of bars and restaurants, and the fact that they’re almost always available, some places never close, does mean that it’s easy to get stuck drinking more than usual. That’s the argument for the Swedish restricted and heavily taxed model. The problem is that the lack of said availability means less social spaces for people to meet, and, I think, an inherent stress when it comes to the social life outside home and work. We, in Sweden, lack the natural and relaxed attitude towards this, and I think this is due, in part, the controlled nature of the Swedish society. Whether that’s good or bad from a health point of view, I really can’t tell, but I must say that the novelty of a take-away drink from a nice bar was appealing.

My reasoning is, it all pools together. People act towards each other in a certain way because of what society teaches them. This makes two cities which, on paper, shouldn’t be so different, very much so when it comes to its inhabitants.

I really enjoyed Berlin. In a different life, I’d live there instead. Maybe I will, down the line.


🦜 The New Yorker has a lengthy feature on Luis von Ahn, founder of language app (and more) Duolingo. Possible paywall on this one, sorry.

🤖 Geoffrey Hinton is dubbed one of the Godfathers of AI, and he fears for humanity. That sounds reassuring, doesn’t it? If you recognize the name, it’s because he recently left Google and a lot of outlets are trying to make it about the company’s failed chatbot, Bard, and the like, but according to this interview, that’s not the case.

💵 Facebook might owe you money, at least if you’re a user in the US. Yeah, it sounds like a scam, but it isn’t. This is part of a settlement Facebook, now Meta, made due to being asshats.

⌨️ Don’t like the sound of your keyboard? Try Klack, a fun app that makes typing clickity-clack. Mac only, I’m afraid. Personally, I prefer a proper mechanical keyboard, but that’s not for everyone.

📕 My Swedish fantasy novel, Automatonen, is now available in bookstores across our tall nation. I published the first chapter on the official site, if you’re interested. Again, in Swedish only.

Got something I should read? Send it to me, either by replying to this letter, or tweeting to @tdh. Thanks!


📚 It’s time for another one of Roger Zelazny’s Amber books. This time I’m reading The hand of Oberon. I think this is the last one in the series I read as a teenager, so it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

🎵 I haven’t been listening to much music this week. Bad luck streak in dancing school by Warren Zevon was the last one played on my iPhone though, and it’s a great album. Give it a listen.

📺 We’ve been watching Fauda the past few weeks. It’s getting better, season 3 is downright cruel to, well, everyone involved. I surmise it’s their thing. It still feels like a budget version of The Shield meets Jack Ryan, though. I’m somewhat troubled by the way the series portrays the region, but what else is new?

🎮 With the new Legend of Zelda mere weeks away, I want to finish Breath of the Wild. Alas, the only thing I’ve played this week is Tetris on my phone. It’s not a particularly good version, I’ll have to dig out my Game Boy Color version, I think.

It’s been quite a week, fun and rewarding, and yet also taxing. We recently went to Nice, France, as you might recall, and now a week in Berlin, Germany. It’ll be nice to return to normality for a while.

Until next week, take care.

— Thord D. Hedengren ⚡

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