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Here is an archive where every article or page featured on this website can be found.

Here you can find out things you never knew about places and events in Europe and around the world.

The list of countries goes down alphabetically, so if there is a certain country you are interested in, scroll down to the appropriate place in the alphabet.

 

Croatia

 

 Croatia in communist times

League of Communists of Croatia (Croatian: Savez komunista Hrvatske, SKH) was the Croatian branch of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ). Until 1952 it was known as Communist Party of Croatia (Croatian: Komunistička partija Hrvatske, SKH).
The party was formally founded in 1937 with Pajo Gregurić as its first general secretary. The reasons for KPJ to have its specifically Croatian branch were partly ideological, partly practical. Croatia, just as Slovenia, which would have its Communist Party at the same time, was the most industrialised part of the country, with the biggest percentage of working class in the population, and, therefore, more likely to adopt Communism than rural Serbia.
The other, more practical, reason was in the increased marginalisation of Communists in Croatian political life due to public more preoccupied with ethnic issues and position of Croatia within Yugoslavia (cf. Croatia in the first Yugoslavia). Territorial aspirations of fascist Italy towards Croatian parts of Yugoslavia also presented opportunity for the creation of broad Communist-dominated alliances modelled on Popular Front.

Communism is a totalitary system. It was good abstracted,but badly conducted. The president was like a god because he was always right and nobody could say anything against him.

From 'Duhsaglavon'

England

 

Britain is a Kingdom of Change. At one time we ruled from easternmost provinces of India to as far west as the United States of America. But what makes up the island of prosperity? Great British culture, that’s what, from football to feasts, from 11th November to 23rd April, everyone knows why they should be British.
Where the Terminology of Britain comes from is debatable. It often refers to the mainland island of the United Kindom, reaching from the northernmost fishing village, John O’Groats, to as far South as Land’s End. England means “land of the angles,” refering to when the Anglo-Saxons invaded England from Germany in the Early 5th century. When the Vikings came in the 9th century they resisted against the former Britons and forced them into the regions we now call Cornwall, Wales & Scotland, which leaves to wonder why they aren’t called land of the angles. Before this, however, the Romans had invaded in the 1st Century. After that the Normans came in the 11th century and started the Feudel system, that we still use to a lesser extent, to this day. But enough about history, let’s talk about the culture that makes up our fine union.
Britain is a nation renowned for it’s sporting history, both Rugby and Football were invented here. Many people in Britain follow at least one of the sports. Nearly all towns have football and rugby teams, some have 2 or 3. We are set to host the 2012 Olympics in our biggest city, London. In the 2008 olympics, we were the 4th most successful country after Russia, America and China (The biggest, most powerful and most populated countries respectively.)
In conclusion, The British people are proud British people. I personally would not even dream of wanting to be from another country.

By 'L285'.

                                                   England in 150 words 

The Land of the Angles certainly has a chequered history. It was invaded by the Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings and Normans before defending its land for a Milennium, keeping out the Spanish, and more recently, Germany in the 20th century.

Now it is a land of many cultures, with a high population of British Asians, as well as Chinese, Polish and Caribbean and African descendents. But despite this there are still many different English accents you can hear wherever you go. Up north you can hear the Geordie, Scouse and Yorkshire accents, in the Midlands the Brummie tone, and in London, Cockney accents can be heard from anywhere within the sound of the Bow Bells. Even in the South West, the old Welsh-like tongue of Cornish can still be heard , albeit scarcely. If a foreigner looks close enough, the differences of culture in such small spaces can still be seen.

Germany

                                             BERLIN                                                         

Many places attract tourists at a certain time. Ibiza peaks at the Summer, and Lapland is visited mostly during the Winter. However, Berlin thrives on tourism all year round - many flock to see a piece of history, the centre of Europe, a city for so long divided by a wall.

If you look carefully, you can still see some little differences between West and East Berlin, but there are delights to be found in both sides, which is why there are tourists galore. But don't let this put you off, as you can still catch a quiet spot in the vast Tiergarten, and despite the flocks of people Berlin is still definitely a city worth going to - the crowds arguably make you feel more as if you are standing in a place of history.

Berlin should definitely be on every travellers list to go to at some stage, and here are some things to do while in the city.

 The Berlin Wall

Just two decades ago, this wall stretched out across the city of Berlin. 136 lives were claimed as a result of trying to cross the wall. Four times it was improved so that no-one could get across - although of course some people managed to get to the other side of the city alive.

When the two sides of Berlin were reunited in 1989, most of the wall was demolished, but some parts still remain: the one pictured is in The Mauerpark, but there are other strips - at the Gestapo headquarters, near the Spree river and on the Bernauer Strasse. This historic barrier is worth posing in front of for a snapshot, but you can also appreciate how this wall that we now see as a monument was once a miserable sight for Berliners.

 

Fernsehturm 

The Fernsehturm (TV tower in English)  is the tallest building in Berlin, visible from most points in the city.

Built by East Berlin in 1969, this was intended for the west Berliners to look across the city and be in awe of this mighty building. When Berlin was united once again, this became a tourist attraction.

Going up in the lift, you can feel your ears suck as the altitude gets higher. When you get out, you can see all of Berlin's beauty at a panoramic viewpoint - the city looks astoundingly majestic in light or dark. You can then go up to the rotating restaurant, where the food is expensive but it is worth it just to feel the floor turning.

 

  Checkpoint Charlie

 

Checkpoint Charlie was the border between the American territory (West Berlin) and the Russian territory (East Berlin). It was where foriegners and members of the allied forces could cross into East Berlin. In the area there is a museum of Checkpoint Charlie, established during the time of the Cold War, where you can learn about Checkpoint Charlie and the many attempts to cross the Berlin Wall to the other side of Berlin, some ending in tragedy, others successful. Outside you can pose for a photo with Checkpoint guards, and there is a piece of the Berlin Wall outside the museum. 

 

I have been talking from a tourist point of view.. Here is a real Berliner talking about what the beautiful city is like!

When I was asked to write this comment on Berlin, I first started to think of, what this city really means to me. In this process, the slogan of our recent advertisement campaign came to my mind: “Be Berlin”. And I think that’s absolutely it. To experience and understand the speciality about Berlin, there is no better way, than to dive into the crowd, walk down famous streets like Kurfuerstendamm (called Ku’Damm) or the Friedrichstrasse. You can also visit the Alexanderplatz or the Potsdamer Platz. All these places have one thing in common. You see all kind of people here, that are as well local citizens, coming from all different cultures and countries, as tourists from all over the world. Just get into the flow and lots of impressions will run down on you. Music from the street musicians, lights of cinemas and theatres and of course a wide variety of different languages. But Berlin is also a city of contrasts. Look around and not far from traffic, crowds and high buildings, you may find a little oasis of relaxing, nature or silent small districts with old or even medieval flair. Not far from the Alexanderplatz, with it’s malls, the city hall and the Fernsehturm, embedded in the middle of the city centre, you can find the Nikolaiviertel, with old small houses, small shops and the Nikolaikirche, an old church. Or of course lots of parks, like the Tiergarten. Considering that Berlin is a city of about four million people, it is pretty green.

It’s really hard, to recommend a few sights to someone who was visiting Berlin, because there are at least twenty different places and buildings that are worth seeing. You should definitely not miss the boulevard “Unter den Linden”. It contains lots of historic buildings, like the german opera, the Humboldt-University and the world famous “Hotel Adlon”, which is the first choice of every celebrity and statesman visiting Berlin. Having come this far, you are standing in front of the “Brandenburger Tor”, which was a synonym for the separation of Berlin into east and west for a long time. 

 Pass through it and you are on the “Strasse des 17. Juni” right in the middle of the district Tiergarten. Lot’s of years it was the track of the world famous techno event called Love Parade and in 2006 it was the worlds largest public viewing area, while the soccer world championship in Germany. A short way to the right, the german parliament (Bundestag) is situated in the historic Reichstag.

This brings me to the end of my comment, because whatever I write here could never transmit the real character and flair of this wonderful city, so come see for yourself.

See you soon
Kevin Czirwon

Iceland

 

 

Iceland is not just the tip of a massive underwater mountain range: it is also an alternative location for travellers looking to broaden their mind, gain new experiences and try some of the famous fish. Here are a few of the things to do, see, go and feel in Iceland.

 

 

 Iceland

Reykjavík is the capital city of Iceland, and is also the greenest city in Europe, using much less fossil fuel than most cities in the northern hemisphere. Although more than 60% of the Icelandic population live there, it is still only the size of Walsall, England. Despite this, Reykjavík has proved a popular place for young people from across the world to come to in search of something different. The nightlife is vibrant, and the pink pound also looms large, with the Reykjavk gay pride parade 2009 taken place on August 9th. For shopping fans, the main street of Laugavegur offers a range of items, from Christmas gifts (even in the Summer) to pots and pans, and Kringlan shopping mall is not far away from the centre of the city. There are many museums, ranging from natural and cultural history to telecommunications and sculpture. Gastronomy fans can try the various Icelandic fish dishes and the deliciously famous lamb. There is something for everyone with an eye for the alternative.

 

Perlan

Take a short bus ride from the centre of Reykjavík, wonder through a little forest, and you will find Perlan (the Pearl), a beautiful water-storage unit-turned- gallery, viewpoint and restaurant. It is built on six water tanks containing hot water ready to be cooled and pumped into houses across Reykjavík.  One of the tanks is no longer used for this, but is instead a museum of Icelandic sagas and history in general. The ground floor, known as the Winter Garden, is used for art exhibitions, concerts and even markets! 

The viewing platform is located on the fourth floor, where you can see for miles and miles. Also on the fourth floor are three shops, a gourmet shop, a souvenir shop and a Christmas shop, as well was a cafeteria. Up on the fifth floor is a revolving restaurant, so if you need to get up from your table, be careful - it won't be where you left it!      In the centre of the building is an artificial geyser which every five minutes spouts water, which rises incredibly high, and there is another artificial geyser outside. At night, the glass dome at the top of the building lights up beautifully.

Perlan is an incredible multi-purpose building, beautiful at all times of the day, all year round, and should not be missed.

 

 

 

 

Thermal pools 

Reykjavík's location, by most standards, is not ideal. Next to volcanoes, and the freezing Atlantic Ocean, is a bit of a setback to say the least. However, with these comes one big plus which the Icelandic citizens have taken advantage of for all its worth.                                                                                                                         Iceland is a volcanic island, meaning that much of the ground below the surface is hot. Therefore, any water in a pool is heated by the ground underneath the bottom of the pool. Reykjavík has capitalised on this by creating 7 thermal swimming pools across the city, so wherever you are staying, you are unlikely to be far from one.                    A visit to one of these thermal pools is fun, relaxing, and mostly very child-friendly, and Laugardalslaug pool, in the Reykjavík botanical gardens, has a 'hot-pot', the Icelandic version of a jacuzzi, next to the pool, where the water is particularly warm.  However, if you are missing the sand and the sea, the clever folks in the icelandic government have thought of that too! Near Perlan (above) there is an artificial beach, which has only been created because the ocean has been heated up by the icelandic rock underground at this particular spot. For this reason also it is the only beach in Iceland, and although it is rather small, it is rarely swarming with people, and the warm sea water is very pleasant.

 

Geysir and Strokkur

Two hours away from Reykjavík is the dormant geyser Geysir, and its little brother Strokkur. Two of the five biggest geysers in the world, Geysir used to erupt constantly but recently has become quite infrequent. One of the theories for this is that when it was active, tourists used to throw coins and other objects into the hole, and this has blocked up the passage. However, Strokkur still works and erupts every five minutes. The build-up to the eruption is quite peculiar - after the previous one, the water sucks back into the hole before pushing out, repeating this a few times, as if it was breathing. After a while, it settles down and is dormant for about a minute. Then, the water rises a few times, threatening to go off, before falling again. But then, the water forms a big turquoise blister before exploding and shooting up above you! This lasts a few seconds before it shrinks back down and. All then goes quiet as the tourists walk away, thinking that it is over. But suddenly a second eruption happens, and you are once again treated to a showering aqua display, Iceland-style.

 

 

 

 

Walking on Glaciers

 

Look again to the top of the page, just after the writing, and you will see the satellite map of Iceland. Notice that there is a white blanket of ice covering much of the island. These are in fact glaciers, huge sheets of ice covering vast amounts of land, and believe it or not, you can walk on one of these magnificent things. Icelandic Mountain Guides offers trips to Sólheimajökull, part of Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland's fourth biggest glacier. On the journey there, looking out of the window you can see bits of the vast glacier poking through the volcanoes and mountains, adding to the excitement. When you arrive, the guide will give you crampons and ice-picks (which you don't really need, but do make you feel like a real mountaineer) and show you how to put the crampons on (which believe me, is not easy). Once up on the glacier, you will walk pass big holes, stopping to peer in, and  crevasses (cracks in the glacier) large and small. I never thought that ice could actually be blue, but deep down, it is - a rich, light blue.                                                                                                                                   What you will also notice is the tiny streams going down the glacier slope, and down the big holes, the sound of running water. This is the water from the melting glacier, and Mýrdalsjökull actually melts at a rate of 70m a year, meaning that unless global warming is dealt with, Mýrdalsjökull and other glaciers across the world will be a thing of the past in the not-so-distant future.

There are two options: a 3-hour tour and a 1 and a half hour tour. But you can only go up so far, as the ice becomes unstable after that, so for value for money choose the latter. Nevertheless, a glacier walk is a memorable experience and should be a must for any visitor to the country.

 

Whale-watching

 

Whales are the biggest animals on earth, and have beauty and mystique enough to amaze anyone who sees them. So, unsuprisingly, whale-watching tours in the northern town of Husavík have become quite popular among tourists to Iceland. At Husavík, get aboard Haukur, Iceland's last schooner, and you will experience a unique boat trip. The first stop is Lundey, where you can watch hundreds of puffins, before heading further into the Atlantic, and it is there that you will see the whales - gentle giants and the rulers of the North Atlantic.

 

 Between animal-spotting, you can keep hunger and thirst at bay with hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls and set sails and help the skipper as a lee helmsman, just as hundreds of Icelandic sailors have done before you, since the first settlers on the island. The Haukur whale-watching tours boast a 98% success rate of spotting whales. Three and a half hours that will live long in the memory.

 

 

Northern Ireland

 

 Northern Ireland in 150 words

For a long time this region was blighted by war, and the scars have not completely gone yet, but for travellers this is now a friendly, relatively peaceful place to go. However, for many years, a bitter war raged between the Nationalists, who wanted Northern Ireland to be a part of the rest of Ireland, and the Unionists, who wanted it to be in the United Kingdom. But after the Belfast agreement, peace was made and the region is once again safe to go to.

Belfast is a city of history, and its beautiful Victorian architecture shows that. Around that time it was one of the centres of the industrial revolution, making linen, tobacco and ships, above all the infamous 'unsinkable' Titanic.

Further North, the Giants Causeway is a brilliant sight. It is an area of 40,000 interlocking columns, and it is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland.

 

Poland

 

 Poland in communist times

 

 How did Poland look in communism times?
Poor, sad, grey.
Everybody had same clothes, because shops didnt offer any choice.
To get the meat, it was necessary to have a special card, get up early ( before 4.00 a.m.), and wait in a very long line. Shops had only vinegar, always something missing. Bananas, oranges and chocolate were only available on holidays.
It was not possible to talk about certain subjects – above all, the history was taboo (particularly the Soviet aggression in 1939 and Katyn) and our “trade” with the Soviet Union. 
Jokes were prohibited from that time: We gave Russia electronics, coal and steel, and Russia in return for it took from us wheat and cucumbers.
Secretly great hatred grew for the Soviet Union, but also regret to the west – for treason. Most considered the situation as horrible and impossible to change.
But its not true that then white bears walked on the streets!

From 'Jimmy raynor'

Scotland

Scotland in 150 words

 In Scotland there is a great deal of patriotism. Scots share a friendly rivalry with the English, and many of them like to stay true to their roots - kilts have come into fashion among Scots once again, and traditional music is still common. So it is a wonder why the Scots dialect is virtually extinct, and the Gaelic language is very rare, only really heard in the Highlands and islands. However, some schools are now teaching their students the language in an attempt to prevent it from extinction.

In the Highlands, the nature is perfect and the scenery is picturesque. Some of the cutest animals alive are Highland Cows, with their fluffy fringe and pointy horns.

Further North, the Shetland Islands are an interesting cross between Scotland and Norway, and are home to many birds, including over 200,000 puffins. But in the South, Edinburgh combine blends of history and excitement.

 

Serbia

 

 Serbia in Communist times

 

 

Communism is a political ideology and a form of rule which was actually never applied but only its ideas misused.

Ok, I’ll try to cut the long story short. The real Communism in Serbia should be considered like in Yugoslavia in that days since all the Republics were more tightly together in the face of happenings.

It all started on this territory with creation of the First International and The Paris Commune. That stirred the people and started by creative ideas which came out with some Socialist magazines like Worker (Serbian: Radenik) which was published by Svetozar Marković who was an idealist who pushed on through that Communist and Social ideas.

That lead to intensified creation of political and Syndicalist movements in Slovenia, Croatia and Vojvodina. Serbia at that time, and afterwars when the Kingdom of SHS (Serbs-Croats-Slovenians) was created was mostly rural and by the western countries standards was totally undeveloped.

In the last decade of XIX and first of XX century there came to creation of Croatian-Slavonic Social Democratic party, as well as Slovenian, Serbian, Bosnian and Herzegovian which opened a new chapter in the lives of the people in this region.

The crucial happening in all this is the Congress of Unity of Social-democrat parties of Yugoslavia (communist) which was held in Belgrade (Beograd) in April of 1919. where they proclaimed a revolution and dictatorship of the Proletariat and joining the Communist international. That lasted for almost a year and since the Kings government gained a great deal of influence and strength those days it was choked at it’s very roots, communist leaders taken prisoners and the parties left beheaded.

Anyway, since the whole region was not yet ready for that kind of change, nothing was learned from this first tries of making communist parties, and they weren’t working for the people at all.

From 'Zlajonja'

San Marino

 

If one is asked what they know about republics, they will probably think of France and the bloody revolution that deposed the French king, who was later executed. America, a former British colony that is now the richest country in the world, also springs to mind, and Germany, Russia and Japan are all countries no longer governed by a king or an emperor. However, one might not know which country was the first ever republic. It was none of these countries, however rich they may be, but rather a tiny enclave entirely within Italy called San Marino. Only 1/3 times the size of Washington DC, San Marino has existed ever since the Dark Ages without a strong king, duke, emperor or religious leader to keep the country safe, and paradoxically, this is the reason why it still exists today. The city-state has survived feudal wars around it, Napoleon's invasion and the reunification of Italy to remain independent to this day.

 

San Marino is built on and around Mount Titano, on the border between two regions and near to the Italian city of Rimini, and is just 24 square miles in size and has a population of less than 30,000 people. Despite, or rather because of, its small stature, the country is, politically, economically and socially, a brilliant place to live. Men have an average life expectancy of 80 - the highest in the world. San Marino is one of the richest per capita countries, and its unemployment rate is the lowest in the world. It is the first country to have complete wi-fi access and it is also a tax haven, although with the current economic crisis the world is facing, the country's banks have been forced to take steps to be more transparent.

 

 

 

So how has a country 5000 times smaller than its engulfing neighbour Italy managed to keep its sovereignty for a time spanning three millennia?

History 

San Marino was thought to have been founded in 301 A.D. by Marinus, a stonemason by trade and a devout Christian. He was originally from Rab, an island belonging to modern-day Croatia, but had moved to the nearby city of Rimini to escape religious persecution. He joined the church there and was eventually ordained. However, things took a turn for the worse for him when a woman announced that she was his estranged wife, and to escape all the commotion he fled to Mount Titano, where he took refuge. There he stayed, and built a monastery and a chapel. After a short time, a small Christian community had developed around the mountain. There must have been something charming about the close-knit group that had formed there, as Felicissima, a lady of Rimini who owned the land, granted the area independence, saying that the people of Mount Titano should always remain united. Marinus was canonised, and later on the area was renamed San Marino - St Marinus in Italian - in honour of its founder.

 

 Saint Marinus building the monastery chapel - the birth of San Marino.

By the Middle Ages many Italian city-states had broken away from the Holy Roman Empire and the Papal land to become independent. For San Marino, of course, life on its own without an absolute monarch or ruler for life was nothing new, and for most of the big Italian city-states, freedom would be short lived and authoritarian rulers soon took over. Their sheer size made them targets for aristocratic families on the make, and by the start of the 16th century, of the major cities, only Venice retained their republic status. Little San Marino, however, had managed to keep as it had been since the 4th century, though it had needed some luck along the way. In the 1400s it was caught in the middle of a war between the Malatesta family of Rimini to its north and the Montefeltro family of Urbino to its south. Due to luck and good analytical skills, it took the side of the Montefeltros, and after the Malatestas were beaten, San Marino was given more land.

In 1600 San Marino adopted its first written constitution, which is even further evidence of San Marino being the world's oldest republic even if you do not believe the St Marinus legend. But 1400 years after it was founded without an absolute ruler, other countries were catching on. In nearby France, the ruling elite had been overthrown in a bloody revolution, with the royal family eventually killed and the country ruled by a Directory until 1799, when Napoleon Bonaparte took control. Some of his first targets to invade were various regions in Italy. But Sammarinese citizens worrying about the liberty of the country could relax; Napoleon didn't feel the need to invade, and when asked why he said: "Why, it's a model Republic!"                                                                                                                                        Napoleon eventually chose to gift San Marino with more land, though they turned that offer down - a wise decision, as they did not want the countries with land taken from them and given to San Marino to try and get them back by going to war. He also made the country a tax haven, a status that has stood to this day.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, the man responsible for unifying Italy in the 1860s, chose not to incorporate San Marino into the new peninsular country. This was because San Marino offered a refuge for him in his darkest hours; when he was fighting French, Austrian, Spanish and Neapolitan troops and his wife died in the process. As a reward for the sanctuary the country provided, he respected their wishes to remain independent.

During the Second World War, San Marino was ruled by the Fascist Party but remained neutral, though 63 people were killed when the Allies bombed the country in the mistaken belief that it contained supplies for the Germans. After the war the Communist party was voted in, making San Marino the first country in the world to democratically elect a Communist party into power. Communism was voted out in 1958 but was voted in again from 2006 to 2008. 

The border of San Marino during the Second World War. The sign clearly states its neutrality.

So why has a territory so small that it could easily be brushed aside kept its independence for all these centuries?

It is partly down to the territory gained by San Marino in the war between the Montefeltro and the Malatesta family. This ensured that although San Marino was very small, it would not be ignored, while still not posing a threat to other neighbours. Also useful was the friendly diplomacy with the Pope, which helped them to restore their independence during the three short times that they were occupied by foreign militaries, and the fact that they and Italy both speak Italian, though the Sammarinese dialect is a little different. But a key factor was their general hospitality as a country - neutral, but always willing to take in wounded soldiers and treat them well, and reluctant to engage in violent conflict.

State of the Nation

The country really is a beauty to behold. The main city and capital, also called San Marino, is a curious, arquitecturally stunning place, much like many other old towns on the Italian peninsula. Red-roof houses line the streets, and wandering up the side-alleys can lead to many nice surprises, such as coming across a charming stone house with washing on the balcony and kids playing outside, or a well-kept shrine. You'll enjoy walking so much that you won't even notice the rule that no cars are allowed in the medieval centre, except to be refreshed by the clean air.

The beautiful old town.

The country has welcomed in tourists with open arms, and the beautiful old-town streets are littered with stalls selling various different souvenirs and products. The city of San Marino is certainly no ghost town, but if you want to sample the stunning views and pleasures of the place without the hustle and bustle of tourists, come in the working week or in the Autumn and Winter to get a true taste of the city. However, come later in the year and you are missing out on some of the country's key events. Every July San Marino hosts a festival where medieval customs and traditions are re-enacted, something anyone wanting to know more about the republic's history would greatly benefit from. There is also the Etno Festival, where you can enjoy music and dancing from artists from all around the world, and the festival is growing every year.

One has to dig very far down to find any issues with the republic. It is lively, beautiful, up to date with technology and efficient - almost nobody is unemployed except for the retired and people incapable of work. However, in terms of healthcare, although San Marino has a public health service, the only hospital in the area is small, albeit with a reputation of care of a very high standard, and in some cases a patient may have to find a hospital outside the country.

It is not a member of the European Union, although it uses the euro and has open borders. However, the left-wing opposition party Popular Alliance has been reported to attempt to join the EU if it gets in power.

 

Sweden

As a tribute to ABBA's success in the Europeworldunited eurovision, here is a special article which documents the history of Swedish music, from accordians to Ace of Base.

 

 

 

Little is known about the music of the pre-christian Norse - the Vikings. However, thanks to old Viking instruments recently discovered, we can have a good guess at what the music might have sounded like. Instruments found include the lur - a kind of big trumpet - and some string instruments, flutes and drums.

The lur

 Folk Music

There are many traditional folk songs in Sweden. In most of these songs is the fiddle, a bowed string instrument that is also prominent in many traditional Irish songs. Another instrument that plays a key part in the old traditional folk songs is the Nyckelharpa. This is an impressive looking string instrument with keys that when pressed down, change the pitch of the string.                                                            Other common instruments in swedish folk include the Swedish bagpipes, the accordion and the harmonica.

File:Nyckelharpa built by Eric Sahlstrom.jpg

The nyckelharpa

 

There are many folk songs in Sweden that are ballads (stories set to music). Also common in swedish folk songs is 'kulning'. Kulning was originally used as a herding call to livestock - usually a woman called in this way, but men have also been known to. However, later on it was incorporated into many folk songs.

Up north, the Samis in Sweden had their own style of song - the yoik. Yoiking is a traditional form of Sami music that is usually sung to reflect a specific person or place. Yoik songs try to capture the very essence of someone or something, rather than just sing about it. Despite this, Yoik songs usually have either short lyrics or no lyrics at all, so the emphasis is clearly put on the music. This makes the songs very atmospheric and moving. However, it is very hard for an outsider to properly yoik - the technique is so unusual, they have to practise patiently and thoroughly. If they do that, the technique for yoiking will come, but only very slowly.

 

Sami yoikers performing

 

 The earliest recorded folk music was thanks to an organisation called the Gothic League, a society interested in Swedish culture, who published a transcription of a swedish song in their magazine, Iduna, in 1813.

The 1890s saw the first public performances of the folk music by actual spelmän (folk musicians) in Stockholm's open air museum of Swedish folklife. The first folk music contests were held in the first decade of the 20th century. However, over time these contests became less popular, and swedish folk musicians instead met each other at smaller gatherings. The most well-known of these musicians were the fiddlers from the province of Hälsingland, in central sweden.

Folk Dresses

Swedish dress in 1907

 Revival

For a while after that, Swedish folk music became less and less common. However, in the early 1960s, it experienced a revival, boosted by musicians such as jazz artist Jan Johansson. The revival gained momentum at the arrival of Gärdesfesten, an alternative music festival in Stockholm, where folk music was played regularly. Many new instruments were introduced into modern Swedish folk music, such as the saxophone, flute and mandola.

 

 Gärdesfesten, 1971

 

Since its peak in the late 1970s, folk music has returned to an alternative subculture, but that does not mean that the revival has been forgotten. On the contrary, children at Swedish schools often learn the instruments and the Swedish folk songs.

There are also many modern successful traditional swedish musicians, such as Per Gudmundson, Emma Härdelin and Lena Willemark, and bands such as Frifot and Garmarna.

Traditional dance music

Much of the Nordic traditional dance music did not actually originate in Scandinavia, but was the preferred hobby of the great and good aristocrats across Europe. However, the dances caught on to common people and quickly spread to Scandinavia. Even when the rich grew bored of them and moved on to newer dances, the ordinary people still performed them, and do so today.

Here are some of the main dances:

 

Polska

The polska is a dance that originated in Poland (hence the name) hundreds of years ago, but spread to Sweden. It is a turning dance in 3/4 time (3 main beats, like a waltz) that is usually danced by couples, who grasp each other firmly and pivot around and around with a smooth, carefully coordinated step. The polska is slower than the waltz, though in some variations the music to the polska gets faster and faster as the dance progresses. In the polska dance, the three beats have different sounds - beats 1 and 3 are heavy and downward, and beat 2 is light and upward, so the overall sound made is 'bom-bip-bom'.

 

Polka

The polka, is, unlike the fellow dance of a similar name, lively and bright. The name comes from the czech word půlka, meaning little half, as a reference to the half steps the dancers take. The dance is in 2/4 time (two main beats) and the dancers move in a way which can be expressed as 'hop-step-close-step'. The polka is performed in countries acrossed the world, not just Sweden. Typical intsruments found in a polka song include the tuba, accordion, clarinet, tumpet and drums.

 

 

Schottische

Similar to the polka, but slower, the Schottische is another dance that originated in central Europe but spread to Sweden. The dance involves a series of two runs and a hop coupled with four turning steps. The main instrument in a Schottische is the accordion.

 

Wales

 

 Wales in 150 words

Unlike Scotland, Wales has always been politically quite close to England since the 13th century. Despite this, it has always had its own identity, and its people are proud Welshmen.                                                                                                                     Unlike Gaelic, the Welsh language, similar to Cornish, is still going strong, and whilst it is very rare to come across a Welsh speaker who cannot speak English, the tongue can be heard in many, if not most, parts of Wales, and on the map there are many tongue-twisting Welsh village names, such as Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, Afon Dwyryd and Rhydycroesau.

However stereotypical it may sound, Welsh people are mostly great singers and musicians. Tom Jones, Cerys Matthews, Shirley Bassey, Bonnie Tyler, the Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics all originate from the land called Cymru.

(Welsh singer Rhydian Roberts)

But possibly the best thing about Wales is its wonderful countryside. From old farms to Mount Snowdon, you can never complain about the lack of scenery here.