It may be Sweden’s 2nd largest city, but it sure doesn’t feel like it! The lazy (more like icy during the time I was there) Göte channel meanders through the city, cobblestone streets with rows of old buildings and narrow side alleys in-between, winding and intriguing, beckoning you in, the roads covered with the zig zag pattern of tram tracks, and a love affair with wooden finishing’s and furniture! Gothenburg is a city with a small town charm!
Compared to picture-perfect Berlin, Gothenburg felt a little more…human. The were cigarette buts on the streets, empty take away boxes and crumpled coffee cups carelessly littered in the channel, and the occasional hobo digging through a trashcan. Being African and having lived in 3rd or 2nd world countries, signs of human error, imperfection and struggle often make a place feel more real to me, especially big cities. Although this is something that often saddens me to see, it’s a characteristic of cities that I have become accustomed to, and even expect to see!
Another striking difference between these two great European cities is that immigration and refugee laws are a lot more lenient in Sweden than in Germany, as a result, cities like Gothenburg have a much larger mix of foreigners, from African to Arab, and I felt a little less like “token blackie”. It was in Gothenburg that I learnt about some interesting history between Sweden and Uganda; it so happens to be that Uganda’s current president’s family lived in exile in Gothenburg for many years, during the 1980’s guerilla warfare against Obote’s regime. His family is therefore well known in Gothenburg, and they even speak fluent Swedish!
Although analogous I would hate to think that these two factors are related, but it’s a possibility. Gothenburg happens to have a big homless problem, I noticed that there were a lot of commercials and media campaigns about employment and getting a job. Also most working class jobs were taken up by immigrants, Iranian, Iraqis, Somalians, and a lot of East Europeans basking in the streets or holding out empty coffee cans asking for people to spare some change. It’s not on such a large scale as in 2nd and 3rd world countries, but its still present!
One unique effort I discovered while there that attempts to tackle the issue of homelessness is a genius initiative called the homeless hotel. A bit ironic isn’t it? A hotel for the homeless?
Well not quite, infact its just the oopposite, it’s a hotel where you can book a night to experience what its like to be homeless. At only … you get a public space to spend the night, out in the cold, perhaps under a highway bridge or at the dock, some times you get a dirty mattress or a piece of cardboard or nothing at all. No security, no wifi, no reception or even proper shelter, and a clear disclaimer that you chose to sleep there at your own risk. Of ‘couse once you don’t have to spend the whole night there, and the money is used as a donation towards a charity that is trying to get people off the streets. Its really more about the experience than an actual hotel service. A place to visit to get a first hand feel of what it really feels like to be a hobo, a reminder to be grateful for the simple things in life that we take for granted, like shelter, a warm clean bed, and food, and a cool way to donate to a worthwhile initiative!
Needless to say, my mum was not too keen on the idea of me booking a room for two at the homeless hotel! Oh well, perhaps next time!