There is a little town in the North of Sweden with the name Umeå. This inconspicious place happens to be the European Capital of Culture 2014. I spontaneoulsy plunged into that experience – and now I have got some stories to tell which will appear here during the weekend.
This little town has an immense treasury of stories. The train station is a story in itself, depicting the birches which writer Sara Lidman passed by on the train to her home from Umeå. Her sentence “I want to see the snow burn” gave the opening ceremony a motto.
Not far from the tunnel under the station is the sculpture of the Green Fire. It was errected in 1970. During the preparations for Umeå2014 they recently found a little picture of Mao Zedong in a cleft on top of it. And after some research they also found the person who put it there. He was one of the summer jobbers setting up the sculpture, 25 years by that time, and idealistically drawn to Mao’s ideas.
From the sculpture to the town hall, along the main street, a green laser guides the visitors, which is even more visible when the snow falls. Along this street you find an ice sculpture exhibition, several snow walls with word art projected onto them and a snow course to play boules.
Exactly that is also the concept of the installation about the Sami, the indegenous people of the country. They will leave no traces of their exhibits and will be gone completely after the opening weekend.
The Sami participation is very controversial. The Sami are a minority in Sweden who have been colonised and up to today are not treated equally. Umeå can be considered at most at the brink of Sapmi, the Sami area, but the town uses the eight Sami seasons as a hook for structuring the whole year of events. Some people criticise that commercialization.
But Umeå invites everybody to report about the inauguration. Hashtags are provided and free wifi covers the whole town. My host follows #umeå2014 on instagram, and people take pictures with their phones continously. In that way, there will be some heritage left, when the snow has melted. In pixels it will live on.
I am glad that I volunteered today. That enabled me to hear all these stories, even if I was really frozen after the long hours standing outside. Now my eyes are itching and my skin burns because of the big difference between the cold winter outside and the dry warm air inside.
Tomorrow is the big day. The question is: Will I be able to see the praised fire show or will I be spending that time in the cold, answering questions of lost tourists?