With my Interrail pass this year I had planned to visit my best friend in Stockholm. I usually like to go there a few times a year or more if time and schedules permit. It just so happened that the timing of my continuous month pass coincided with the midsummer festival at Ängsbacka and the fact that several of my good friends decided to go was a nice bonus.
I am no stranger to this community in the middle of the Swedish countryside. I had previously attended three festivals between 2008 and 2010, but this was my first midsummer festival, which is of course a very traditional and important holiday period for the Swedes. Just picture Christmas in the UK or Thanksgiving in the U.S and that'll give you an idea of how busy the trains, planes and roads are in Sweden with everyone travelling to see their families.
The journey with two friends from Stockholm to Molkom, the little village by the lake where Ängsbacka is situated, was severely delayed. There were reports of a fire in a new tunnel in Stockholm which reeked havoc to trains services in the city for the whole day. Our train was the only one to leave that afternoon, so we were mighty thankful even though we knew we would miss the opening ceremony and dinner!
I have been fortunate in my life to have travelled to many places but I have yet to find a place where time goes by so very slowly. This place called Ängsbacka is that place. Nestled in amongst the forests of Värmland in central southern Sweden where wild flowers and berries grow you’ll find this rather remarkable yet unassuming collection of traditional buildings with the Big Barn at the centre.
For those of you who know about Swedish culture you may be wondering why this place? There are several reasons why I decided to go to this midsummer festival.
To be amongst some of my closest friends is always a nice feeling for me, particularly when many live in different countries or far from my home in Berlin. Having the time and these surroundings to relax and enjoy each others' company and have wonderful conversations has formed some of those most rewarding and precious moments I have in my life.
It was only after talking with Stina that I discovered that Midsummer at Ängsbacka this year was somewhat different to the usual routine. It has always been a place open to all, inclusion and tolerance being at it’s heart, yet the midsummer festival has been very heteronormative over the years, with no real indication that people from the LGBTQ community were openly welcome and encouraged to attend. One of this year's organisers, Maria Åkerstedt worked with her friends, Alexander, Johann and Stina from Stockholm who organise the HBTQ Spirit events in the capital, to bring a truly LGBTQ environment and workshops that would welcome everyone attending Midsummer to participate.
We often attempt to, and many successfully, find their path through life, but there are often moments when we loose our map or just can't decide where we want to go. It may seem surprising that being at this place, this bubble in the Swedish countryside would be a chance in an otherwise noisy world to have some moments of self discovery to be truly in oneself. I don’t mean in a narcissistic way, but rather that we need inner peace and happiness and that some of tools to achieve this end just happen to be in this place. Through guided workshops, meditation and sharing groups, it is surprising what we can achieve alone and together in this world.
And finally, being around like-minded yet very different people who see the world from many different perspectives is simply rewarding in itself. I have met people from all walks of life at this place and it never ceases to surprise me. So I have to admit that I’m most grateful for my friend's invitation back in 2008 to start my path of discovery. We may travel and think we know what we’ll find, but I do hope you’ll all be surprised by those personal and shared moments of joy and happiness in events or people that just present themselves.