Foto KARIN ALFREDSSON

The author Jens Andersen with Karin Nyman

Vimmerby is the navel of Scandinavia

“Oh childhood peace in Sca-a-andinavia!” bellows five-year-old Lisabeth in Astrid Lindgren’s book about Mardie. Lisbeth is sitting in the sleigh together with her big sister Mardie in a snowstorm on their way home to Mum and Dad at Junedale after the girls’ perilous trip on the smooth, dark ice on the river.

All of us who live in peaceful Scandinavia ought to sing as loudly and joyfully as Lisabeth every day. Imagine being able to move freely across each other’s national borders without feeling foreign or unwanted. We work, start a family, and rent or buy houses in our neighbouring countries like never before. On the outside we are probably Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Finns and Icelanders, but deep inside – I think – we are also proud of our Scandinavian kinship, which is based on an outlook on life and a feeling for nature that has its roots in the passing of the seasons in the northern hemisphere. We all go through the long, dark winter, the fantastic colourful spring and the short, intensive summer with light nights on the lakes and seas, in the mountains, on the fields and meadows, in the forests and cities.

Through Astrid Lindgren’s books, we get an intense experience of this Scandinavian cultural heritage. This is something that Pippi Longstocking and the Children of Noisy Village, Mio, Rasmus and Mardie, Emil, the Brothers Lionheart, Ronja and Birk have radiated for more than half a century and it is brought to life year after year in Vimmerby. Not just through all the skilful, energetic actors in Astrid Lindgren’s World but also through the unique museum setting at Astrid Lindgren’s Näs and the old streets around the square in Vimmerby where Astrid Lindgren bought sweets and went to the market as a child and danced at Stadshotellet and worked as a journalist student somewhere round the corner on Storgatan when she was young.

In the summer in Vimmerby, visiting families with children from all over Europe get an insight into the Scandinavian mentality, lifestyle and ways of socialising. A cultural heritage based on an understanding of the importance of children and childhood that the rest of the world envies and would like to share with us, if it could. If there is one thing that all the world’s adults share – regardless of political and religious beliefs – it is that we were all children once and have a piece of that child inside us for the rest of our lives.

Few authors in the world have reminded us so strongly and in such detail about this as Astrid Lindgren. She was herself a child and young girl in Vimmerby 100 years ago. Astrid grew up on the farm Näs where her parents Hanne and Samuel August created a home for their four children based on love, respect and tolerance. And within these fixed, safe bounds, Astrid, Gunnar, Stina and Ingegerd had plenty of time to play and fantasise when the day’s chores where done. Astrid Lindgren remembered her happy childhood at Näs for the rest of her life. Not least in her difficult and dark times as an adult. The happy, warm memories of Småland became an inexhaustible source for her authorship, which has been translated into so many languages that it spanned the world long ago. Pippi Longstocking, the Children of Noisy Village, Mio, Rasmus, Mardie, Emil, Jonathan, Skorpan, Ronja and Birk all teach us, much better than even the thickest and cleverest books about bringing up children, how to get along with each other as people and what a good, peaceful life should always be based on. 

That’s why we Scandinavians still read Astrid Lindgren and share her with the rest of the world. And that’s why generation after generation of children and parents make pilgrimages to Vimmerby – the Navel of Scandinavia. 

Text: Jens Andersen

Svenska German

See also

Jens Andersen (b. 1955) has a PhD in Scandinavian literature and is the author of Astrid Lindgren’s biography ‘Denna dagen, ett liv’ (This day, one life), which has been published in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Germany, and which will be published in 2016 in Finland, the Netherlands, France and Russia.