Arletta: It’s quite cold in the house here today, isn’t it? You mustn’t catch another cold again. We’re reading in school about the old urban district Haga in Gothenburg. I want you to help me understand what’s so important about it. Let’s go to my room. It’s better here.
Ellington: Yes, it’s nice and warm.
Arletta: Tell me what you know about Haga. In the meantime I will make us something good for a snack.
Ellington: Haga. We had lunch there today.
Arletta: Yes, and we have stayed over-night there at Kurt’s place. Has he lived there for a long time?
Ellington: Yes, I remember when he moved in there. I think it was about 1970.
Arletta: When I saw the yard and the old stairs there, I felt could see what it was like way back then.
Ellington: You know, at that time there was a lot happening in Haga. The authorities wanted to demolish the old houses to build new ones, but many who lived there wanted Haga to remain as it was with small shops, small workshops and housing. And as a cultural heritage.
Arletta: What was the background to all this?
Ellington: I knew many people who lived in Haga around 1968 and up to -71. I lived in a demolition apartment in Annedal then. And it was nice to live there I thought. Tiled stove in the apartment, small nice shops along the street. Retailers, grocery stores, small eateries where they served good home cooking – fried salt herring with onion sauce and potatoes, pork pancake with lingon yolk, pea soup on Thursdays.
Arletta: Here’s some mango for you. Take what I have cut into the bowl. It’s for you. I’ll cut directly from the mango myself. How would it have been, living there before, in Haga for example. How were the apartments earlier on?
Ellington: My mom and dad lived in Masthugget just 30 years before I lived in Annedal. 1939-42. By that time, Haga had 13,000 inhabitants. I think it was hard to live there then.
Arletta: It must have been very crowded with so many people in that small area.
Ellington: Accommodation was simple and units were always in need of repair. Slum actually. I remember a discussion with one of my father’s friends, and he was glad that Haga was due to be demolished. He called it a rat hole where people were infected by TBC, and it was nice to get rid of it all, he thought.
Arletta: I read about this family Dickson. They were rich and wanted to improve the conditions of the workers. But that was earlier, wasn’t it?
Ellington: The Dicksons and some other wealthy families were patrons in Gothenburg and they were active in Haga. They built the Dickson Public Library there. This was in the 1880s, and they started a Workers’ Association then too.
Arletta: Was that what later became the labor union?
Ellington: No, there was competition between the Dickson Liberal Worker’s Union and the trade unions, inspired by Marx.
Arletta: I read that there was a worker leader named August Palm at the time, but they didn’t let him have a meeting in the Dickson House.
Ellington: No, he was a radical and had to have his worker’s meeting somewhere else in town. But nevertheless Haga became a real center for the socialist labor movement. On Bergsgatan Folkets Hus was started, with the Social-Democratic newspaper Ny Tid. A socialist women’s association was started there too. And on Sprängkullsgatan, the socialists’ youth federation and their sobriety federation Verdandi established a café with its own newspaper called Stormklockan (The Storm Bell).
Arletta: Was that an alarm clock for a new time that would come?
Ellington: My dad, who became a writer, published his first poems in Stormklockan.
Arletta: Was this at about the same time as the Russian Revolution?
Ellington: My dad wrote later – it was in the 30s. But by the Russian Revolution in 1917, things were happening in Haga. There were large hunger riots. Like in all of Sweden. People were starved because much food was exported. To Germany. My wife’s grandmother told me about that year. It was the only time in her life that she committed a crime. She stole a loaf of bread in a bakery. It was in Gothenburg in 1917.
Arletta: But I read there was something about the Storm Bell in 1917. What was that?
Ellington: Those who were in the youth federation Verdandi and who published the Storm Bell, they took a stand for the Communists in Russia. They wanted the poor to take power from the rich in Sweden as well.
Arletta: But there was no revolution here.
Ellington: The Social-Democratic Labor Movement split up then. Those who wanted to change society in agreement with the rich managed to get the majority.
Arletta: All this did not happen in Haga only?
Ellington: No …
Arletta: But I understand that there was a lot happening there. The Swedish idea of Folkhemmet (the nation as a home for all) was a thought that started in places like Haga. And when we talk about this, it feels like the memory of all these things that happened way back in time is still there in the houses and streets and inside the yards. I can imagine what was going on in the minds of all those people there.
Ellington: And do you know what’s going on in my mind now? I’ll get up early tomorrow to drive home. Thank you for tonight, Arletta. It was good being here with you. I’m going to bed now. I’ll wear socks and an extra blanket, and I’ll be fine.
Arletta: Good night, Ellington. It is 100 years since the Russian Revolution. Do you hear any Storm Bells?
Ellington: No …
Arletta: Not in Haga anyway.