Der Schwarm / The Swarm

Well, that was a waste of time. All sorts of broadcasting companies and film boards across Europe collaborated to pour money into making an 8-part series out of Frank Schätzing's wonderful book, "Der Schwarm", that was published in 2004. The book itself was a fascinating bit of science fiction that contained lots of real science, which made it believable. And scary.

The "ecological thriller" TV film series is a catastrophe. Frank Schätzing was part of the production team at the beginning, but pulled out because, as he put it in an interview with Die Zeit, "it 'pilchers' more than it 'swarms'". Rosamunde Pilcher is the British author of numerous romantic stories with happy ends. 

It starts out okay as we are getting introduced to the characters. Not brilliant, but some nice scenery and okay acting. It gets worse with every episode. They were released 3-3-2 episodes a week on German television ZDF and you asked yourself every week, did you really want to continue? We made it through the book about 20 years ago, so we will make it through the series.

The love stories are really distracting. The pseudo-scientific crap with fancy pipetting and microscopes and audio stuff and fancy computers made no sense at all, but hey, who knows what those science-y types are really doing in their labs. A few small glimpses of the grinding life in a biochemical lab are perhaps a tad realistic, but eureka discoveries don't happen like this.

The errors in the film and discontinuities are too numerous to name. I mean, on a scientific ship you don't change clothes every five minutes! And when your face gets cut with flying glass, it does not scar over in 15 minutes!

Enough said. It actually makes me angry, as the environmental dangers that we as humankind pose to the planet are REAL. I saw the shrinking glaciers with my own eyes this past summer. We have to stop misusing the resources of the planet and work towards a life that is sustainable for ALL of the people on earth. And for the creatures of the sea. 

We will probably have to suffer a second season, as the close of episode 8 was a highly improbably cliffhanger. I do not understand the critics loving this film. I found it a waste of time I could have better and more enjoyably spent cleaning out my office. And I hate cleaning.


Kalaallisut Nunaat Days

Goodness, the days visiting Kalaallisut Nunaat (Greenland) have just flown by! I also picked up a nasty cold (no, not Covid, they tested me for that) and have been barking like a seal for days. I wear a mask to keep others from catching my cold. 

It was grand fun, getting on the Zodiacs and zipping around, getting a closer look at glaciers and moraines, learning what nunataks and cirques and drumlins are, and taking lots of pictures. 

The internet is terribly bad on board, so I’ll just try and upload a few pictures here!

The town of Aappilattog, in Kujalleq

A closer view of Aappilattog

Icebergs come in strange shapes

This glacier, an arm of Sermeq kujatadleg, runs into the sea. A small piece broke off (calved) and splashed into the water below.

Another interesting shape

On land! At the moraine in Puiátoq on the Qaersuatsiarssuasik

The power of the ice can split granite rocks in two!

The glacier didn’t look that big until we got up close

We can’t get any closer, because there would be waves if a piece breaks off that could capsize our boats. 

A view from afar

At the narrowest point in the Ikerasagssuaq fjord (Prince Christian Sound), only about 500 meters wide, the ship has to move *very* slowly to slip through.

They keep us in good spirits and give us too much to eat. We have had extraordinary good luck with the weather, that will be changing when we get to Canada. 


On board the MS Fridtjof Nansen

Our friend drove us into town so that we could get our outrageously expensive lateral flow tests at the Harpa. A test kit costs 2 € in Berlin, a test at a test center 3 €. They charged us 50 $ per person for the tests! I got my results within the hour, WiseMan‘s didn‘t come at all, so we trudged back and had them re-send it and print it out. Luckily, both of us were negative, so on with the adventure!

We were able to dump our suitcases early, and at 12:30 were able to board. First we showed all of our medical documentation and had our temperatures taken. Then we went through a metal detector, and joined the pure chaos that was behind that station. I had already fought with the ArriveCAN app that the Canadian government insists that you use to register coming to Canada for quite some time. It could use a usability overhaul, and maybe a proper update: Our ship was not on the list of ships entering a port of Canada. And without choosing a ship, you couldn‘t go on. You also had to put in the first landing in Canada and the date and time. I had written to the reception desk to ask and they sent me a place with a silly date, the day we are to land in St. John‘s, far away from Goose Bay.

We were, of course, not the only ones with problems, which were exacerbated by the Internet on board not working. You could get the ship WLAN, but it was not connecting to the outside world. I managed to get the app to talk to me and to FINALLY fill out all the fields. Then I pressed SEND, and it didn‘t go through. I must have pressed SEND a dozen times, it took a while and then timed out. I finally managed to turn off the WLAN and coax my mobile phone plan to speak with the Internet. Hey, 1&1, when you tell me I can use the Internet like home I didn‘t expect you to export all the connection problems like we have back in Germany as well!

It was also clear that many older people do have mobile phones, but they don‘t know how to use them to do anything other than phone. They don‘t know how to download apps, they don‘t know how to log onto a WLAN, and it scares them to not know what to do. We computing people really have to get better at this.

But of course with all the chaos, we were unable to get someone to understand that we have two cabins but both want to get into each of them. It took another two visits to the reception desk before their computers were working again and they were able to issue us additional room cards.

We now have our red signal rain coats, we have been through the safety instructions, and we have emptied the bottle of champagne that was in the suite :) Dinner was nice, although there are far too many people serving. It seems that the boat is only half full, which is actually good for us. 

Tomorrow we will be at sea all day, crossing the Straits of Denmark!


Reykjavik, Day 4

Seeing as it was Sunday, we picked up the mother of my friend and took her to church. She was so thrilled to be able to see old friends. The church was quite full, with lots of children and a small choir. I was able to follow along and sing, as I knew the melodies. I really hate that Lutherans don‘t print the music in their hymnals - people need to learn how to read music!

After church and lunch we packed up our spa stuff and headed out to Hammsvík on the Hvalfjörður (the Whale Fjord). It is a newly opened hot spring that caters to people who are sick of the throng of tourists at the Blue Lagoon (no link, sorry) or the Sky Lagoon (filling up with tourists fast). It is *way* out in the boondocks, you think you are about to plummet into the fjord from the gravel road when suddenly there is a nice parking space. It is only about an hour’s drive north of Reykjavik, though. You have to buy your tickets online in advance, as they want to keep the number of people at the place to a sensible number, around 50 people. 

The Hvalfjörður at Hvammsvík

There are lots of pools of heated water that cascade down to one that gets refreshed when the tide gets in, and you are welcome to go take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean that comes up the Hvalfjörður. As in North Atlantic Ocean. As in very cold water, but the Icelanders seem to like it. I waded in just a little bit and quickly ran out again, it was sooooooo cold!

This being Iceland, we ended up in one hot tub with the owner and his brother went to school with one of the sons of my friend. Icelanders talk with each other until they discover their common friend or relative. He explained a bit more of his concept, not letting too many people in and fitting in with the breath-taking landscape. It is truly an experience sitting in a pot of hot water while enjoying the view of mountains with a tad of snow still on the top and greens below. Remember to bring your bathing suit, although they will gladly loan you one for a fee. They have towels and soap and you can even wade over to the bar and get a beer or wine or champagne (in plastic glasses) if it suits your fancy. No screaming kids like at the public pool, so quite relaxing!

In the evening we walked out towards the light house on the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula. I was amazed at the number of cars zipping past us, and indeed, it seemed half the town was there, parking hither and thither, all with their mobile phones and iPads and cameras set up to take pictures of a most magnificent sunset. I took some pictures, too :)

Tomorrow we leave Reyjkavik for Greenland, I‘m really looking forward to this! But it has been a wonderful visit!


Reykjavik, Day 3

 I slept late this morning, so I missed everyone else out jogging or for a walk. It is 15°C and very sunny! The look out the window where I am writing is stunning:

We went for a walk downtown with about 10.000 other people! The place was packed with tourists, partially of course because there was a big cruise ship in the harbor. We first went to see the Harpa opera house and wanted to go to the top, but it was closed for some conference or other. 

We made reservations for dinner at the Tides, as it was clear that everyone and his brother would be out on the town this lovely day. The sun shone and it must have been 15 or 16°C. We had a lovely walking tour, stopping midway for coffee and delicious cakes at the Mokka Kaffi on the pedestrian zone. The street has been painted in rainbow colors, people stop to take selfies of themselves.

We walked through the sculpture garden of Einar Jónsson. He made quite a lot of sculptures that can be found mostly in Iceland, but also in the USA and Canada. Many of the ones in the garden have grief and sadness as a theme. This one, „Protection“, is in front of the house where he lived and worked, just the other side of the Hallgrímskirkja

It was fun walking down streets that were not full of tourists, peering into little gardens where people were sunning themselves, seeing the treasures they had on display on their window sills, and then sitting by the Tjörnin, a little lake in town soaking up the sun ourselves.

We had a rest before heading out to dinner. We started with drinks at Harpa, then really excellent food at Tides, and closing with more drinks at the bar in Kónsulat. Yes, alcohol is expensive in Iceland. But when you haven‘t seen your friends for 7 years, you need a night on the town!


Reykjavik, Day 2

After a very healthy breakfast (green smoothie) we set out for the local library in Seltjarnarnes. It is located right above the grocery store, very practical! It was quite windy, I was very glad to have a good jacket and hat on! The sun came out on the way back, but it was still very windy. We checked the local newspaper, Morgunblaðið just to see if they were reporting on the book presentation. Since the editor-in-chief ran against the current president in the last election, there was no report expected, and none found. 

We had a lovely coffee in a little café, Arna, nearby. It’s just like Berlin, I can get my Chai Latte (I’m not going to try and even calculate what the price is) and there are people sitting around with laptops plugged in, working away and sipping coffee. 

We spoke about politics and life in general. Iceland is lucky to have geothermal energy, so they won’t be freezing this winter like the rest of Europe. The homes are heated with that, you open the window to bring down the temperature to what you want.They sure could make much more energy if they put up windmills, but of course people think that would spoil the landscape, hurt the birds, and gee, the wind is so strong the things might blow over. They do need gas, however, as there are an enormous amount of cars and lots of traffic jams for such a small city (about half the size of Neukölln). Many people have electrical cars, but they are currently hard to come by, there’s a long waiting list to buy one. 

It seems there is a story behind every house door, as our friend explains as we walk along. This is the house of that politician, this is the Fauci of Iceland, here’s a famous musician. Iceland is truly a country of stories!

After lunch we went swimming in the local pool. Not only is there a 25 m outdoor swimming pool and a kid‘s area, but there is a steam bath and about 5 heitir pottar, hot tubs (the automatic correction keeps wanting to make that Harry Potter).  They come in varying degrees of heat, we started at the hottest one, 41-44 °C. Somewhere in the middle I had to then go through the 4-8°C cold tub, I got out of that real fast, an Icelandic friend even got completely under the cold water. Brrrrr! One feels so healthy and restored after the trip!

In the evening more old friends came over for dinner. We all met some 40 years ago when we were really all just children, young students! Now we are all grandparents. As one person noted: even her son now has grey hair! We hope that they will all be coming to Berlin next year to visit one of our fine theaters.


Reykjavik, Day 1

The flight to Keflavik was not until early afternoon, so we were able to get up at a normal time, have breakfast, pack last things, clean the place, take out the garbage, and we still had time to spare. The taxi company called to see if the car could come early, so we said “Sure!” and were on our way.

BER was, of course, packed with people. But I had insisted on doing the check-in the night before. We waited half an hour until the Iceland Air counter opened, and indeed: the long line was the people who had not checked in online, we needed only 5 minutes to get rid of our bags. 

The next challenge was security. I had made a “reservation” for a time slot in an hour’s time. This is a new thing, the reservations don’t cost anything (now), but how am I supposed to know how long I will need to get checked in? I tried to talk my way onto that short line, but no deal. So we joined the masses (us wearing masks, many not) and waited. And waited. Took us a bit over half an hour to finally be able to get to security.

I told the people that I did not want to be in the naked scanner. “Oh, it’s a full-body scanner, not a naked scanner, see what the pictures look like?” I replied “Sure, but re-naming it and running the taken pictures through a visualization transformer doesn’t change the pictures that are taken and stored, just what you see on the outside.” But apparently I wasn’t the only one that day, they were not snarly or such when doing the body search. She complained only about my face mask in my pocket that had a metal hinge on it. 

My bag, however, was a cause for concern. I had two blocks of cheese for our cheese-loving friends in there. Apparently that looked like something nasty, so I had to unpack and show them what it was. The lady was friendly enough, oooh, she loves cheese, too, I should bring some for her next time.

So we made it through early enough, bought some exorbitantly priced food, and discovered there is nowhere to sit behind security until you know your gate. We checked the gate the moment it was announced and dashed to it, snagging two seats with a table. I enjoyed my Economist, WiseMan his book, and we finished our food. 

The plane ended up being fully booked, so we were late leaving and spent a good 30 minutes on the tarmac waiting for the tower to let us go. But we were finally in the air and were quickly served the meals we had ordered and paid for in advance. Dear airline catering people: Don’t put drippy sauces on food you serve! We can’t eat with our mouths over the box because the person in front of us has their seat all the way back. I managed, surprisingly, by keeping my other hand under the fork at all times, so only the hand got sauced. WiseMan missed once and ended up with mustard on his shirt.

We landed only about 15 minutes late. Goodness, the airport has gotten big! We seemed to walk forever, that was probably so that they had time to unload the bags. We could have shopped at the duty free shop, but decided to get out since we were late. Luckily, the bags both showed up soon and in good condition. Our friend was outside waiting for us, so good to see him!

On the way to Reykjavik he said that he had to go to an appointment, did we want to come along? Sure, I’m game for anything! It turned out we were headed to a book presentation by the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. He is a historian and was presenting his new book about the Icelandic Cod Wars, which our friend had edited. So we enjoyed soft drinks and licorice (!) while listening to him. I didn’t catch everything he said, as I don’t know much of the vocabulary around fishing :) It was rather cool that we were able to just drop in, not registered or anything, to listen to the president. No visible body guards, just a car (license plate: “1”) to whisk him to an interview

What an great way to start the adventure! I added the book to his Wikipedia entry, we’ll see if that stays in!