It was a June morning in 2013, and, finally arriving at Arlanda airport after seven hours of flying – broken only by a brief stop in Frankfurt, Germany, was a relief. The brisk and dry morning air, cool to my tropic skin, spoke of Nordic latitudes. The air was invigorating in its own way, and riding the wave of that morning’s energy, I cleared customs and immigrations in a breeze and found the cab to take me to Stockholm rather quickly. Arlanda appears to be a simple airport enough. What makes it unique is that underneath the airport is one of the world’s most advanced machines for climate control. All airports have air-conditioning (or should) but the phenomenon at Arlanda is the most understated even if the most advanced in the world.
I had to wait a while until two other Africans, one from Zimbabwe and another from South Africa, also joined me. It was good to share, it was cost-efficient, and eco-friendly, too. We were guests of the Swedish Institute for a week. Our taxi driver was a Turkish immigrant and his English was passable. The taxi-cab was a new Mercedes. The driver was a man in his late twenties. We drove for kilometres through conifer forests planted to utilise every available space on both sides of the road. I hadn’t brought any sunglasses with me and I realised that was a mistake immediately. Light struck differently here.
In the course of the short trip from Arlanda to Stockholm, he spoke little, was courteous, and seemed far more comfortable speaking Swedish to the man from whom he asked directions once his car’s navigation-aid took us to the street generally known as Kongsberg. Part of the trouble was that our hotel, modern and chic as it was, was blended seamlessly into the architecture of a massive building that housed a theatre, a museum, several restaurants, a 7-11 Store and many others that I didn’t have time to explore. Also, the street was facing the biggest bus terminal in Stockholm with the same name as the building with the hotel. Eventually, the cabman found the hotel, helped my co-travellers with their bags, issued an electronic receipt which I still keep, and left.
Our hotel was at the heart of Stockholm. We had a full day to experience Stockholm before heading to Tällberg, up North. After checking in at the hotel and resting a couple of hours, we assembled at the lobby to meet up with Oskar for lunch at an upscale restaurant with a lovely view of the city. Oskar Rohlander who works for the Swedish Institute would be our guide throughout our Swedish stay. He is a very knowledgeable person and fluent in many languages who has travelled the world a bit. His sense of humour made talking to him seem as if one had known him for much longer than 24 hours. I ordered seafood.
My eyes adjusted to the dry air poorly. Together with little sleep from the all-night flight and since arrival, I imagine that I presented my host with a tired visage which really wasn’t truly representative of my state of mind. I liked Stockholm instantly. The people walked way faster than I am used to, I wanted to know why without asking. It soon became apparent to me that it was poor energy-efficiency to walk leisurely on the streets in cold weather. There were many cyclists too. They cycled past at higher speeds than I am accustomed to. This too was a response to the environment.
We walked to the main offices of the Swedish Institute amidst a light shower. Though it was summer, the temperature was much lower than I was used to in the coldest periods in Ibadan. At the offices, we met others from around the world who were also visiting Sweden, like us, and some for the first time. There is something to be said for Swedish efficiency, the predisposition towards getting things done with simplicity and elegance. I found it impressive. Conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics and suddenly one realised that Ikea, Skype, Volvo and Saab were just a drop in the ocean of Swedish innovation. Compared to Swedes, Americans don’t know how to make anything. But efficiency in itself is a double edged sword. I suggested to Oskar that he read Marcus Redicker’s new book, “The Slave Ship.” The Swedes built some of the most reliable slave ships in the past.
In the evening we had dinner at Pontus. Whatever else you do, if in Stockholm, visit Pontus. You’ll be glad you did. We headed out to Tällberg, the village that hosts The Tällberg Forum. With many partners from different walks of life, the Tällberg Foundation hosts the forum from time to time and it is quite an experience to be at any such forum. The Tällberg Foundation is an independent non-profit organisation. The Foundation works in a learning environment with a systems perspective, specialising in learning processes and delivering policy and strategy recommendations for organisations. In addition to the yearly Forum, the Foundation organises conferences, conversations, learning journeys, special studies and leadership development programs. The Foundation is based in Stockholm and Tällberg, Sweden, but interacts with numerous partners around the world.
Now, Tällberg has a very interesting geologic history and geologic time is very humbling. About 350 million years ago, a massive meteorite hit Tällberg. There is now a lake in what must have been the epicentre of the event, a massive lake. Geologists are still studying what happened then and what is happening now in Tällberg. During one of the session breaks, I took a guided tour, through geologic time, of the village. An incredible amount of transformation occurs in 350 million years and one such transformation is the idea of the Tällberg Forum, drawing visitors from all around the world.
It is hard to imagine that today in our hyper-wired world, a place exists in Europe without the ATM machine. The Gyllene Hornet, the small hotel at which I stayed in Tällberg had above average Wi-Fi and food (there was watermelon and bananas) but there was something about the hotel that suggested the 19th century as well. It wasn’t the architecture, for sure, or the services. It was the Feng Shui of the rooms. It was unmistakeably modern but it was convincingly ancient as well.
The Forum itself is what has put Tällberg on the map today. Tällberg, for those who know, is as important as Davos. In 2013, there were people from academia, industry, the arts and idea tourists. There was also the King of Sweden who came to be part of the event just days after giving his daughter in marriage. There was a huge tent erected and it was just as well because it drizzled lightly throughout.
We were here, one of the speakers at Tällberg 2013 said, to rebuild the airplane while in full flight. The state of the world was such that we couldn’t afford to land before reconstruction can begin. There was a fundamental flaw at the heart of how the world today ran.
Speaker after speaker, event after event followed. Should the world intervene in Syria? What is the meaning of impact investment? Should the world impose carbon tax? Are the rules by which we currently play defective? What do we need to do about the rule-making process? Does the world need an aggregated ideas input model that doesn’t treat Africa as the weaker younger sister? Do we know, for sure, in which direction we ought to aspire?
Tällberg was the place for all these questions. Then it occurred to me that every village in the world can actually do this. Tällberg is just the example of what we need to do and what can be done.
The forum ended, we danced the Little Frog Dance (it was mere days to the summer solstice) and the forum dined on what the villagers have had as standard fare for close to 600 years. I made friends, some of whom still keep in touch years later. The world has changed a lot since Tällberg 2013. There is ISIL and there was the war in Gaza. These all happened. But the example of Tällberg endures.