Our architectural heritage matters!

Ever since I started working at the age of sixteen I have had the privilege of working in the most fantastic historical environments. Living in and travelling to equally fascinating cities and countries has also been amazing. And from this I have learned one thing: architecture counts and matters enormously for cities or countries identity and the picture it sends to visitors as well as the people living there. Imagine New York without its high rising buildings, London without the Houses of Parliament with the fairly famous clock tower attached. Imagine Paris without the Tour d’Eiffel, Rome without Colosseum (though the Romans do everything they can making it crumble down piece by piece, but that’s an issue for another day) and China without the Great Wall. Even though one might not be an architectural nerd like myself, these buildings matter. To everyone.

The famous Swedish architectural preservationist and spokesman for the built cultural heritage Lars Sjöberg speaks about an internal, almost like an inherited compass for beauty, when he talks about the history of buildings. If we are to believe him they help us see and understands the world we live in. And I believe he has a point. When buildings are demolished and by bulldozers loaded on a truck to later be driven off to become landfill somewhere, we have lost a part of what we could have referred to as “home”. When big parts of Europe’s old city centers were demolished in the 1950s and 60s we lost parts of our identity. There were good reasons at times, I am the first to accept that, but there were also times when the demolishing frenzy was due purely to laziness from politicians that found preserving our built heritage too tiring and expensive. When the same thing happens today I feel obliged to cry out “hey, wait a minute! Haven’t we done this mistake before?” When this happens I think we have to start thinking very carefully about how we want our children and future generations to experience their environment. Not just when it comes to recycling and the biological environment. The physical environment is equally as important, and often these two causes go hand in hand.

Wanting to preserve the built heritage, whether it’s a Georgian country estate in the Swedish countryside or a Victorian office building in central London, the will and passion to preserve and care about earlier generations historical footprints, the architectural ones being the very rare exceptions one can actually see and touch, the engagement does often coincide with a general passion to take care of the environment too. If only more of us could see the common objectives. The more of us that get engaged in the case of saving our built heritage all over Europe, the more beautiful will future generation’s environments be. And as opposed to us, they will thank our generation for it and not berate us like we berate the generation that demolished the world we could have lived in. World War II made a terrifying and effective demolishing-job for us, though how some people found that an excuse to start a War on Beauty is astonishing. Let’s not continue that war. Let’s make peace and embrace the architectural beauty of our cities and the built heritage in our countrysides. This will be my New Years resolution for 2012.

Happy New Year everyone!

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Filed under Architecture, Architecture Matters, Arts Funding Cuts Europe, London

Coffee in Gothenburg Part: 3

Mauritz Kaffe is an institution in the Gothenburg coffee circles. It is famous not only for its coffee and great buns and sandwiches, but also for being the first really italian inspired coffee bar opening in Gothenburg. Not to say in Sweden. It is a funny, eccentric place and I have therefore grown to love it.

You find this coffee bar, or coffee house as the owner Tord Wetter preferes to call it, on the busy Fredsgatan, no. 2, in the middle of the city center. Wherever you are planning to go in central Gothenburg, you will inevitably pass by Brunnsparken, one of the three major squares where all the busses and trams pass, and Fredsgatan is one of the main arteries leading further into the heart of the city. Mauritz Kaffe is therefore close to everything. You can’t miss it.

When I went a few weeks ago it was my first time in years, but it was like having it been stuck in a time warp where everything was just like in 1993, or 2004 for that matter. That is a quality I like and find fascinating with institutions like this, and since Mr. Wetter opened this place in 1971 and it has been a hit ever since, he should know. Being the fourth generation of coffee connoisseurs running Mauritz Kaffe, the name comes from his great-great-great grandfather Mauritz Svenson whom started the business in 1888, Tord is now fighting a battle against the big and mighty city council and his landlord who have agreed an unreasonable, and in the case of Mauritz Kaffe devastating, increase in rent. Running a business like this you can never compete with high street names the likes of H&M, Starbucks or Zara, but that does not mean that the inner city have to contain nothing else but. A city planner, responsible city architect or what have you must cherish and appreciate the variety and diversity businesses like this bring to the overall picture and experience of a modern inner city. So I dearly hope that Mauritz Kaffe will be at its current address for many years to come.

The coffee though; any good you might wonder? It’s great. Otherwise this place wouldn’t still be up and running after all these years. My Ethiopian coffee (yes, you can choose from a number of various blends and pure beans), served in a Presso coffee maker, was just as fruity and well rounded as I wanted it. The espresso a few days later was also great. I haven’t tried their milk drinks yet, but there is no reason what so ever they would not be top notch too. An update will come in a month or two when I have been back. If you go here, you should not miss the sour-dough plum buns. I know, how nice does that sound? you might think. But they are heavenly.

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Filed under Bäst Kaffe i Göteborg, Coffee, Göteborg, Mauritz Kaffe, Sweden

Coffee in Gothenburg Part: 2

Having started as Caffé Espresso in 1995 this was one of the absolutely best coffee bars in Sweden at the time, and stayed that way for many years. Now though, over the last few years, I have had some of the worst coffee in my life at the original dig in Victoriapassagen. They have two more cafés around central Göteborg, and neither have impressed me much so far. From having epitomized Italian coffee culture they are now roasting their own coffee beans locally. Though all is good and well with the fair trade ideology, finding the best coffee beans in Africa and Central America, having a relationship with the coffee farmers etc. the result should still be exemplary and amazing. But it’s not.


After having had three consecutively atrocious coffees at da Matteo Victoriapassagen over the last year where I have 1) thrown the first espresso away due to such bitterness I thought it would burn a hole in my stomach 2) had a second, equally bad espresso, asked for it to be turned into an espresso macchiato with extra milk and gulped it down just ’cause I needed the caffeine and 3) had another espresso which was so vile I simply left it on the table giving up on the whole business. It saddened me to have these coffees since this really was the best coffee around for many years. At my last two visits they seem to have gotten it under control though. The staff is still a bit snobby with an über-cool attitude which I don’t appreciate, but at least the coffee is back on track. My Ethiopian pour over a few weeks ago was fruity, rich and good and so was the espresso macchiato I had. Though that was not at the Victoriapassagen dig but one of their places further up town at Magasinsgatan.

Da Matteo have so many strengths with great pastries, wonderful sour-dough bread and everything is stylish and fresh, but if the coffee, their main source for fame, is not up to the standard all the time they have to start re-thinking their business idea. What is going on at the moment is not acceptable with their heritage and history.

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Filed under Bäst Kaffe i Göteborg, Da Matteo Coffee, Göteborg, Gothenburg

What links two paintings together

Two paintings hanging in different museums on different continents. Two paintings in different medium, one watercolour and one oil, painted by two different artists. It is almost thirty years between them. One painter was Austrian. The other French. What links them? And why? And why does it matter?

This is not a particularly hard question if you’re an art historian. I’m not even sure anyone but me will find it fascinating. Still, I find it interesting that a fairly unknown, at least outside expert circles, watercolour painting I came across researching a thesis earlier today had me thinking “…what? Is that really the same person as in the famous Manet painting?” I am talking about Peter Fendi’s Evening Prayer from 1839.

Peter Fendi was born in Vienna in 1796. In the 1820s and 1830s he rose to fame, partly due to him being an early defender of the lithography technique where his erotic motifs could flourish and be easily spread among the faux prude semi-bourgeois in Vienna, but also thanks to his stunningly beautiful watercolour interiors. The interior above is simply called Evening Prayer, but it is not any old bourgeois family that is depicted. It is the Habsburg Archduchess Sophie and her four children. Sophie was married to the emperor’s youngest son, but because of various deaths in the family the oldest boy in the picture, the blond one kneeling by the crucifix, would later become the Emperor Franz Joseph. But it is not him I am interested in. The least important one, the youngest to the far left, was called Maximilian, and he would for purely political reasons be installed as Emperor of Mexico for a short time.
Why I reacted as strongly as I did is probably because this seemingly innocent and naive, trusting little blond fellow would become famous to us mostly thanks to the incredibly cruel and Naturalistic painting Édouard Manet would paint in 1869 (he made the first one in 1867, but the big and famous one was finished in 1869), Execution of Emperor Maximilian. A death is never easy, and in pictorial art it can sometimes be more touching than in any other art form. The death of an innocent child is even harder to accept. Though, the man being executed was not an innocent child, was he? He was a grown-up, an Emperor, a military man.

Regardless what one thinks of the political situation in Mexico in the 1860s, I find it touching to think about these two paintings in connection to each other. Though thirty years apart. The young boy kneeling a little apart from his other siblings, a little further back from the kneeler than the other three, sends out an energy of a child wanting to be part of something. But being the youngest son of the three, the likelihood of him ending up as a prince in a castle somewhere, forgotten, is very high. Though he might not know it, he can probably sense it, like all children can. That he would be installed as Emperor of Mexico by Napoleon III 25 years later, in 1864, he could probably not even dream of. When I look at these two pictures there is still a touching similarity, something to do with the loneliness in Maximilian’s energy depicted by both Fendi and Manet. In Manet’s painting he hold hands with two friends and fellow officers, Mejía and Miramón, guiding him into the eternal Light. That it is the same boy as in Fendi’s painting fascinates me. That two painting on their own are just depictions of a moment, a snap-shot of someone’s life, is nothing strange per se. But seen next to each other, as pendants, they create a whole new way of looking at art. They create their own, or rather Emperor Maximilian’s, closed universe. The beginning and the end. Maximilian’s Alpha and Omega. Isn’t that incredible?

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Filed under Art, Edouard Manet, Peter Fendi

Coffee in Gothenburg Part: 1

It doesn’t look like much, but this is one of the best coffee bars in Sweden. At Kyrkogatan 31 in Gothenburg, walking in to Bar Centro is like walking in to a tiny espresso bar somewhere in Italy with its azure tiled walls and brushed steel bar tops running along the walls with matching high chairs. It’s always busy and the quality is top notch. Just brilliant. Though, it’s a tiny place, so do like the locals by sitting outside on the opposite pavement and pretend your in Milano or Venice.

The coffee is always perfect. I’ve been going here for years, but having tried it a few times over the last few weeks I have decided that the consistency is impressive. Never a bad espresso macchiato, never a faulting latte. Pitch perfect result with the Mehari Alambra Cremador beans they use (and sell). Never a bitter tone in the coffee and the crema is smooth and round. Not forgetting good froth when that’s what you’re having with your drink of choice. I simply love this place. So if you’re ever in Gothenburg: go. If you don’t you’ve just made a huge mistake.

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Filed under Bar Centro, Barista, Coffee, Gothenburg

Coffee in Amsterdam Part: 11

A tiny place bang in the middle of central Amsterdam, I end up here a lot when book-browsing amongst all the international book stores by Het Spui. Consistent with high quality coffee and great service I can always trust the guys and girls behind the machines at Coffee Company: Het Spui. It is found behind Singel, or just off the big touristy Kalverstraat. If anyone is touristing in Amsterdam this place is impossible to miss, though small.


This review is, in a way, an exception from my rule to not review, or even frequent, big coffee chains like Starbucks, Nero or Coffee Company. But this exception is justified by Coffee Company being miles better than any other chain of coffee places I have ever been to. And I’ve been to a few, as the regular reader will know. It is important to remember that this franchise can vary enormously in quality and service between two coffee places owned by Coffee Company but situated on the same street. A good example is the place closest to work, Coffee Company: Waterlooplein, which serves great coffee but the earlier mentioned confusion between an espresso macchiato and a cortado is rife here. The service is also, in general, appalling and so slow I have more than once walked off. This since, in my view, waiting in a queue of four people it should not take over ten minutes to be served. But it does if the staff stand talking to each other behind the till instead of actually serving customers doing the job they’re supposed to. This does not happen at Coffee Company: Het Spui, but it does at the one at Waterlooplein. A lot.

My short macchiato has always been top notch here at CC Het Spui. This is a really small place, just some bar stool seating by the window overlooking the square, so if you want a sit down coffee you have to stick to the summer months when they have a small outside seating area. But even here it is very crammed, so I would opt for the take-away alternative if you’re not there in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday. Or possibly Sunday. Then it might be possible to sit down for your coffee.

Due to its central location close to the main tourist streets it is one of the best places to pick up your coffee on-the-go, so aim for this little anonymous looking place when you’re close to Het Spui next time. I always do.

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Filed under Amsterdam, Barista, Coffe Houses, Coffee, Coffee Company Het Spui

Coffee in Amsterdam Part: 10

A brilliant little place that epitomises European city cool, you find SOK Espressobar on Hartenstraat 34. A pop-up espresso bar open for only six months until sometime in the late summer/early autumn (for now) that serves brilliant slow drip, espresso and what-have-you by some of the Netherlands best baristas. Not to mention it is close to another favourite of mine, Screaming Beans, so you can actually have some of the best coffee in Amsterdam in the same street, just walking between the two establishments enjoying wonderful shots of C8H10N4O2.

I had my normal short macchiato and it was just like I expected from a place like this; perfect aroma, smooth espresso and a good milk foam. This is, apparently, also one of the rare places in Amsterdam where they know how to froth the milk perfectly. Molto bene signori, grazie! And more importantly, my macchiato didn’t turn out like a cortado with equal parts espresso and milk foam as has happened at a few places recently. A macchiato is a macchiato and a cortado is a cortado. Basta cosí. Get it right guys. Though, I need to stress, SOK Espressobar is not guilty of this mix-up. They know exactly what they are doing.


This place is so small and tiny sitting inside is virtually impossible. But that’s not what they seem to aim for. You get your coffee and then sit outside by the canal like I did. I love that about Amsterdam, the sitting on the canal-side enjoying the sun, and for that SOK Espressobar is ideally situated just by Keizersgracht.

A small chalk note on the bar saying “Meet Mrs. Synesso” and an arrow to the coffee machine made me smile too. Humour and good coffee seem to be a good, contemporary mixture.

So, go there and try out SOK Espressobar’s coffee if you’re in Amsterdam visiting in the late summer. They close in just a few weeks, so hurry up!

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Filed under Amsterdam, Barista, Coffee, SOK Espressobar Amsterdam