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Meet the
Original
Hipsters

Written by Peter Hammarbäck

A thousand years before the first sourdough was set to ferment in the trendy neighbourhoods of Stockholm, crispbread bakers walked from farm to farm and baked up the rye harvests.
We went looking for the origins of the modern hipster in the Swedish countryside.

Joel Lindblad has made his traditional, Swedish crisp bread exactly the same way for 37 years in southern Dalarna.

Joel Lindblad has made his traditional, Swedish crisp bread exactly the same way for 37 years in southern Dalarna.

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The Hipster Culture

Few species of mankind could match the invasive spread of the Hipster over the past few years. Their full beards have conquered territory after territory, continent by continent. Their insignia being the same wherever they appear, be it Mexico City or Bangkok: checkered shirts, woodworkers boots and those nerdy Moscot specs. And they are just as easily spotted by their behaviour, regardless of the habitat, which includes an enormous interest in food, particularly bread baking. They like, so they claim, “to create something tangible with my hands”, which may be a counter reaction to spending 14 hours a day in front of various Apple-screens. The Hipster likes – no, loves – everything “genuine”.

The Hipster culture

The Hipster might be a global phenomenon, but there is a small country on the northern perimeter of Europe where hipster culture has had a particular impact. This country is Sweden. Urbanisation occurs at high speed here – two busloads a day follow the lure of the capital and move to Stockholm.
Property prices in the cities rise fast – a mansion in the countryside will sell for money that buys you one room in, for example, the trendy Stockholm neighborhood of Södermalm. The lure seems to be the cosmopolitan fast lane, the constant flow of impressions.

An over crowded subway beats out the quiet ripple of a forest stream every time. Your grandmother’s home cooked Sunday dinner cannot match a brunch at ultra trendy Södermalm restaurant Urban Deli.

We Swedes grow up with American TV and music. We follow trendy globalists on Instagram and Pinterest. Consequently, Swedish hipsters know which bar tops the trend lists in Brooklyn within days of its opening. A few years ago, the management at Brooklyn Brewery were amazed to note that their biggest following outside the US was in a tiny country of nine million souls: Yes, Sweden.

Swedish hipster culture is, undoubtedly, driven by a certain anxiety. One week this community is sworn to the challenge to make the best Kimchi of Aspudden (note for the uninitiated: runner-up among aspiring hipster dwellings as real estate prices in Södermalm grow out of reach). Next week the very same individuals are furniture makers or hydroponic chili farmers.

It’s not a lifestyle – they are just doing their jobs

It’s like we are simply not good enough without all the right attributes in place. Checkered shirt – check. Timberland boots – check. The right Kindness-remix in the headphones – check. Full beard – check. Fixed-gear bike – check… We do not rest until the hipster style looks, and is in fact, complete.

One good thing with this is the energy it injects in to Swedish towns and cities. Young people living their dreams fill these places with fantastic hamburger joints, awesome micro breweries, cool flower shops, vintage flea markets and falafel joints.

But the Hipster Hype has also bred hordes of twenty-somethings aimlessly roaming the streets of Stockholm, Göteborg and Malmö, desperate to fill their lives with experiences and consumption, to be liked on line by Hipsters ‘over there’.

And all of this is achieving what exactly? Filling an inner void? Boosting self-esteem? Compensating for a rootless loss of ideals? “Once I have created the best food truck in town, then I’m good enough.”

Modern Swedish hipsters nourish the delusion that their ancestry trails back to the concrete jungles of Williamsburg. But they wouldn’t have had to cross the Atlantic to find people living the Hipster dream.

In the very same countryside that they have left behind there are whole populations that grow, build, bake, sew, print and generally fiddle about in full hipster fashion – and it’s not a lifestyle. They are just doing their jobs.
We visited three people in the Swedish countryside that wouldn’t dream of calling themselves hipsters. Still their lifestyle would turn most urban, anxious hipsters green with envy.

Meet glassblower Ebba, crispbread baker Joel and textile print artist Tord –  three original hipsters deeply rooted in Swedish soil.

She who controls the furnace

Just before Christmas glassblower Ebba von Wachenfeldt saw a wolf trotting through the snow covered fields outside her house. “We followed it for a bit. The tracks were enormous.”

Feel the heat. Glassblower Ebba von Wachenfeldt in front of her main furnace in an abandoned school in Södermanland.
Christopher Hunt

Feel the heat. Glassblower Ebba von Wachenfeldt in front of her main furnace in an abandoned school in Södermanland.

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The glassblower

Now, a few months later, Ebba stands gazing at the same field. There is no wolf. The loud, constant humming of the furnace in the corner of the work shop is the glassblower’s ever present background noise. Ebba von Wachenfeldt’s two colleagues rattle around with their pliers and blowpipes. Glass, as a material, is silent, elegant and malleable – all the tools used to master the material are hard, heavy and dirty.
We meet up in a former schoolbuilding outside Gnesta, in the province of Södermanland.  This has been Ebba’s home and workshop for twelve years.

The oldest building, dating from the early 20th century, houses her exhibition area. The newer, 1960’s school building is her workplace and shop. Generous windows allow sunlight to flow freely through her rooms. There is ample space for a warehouse, storage and a studio. But what made Ebba fall for the building at first was something rather unexpected:

“All the electricity! There is soo much here – 200 amps! We only need 60, and even that is hard to come by in ordinary houses.”
She and her husband, an IT-consultant, took possession of the premises and renamed them Skeppsta Hytta. The broadband is useless. The electrical capacity, on the other hand, is wonderfully over sized.
“In the cities you cannot afford space like this. It gives me freedom. Everything is possible in the countryside. I may not make millions, like my friends in the city, but I’m never stuck in traffic.”

Ebba von Wachenfeldt puts on a pair of lilac sunglasses that could have been worn by John Lennon towards the end of his career. They block some of the radiant heat from the furnaces. Her workshop is glowing hot. The hottest furnace is 1,100 degrees Celsius.

This space gives me freedom

Ebba picks up a “gather”, the first glob of molten glass at the end of the blowpipe. She starts spinning the pipe. Hedda, her eight year-old, brown and white Springer Spaniel, moves around her feet.

“She came too close to the furnace once and burnt her whiskers. It took her five years to work up the courage to enter the workshop again.”

One of Ebba von Wachenfeldts vases.
Christopher Hunt

One of Ebba von Wachenfeldts vases.

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Hot hot heat. The main furnace is 1.100 degrees Celsius.
Christopher Hunt

Hot hot heat. The main furnace is 1.100 degrees Celsius.

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The magic is in the hands

Tord Agge is concerned. A “frost” has gotten into the pattern Morfars trädgård (Grandpa’s garden). A frost is a small misalignment, a millimeter or so, that shows when all the colours in a pattern are printed. It may be that the template ended up slightly out of place on the printing table. Morfars trädgård consists of twelve textile colours, all hand mixed by mixing master Jesper Jobs. He runs Jobs Handtryck along with his wife Åsa. “I’ll have to look into that next time we print,” Tord Agge says, sending a thoughtful gaze out over lake Siljan just outside his window.

Morfars Trädgård is one of Jobs Textiltrycks most difficult prints, as it consists of twelve colours, all printed on the fabric one by one.
Christopher Hunt

Morfars Trädgård is one of Jobs Textiltrycks most difficult prints, as it consists of twelve colours, all printed on the fabric one by one.

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The print Artist

As he stands between two 30-meter long printing tables with his side fringe and his thick-rimmed glasses, Tord could easily be a character in the TV show Portlandia. The sturdy tables were built by Jesper’s father Peer Jobs in 1944. Peer founded Jobs Handtryck in Västanvik, near Leksand in that same year. His sisters Gocken and Lisbet drew the patterns. Colourful, optimistic and clearly sprung from the Swedish soil;
rhubarb stalks, elderflower and thistles. When WWII ended and Europe breathed a sigh of relief, the textile print shop in Dalarna was an instant success.

Textile printing takes a bit of thinking

And while other textile print workshops have turned to more industrial manufacturing, more digital processing, Jobs Handtryck remains essentially where it started in 1944. They take on a new pattern about once a decade; developing the colors and building the templates is expensive.

“We can’t follow trends. We are slow and must be so. We do know which trends are developing, but there is simply not the time to follow them,” Åsa explains.
Instead of anxiously trying to catch up with the latest trends – say, pineapples and monstera leaf patterns – Åsa and Jesper Jobs make sure their fabrics and patterns maintain a timeless quality. Interestingly, most of Jobs’ patterns would not seem out of place on something like the hip It’s Nice That’s Instagram account: presently they are in par with modern graphic design.

In the basement of the print workshop, Jesper runs his colour mixing lab. Twenty years ago he started his education in colours, learning from the old mixing master, a former painter. In beautiful, enameled buckets Jesper mixes the colours to be printed on the fabrics. The colour chart from the pigment supplier in Germany gets thinner every year as pigment after pigment gets taken out of production, probably for good.

“Print shops that mix colours digitally get by with fewer primary colours, but as we do everything by hand we need more colours to get the nuances just right. So far so good, all I have to do is play around with the colours a bit more,” Jesper Jobs says.

Timeless. The print shop only adds a new pattern every 10-15 years.
Christopher Hunt

Timeless. The print shop only adds a new pattern every 10-15 years.

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All in the arms. Hand printed textiles are more and more rare these days.
Christopher Hunt

All in the arms. Hand printed textiles are more and more rare these days.

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Up in the print shop, printer Tord Agge and Jesper walk along opposite sides of the printing tables. They pull a wide scraper back and forth across the template. Right in the middle, the scraper changes hands seamlessly from Jesper to Tord, Tord to Jesper. They work in silence. Watching the paint bubble and sink into the fabric is contemplative. The two printers work in complete, quiet concentration. In one day they can print twelve colors on 60 meters of fabric.

“It is easy to fall into the ‘printer’s trance’”, Tord Agge says. He has been a textile printer for twelve years. Before that he drove a forklift.
“I quickly learned to see when a print was going wrong. But it took time to learn to detect why. It could be the template, the grooves in the printing table, the colour…. It takes a bit of thinking.”

Meet the oyster fisherman

The dance of the crisp bread maker

Outside the windows is Siljan, Sweden’s seventh largest lake. The Swedish history of crispbread dates back a thousand years. Crispbread bakers used to be a travelling people, walking the countryside after the harvest, baking crispbread from rye flour in the farms’ own bakeries.

Come see crisp bread baker Joel Lindblad in action! He is equal parts boxer and ballet dancer.
Christopher Hunt

Come see crisp bread baker Joel Lindblad in action! He is equal parts boxer and ballet dancer.

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The Crisp bread maker

Joel Lindblad doesn’t need to travel to bake his bread. Day in and day out, this bearded man stands in his flour covered Birkenstock sandals, baking his bread in Stora Skedvi in the southern part of Dalarna province. He has stood on that spot since 1979, the year he started baking.

“Next to me by the oven there was an old man named Bertil Olsson. He taught me to bake crispbread,” says Joel Lindblad.
It took him a few years to learn the craft and get to know the oven, to understand its heat. The ovens here in Skedvi knäckebrödsbageri are wood-fired. Pieces of bone-dry fir and pinewood are being shoved in continuously by the bakers.

Joel and the other bakers perform a perfectly orchestrated dance in front of the ovens, a blend of ballet and boxing. They swing their peels (long flat baking spades for deep hot ovens) with deliberate, perfect movements. They fetch unbaked crispbread cakes and put them in the ovens.

They start at the far right end, next to the wood and fire. After half a minute the cakes are moved to the far left, the coolest area of the oven. Then they are finished off in the middle. Baking a bread takes between 60 and 90 seconds, depending on oven temperature. Joel Lindblad’s Birkenstocks are in constant movement on the floor.

-When I was younger I bought cheaper sandals but they broke straight away. These ones I can wear in the shower and they still hold together.
Today, Skedvi is the only crispbread on the market that is baked in wood-fired ovens. The crispbread industry has become centralized and streamlined with the vast majority of all crispbread coming out of a few large industrial bakeries.

But in the same spirit that gave us micro-breweries, crispbread enthusiasts have grown tired of the industrial product and started their own bakeries. In Skedvi’s case they are fueled by equal measures of conifer wood and strong determination.

Did you know you can try baking your own organic Swedish crispbread at Ängavallen in Skåne? Ängavallen is an eco restaurant and farm shop.

Oven fresh crisp bread. Watch your teeth, soft bread eaters of the world!
Christopher Hunt

Oven fresh crisp bread. Watch your teeth, soft bread eaters of the world!

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Thousands of crisp breads hanging to dry before packaging.
Christopher Hunt

Thousands of crisp breads hanging to dry before packaging.

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Still life. Joel Lindblad is proud of his work as a crisp bread maker.
Christopher Hunt

Still life. Joel Lindblad is proud of his work as a crisp bread maker.

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When the old bakery was bought up, and subsequently shut down, by the giant bread company Leksands, Joel and the other bakers lost their jobs. Anders Åkerberg and Malin Floridan bought the bakery, rehired the bakers and started up again.

There are only four ingredients in the Skedvi crispbread; rye flour, yeast, salt and water. Every crispbread cake that ends up in their yellow or blue packaging has been handled by human hands.
“In the 1950’s some advertising boasted that no human hands had touched the bread during production”, says Malin Floridan, laughing.

The pendulum has swung back. Joel Lindblad hasn’t moved an inch. He has always baked by hand using fire as a heat source. He swings his peel in Stora Skedvi, in Dalarna. He picks up a cake in his flour covered hands. The edge is a little burnt. He breaks off a piece.
“It may have been a little too hot from underneath just here. A piece of wood in the wrong place. “

It may have been a little bit too hot…

Joel Lindblad and his three fellow bakers at Skedvi share 138 years of baking experience between them. That probably surpasses the entire amount of sourdough-baking experience on all of Södermalm. This may well be the most fascinating thing about Ebba, Tord and Joel; they found their passion, they found a way to stick to it and they found a way to live it. Every day they refine it a bit further, improve and evolve.

For the young, modern city dweller, constantly chasing the latest of the genuine, this must be an irresistible thought. To remain.
To find home.

About the writer

Journalist Peter Hammarbäck lives with his family in Stockholm. During the past few years he has delved into sourdough baking, urban cultivation, sports fishing and furniture making. None of which he has stuck with.

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