One of the nicest things about studying abroad is learning something about local traditions. One of these is Valborg (Walpurgis). Despite being named after Walpurga, a Christian saint, this Swedish celebration isn’t very religious in nature. Instead, the Swedes use this opportunity to celebrate the arrival of spring, with various cities hosting various events.
In Gothenburg the biggest Valborg event is the Cortège (parade) organized by students of Chalmers University of Technology. The parade came at a great moment: not only was the weather ideal, but my family was also in town for a few days. And watching the Cortège with them was a great way of spending time together.
After finding a place to stand at Vasaplatsen, next to Gothenburg University’s main building, we could enjoy the show. The Chalmers students had definitely put a lot of effort into the event: besides a few dozen trucks with complete sets built on them, there were marching bands, dancers, rather unique vehicles (at one point, there was a student who rode a motorized set of beer crates!) and a lot of costumed people. Among the well-known figures were characters such as Donald Duck (or Kalle Anka, as he’s known here) and Lucky Luke, although real-life people such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Vladimir Putin also made several appearances.
However, the trucks-turned-floats were definitely the highlight of the parade, often addressing big news events and popular culture in a humorous manner. For example, several sport-themed floats showed the infamous missing ring from the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics, while a student dressed as Edward Snowden was perpetually chased by an American security agent.
The pop culture references were my favourites, though. While I don’t care for Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber a lot, a group of students satirizing their loyal fans did bring a smile to my face. And geeky as I am, I certainly appreciated a float shaped like Star Wars’ Death Star, piloted by Darth Vader (complete with Mickey Mouse ears, a reference to the fact Disney will produce the future Star Wars films). Not to mention Jean-Claude van Damme’s epic split reimagined as an ‘epic banana split’, complete with the music of the popular YouTube clip.
While I didn’t understand all the puns or messages written on the floats, I could still enjoy some of them, with the ‘Swedish spelling’ of words like ‘iPhone’ (‘iFån’) and ‘Flappy Bird’ (‘Fläppi Börd’) reminding me of the Swedish Chef more than once. All in all, it was a very funny, impressive and amazing display, an opinion readily shared by my family members. Maybe we should try visiting the city again during next year’s Valborg.
Written by Joris van Venrooji