Now let’s try something a little different! How about a Eurovision song in a language that I don’t know at all? I picked the Swedish entry from 1963, En Gång i Stockholm. Before I tell you what the title means, can you guess?
My guess was: “A Way to Stockholm”. The Swedish “gång” made me think of the German “der Gang,” which means “the hallway.” I speculated that in Sweden, a “gång” was not just a passageway, but a path. When I finally looked up the title in German, I saw it meant: “Einmal in Stockholm”. I would translate that into English as “Once upon a Time in Stockholm”.
As I do with every Eurovision Song of the Week, I first listened to En Gång i Stockholm over and over. This time, I wanted to see if I could understand anything. Would my solid foundation in German grammar and vocabulary help me with Swedish? Would my English be helpful as well? Listen with me and see how much you pick up:
I understood the first line instantly: the Swedish “Kom med mig” is close enough to the German “Komm mit mir” and the English “Come with me.” After this, individual words jumped out at me. The first few lines, for instance, have words that sound like “winter” (German: “Winter”) and “summer” (German: “Sommer”).
The line with “winter” sounded a little like “Nun fall der Winter” — “Now winter falls.” That’s not idiomatic, however. It’s usually something else that falls in winter. When I finally looked up the Swedish lyrics, the whole line was: “Nu faller vinterns första tysta snö.” Just guessing, I knew it meant: “Now falls winter’s first ____ snow.” (Only “tysta” was really strange to me. It means “silent.”)
Another word that jumped out at me was “Segelbåt” — which sounds almost the same as the German word for “sailboat.” After that we can hear sounds like “Segelroute” — which would be “sailing route” in German. The more I listened, the more short phrases like “min båt” (“my boat” or “mein Boot”) made sense.
Finally, I would have bet money that the final hook, “Hail min hand,” meant “Hold my hand” (German: “Halt meine Hand”). As you can see, German helped a lot, but the words I understood most easily have “cousins” in both German and English.
I don’t know about the other Eurovision countries, but this is what English viewers would have heard in 1963. The voice-over introducing Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund added “Winter City” to the title and had a “translation” of some of the lyrics. (It’s practically the same video as the one above, which is the German broadcast. You may have noticed that the announcer also added “Winterstadt” to the title but did not translate the lyrics.)
I’m also including the Swedisch lyrics, in case you want to read while you listen again:
Nu faller vinterns första tysta snö
Och sommaren är slut
Kom, min vän, min båt är vit som snö
Där ser du vit av snö vår Riddarfjärd
Vår båt går ut i snö
Ja, Stockholms vinter är en sällsam värld
Mås och trut, i tyst och vacker snö
Och skön är Stockholms ö
Tyska kyrkans klang, ropar stumt ‘ding dang’
En sagolik strand, ett sagolikt land
Som möter oss två i vår båt
Håll min hand, håll min hand
För dig och mig så är det sommar än
Kom segla ut med mig
Där du och jag är, där är sommaren
Sommaren, och den tar aldrig slut
För jag, jag älskar dig
Håll min hand, håll min hand
My favorite line is: “Ja, Stockholms vinter är en sällsam värld” — “Yes, Stockholm’s winter is a whimsical world.” I like it because it’s a dreamy line . . . And because I understood “sällsam” thanks to the German “seltsam,” but had to look up “värld” although it sounds like the English “world”!
Lost (and Found) in Translation
Having national announcers add “Winter City” to the title was a nice touch. I like it better than a direct translation. Having listened to En Gång i Stockholm many times, even I am not satisfied with “Once upon a Time in Stockholm”. Maybe native Swedes can hear the original title and know that the song will be about a “sällsam vinter,” but I don’t think the rest of the world would. On the other hand, the phrase “Winter City” sounds as dreamy and romantic as the lyrics are.
As for the English announcer’s “translation” . . . I compared it to the Digiloo Thrush translation (Link) and they’re quite different. The announcer says: “Come now and let me show you our winter town/ Down to a sailing boat that’s waiting there, white as snow/ Come with me, come and see.” But the original lyrics have no phrase like “winter town,” and the two repeated invitations are “Come with me” and “Come, my friend.” What both have in common is the sailing boat that is white as snow. I’d say the “translation” was close enough, because it’s clearly about the same song . . . But I can’t call it a real translation!
So how do you think En Gång i Stockholm fared at Eurovision? I was really, really surprised to learn the truth . . . It came away with the notorious null points — zero points! How did such a lovely song, and an attractive and popular singer, fail to earn even one point? If I were learning Swedish, I’d definitely learn this song and listen to more from Zetterlund. I am also very fond of Eurovision entries with a national sound, and En Gång i Stockholm, a song about sailing to a fairytale island covered in snow, is so beautifully Swedish.
Back in 1963, each Eurovision country had a national jury that awarded points to the different entries. There was no national televote yet. But let’s pretend there was, so that I can ask my usual final question . . .