Visiting Herder’s Riga

Friday April 13th, I (Lene) spoke about the future at an event organized by the Latvian Ministry of Transportation.

Arriving Thursday, I used the opportunity to explore Herder’s Riga; this is where he wrote his early books, among them the one about Thomas Abbt, and where he became a Freemason.

I found one bust, the cathedral where Herder used to work and an insignificant square named Herder Square.

I forgot to take a selfie, sorry about that, but I can tell you this much: it was one of the very earliest days of spring, Riga has some really good restaurants, and their traditional dessert made from boiled rye bread and topped with whipped cream was a culinary experience I had not seen coming.

The Cathedral in Riga where Herder used to work

The organ is from the 1880s but the pulpit may actually have been there in the late 1760s when Herder was a young pastor at the cathedral and worked as a teacher at its high-school.

Rye Bread Dessert

There is a Danish porridge also made from boiled rye bread “øllebrød,” which means “beer bread” since the bread is boiled in sweet beer; I don’t know if this Latvian dessert was also made with beer, it definitely had fruit in it for sweetness. It was a taste of childhood, since I have not had øllebrød since I was around 8 years old.

Maybe øllebrød is the common Baltic denominator?

Visiting Weimar and Jena

If there is any one place that plays a crucial role in the development of freedom, emancipation and Bildung in Europe in the decades around 1800, it is the small Duchy of Weimar and Jena under the young Duke Karl August von Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach and his mother Duchess Anna Amalia von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel.

Tomas, our friend Karin and I went to Jena and Weimar for a couple of days in order to walk in the footsteps of Wieland, Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Humboldt, Hegel, Fichte, and so many other great minds.

Jena from above, a map of the old center of town and yours truly.

The tourist book told us that in Jena, Friedrich Schiller and Wilhelm von Humboldt lived just ten steps from one another. We simply had to check; the houses are not the original but the distance is right:

Ten Steps

In 1806, Napoleon conquered Weimar and Jena; the battle field was between the two cities and Tomas mansplained Napoleon’s winning tactics so well to Karin and me:

What’s left of Napoleon between Weimar and Jena:


In Weimar we went to the Schiller House and Goethe’s mansion.

Schiller’s bedroom in Weimar.



Goethe’s study in Weimar.

And two tourists posing at the feet of Goethe and Schiller (people were better dressed 200 years ago):



Ekskäret – the Amazing Island

Tomas owns an island. Which is pretty cool. It is in the Stockholm archipelago, it is called Ekskäret, and the REALLY cool thing about it is that he has built a small conference center on it where he invites all kinds of interesting and knowledgable people.

My first visit to Ekskäret was the summer of 2012 when there were no activities out there for a couple of days and we could just hang out in the awesome nature and talk about grand issues:

This video is in Swedish but enjoy the view:

When we first met

Tomas and I met in Stockholm in November 2011 at a meeting at the Fri Tanke Tankesmedja / Freethinking Think Tank, which is a part of Fri Tanke Förlag / Freethinking Publishing, a publishing company Tomas co-owns with two others.

Our first real meeting was in Spring 2012 in London, when we went out to dinner and ended up talking until 4 o’clock in the morning – the picture above was taken minutes before we went out.

Tomas lives in London and I was there for a Jewish youth conference (not that I am that young, but I was responsible for the youth activities in the Jewish community in Copenhagen at the time).  Later the same summer, I borrowed Tomas’ apartment when I went to London in order to interview Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks. (Article in Danish.)

One of the people and whose work Tomas and I talked about much of that first eventing together, was just Jonathan Sacks, not least his encounters with Richard Dawkins. We are both great Sacks fans and if you don’t know him or his work, his books can be highly recommended! We suggest these two to begin with:

jonathan sacks The-Home-We-Build-Together  jonathan sacks - great partnership