Emma Ahlström has just lit a fire in the wood-fired stove. It’s late in the afternoon and the darkness is creeping in. Two-year-old Hennig and four-year-old Alice run around and play in the pleasant, homely flat just inside the medieval city wall in Visby. They have lived here for only a few weeks, and the packed moving boxes stand in a corner. They will soon leave the sublease behind them. The family has just bought a farm in Bunge, a few kilometres outside of Fårosund, the small community where their Gotland adventure began less than a year ago. At that point Emma and her live-in partner Martin had been living in Malmö for almost 15 years. The older the children got, the more sure they became that they didn’t want to live in the city. For a long time they looked at houses in smaller communities around Skåne, but nothing felt quite right.
I catch myself feeling so happy to be here. I feel in my heart like a lucky dog
“I became frustrated and asked Martin where he would like to live if he were free to choose. Then he said Gotland, despite the fact that he had never been there,” Emma recalls, laughing. “But Martin’s gut feeling was right. A year later Gotland feels like home.”
“I catch myself feeling so happy to be here. I feel in my heart like a lucky dog,” Martin says. ”It seems improbable in a way. I’ve come to realise that one is not one’s job. For me a career is not as important anymore. I want to have more time for family.”
On 7 February they set down their suitcases in a dark, cold and snow-covered Fårösund. They had only seen the house they were going to rent in a photo. The Gotland dream became reality when Emma and Martin dared to take the step and leave Malmö. After a year in a rental flat, they have now bought a farm in Bunge.
Getting time to be with one another, peace and the possibility of developing creatively – these were some of the reasons the Ahlström family came to choose Gotland.
“It was such a sharp contrast. Day one in the middle of Malmö, day two in the middle of nowhere,” says Martin, and Emma continues:
“We lived outside Fårösund, by the sea in a pine forest, so we were truly out in the woods. But we were always convinced that it was absolutely right for us to give it a try,” she says, looking at Martin, who nods in agreement.
Emma and Martin think back to that first time on the island. Remember how after just a few days, Emma got to borrow cross-country skis from their neighbour, MonaLisa, and how the days began with long strolls along the snow-clad, rocky shorelines. Being close to nature was like balm for the soul. Although in afterthought it occurs to them that it would have been better to move in late spring.
We were living such a humdrum existence, picking up, dropping off, working and paying loads of money for a house
“If you begin in the summer, which after all is the most delightful time of all, you know what you have to look forward to,” Martin says, turning on the Bolibompa children’s TV show for Henning and Alice, who are beginning to get a little restless. “Leaving Malmö was a matter of changing lifestyle. To get more time for another and to develop creatively.”
“We were living such a humdrum existence, picking up, dropping off, working and paying loads of money for a house,” Emma says. “We felt imprisoned.”
“Just do it”
To dare to take the step, they were forced to chance it. All the pieces involving jobs and lodging could not be nailed down before they went. Otherwise they never would have been able to get away. Having friends and family close by made them feel more at ease. The worst that could happen would be if they needed to move back after all, which would have been entirely okay.
“We tried to make it seem as if it was less than it is, that a move is not the whole world,” says Emma.
Here I feel encouraged to try something else. I feel more free
For Martin, work was the biggest obstacle. At first, his attitude was that he couldn’t imagine moving if he wasn’t able to get a comparable job on Gotland. An attitude that quickly changed. Now he works in sales and marketing for BRS Networks, a young company with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, and he can’t imagine going back to the life he had before.
“On the mainland, the norm is that one should climb the ladder and get on in the world and do it in a certain way. Here I feel encouraged to try something else. I feel more free,” he says.
Emma has long dreamed of having time to develop as a ceramist. A dream that has been fulfilled, thanks to the move to Gotland. Now she works part-time as a consultant at Region Gotland. You can find her at Keramikerna in Flors.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I don’t know if I would have got something like that otherwise,” Emma says, her whole face beaming.
Back to Fårösund
When the first summer came to an end, the family moved from Fårösund into the flat in Visby. Exposed beams in the ceiling, light walls and beautiful wooden floors. In the eyes of many, dream accommodations. But for Emma there was something that wasn’t quite right.
“I felt a little empty the first week here. To live in town and still be so far away from family and friends in Malmö did not feel okay. We could just as well be living in Malmö then. Visby is wonderful, but it is still urban living. The children can’t run around freely in the same way,” Emma says.
Martin, on the other hand, had looked forward to returning to town.
“At first it felt rather secure to come back to town, but that passed rather quickly. Even though I still think it is absolutely fantastic to stroll here within the walls every day and look at all the old buildings,” Martin says with a smile.
Did not want to live in town
Beautiful flat and beautiful surroundings. But there was something that rankled. In the car on the way to a children’s party in Fårösund, they realised what it was. They didn’t want to live in town. They wanted to live on northern Gotland, close to nature in the peace they had found when they first came to the island on that cold February day. To find a place to live without slipping back into their old footsteps felt important. To not buy something too expensive, to not get caught up in the merry-go-round that is all about affording things.
“The freedom we feel when we don’t have a knife at our throats. That is worth a whole lot,” Martin says.
At the beginning of Advent, the moving van goes to Prima Gård (“prime farm”), as it is called in popular parlance. A 17th century farm that they had looked at back in April but were not ready to commit to then.
“The farm is fantastic. I can’t get my fill of looking at it,” says Martin exultantly, and Emma adds:
“Our own meadow, our own pasture, a magical garden with apricots, grapes, figs, raspberries, almonds, it is so grand. It’s a dream place.”
The expectations before the move are mixed with some apprehensions, of course. What will it be like to drive a car on slippery winter roads in the country? How will it feel to commute to Visby, which both Martin and Emma will need to do a couple of days a week? And if you settle on a farm in the country, the children can run around freely, but they will also be farther away from friends and school.
“But in doing this now, we are doing what we had imagined doing on Gotland,” Emma says. “It might be right or wrong, but we have done what we came here to do.”