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Karl-Gunnar Johansson

"Kalle Kli"

Bartender, MS Kungsholm 1963 — 75

Page 1

Karl-Gunnar Johansson, "Kalle Kli"

Many thanks to Hans "Hasse" Gustafsson and Tommy Stark
for compiling and translating Kalle's story.

Please help us to identify the persons in the photos below.

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With more than 20 years in the purser's department, Kalle made a career aboard the MS Kungsholm. It all began at the age of 25 when he got employed on the Kungsholm (1953) as a waiter in the officers' mess on C-deck. The year was 1963, and Kalle worked there for one Atlantic crossing and return, on the Kungsholm. Then followed a series of job promotions and he switched to serve passengers instead of officers. The new jobs and positions on the passenger decks he enjoyed for the rest of his career. At 29, he advanced to Bartender on the new Kungsholm (1966), and he stayed on that position for nine years until the ship was sold in 1975.
Here is Kalle’s story:

My name is Kalle Johansson. Born in 1937 I was baptized Karl-Gunnar Johansson, which is my full name.  I grew up in the small town of Lindesberg about 160 km west of Stockholm. The first job experiences I had home in Lindesberg where, among other occupations, I worked in a clothing store selling menswear. For a period I also worked in a plastics factory.

In my local group of friends there was a guy with the habit of renaming all his buddies with a nickname. Instead of Karl-Gunnar he called me "Kalle Kli". And consequently my younger brother was called "Lill Kli" (Little Kli), and still today he carries that name.

Another friend from the neighborhood worked at sea as a cook. He told me about many exciting adventures, and the life at sea sounded tempting to me. He encouraged me to accompany him to Gothenburg when he was to sign on his ship again - and I did. It was a cargo vessel of the Broström AB Shipping Company. I have forgotten the ship's name... We were scheduled to bring cargo to the Persian Gulf and its surroundings. I got a job onboard as a cabin boy.

After some time on the ship an accident happened to me. I fell down a staircase and injured my leg. I had to sign off in Irak, and I was hospitalized in a local clinic. A representative from the Swedish Church visited me, and recommended me strongly to go home for surgery.

Home again I met another person who turned out to be second officer aboard the MS Gripsholm of the Swedish American Line. He too told me about his experiences, and what was so special about the two SAL ships in those days. He convinced me to make a phone call to Captain Tistrand who was head of the personnel department in Gothenburg at that time. In the late autumn of 1962 I made that phone call to Mr. Tistrand, and he requested me submit school certificates and references.

Sometime later he dialed my number, saying "You applied for the Gripsholm, but she is not due to come home yet for some time... But the Kungsholm will soon return home from an Around-the-world cruise, would you be interested?" I signed on, of course, and started working as a waiter in the officers mess aboard the MS Kungsholm on 30 April 1963 (it was the old Kungsholm of 1953).

My career onboard started in the officer’s mess. After my first Atlantic crossing I was offered a new job as Assistant Deck Steward serving passengers in deck chairs around the outdoor swimming pool and around the outside upper decks. I stayed on that job for some additional crossings.

Next I was offered job as a Deckwaiter, serving drinks in the Main Lounge and in some other lounges on Verandah Deck. This job I kept for about a year. Among the people I remember by name from that time is Peter Baumgardt, from Mjölby in southeast Sweden, who also stayed onboard to the very end of the Kungsholm era. Another person I remember was the witty pantry foreman Bengt "Sidney" Olsson from the town Olofström in southern Sweden. And Bertil Anderberg, who worked as manager of the Beauty Parlor, and I became good tennis partners, and we have stayed in contact ever since. Another tennis player was the contemporary Chief Steward (before Stig Lundgren). The Chief Steward, Bertil Anderberg and I were once invited to a tennis club in Bombay, India, and we also played with others there. It turned out I played well since I was awarded a standing invitation to come back and play again "on the house" as often as I wanted.

Over the years onboard the ship I got acquainted with many people, both passengers and crew members.
One passenger, somewhat special, had founded a labor union for musicians. He did not want to be visible in the passenger list. He wanted to travel incognito. And in his anonymous alias he generously shared with us his adventures, where names like Al Capone, Jimmy Hoffa and Frank Sinatra were mentioned.

Once in Hong Kong, the Swedish writer, columnist and globetrotter Hans Ostelius came onboard. At that time he came aboard as a lecturer, and he had many interesting experiences to share. One afternoon in Hong Kong he met the Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and her Swedish husband in those days, onboard, and I served them all drinks.

When I had worked as Deckwaiter for a year or so, some of my older colleagues started to prepare themselves for retirement and I was requested by Chief Steward Stig Lundgren to change occupation again, this time to Bar Steward. And from then on I worked as Bar Steward for about one year.

And thereafter, when my Swedish summer vacation was approaching, the Chief Steward asked me to remain onboard for an extra return trip across the Atlantic. The reason was that they were short of one Night Steward, and he wanted me on that job while at the same time offering me a new job in the bar as a Bartender when I returned from my summer leave. I was very happy about the promotion. Weeks earlier I had talked with the Chief Bartender Johnny Pettersson and the Bartender Iwo Larsson about my prospects to work in the bar. Evidently they had mentioned my name to Stig Lundgren. I replaced an ageing bartender Gösta Svensson who was due for retirement.

The bartender profession differed in many ways from other jobs I had had earlier onboard the ship. In the first place one could focus entirely on the tasks inside the bar, and mix drinks for passengers - either directly or via stewards and deckwaiters. And, moreover, we were neither obliged to tidy up in the lounges nor did we have to do gangway watch duty as the other service occupations did. When we arrived in New York the authorities closed and sealed the bar... implying that we were off duty most of the time in port before reopening the bars at the time of departure.

Among us bartenders there was no hierarchy. We were good group of colleagues who enjoyed working together most of the time. In the Aft Bar I worked interchangeably with Iwo Larsson, Stig Arnot and Kjell Karlsson. And in the Observation Bar on Promenade Deck I worked with Lars-Erik "Lajlen" Larsson, Mäki, and a bartender Gösta Blomkvist who had been on the Gripsholm. Being the newest on the job it was my responsibility to make stock replenishment orders and carry out preparations for the daily opening of the bar. My primary duty station was in the Aft Bar on Verandah Deck.

Work started at 9:00 AM with preparations, filling up with fresh ice and bottles of liquor and soda, cutting lemon peels, etc. At 10:00 AM the bar opened, and I worked until lunch time, took a break, and then back to work in the Aft Bar again from 12:00 Noon to 14:00 PM.

The bartenders' work schedule was made by Johnny Pettersson, our superior boss who never hesitated to fill in and take unpopular shifts himself, when needed. I received a lot of good support from my fellow bartenders to help me getting into my new duties. And Johnny was the best boss I have ever had throughout my entire career, even after the Swedish American Line.

The evening shift was usually going on between 18:00 PM and 24:00 midnight when we closed except late nights when there was dance music playing, or when there were some passengers left in the bars and lounges. However, most of the passengers were elderly people not very keen on partying late...

The bartenders' duties were diversified. We got to know several passengers, and many of them were so-called "repeaters" returning to travel again on the same ship. Since the new passenger lists were distributed to all the bars before departure on each new trip we knew who the repeaters were before they boarded the ship. And a returning passenger would always appreciate his/her favorite drinks already waiting for him/her there on the bar counter the moment they first enter into the bar on a new cruise...

There was no monotony whatsoever. Not one day was exactly like the previous one. Things happened all the time and we had much to do, in a positive way, for hours about lunchtime, dinner and also during the evenings.

The dress code in the bar was always black trousers, white shirt, necktie, and a so-called cumber belt around the waist. Daytime bartenders wore a white jacket and evenings after 18:00 PM we put on a maroon bartender’s jacket with black lapels.

Our bartender's pay was about 1000.- SEK per month as a base salary, I remember. The monthly tips from passengers could amount to slightly more than the salary. All the bartenders always divided all the tips that were received in all the bars equitably among themselves. The allotment was usually administrated by our boss Johnny once each month. On the long cruises it was habitual by some passengers to go to the bar at certain intervals and pay tips for that period. Other passengers preferred to add 15 % on each bar tab they signed at the table and paid for later.

Bartenders were privileged to have their own single cabins on B-deck. In our leisure time we often played table tennis and dart, but we also played cards.

Among my favorite ports during my years on the Kungsholm, New York is the clear winner! Many times each year the we stayed a few days in New York at the end leg of an Atlantic crossing, or whenever a cruise was over. Stocks onboard were replenished and new passengers were embarked. The next trip wouldn’t start before a couple of days. It was a time for us to relax and just enjoy the pulse of the big metropolitan city for a couple of days. We often went to a concert or a jazz club. On one occasion we saw Sammy Davies Jr. After show evenings like that we usually went to nice restaurants for a pleasant meal and to enjoy the moment.

Sydney was another place I appreciated. We visited the Zoo, Taronga Park that was amazingly beautiful. And I recall eating particularly tasty oysters in Sydney.

Finally, we must not forget Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro among my favorite ports of call.

I left the Kungsholm in 1975, shortly before the SAL-era was ended. Soon thereafter I was contacted by a friend of mine who told me that the shipping company Sessanlinjen in Gothenburg needed personnel for its passenger ferries. After spending some time to unwind home in Lindesberg I went back to Gothenburg and  got employed to work aboard the M/S Prinsessan Birgitta, where I kept working until my retirement in 1999. The ship was quite new then, built in 1974, and slightly smaller than the Kungsholm. The Sessanlinjen was 1984 taken over by the Stena Line, another Gothenburg based shipping company.

As retired I have continued playing golf around Gothenburg and elsewhere.

Aboard the Kungsholm I met Rita Hansen who worked in the Beauty Parlor, and she is the best thing that has ever happened to me. She has been my life companion ever since.  The only drawback with her, nowadays, is that she beats me on the golf course...

Still after all these years I have close contacts with a group of six ex-employees from the Kungsholm, and we meet regularly each year together with our spouses. The others are girls who used to work in the Beauty Parlor onboard. We have many memories that we share and keep alive. We have known each other so many years, and we also talk sometimes over the telephone.

I have found it easier to share my Kungsholm memories with persons that have had the same or similar experiences as I have. It is very difficult or even impossible for others without similar experiences from aboard and ashore to really know what it was all about in those good old days.

// Kalle 

This story has been told by Kalle himself in telephone interviews during January 2015. The story has been compiled, adapted and translated for publication on www.salship.se by Tommy Stark and Hasse Gustafsson, two ex crew members who served onboard the MS Kungsholm as deckwaiters 1971-73. They knew Kalle from the opposite side of the bar counter. The photos have been selected out of Kalle’s private collection, and Kalle has approved the text for publication.

First Class Bar on forward Veranda Deck.
From the left: Chief bartender Johnny Pettersson, Karl-Gunnar "Kalle Kli" Johansson, Bennie Meijer.

Karl-Gunnar “Kalle Kli” Johansson and his fellow bartender Mäki in the Observation Bar on Promenade Deck.

Kalle “Kli” and Stig Arnot. Two bartenders in evening outfit are having a relaxed
chat with a passenger in the Aft Bar (tourist class bar during Atlantic crossings).

Kalle “ Kli” Johansson and Lars-Erik “Lajlen” Larsson are ready to serve lunch cocktail in the Observation Bar.

Kalle “ Kli” Johansson [Charley to this passenger] is sharing a joke or two
with a passenger in the Aft Bar. Bennie Meijer stands in the background.

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