“I am never going to get another dog!” exclaims Ulf Bernström, looking fondly at the latest member of his four-legged family, the adorable white dachshound Vita.
“Well, at least that’s what I said when Vita’s mother had her litter nine weeks ago. Never! I have enough dogs! No more dogs! Except this one!”
We both have a good laugh as we sit over our cafés con leche outside Hostal Cuba, little Vita peeking out of the super stylish doggie carrier bag Bernström has designed and sown especially for her.
Of course he will get another dog, and not only one! Once you have gone down the path to dogness, there is no turning back, that is something all flatmates of dogs know. But Bernström has gone one further: He has had the sense to make his addiction into a career path outshining all the other paths he has forged.
“It all began in the mid 80s when I bought a round the world trip, as was the custom in Sweden at the time. “Everybody” was doing it.”
Well, isn’t that the truth! When I left Norway for good in 1988 on the Trans Siberian Railway, I planned to travel through China and South East Asia eventually to end up in Australia. I thought this was a great and truly original plan, so I was surprised and not a little dismayed to hear the same thing, that “everybody” in Sweden took that route, earning it the moniker “The Swedish Track.” Grrrrr…
Bernström orders another café con leche in flawless Spanish and continues:
“I only stayed away for a year, but when I came back to Sweden the “damage” was already done. I had to live abroad. I got a job as a singer in Vingresor (a famous travel agent at the time) in 1988 and was sent to Mallorca for training. I became a singer slash travel guide and sang and guided my way around the Mediterranean; Crete, Rhodes, north Africa… ”
I had to live abroad
Bernström looks for a moment lost in reveries. I can easily imagine him on the loose in the 80s as a Swede with male model good looks – ah! The not very halcyon days of yore.
Back in Stockholm he was headhunted as a singing waiter by the Wallmanns Salonger group, but after a while he started the entertainer group Pluss, who travelled around Sweden and Europe with their song and dance routines, stirring the loins of men and women alike.
“One day I thought, what a shame I don’t speak Spanish!” Bernström recalls. “I went back to Mallorca and took a Spanish course, realised I really, really should live abroad, sold my flat in Stockholm… and then: I moved to Norway! For love. Yes. That was a mistake. Oh, young people of today, I advise you: Don’t listen to those who say love is enough! It really isn’t.”
What, we’re not to live our lives according to memes on Facebook? NOW you’re telling me!
When his relationship fell apart, Bernström decided to stay on in Norway, saying to himself: “Now I’m going to become normal and fall in with the rest!”
He took a course in data software and started helping small networks with their IT concerns.
“This was early in the tech revolution of course. It went well, but then I saw an ad for cabin crew members in [Scandinavian Airlines] SAS. Oh! Travel! I got the job, got my uniform… and the next day was September 11th 2001 and no one wanted to fly anymore. My contract ended before it had begun! The same day I received a call from Casino in Mallorca: Can you come and be a consultant for the entertainment industry on the island?
I said – only as a joke – sure! For 5000 euro a month plus a car, and petrol, and a mobile phone. As a joke, okay? YES, they said at once. Ha ha! The contract was for six months, but I worked there for two years. Then I started working for Sunwing again, coaching and developing young artistes. Oh, it was great! No need to be stuck in the office, I was surrounded by young, creative people… lovely.”
Then I noticed that the costumes these singers and dancers had to wear were so below par. I got a person who could draw and started instructing him how the costumes should look. Then he got sick, so I started designing the clothes myself! I can’t tell you how surprised I was to realise: hey, I can do this!”
“So I did that for 10 years, designing, sowing, and singing. But the whole time I had been a dog fan and had always had dogs. I had noticed that most of the dog equipment on the market, bowls, collars and so on, was so damn ugly. It was all made of plastic! I thought: I should open a shop selling only beautiful, quality stuff for dogs.”
And so began Palma Dog [www.palmadog.com], where Bernstöm only sells quality things sourced from democratic countries with human values and animal welfare laws. That sounds easier said than done?
“Yes, it’s not easy to stick to those principles. China is the big challenge of course, as is Amazon. So in addition to running the shop, and in fact moving it to Calle de Conquistadores where there is more foot traffic, I am also educating myself on how to sell more online. I’m building a new website, myself of course. “
I am educating myself on how to sell more online
Does this man ever sleep?
“It has been hard, especially because I want to do everything by the book and not cut any corners. The first couple of years I ran the shop as well as designing the clothes and singing in hotel bars and for weddings. I realised I was spreading myself too thin. I had to ask myself what I really really loved of all the things I was doing, and the answer was clear: Dogs! In other words, the shop. I dropped the singing and the clothes, but in retrospect I see that I should have kept up the clothes for one more year… But oh well. Instead, I have started to design and sow my own dog equipment! I love design, I love beauty, I love my shop.”
And, needless to say, he loves Mallorca! Especially in winter.
During his years as the owner of a dog shop, countless dog owners have asked Bernström if he couldn’t train their dogs as well as equip them with elegant collars, bags and bowls. Bernström, ever the perfectionist, rose to the challenge, studied for a year and is now a professional dog trainer. As well.
“Yes, dog training is something I really enjoy! My partner, a painter/academic, and I have rented a house just north of Esporles with a 15,000 square metre plot, where friends can leave their dogs and I can train them.”
Vita starts squirming in her designer bag – she needs to pee. It’s time to go back to Bernström’s car, stylishly decorated with his shop’s name, where his two other dogs, Mac and WiFi, are patiently waiting.
As he drops me off outside my house, Bernström remarks:
“I have never been rich. And now with the new shop opening soon, I am poor in cash-flow. But I am rich in life!”
So now we have found yet another reason to love, nay, revere our dogs: They enable us to go outside during a pandemic. They are also damn good company for us who live alone – attentive without gabbing your head off. Unfortunately, even dogs couldn’t help Bernström when he wanted to open his new shop in Carrer del Conquistador.
“When the pandemic hit, I was in the middle of moving, and wasn’t allowed to. I had products in one location and furniture for the shop in the other. In addition, we weren’t allowed to go to work, so I couldn’t sell online either. Now, at least, I’m allowed to sell dog food from the shop. Now I need to be creative, that’s for sure! I have my company car, so I can deliver food all around the island. Yes, the future is uncertain, but I choose to call it “exciting.””