Tag Archives: Sweden

Stockholm’s Unique Museums

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Science, Art and History.

These are the museums that seem to appear in every city I visit. Many of them are great museums, with people doing great things! Several years back, I wrote very positively about the then relatively new History Colorado Center, and the recent trend where museums are increasingly including more interactive exhibits. At last summer’s TEDxMileHigh event, Chip Colwell, of the Denver museum of Science and Nature, gave an excellent speech about returning sacred artifacts to indigenous people.

However, sometimes I get more excited about visiting the museums that are more unique to a specific city. In Stockholm, there was no shortage of such museums. First, as pictured above, is the Nobel Museum, one that I would consider a must see!

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It includes galleries with artifacts from past Nobel Prize winners, exhibits about the history of the Nobel Prize, as well as the life of Alfred Nobel. Visitors can also quickly look up the Nobel Prize winner for any year, in any category by going one of a series of kiosks associated with each decade.

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In case you need inspiration, there are moving banners flying around the museum, each one with a picture and short description of the work of one specific Nobel Prize winner. They are in what seems like random order.

There is also a video room, a place one can easily spend a couple of hours. Videos in this room tell the story behind many of the Nobel Prize winners and their work. My favorite story was the story of Linus Pauling’s discovery of the double helix (structure of DNA, the basic building blocks of human genetics). Trying to determine how the chemical compounds would fit together spatially, he started folding sheets of paper around, eventually folding them into the shape of the double helix structure, which we now accept as scientific fact.

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It is hard not to admire scientific creativity after hearing a story like this one!

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There are also very few places in the world with a museum dedicated to one single musical act. With acts like Aviccii, Tove Lo and Swedish House mafia, it is hard to dispute that Sweden, a country of roughly 10 million people, produces its fair share of musical acts who are popular worldwide. However, ABBA seems to invoke a special amount of national pride, enough for them to have their own museum.

Unlike the Nobel Museum, which is right in the center of the city, on Gamla Stan island, this museum is a little bit out of the way, on an island called Skansen. It is also a little bit pricier. However, the museum was fun. It took interactive exhibits to a whole new level. Each ticket gives attendees the option to take a try at singing, dancing, producing music videos, as well as things like trivia and operating a mixing board! It also had some information about other components of Swedish musical history, including the EuroVision competition, and all the concerts that have played, over the years, at an amusement park called Gröna Lund.

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I left the ABBA museum somewhat unexpectedly sad. I did not previously know that the band was made up of two married couples, and that at the end of their run, both couples divorced, and the four best friends just simply went their separate ways.

I guess this is the same reason people cry at movies, and get emotional about people who are not a part of their lives, like famous couples. I know in my head that life has chapters, sometimes it is just time to move on, and that being both married and in a band with someone can lead to a disaster.

It was still hard to emotionally contemplate. I thought of the excitement that comes with every new relationship. I thought of how happy they all looked, in the music videos and photographs shown in the museum. Then, I thought of the arguments, the emotional pain, the sadness and the loneliness, how something so good could go so bad. Maybe they were all mature about it. I know, though, it is always hard. I thought back to the breakups I had in my past, specifically those that were “mutual” and “clearly for the best”. Even those breakups, while not causing years of heartache still had their messiness; arguments, nights without sleep, etc.

Stockhom certainly has other museums that are unique. The city’s most popular museum is dedicated to a 17th century ship that capsized within minutes. I chose, however, to visit a museum dedicated to Photography.

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This museum is interesting for three reasons.

1. It has no permanent exhibits; only temporary ones. This is an interesting concept, and a great way to appeal to locals.

This winter, there is a special exhibit dedicated to x-ray photography, something I knew little to nothing about before visiting this museum.

2. There may be more and more museums dedicated to photography in the future, as, although a century and a half old, photography is still relatively newer of a field than Art, Science, or History.

3. The museum actually boasts one of the best skyline views in the city, both from the riverfront outside the museum, as well as from the bar on the top floor!

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I believe there is something unique about every city I visit. Even the standard museums, the art, science, and especially the history museums showcase something unique to the city or region. Through visiting these places, we get an idea as to each place’s unique story. A part of Stockholm’s story is the story of Alfred Nobel’s writing a series of awards for human achievement into his will. It is the way local felt when ABBA won EuroVision 1974. It is also the photographs taken by local photographers displayed here every autumn.

Cultural Observations in Stockholm

 

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Setting out to observe a 3 P.M. sunset, in all its glory, is actually significantly more challenging than one would ever expect. Spending four days in Stockholm, I came to the realization that anywhere one would go in November or December where the sun sets this early is likely to be quite cloudy. While the sun did slip below the horizon right around 3, and the sky became pitch black before 4, each afternoon the sky pretty much appeared like this.

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There was no observation of the sun dipping below the horizon at 3 P.M., just a gray day fading gradually into nighttime.

Not only did 4 P.M. feel different here than anywhere I had ever lived, so did 8 P.M. Rather than feeling like the time the night was just beginning, when people were prepping up for their evening activities, getting ready, texting friends, etc., it felt like a lot later. I am not sure if this was 100% due to the fact that it had already been dark over four hours, or if it is due to cultural differences (when people leave work, etc.). However, at 8 P.M., it definitely felt like the “night”, whatever that entails, had been going on for some time and was approaching maturity.

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Stockholm is a city that parties pretty hard on Friday and Saturday evenings. Both evenings, in the area in and around the city center, including the areas around Central Station, and the Islands of Gamla Stan and Södermalm, there were plenty of people who were already quite intoxicated by 8 or 9 in the evening.

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This is one of several cultural observations I made while in Stockholm.

Of course there are ways to learn about the culture of a country or a region from afar. Travel books and other essays provide convenient cultural guides to places. Popular culture, music, movies, shows and such, also give people from afar a window into the culture of a place. However, I do notice time and time again, that there is no real substitute for actually going to a place and experiencing it for oneself.

For example, one of the things I noticed about Stockholm, the entire time there, was that people walk fast. It’s almost like the way it is in New York, and other large cities.

This is a prefect example of something needed to be experienced in person. While it is possible for someone to write, in a cultural guide or video, that people walk fast in a certain city, what that means can only be truly understood when experienced. The same can be said for New York.

 

Also, with the exception of New York, a city that seems to take pride in its high paced walking, it is easy to imagine a quick reference cultural guide which may focus on things like tipping or train etiquette, to not mention something like this. After all, did I really need to know how fast people in Stockholm walk prior to coming here?

I benefited more from reading about how Scandinavians dress. The casual sneakers, jeans and sweaters I wore all week did not stand out.

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In fact, I may have fit in too well. Despite the fact that people here are mostly fluent in English, most addressed me in Sweedish before I had to ask them to speak English to me.

Food is a significant component of any cultural experience. There is a reason why food makes a natural topic for travel shows. I couldn’t picture actually trying to experience the culture of a given place without trying the local food. I made sure I got the full Sweedish food experience, including the Skagenröra (shrimp salad), salmon, and various other fish dishes (Stockholm is a bunch of islands after all). However, I was surprised at how good their grilled sandwiches were. Specifically, many places throughout Stockholm serve various types of grilled sandwiches, all with some kind of cheese. Many of these sandwich did not include fish or seafood. Some were even vegetarian. They do an excellent job of melting the cheese on the rye bread, and this serves as a great lunch option for various types of people (as in, not everyone eats meat, seafood, etc.).

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As an American, traveling abroad to places like this, it is hard for me not to feel at least a little bit guilty. American culture is harder to escape than I ever realized. Stockholm does have fast food as well. Most of it comes in the form of stands, similar to the hot dog stands found on the streets of New York. Given that most of the food in Stockholm is pretty expensive, it is almost necessary to have a couple of meals at one of those stands on any multi-day trip here, so as not to bust a budget. This was, however, the only place I encountered someone who did not speak English.

I also saw McDonalds and Burger King all over town. However, these establishments are at least somewhat different abroad than they are in the United States.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment was that I was unable to escape the tradition known as “Black Friday”. I was hoping, by virtue of not being in America, where thanksgiving is not a holiday, I would also not experience Black Friday. Well, apparently people do that here too. Maybe they don’t in less touristy parts of a country like Sweden. Maybe I needed to go somewhere with less tourists, and, also less people who speak English, to experience the actual culture of Sweden.

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How much can anyone get to know about the culture of another country by visiting for just a short time? And not venturing outside of the City? I can see how a tourist can come to believe they have learned quite a bit about the culture of Sweden, or any place they chose to visit, by making an set of observations like these.

To me, my set of observations almost feels like how someone from abroad would judge the United States by simply spending several days in New York, our biggest city. The rest of the country i likely significantly different, in terms of pace of life, and how much they embrace ideas like Black Friday. However, just like the foreign tourist in New York, I did experience some things different from what I usually experience at home.