A Bit More of Stockholm

Posted on April 25th, 2013 by

Stockholm is one of those cities with a name that makes you think of certain images or ideas. Beautiful people. Waterways and islands. Old pastel-colored buildings. Often, visiting an actual city shows you that the idea you have of it is actually inaccurate. In Stockholm, the stereotypes are true. The level of fashion here is unbelievably high. I’ve honestly never seen a place like it before. I’ve been sporting an intensely red winter coat as my outer layer all trip. In Stockholm, this screams, “HEY, LOOK AT THIS AMERICAN AND HIS BRIGHT COLORS.” Straying outside of the mature color palette of grey to black is an easy way to stick out. Some of the younger, more bohemian types might be seen in a dark olive green or navy blue jacket. But bright colors? Not a chance. Besides the coats, shoes and hair seem to be very important. I found myself kind of appreciating the midwestern ethos of not really caring too much about what someone looks like. Sure, fashion is fun, and it can be fun to look good, but it felt like a requirement here. There were multiple occasions when a group of us made plans to go to a certain bar and upon arriving and seeing the clientele inside, decided to go somewhere a little more suited to jeans and t-shirts. And bars suited to jeans and t-shirts were hard to find. But besides all this, it honestly is pretty fun to look at beautiful and well-dressed people. I apologize for starting off on a bit of a negative digression because Stockholm is an absolutely wonderful and gorgeous city. Now, for some cool stuff we saw:

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Here I am on the poop deck of the AF Chapman, the hostel where we stayed. I say poop deck because the AF Chapman is a boat that has been converted into a hostel and because I wanted to say poop deck. It was a really fun experience to stay on a boat. The room was fairly cramped with 6 college guys and all our luggage, but we survived and had a lot of fun doing so.

Every Friday, Modernamuseet, the Modern Art Museum, is free from 4-6pm. As well as the aforementioned stereotypes, you might have heard of the stereotype that Stockholm is expensive. Very expensive. This stereotype is very true. We made sure to visit this rare species known as “free thing” in Stockholm, and it proved to be a very interesting time (fun fact: using the bathroom in Central Station costs $1.50). The main exhibit at Modernmuseet was close to the entire collection of Hilma af Klint. She was a Swedish painter in the early 1900s, and her paintings were delightfully abstract. I really enjoyed her paintings because she had an enormous focus on symmetry for several of her pieces. Even if I had no clue what she was trying to say with some of her art, it proved to be nice to look at. Along with Hilma af Klint, the museum had a few original Andy Warhol pieces. I got to see one of his Electric Chairs in person.IMG_20130322_165935

There were a few more of his famous pop art pieces in the same room. Apparently, this museum was responsible for introduces Sweden to Andy Warhol with his very first exhibition in Sweden there. Throughout the museum there were many more pieces with some big names in modern art attached to them. Some of the fun of a modern art museum is marveling simply at what people create. It’s always very easy to condemn modern art as something a child could do, or claim it’s not art, or claim it doesn’t take any talent. But where’s the fun in that? I love the fact that I walked into a large black room with the sounds of a man speaking, with only a black sofa in the middle facing an all black projector screen except for the white subtitles spelling out the man’s nonsense sentences like “BAH. BAH. BAH. BAH. BALLS BOUNCE. DON’T GO THE DOWN TOE. BON. BON. BON.” And so on. It was just so ridiculous, but here it is in what is probably one of the premier modern art museums in the world. And I know for a fact that the people who made the decision to put this piece of audible art in this museum are a whole lot more knowledgeable about art than I am. When I see these absurd displays of art, I want to hear an explanation. Going to this museum makes me realize how uneducated I am about art, and it makes me want to know why this is in a museum and why other stuff isn’t.

And now for something completely different. The first thing we did in Stockholm was visit the Vasa Museum. I assume that previous posts by other members of the group showed of the grandeur of the Vasa. So I will share a photo I furtively took of a different, but I think equally fascinating Swedish phenomenon.

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Yes, that is a young boy, probably 8-11 years old, in a onesie with the artwork of our flag on it. And you can see a centuries old ship in the background, but that’s not important. Indeed, in Sweden these onesies are popular. As in, this was not the only non-crawling human being I saw in one. I saw onesies displayed in shop windows. I saw teenage girls in onesies. Now, I don’t want you to think that this is the new fashion epidemic sweeping Scandinavia. They weren’t THAT popular. But they were extremely popular, given what they are. And I thought they were such an odd contrast to the high fashion of Stockholm. I just don’t understand fashion, I guess. And one interesting thing about Sweden is that the American flag is cool. Like really cool. Put it on a shirt, and now it’s a cool shirt. From what I can gather, it’s similar to how we treat the Union Jack. It’s fairly common to see someone with simply the Union Jack on their shirt, and it’s fashionable. I’ve never raised an eyebrow at that. But seeing American flags on different articles of clothing was so surreal at first glance. I mean, it’s no different from what we do with Union Jacks, but for some reason I had never considered other countries would do the same with our flag. I guess it’s kind of nice? I’ve sort of operated under the assumption that America was disliked by much of Europe for our foreign policies and our general culture. There have been a few outspoken people here, but most don’t have a big problem with America. The younger people certainly mustn’t if they’re plastering our flag on their clothes.

My next picture is one of Strandvagen in Ostermalm. The “O” and the second “a” both have two dots over them, so just imagine that they’re there. This street is home to the most expensive real estate in Stockholm. We were able to meet Anders Wall, the man who makes up all the costs of this trip that our tuition cannot cover. He is an incredibly wealthy man, and equally as generous. During our meeting with him, he told us about his other charitable work, which seemed to be primarily focused on the education of young people like ourselves. His philosophy was that he had accrued so much money in his life that he knew he wouldn’t need even close to all of it, so he decided to use it for charity. And we are very glad for that. It was interesting seeing the range of wealth in Stockholm. Large cities always seem to put the differences in economic classes into stark relief. We could spend the afternoon in the office of Anders Wall, in a place where every square foot probably cost more than I can make lifeguarding this summer, then walk a few hundred meters and pass homeless people begging on the streets. Later in the week we visited a shelter for people on the lower end of the economic spectrum, those that needed help. In Sweden, if you are homeless and you want a bed for the night, you can call an agency and ask for one. They will find you a bed. But there are still people in bad situations which a bed every night cannot solve. They are sometimes addicted to drugs or in abusive relationships. It was nice to visit a shelter where a great amount of work is still being done to help those in need. It’s inspiring to see a country like Sweden try to deal with that sort of problem. They approach it as a problem that can be solved, not just an inevitable fact of society that can be ignored. It is seen as the responsibility of the state to care for all its people, and they have incredible programs in place to try to help its people in the worst of circumstances. I’d like to see some statistics on homelessness in Sweden. I know it’s not 0 because we saw a few people begging on the street like I mentioned, but I’m sure it’s an impressive number. I’m sure we could learn something from how the Swedish government approaches homelessness. And with that, here’s the picture of the most expensive street in Stockholm. It certainly looks the part, doesn’t it?

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One Comment

  1. Roland says:

    Yes, Jens, Stockholm is a very special city, beautiful any season of the year, but particularly in the summer. I was older than you are now when I first went there — via my growing up on a farm south of Växjö, where you have now been, and several years at UW in Seattle — but it has become a favorite city of mine. Thank you for your pictures and reflections on what you did when you were there.