I arrived to the shores of Stockholm by sea. As our ship came up to the river city, the golden spires thrust up through the belly of the fog. I could hear Stockholm long before I saw her. Bells tumbled over one another and the lap of the sea along the pier called to me.
To say Stockholm is a city of art is to practice understatement. The staggering number of popular artists that hail from Sweden should be your first clue. The pantheon of inspirational characters is cast in bronze reliefs throughout the metropolitan center. From legendary playwright August Strindberg, to Ace of Base, the culture of Stockholm is one of expression and pragmatism. And art.
For me, it is amazing to see the city’s obsession of filling practical spaces with art. Nowhere is this better encapsulated than in the Stockholm Photography Museum, Fotografiska.
This Art Nouveau building was a customs office in the early 1900s, but since has been transformed into the city’s premier gallery for photography. Each square foot has been designed to compliment the rotating exhibits. However, this wasn’t enough for Stockholm, so today the building doubles as a public forum with rooms rented out for events. There is even a rooftop cafe/bar with a sweeping view of the water and live music most nights. It all seems so Swedish: Building a place that serves not only the practical needs but also feeds the soul.
Viewfinder Tip: For about US$60 a day the Stockholm Card grants you access to more than 75 museums and attractions in the city.
Across the frosty bay, we jumped a ferry, and cruised to Djurgården. Throughout the city, establishments placed large candles outside their doors to push back the frosty chill with soft buffers of flickering hospitality. Djurgården was draped with these candles, sparkling like a Christmas tree. This island used to be the royal hunting grounds. Today it is a collection of folk art, theme park rides, and the cornerstone: the ABBA Museum.
The main exhibits at this museum are interactive. One has a number of sound booths that let you run the gamut from signing along with the pop artists to recording your own ABBA music video. For me, the greatest exhibit was the phone; tucked in an unassuming corner was a red rotary dial phone, like the kind in the Adam West version of “Batman.” The only people who know the phone number are the four artists of ABBA, and from time to time they call in just to chat with whoever is there to pick it up.
After experiencing this museum, Tawny and I strolled through Old town, looking for vintage record shops. The Sofo district is teaming with a synergy of old and new; shops have just as many old items as they do new ones. The “new” stuff includes re-purposed items from Sweden’s glorious past and new designs. The old stuff is, well, antiques.
Throughout our time in the Art District, we kept spotting a searing-pink fixed-gear bicycle in the cobblestone lane, collecting snow. This bike acted as our street sign, a beacon to the neighborhood. Around it, all of the other cute shops and cafes of the neighborhood fell into line.
It wasn’t until we stumbled into a boutique shop selling lamps and straight-blade razors made by a local artist that I realized how quickly I had been ensnared by Stockholm. The art scene here isn’t a fad, it is a lifestyle. One that we miss more and more everyday.