Exploring a City of Islands & Bridges: PART V


Sunday, March 26

Another day of brisk but sunny weather, perfect for cruising the old town, an island that serves as a hub for Stockholm. In addition to wandering through the cobblestone streets and peering at buildings of various tones and tints of Sienna,

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we wanted to see the Nobelmuseet (Nobel Museum) and the changing of the guards.


I pulled a photo off the Internet that showcases this museum, housed in the former Stock Exchange. It sits on an old plaza, one where the Danish King Christian II executed over 70 poor souls invited to a banquet in 1520, which led to one of the victim’s sons taking up the charge and winning Sweden’s freedom three years later (yep, there’s that Gustav I Vasa again).

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The museum is surprisingly small but advocates a lofty goal. Its brochure states the museum’s purpose “is to spread knowledge as well as to create interest and discussion around the natural sciences and culture through creative learning and exhibition techniques, modern technology and elegant design.”  

However, the displays can be a bit odd with circulating billboards overhead of the Laureates, more than 900 of them since 1901. They called this contraption a ‘cableway.’ More like a dry cleaner’s conveyor belt if you ask me.

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Individual booths highlighted some of the discoveries or feats of the winners, such as Marie Curie’s.

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Overall I found the layout a bit confusing but the displays definitely get one thinking about the winners’ contributions to the world. I really enjoyed the airing of short films capturing Nobel Laureates’ thoughts and experiences. If all you do is watch these films then you, too, will have received a gift from the Nobel organization.

In addition to the films, the cafe became a favorite spot. And, no, it’s not because of the food, well, maybe a little… it’s due to the winners signing the bottoms of the chairs. Told Obama’s was #47 (each chair carries a discrete number on its back), off Kathryn and I went searching for the seat. I’m sure we were a bit obnoxious, but there weren’t a lot of folk sitting in the chairs and the wait staff must be use to seeing visitors upend chairs to check out the bottoms (of the chairs). Max, too, got in on it.

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Unable to find Obama, we went back to the front desk, who told us the Dali Lama’s is hanging from the ceiling. How spectacular is that?! Definitely worthy of a photo.

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With the changing of the guards about to happen, we asked if we could return using our tickets and found out, yes, re-entry wouldn’t be a problem.

The guard switch-off was a bit anticlimactic,

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and, the temps weren’t the most conducive to hanging around.

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But with guide books proclaiming it worth seeing, that we did.

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Okay, back to the Nobel Museum.

One area of the museum held information on Alfred Nobel himself, the man behind it all.

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I was hoping this section would clarify two items for me:  somehow I remember reading awhile ago that a female friend influenced his setting up the peace prize. I also wondered how come I associated Oslo more with the awarding of Nobel prizes than Stockholm.

Thankfully the display on his life answered the above to some degree. Nobel (1833-96) was actually a Swede, born in Stockholm. But, his parents moved around in search of lucrative jobs (his father was an inventor), beginning with St. Petersburg in the early 1840s. From nine though his teenage years, Alfred didn’t live in Sweden but in Russia, then in France and the US for chemistry and engineering knowledge. By his 20s he spoke five languages and was adept at adapting to different cultures and making contacts in spite of being more of an introvert than extrovert.

Alfred Nobel young

Nobel returned to Sweden by 1863 in order to work with his inventor father and his brothers. Their task centered on transforming the Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero’s discovery of nitroglycerine into a workable explosive. Up to then explosives involved unsafe blasting oil or not-so-powerful gunpowder.

Unfortunately, the Nobels’ experiments led to a huge explosion in 1864 killing, among others, Alfred’s brother Emil. However, Alfred continued to plug away at the original goal with success being dynamite in 1865. With this useful tool he created an industrial empire with companies and factories spread throughout Europe. With more inventions following dynamite he not only obtained wealth but also a workload he felt overwhelming; yet, he brought it upon himself as he was constantly in motion.

What I definitely didn’t know was Nobel’s desire to be a poet, to which he aspired but never achieved. However, I must say I like his response to his brother’s request about writing an autobiography:  “Alfred Nobel pitiful creature, ought to have been suffocated by a humane physician when he made his howling entrance into life. Greatest virtues:  keeping his nails clean and never being a burden to anyone. Greatest weakness:  having neither wife and kids nor sunny dispositions nor hearty appetite. Greatest single request:  to not be buried alive. Greatest sin: not worshiping Mammon. Important events in life:  none.” So penned the guy whose name is associated with an outfit allotting one of the world’s holiest grail of recognition to those who strive to benefit mankind. And, if you’re wondering, like me, who “Mammon” is, it translates to money, wealth, and material possessions.

The primary women in his life were an Austrian, Sofie Hess, with whom he had an on-again-off-again relationship beginning 1876 until she became pregnant by another man in 1890 and married him (good reason for the ‘off’ descriptor),

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and a Czech-Austrian, Baroness Bertha von Suttner, nee Bertha Kinsky von Chinic und Tettau (1843-1914), who served as his secretary in Vienna until she married. In spite of just a short time in his employment, Bertha and Alfred remained friends throughout the years.

Alfred Nobel girlfriend Bertha von Suttner

Nobel drafted his will in Paris, 27 November, 1895. He dictated that the returns on his fortune of 31 million Swedish Kroner (a value comparable to about $265,000,000 today) would fund prizes covering physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace.

I think it helps to read his actual words to understand the magnitude of what his funds have achieved so please bear with me (or skip) the following excerpt. Note the last one category mentioned, which, to me, makes it the most impressive:

The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses. The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiological or medical work by the Caroline Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be a Scandinavian or not.”

One year later he died of a stroke on December 10th in San Remo, Italy.

As stipulated by Nobel all but the peace prize would be decided and awarded in Stockholm while Oslo would handle the peace one. (Alfred never disclosed why Oslo and not Stockholm.) The ceremonies would be held on the day of his death December 10th with each recipient receiving the medal, a diploma, and money, the latter split evenly among winners if more than one named in a category. To obtain the money the winners must give a lecture to the committee (one that 2016 Literature winner, Bob Dylan, has until June 10th of this year to present).

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So, of the two questions I had at the beginning of the tour, I had the answer to one:  why I associated Nobel more with Oslo; but, I still didn’t know why I thought Bertha’s association with him rang a bell. Searching back in my posts I discovered the answer:  she was the first woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905 (“MDT 3” post dated November 2016). She’d been a leader in the international peace movement establishing the Austrian Peace Society in 1891. With Nobel stating in one of their many correspondences “inform me, convince me, and then I will do something great for the movement” it’s evident Bertha must have influenced Nobel’s decisions regarding these awards.

A range of artifacts belonging to Nobel recipients was displayed such as these winners of the peace prize:  Korean Dim Dae Jung’s red slippers knitted by his wife to keep him warm in prison (2002)

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and Bishop Desmond Tutu’s iconic cap (1984).

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Kathryn and I did partake of a lunch at the cafe, aware we were warming some winners’ names. Then, joined by Max out we went where a Patriots fan met another

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whom we later saw at a church concert, one with a beautiful ceiling

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but not so much the music. The three of us ever so quietly made our exit and returned back home to plan our next day’s outing.

Monday, March 27

Kathryn and I had a lovely girly day Monday sauntering around Sodermalm Island (same one where the Fotografiska resides). It’s also when I learned a term describing one of my favorite activities:  “Fika”, which is Swedish for taking a break over a cup of coffee with a friend.

Meanwhile Max opted for another experience, which he’ll tell you about in his own words…

MAX’s NON-Disaster Tour


While my travel companions opted for some lighter sightseeing or shopping, I took trains and buses to the tiny old town of Sigtuna 30 miles northwest of Stockholm. Sigtuna, Sweden’s oldest surviving town and original capital, was built in the 970s by King Erik Segersall. Sweden’s first coins were minted here in 995.

The town is situated on a lovely lake, and retains its original street network.

Christianity became an important unifying influence in Sweden’s history, and Sigtuna became a Mecca for Christianity. There are ruins of several medieval churches, and it is believed they were trying to imitate the heavenly city of Jerusalem. One of the earliest was St Peter’s church built around 1100. It is believed this was built by and for the King.

Signposts along the pathways point out how the town looked in earlier centuries.

Runes were often made by the Vikings to honor deceased others, or even to honor one’s self and leave a lasting memory. Sigtuna has more runic stones than any other town in the world, including this one inscribed “Sven had the stone erected in memory of his father and Frodis in memory of Ulv, her husband. God help his soul.” Sven and Ulv were common names, but the only known Frodis from the Viking age was the daughter of Erik the Red, who lived on Vinland (which is believed to be Newfoundland) for some time.

St. Olaf’s church was built around 1100 and was constructed over the remnants of an even older church.

St Mary’s church was built by Dominican friars during the 1200s, and has been little changed in the ensuing 700+ years. It was the first building in the region to use bricks, which were molded and fired of mud from the nearby lake. In 1530, during the Reformation, King Gustav Vasa converted it to a parish church, for which purpose it is still in use today. Gustav, the nobleman who led Sweden to independence from the Danes in 1523, supported the Lutheran Reformation. By doing so, he was able to squeeze funds out of the Roman Catholic Church. The latter didn’t want to lose the peace Gustav had gained nor the status the Catholic Church had achieved since the early 10th century in Sweden.

The triumph crucifix hanging prominently in the center dates from about 1500.

The mural pairing, a memorial to two archbishops, is from the 14th century.

The baptismal font is older than the church, and probably came from one of the other ruined churches in the area. The snake coiling around the foot is a symbol of the evil from which baptism sets us free.

In the roof above the organ is a 15th century painting, called The Throne of Grace. God the Father, seated on a rainbow, is holding Jesus on the Cross. Above the head of Jesus is the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

After strolling through medieval history I was ready for the 21st century; and, as I was walking to the bus station, a shop window brought me right back to present day:  clothes from Portland, Maine–on sale!

Nothing like a bit of home in a foreign land :)


Our Stockholm finale coming up, and what an interesting one that was…