Stockholm: Vasa, Skansen, and ABBA

vassa

As is the case with most expeditions I embark on, visits to museums make up a large percentage of my activities. Not surprisingly, my time here in Stockholm will be no different. The three institutions I am most keen on visiting this go around are the Vasa Museum, the Skansen Open Air Museum, and the ABBA Museum. As some weird coincidence would have it, all three of these venues are located within five minutes of each other. As I arrive at the Vasa Museum, my only prior knowledge of this place is that it houses a large warship that sank in the 17th century and was later recovered in the early 1960’s. Other than these basic facts, I am at a loss for details. Upon entering the dimly lit building, I am struck both by the Vasa’s enormous size as well as its relatively good condition. On that fateful day of its maiden voyage, the top of the ship was apparently overloaded with canons. As a result, the top heavy ship tipped over and sank before even making its way out of the city’s harbor. For over 300 years it quietly slept on the harbor floor going unnoticed by the citizenry above. As one would assume, most sunken ships are never recovered as they would normally meet their fates in deep ocean waters. Due to the Vasa’s proximity to landfall, it was spotted, brought back to dock, and restored to its former glory.

skansen

As I leave the dark and moody atmosphere of the Vasa behind, I cross the street and head over to the Skansen Open Air Museum. To use the phrase museum when describing this place is not doing it justice. In fact, Skansen takes up about 75 acres of prime Stockholm real estate. Visitors here get the rare opportunity to see how Swedish life used to be before the onset of the industrial revolution. It is fascinating to see how houses were built, food was prepared, and crops were tilled in this pre-19th century land. When the notion of Sweden comes to mind, my thoughts usually turn to images of a modern, technologically advanced, and forward looking people. This place, however, shows us that this was not always the case. Life was incredibly hard and it took 100% of your skills and knowledge just to survive the long dark winters. It is this reality check that makes me even more impressed with the economic and social progress that Sweden has made over these past 150 years.

ABBA

Last but certainly not least, I cross the street again and head over to the newly opened ABBA museum. Having been a fan of the group since my teenage years, I am really looking forward to making a pilgrimage to this holy site of European pop music. One thing that is made clear to visitors right away is that ABBA is not afraid of selling merchandise. The gift shop, where the tickets to the museum are purchased, contains every imaginable item with an ABBA logo on it. As tempted as I am, I am somehow able to restrain myself from buying an ABBA lunchbox. Walking through the museum, it is great to learn about where the four members came from and how their careers evolved before the formation of the group. The gold records, outrageous outfits, and music equipment are all here in their glory ready to be viewed and admired. We take for granted today that a non-Anglo Saxon band can become world famous and dominate the pop music charts. Yet it was not that long ago where this was not the case. Before the emergence of ABBA, all pop and rock music acts came out of the English speaking world. Groups from non-native English speaking countries could become popular, but only in their homelands singing in their native tongue. ABBA changed this paradigm by embracing the English language and beating the English and American bands at their own game by developing superior melodies and rhythms. It is a testament to the band’s enduring legacy that the ABBA museum has become one of the most popular in all of Sweden.

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