Stockholm: Musings from a Café Corner

Julian, current DIS Student Blogger, spent a weekend in Stockholm during his independent travels. We’ve loved following his blog this semester, and were eager to hear more about his first impressions of Stockholm. Read on to hear about his experience! 

The first thing I noticed about Stockholm was the hills. It sounds ridiculous, but after so much time in flat Denmark, my body had temporarily forgotten about the effort it takes to walk on an incline. The oldest part of the city is built in layers, staircases and narrow streets (including what is supposedly the narrowest street in Europe), which makes getting lost easy. But the small size of Gamla Stan, the old city, erases any cause for concern. Stockholm is built on fourteen islands, so you are never far from bridges and waterways. I am here in October, and while the air is crisp, it is clear, and there is still enough light around dinnertime to view the colorful old buildings and modern offices lining the waterfront.


People say Stockholm is caffeine obsessed, and judging from the amount of customers coming in and out of the coffee shop I’m sitting in, I have no evidence to refute that. I have some time—I’m waiting for my friend who is studying here to get out of class—and I just finished my book (the wonderful My Soul to Take by Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurdardottir), so a reflection over a cup of Chai feels natural. My plane ride from Copenhagen to Stockholm lasted long enough for me to see the archipelagos of Sweden from above, but it hardly felt longer than a typical commute, so it continues to surprise me how distinct the two cities are. While the Scandinavian commonalities remain, Stockholm, like Copenhagen, is a unique entity.


Stockholm is simultaneously timeless and progressive; while modernism and urban design have certainly changed the city since its medieval years, it almost seems like the city managed to avoid the downsides of the industrial revolution. It is clean, efficient, and calm. Even in the busy areas of the city the predominant attitude seems to be one of relaxation and trust. This attitude has worked its way up to the highest levels of Stockholm’s society. In Sweden, the government mandates ‘fika breaks,’ (coffee breaks) between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner, and the country has recently begun to explore moving to a six-hour workweek, a move that hasn’t exactly been lauded by economists, but would increase the Swedes’ already sky-high quality of life.


Stockholm is also an epicenter of culture. With almost 100 museums in the city, it would have been impossible to visit them all, but I was lucky enough to see one—the Vasa. While it was a total failure of a ship, the Vasa is an incredible museum. Built around the recovered remains of a sunken vessel that barely made it out of the harbor, it is an incredible look back into history, and an exercise in using modern technology to preserve a piece of history, (keeping a ship from the 1600s that sat at the bottom of the ocean for several centuries from rotting is no easy task). But Stockholm’s culture is not confined to within museum walls; many of the stops along the city’s modern and effective metro system are massive art installations.


Every city is more than the sum of its parts, and Stockholm is a perfect example of this. It is geographically large, but as you walk around the old city and sit in the coffee shops, it feels cozy. For a city that may have become best known by Americans through The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, it feels incredibly safe. As the days grow shorter, and the Christmas decorations are going up, the people of Stockholm will move closer to the fire, and enjoy meals of meatballs, mashed potatoes, and lingonberries (I recommend all three). The Swedes and the Danes may butt heads occasionally, but it is clear that they both understand the concept of hygge—the coziness that comes with being warm and comfortable with the people close to you. In the past, this may have been necessary for survival in the cold Scandinavian north, but today, it makes for a lovely afternoon.


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