Last summer, at about this exact time, Alvis and I journeyed to Gothenburg, Sweden to attend an Ed Sheeran concert. And ended up falling in love with Sweden’s second largest city. Here are some impressions:
Fun Fact: Gothenburg is the ‘fika’ capital of the world.
Fika is Swedish for a coffee break that’s more about socialising than drinking coffee. It is a social phenomenon, a legitimate reason to set aside a moment for quality time. Fika can happen at any time, morning as well as evening. It can be savoured at home, at work or in a café. It can be with colleagues, family, friends, or someone you are trying to get to know. It is a tradition observed frequently, preferably several times a day.
Fun Fact: Gothenburg is the London of the Nordics
This is due to the English and Scottish population that the industrialization of 1800’s attracted to the city. Many of them made their fortunes in the trade across North Sea to Britain and it is thanks to their generous donations that Gothenburg received its Library, University and Hospital.
Fun Fact: Gothenburg was influenced by the Dutch, the Scots, the English and the Germans.
Gothenburg was founded as a heavily fortified, primarily Dutch, trading colony, by royal charter in 1621 by King Gustavus Adolphus. In addition to the generous privileges (e.g. tax relaxation) given to his Dutch allies from the then-ongoing Thirty Years’ War, the king also attracted significant numbers of his German and Scottish allies to populate his only town on the western coast. At a key strategic location at the mouth of the Gota alv, where Scandinavia’s largest drainage basin enters the sea, the Port of Gothenburg is now the largest port in the Nordic countries.
Along with the Dutch, the town also was heavily influenced by Scots who settled down in Gothenburg. Many became people of high-profile. William Chalmers, the son of a Scottish immigrant, donated his fortunes to set up what later became the Chalmers University of Technology. In 1841, the Scotsman Alexander Keiller founded the Gotaverken shipbuilding company that was in business until 1989. His son James Keiller donated Keiller Park to the city in 1906.
The harbour developed into Sweden’s main harbour for trade towards the west, and when Swedish emigration to the United States increased, Gothenburg became Sweden’s main point of departure for these travelers. The impact of Gothenburg as a main port of embarkation for Swedish emigrants is reflected by the establishment of Gothenburg in Nebraska, a small Swedish settlement in the United States.
Fun Fact: Gothenburg’s Café Husaren in the Haga district, is home to the world’s largest cinnamon roll.
Nothing says fika more than a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll. The cinnamon roll or bun (or kanelbulle) was first created after the First World War but, as the ingredients (flour, sugar, egg, butter, sugar cinnamon and cardamom) were expensive and hard to find, it did not become popular until the 1950s. These days, it is the ultimate symbol of Swedish home cooking and, as any Swede will tell you, the smell of newly baked cinnamon rolls is best smell in the world.
The cinnamon bun is so popular that, in 1999, a collective of Swedish baking ingredient producers known as Sweden’s Home Baking Council, announced that October 4th would henceforth be Cinnamon Bun Day (Kanelbullens dag).
Fun Fact: Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden (next to the capital Stockholm) and the fifth largest in the whole of Scandinavia.
Starting our stroll at the top of Gothenburg’s main street called Kungsportsavenyn or Avenyn, we saw:
A statue of Karin Boye – In Sweden she is acclaimed as a poet, but internationally she is best known for the dystopian science fiction novel Kallocain (1940).
Kallocain – Inspired by her visit to Germany during the rise of Nazism, it was a portrayal of a dystopian society in the vein of George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-four’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ (though written almost a decade before Orwell’s magnum opus). In the novel, an idealistic scientist named Leo Kall invents Kallocain, a kind of truth serum. The novel was filmed in Sweden in 1981 and was the main influence on the movie ‘Equilibrium’.
Non-Violence is a bronze sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Frederick Reutersward, of an oversized Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver with a knotted barrel and the muzzle pointing upwards. Reuterswärd made this sculpture after singer-songwriter and peace activitst John Lennon was murdered.
Since 1993, the sculpture has been the symbol of ‘The Non-Violece Project’, a non-profit organization that promotes social change through violence-prevention education programs.
A statue of Poseidon during the day….
….and Poseidon at night.
Emma Strode’s sculpture called ‘Nikes Goteborg’, which was a tribute to Karl IX’s city of Gothenburg, also known as ‘Copper Mare’….
…or used as a leaning post for this guy…..
Interesting innovation in jeans….
These are Kikazaru, Mizaru and Iwazaru, who, together, embody the principle ‘Hear no evil, See no evil and Speak no evil. They hang out on high poles near the Post Hotel.
The sculpture is called “Dröm” (Dream) and was made by Catalan Spanish artist Jaume Plensa.
When switched on, they each change colour dramatically against the night sky….like the image above.
Statues of fishermen in front of Feskekorka – or Fish Church.
Feskekorka: “fish church” – is an indoor fish market in Gothenburg, which got its name from the building’s resemblance to a Neo-Gothic church. It opened on 1 November 1874, and was drawn by the city architect Victor von Gegerfelt.
Feskekôrka is an institution in Gothenburg as well as a tourist magnet, housing one of the city’s oldest trades, fishing.
Made of bronze and stone by Tilda Lovell, ‘Oraklet’ or ‘The Oracle’ has been sitting near the intersection of Korsgatan and Kyrkogatan in Gothenburg, since Dec 2015.
British sculptor Laura Ford’s Weeping Girl stands weeping in Gothenburg’s Central Station.
Aside from the Sheeran concert, we’ve had an inadvertently musical time here in Gothenburg. Our hotel was located in what can only be described as the up and coming hipster neighbourhood. While wandering around (to find Alvi some vegan food) we found this dive bar.
Appropriately tattooed, bearded, top-knotted bikers were having beers outside, while inside the tiny place, a table of bare-footed, long-haired dudes were noshing on 100% vegan fare.
Shortly after we sit down, in the next tiny room, a band begins to play – in English – in Canadian English. We make the journey of 3 steps into the next room, and join the two other gathered audience members to enjoy the live music.
The name of the band is That Dog Was A Band Now. During their first set of some 8 songs, the lead singer lets us know that he is Canadian….and the rest of the band are Swedish.
The bare-footed lead singer is also the song-writer, and I have to say, he’s pretty good. The drummer plays the harmonica, and he’s good too. The music reminds me a little of a folksy Neil Young. Have a listen:
In the stifling heat, in the hipster neighbourhood in Gothenburg, we’re having a beer with Andy from Edmonton, and his band from Sweden, who are touring Europe, and will stop in Denmark to make their first album. On our way out, we offer the boys accommodations if they ever find themselves in Croatia, and as we pass their merch table with 2 CDs and 3 T-shirts on it, they begin their second set – their four member audience is now lessened by us two. Great show!
We began the next morning in the Haga district, by having some fika, and coffee and pastries in Gothenburg’s famous coffee house called Café Husaren.
A stroll through this wonderful neighbourhood yielded impressions such as these:
Before heading over to the Sheeran concert, we decided to explore the Majorna neighbourhood. Gotta say, it was lovely. Alvis- as always needs food, so we stop at the coolest little place I’ve seen in a long while. We’re chatting with the fellow who is taking our order when he asks where we are from.
‘Canada’, Alvi answers.
‘Mats Sundin’, he says, with a big grin.
‘My favourite’, Alvi replies.
And we are off on a ten minute conversation about hockey…..
‘I just saw Mats on the TV’, the fellow says.
‘Oh really?’ – Alvi.
“Yeah, he’s fat now” – the fellow.
“Oh noooooo!” – Alvi.
‘Yeah – but still good” – fellow.
“Mats was my favourite Leaf ever” – Alvi.
‘What about Ty Domi” – asks the fellow.
“We met Ty Domi at the Rose Water Café in Toronto” – Alvi.
‘Really?” – fellow.
‘Yeah – he’s got legs the size of tree trunks and he’s kinda short” – Alvi.
‘And kinda crazy” – fellow.
And everyone laughs.
Turns out the fellow was also going to the Sheeran concert, and he gave us some great tips on what to see in his town.
And we had a great vegan meal at the ‘What’s the Deli’ in hipsterville.
Passing the famous ‘Hundbar’, we made our way to Ullevi Stadium…to see Ed Sheeran live….
Ed Sheeran was excellent! It is super impressive that one guy commands the attention of some 60,000 concert goers…
As we were enjoying ‘My Galway Girl’, I get a text message from a friend in Canada, who was watching the semi-final World Cup football game between England and Croatia…..
During ‘Shape of You’…
…I receive another text message with an update – this time saying that she thinks that Croatia might win the semi final.
The concert ends and we join the throngs of fans leaving the stadium. As we make our way to the tram station, I notice that many people are walking and looking down at their phones. After I hear a collective roar, and people shouting ‘Goal!’, ‘Goal!’, ‘Goal!’, I run up to two guys looking at their phones, and I ask the score. And they shout ‘Croatia wins! Croatia wins!’
Holy cow! Croatia wins the semi, and like that, is in the final. Despite losing to France, the Croats hail their squad as heroes. Check out the celebration as their team returned home. Croatia – small….. but mighty…
As an avid practitioner of ‘hygge’, (the practise of coziness needed to survive any Swedish winter) and now a fan of fika (see above) combined with the super cool vibe of Gothenburg, I feel like I could live here. At the very least, I look forward to a return visit!