Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hemliga Rum 2008

JoeSaturday was Hemliga Rum 2008 in Sweden. For one day Statens Fastighetsverk, or SFV, opened 27 properties around the country to the public. SFV manages all of the publicly held properties in Sweden (about one seventh of Sweden's total land mass, actually), including palaces, museums, state forests, and all the Swedish Embassies. While SFV is at pains to point out that these properties are "owned by the Swedes collectively," that doesn't mean that they are all normally open for public viewing. But twice now, once in 2004 and then this past Saturday, SFV has taken a day and opened a bunch of stuff you can't normally get in to.
The 27 properties [see map] are spread throughout the country (including one in that wild, eastern Swedish province known as "Finland"), but Hemliga Rum only lasts for one day, so there's no getting to everything. Actually, its worse than that: the buildings were only open from 11:00 to 16:00, just five hours. There were about a dozen sites in Storstockholm, so I set off bright and early Saturday morning to see what I could see. By the time I was on the train, it was clear that heading to Stockholm on a sunny and pleasant Saturday morning was far from an original idea for an Uppsalabo, as the train was packed. Just as I was beginning to worry that I wouldn't get a seat, a woman sitting in a fold down, sideways facing seat (crammed between the back of a regular row and a bulkhead) got up, said something unintelligble to me, shrugged, and walked off. Not knowing quite what to make of that, I took the seat. There were at least a dozen people in my car alone who spent the whole trip sitting on the floor.

I got to my first stop at 10:45, and it was a pretty typical example of how the day would go. There was a line of people waiting to get in which stretched down the street. The line was being worked by people in period costume, handing out informational leaflets about the site in particular and the day in general, along with caramels for the adults and balloons for the children. All of the information was in Swedish, and there were no guided tours, so I was able to glean only a limited amount of knowledge about each location.
I managed to see five locations, everything that was available in the downtown area, and somehow I contrived to view them in order of decreasing awesomeness. First up, Centralposthuset, completed in 1903 and retired in 2001, and now being renovated into a government office complex (it's destined to be one the most secure buildings in the country by next year). The gentlemen were dressed as postal clerks, and the ladies as, well, turn of the century ladies I suppose. The building takes up a square city block, and is built around three large wells, a large one in the back that extends to the ground floor (now used as the main entrance) and two smaller ones that stop at the second floor (converted into dining areas now). Highlights include the original Nouveau entry hall and the 7th floor tower room.
Next up was the old military tunnels under Skeppsholmen. Skeppsholm Island housed military forces of various stripes from the 16th century right up until the late 1960s, and some time in the first half of the 20th century (between WWI and WWII, I think) there were a series of bunkers drilled out of the native rock of the island. It's not clear to me what exactly the portions I toured were used for, although the display of WWII era naval mines and the tunnels labeled "Torpedo" do hint at some sort of naval munitions connection. There was also an administrative section, but that's still off limits, apparently.
Just above the tunnels was the next stop, Skeppsholmen Church, which isn't used as a church anymore—not surprising when you consider that no one actually lives on Skeppsholmen. Anyway, the church is a large octagonal affair, surprisingly light and airy. Most of the inside has been cleared out so that the building can be used as some sort of assembly hall, but the lectern remained, complete with its decoration of unidentifiable fish creatures, which is always a plus.
Despite the very long lines for the Post Office and the bunkers (the church had no waiting at all), by now it was only 2 PM. So I sat in a park and ate the lunch that I had packed (train tickets are cheap and admission was free, but buying a cheap lunch in Stockholm would have made this an expensive day indeed). Somewhat refreshed, I moved on to the next two items on my list. Both of these were located on the next island to the west, Gamla Stan, which is overrun with tourists pretty much 24/7 once the weather breaks. Nothing for it, though, so I gritted my teeth and waded in. The lines were a bit longer here, more on the three block long scale, but not as long as I'd feared, despite the masses of tourists. Now that I think about it, I don't believe I heard anyone speaking English in any of the SFV buildings I went to that day. The whole event seems to have been aimed more at Swedes than at visitors. Whatever the reason for the line length, in half an hour I was inside Tessin Palace, a lovely little place built across the way from the Royal Palace by the architect of the latter. It currently serves as the residence of the Governor of Stockholm County, and the palace itself wasn't open, but the wonderful Italianate garden at its center was, complete with a bloke in a Renaissance frock painting landscapes and a couple of ladies sawing away on lutes.
Well, that wasn't bad, but after a few minutes I felt I'd seen what there was to see, so it was on to Oxenstierna Palace. This is really more of a house, the first wing of an intended palace commissioned by Axel Oxenstierna, a man who looms large over Swedish history. He never got around to living there, so it went on to house a number of Ministries of the Swedish Government over the years. Nowadays its pretty much a big empty building with a lot of tiny rooms in it and a nice view of the back end of the Royal Palace. Oh, and on this particular day, a large number of attractive young Swedish ladies in what were presumably supposed to be 17th century dresses.
By the time I was done with that, the day was nearly over. If I'd known exactly how to get to one of the other sites I might have just managed it before closing, but they all involved commuter trains, bus routes I don't know, and neighborhoods I've never been to, so after a bit of half-hearted staring at a T-Ban map, I decided to throw in the towel. Incidentally, the train ride home was nearly as crowded as the morning had been, but apparently I'm not as smooth with the automated SJ ticket machines as I thought, because I accidentally bought myself a non-refundable first class ticket for the ride home. Alas, I had no choice but to recline in quiet, isolated luxury during a ride made abnormally long by the three times we came to a dead stop. Even with all that, I managed to get home well before 6, and be showered and dined before the telecast of the Eurovision finals began at 9. But that, gentle reader, is a horrifying story for another post.

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