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Arland O. Fiske: Story of Stockholm’s ‘Gamla Stan’

One of the quaint places to visit in Scandinavia is “Gamla Stan” (“Old Town”) in Stockholm. It is built near the royal palace. A fortification was erected there about 1150 for the city’s defense.  The present palace was completed in 1760. It’s now a museum open to visitors. The royal family has chosen to live where they have more privacy.

Sixty-eight places of interest are pointed out to visitors on this peninsula connected with bridges to the city’s main shopping area to the north. It contains some of the most interesting old buildings in Sweden. Many have been restored and are used for businesses.

We stayed in the Reisen Hotel along the east edge of Gamla Stan that overlooks the waterway connected to the Baltic Sea. Through the hotel window, we saw ocean liners coming in to dock and ferries transporting people to their homes on the many islands making up the metropolitan area of Sweden’s capital city. On a clear day, the sailboats are cutting the waves.

We went on a walking tour through Gamla Stan. Next to the palace was the Storkyrkan (the cathedral) with its famous statue of St. George and the Dragon, a favorite mythology of Scandinavia. As we passed the German Church, we visited with a man coming out of fenced enclosure. He filled us in with the history of the German community in the city.

Stockholm has had a large German community since 1600. German is the second language for many of the city’s inhabitants. It’s no secret that during World War I the Swedish king favored his German wife’s homeland. During World War II, however, the royal family detested Hitler and gave whatever help they could to both Denmark and Norway. There is also a Finnish Church just north of the cathedral. Sweden ruled Finland for about 600 years until 1809. Travel between the two countries is still common.

A few blocks to the west is Riddar Holmen, an island that is now connected to Gamla Stan. In the 13th century it was the home of Franciscan monks who built a cloister. One of the famous names in Stockholm and on this island is Birger Jarl who founded the city. His statue was erected in 1854 and occupies a commanding position.

It’s a good idea to have your camera when you visit these historic sites. Not only are there many unusual examples of architecture, but you can get a good history lesson just from seeing the statues that seem to be everywhere. This particularly true in Stockholm, because there has not been a military battle in the city for almost 500 years.

Gamla Stan has a variety of small shops that are international in character. The Swedish “krone” (crown) had been devalued when we were there the last time so that American money went a long way. We also get our money’s worth because Swedish craftsmanship is famous for its quality, especially crystal, furs, woolen clothing and steel products. I usually look for bookstores and was not disappointed.

It’s a wonder that this area has been so well preserved. Fires have destroyed many of the original buildings. The Swedes are proud of their past and have spent the money necessary to rebuild historical sites. If you want to see the best of Old Sweden, a visit to Gamla Stan alone is worth the trip to this great and beautiful country.

Next Week: Bindslev – A small town in Denmark.

ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who previously lived in Laporte and now lives in Texas, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes.