Notes from Stockholm
Sweden has had unusual weather this year. We will soon enter November, but the winter is not as harsh as it usually is around this time of year. Moreover, it was an unusually warm summer in Sweden this year. For most part of the summer, the temperature remained in the 30s. Having seen fiercer Indian summers most of my life, this weather didn’t surprise me. But Sweden last experienced such a warm summer 260 year back, which means that no Swede alive today has ever experienced such hot days for so long in the Nordics where the usual summer temperatures hover around 20 degrees.
As a result, Sweden literally burnt this summer. Forest fires raged across Sweden. Close to 20,000 hectares of forests burnt in the wildfires. Under-equipped, Sweden called for help from the Italian, German, Norwegian, Danish, Polish and French firefighters, who promptly came to assist.
And there was little rainfall, the absence which led to a drought. Given the water shortage, notices were sent out to people to avoid watering their grass and plants. Most worryingly, Sweden’s highest peak, a glacier on the southern tip of the 2106-meter-high Kebnekaise mountain, started to melt due to the hot Arctic temperatures. Swedish scientists keeping a watch concluded in the middle of the summer, that it’s no longer the nation’s tallest point given that four metres of snow have melted away.
However, there was a silver lining amidst all this heat. The prolonged warm weather was such a rarity that Swedes headed out to the beaches in hoards, holding on to their picnic baskets and popsicles. Gone were the vacation plans to the beaches of Greece and Turkey, replaced with a staycation in summer houses along the long Swedish coastline.
In Stockholm, the outdoor scene ramped up. Most evenings, live bands played in Kungtrådgården (centrally located royal gardens, open to public) till late night. Outdoor cafes and pop-up stores selling gelato mushroomed, and cold brew gained favoured with the locals. On one such afternoon, I took out time to walk to the old town, Gamla Stan. As usual, it was crowded with the tourists aimlessly wandering through this labyrinthine complex. The Royal Palace is in this part of the city, and the tourist usually line up to get their pictures taken with the royal guards on duty. I felt for these guards who, surrounded with tourists in short and tees, were dressed in their full uniform, including thick leather shoes and a cap, Despite the heat, they maintained a stoic impression, marching by with impassive look on their faces. Someone pass them a bottle of water, please!
Another wildfire that’s swept Sweden this year was the release of Mamma Mia’s sequel, Mamma Mia - Here We Go Again. The movie halls were packed, filled with people from every generation. There was almost a festive environment inside the movie-halls, with the audience singing along the famous ABBA songs which form the fabric of the musical. Usually, in the movie-halls, people are scorned for making the slightest of noises, let alone singing. But not here. Every single song had people clapping and singing and swooning.
Most Swedes have grown up listening to ABBA, which arguably is the most successful cultural export from Sweden. ABBA is also the most notable Eurovision winner, and were put directly into the spotlight following their win in the 1974 contest with their song "Waterloo".
Well, if the potent mix of an unusual summer and ABBA musical is not a reason enough to come to Sweden, then there is one more. That’s the ABBA museum which opened in Stockholm few years back. Here on display is, among others, Benny's Piano. It’s a self-playing piano linked to band member Benny's personal piano. When Benny plays his personal piano at home, so plays this one at the museum!
A version of this story appeared in The Hindu