Little bears are missing the party place.
And the party place is missing them! We just received these photos from Visit Abisko. Tack!
The Noble Museum is a small museum on the ground floor of the beautiful 18th century former stock exchange building in the heart of Stockholm old town. The rest of the building is used by the Swedish Academy that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature. A Nobel Centre will be built on the Blasieholmen peninsula, at Nybroviken, an inlet of the Baltic Sea in the heart of Stockholm, next to the National Museum. The Nobel Centre is still a few years away. The Nobel Museum will probably have room to expand in the new location.
The museum has a section dedicated to the life of Alfred Nobel, a section for the growing collection of artefacts donated by various Nobel laureates and a section for the Nobel Prize ceremony at Stockholm Town Hall. Then there is a display area for information on all Nobel Prize Laureates and an area for exhibitions.
When little Puffles and Honey visited, the exhibition was Literary Rebellion – Images of Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature by Kim Manresa and Xavi Ayén.
In Literary Rebellion, twelve Nobel Laureates in Literature are depicted in the Spanish photographer Kim Manresa’s gripping and beautiful images. The authors have in different ways used their writing as a way to question, create change and make resistance. Through their literature, they have in different ways worked to create and maintain spaces for the free word.
The Nobel Laureates in Literature whose authorships were highlighted in the exhibition are: Svetlana Alexievich (2015), Dario Fo (1997), Nadine Gordimer (1991), Imre Kertész (2002), Doris Lessing (2007), Toni Morrison (1993), Herta Müller (2009), Orhan Pamuk (2006), Kenzaburo Oe (1994), José Saramago (1998), Wole Soyinka (1986) and Wisława Szymborska (1996).
Winning a Nobel Prize is considered one of the world’s greatest honours. The laureates for Literature have caused quite a stir at times.
The Swedish Academy’s selection of British writer Kazuo Ishiguro as its 2017 literature laureate was well-received, but this has not always been the case.
The Academy’s decision to bestow its distinguished literary award — and the accompanying $1.1 million (€937,000) prize — to Bob Dylan in 2016 unleashed a storm of criticism, with many arguing the American musician and songwriter did not deserve an award that was typically bestowed on novelists, dramatists, and writers of non-fiction. Dylan’s reluctant acknowledgement of the award and his decision to be absent at the official award ceremony only added fuel to the fire.
Other individual recipients have led to outcry and insults, such as Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2010 literature laureate who was said to focus more on politics than prose. And Russian dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s decision not to attend his 1970 Stockholm prize ceremony due to fear of Soviet repression escalated to the point that he said the Swedes’ conditions for acceptance were “an insult to the Nobel Prize itself”.
In addition, the Academy itself has been accused of Eurocentrism and gender biases. Critics of the literature award, in particular, argue it is highly subjective.
Based on the will of philanthropist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, the award should go to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Yet there is no unanimous consensus on what constitutes this “ideal”.
Giant of American letters John Steinbeck beat the British authors Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell to win the Nobel prize for literature in 1962, but he was not a popular choice. The names of 66 authors were put forward for the prize that year, with the shortlist consisting of Steinbeck, Graves, Durrell, French dramatist Jean Anouilh and Danish author Karen Blixen (author of Out of Africa, rendered herself ineligible by dying that September).
Although Steinbeck was praised by the committee “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception” when his win was announced, the declassified documents show he was actually chosen as the best of a bad lot. “There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation,” wrote committee member Henry Olsson. How about not awarding a prize then?!?
The choice was heavily criticised, and described as “one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes” in one Swedish newspaper. The New York Times asked why the Nobel committee gave the award to an author whose “limited talent is, in his best books, watered down by tenth-rate philosophising”, adding; “we think it interesting that the laurel was not awarded to a writer … whose significance, influence and sheer body of work had already made a more profound impression on the literature of our age”. Steinbeck himself, when asked if he deserved the Nobel, replied: “Frankly, no.”
Moving on… to the display on Alfred Nobel.
Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm on October 21, 1833. His father Immanuel Nobel was an engineer and inventor who built bridges and buildings in Stockholm. In connection with his construction work Immanuel Nobel also experimented with different techniques for blasting rocks.
Alfred’s mother, born Andriette Ahlsell, came from a wealthy family. Due to misfortunes in his construction work caused by the loss of some barges of building material, Immanuel Nobel was forced into bankruptcy the same year Alfred Nobel was born. In 1837 Immanuel Nobel left Stockholm and his family to start a new career in Finland and in Russia. To support the family, Andriette Nobel started a grocery store which provided a modest income. Meanwhile Immanuel Nobel was successful in his new enterprise in St. Petersburg. He started a mechanical workshop which provided equipment for the Russian army and he also convinced the Tsar and his generals that naval mines could be used to block enemy naval ships from threatening the city.
The naval mines designed by Immanuel Nobel were simple devices consisting of submerged wooden casks filled with gunpowder. Anchored below the surface of the Gulf of Finland, they effectively deterred the British Royal Navy from moving into firing range of St. Petersburg during the Crimean war (1853-1856). Immanuel Nobel was also a pioneer in arms manufacture and in designing steam engines.
Successful in his industrial and business ventures, Immanuel Nobel was able, in 1842, to bring his family to St. Petersburg. There, his sons were given a first class education by private teachers. The training included natural sciences, languages and literature. By the age of 17, Alfred Nobel was fluent in Swedish, Russian, French, English and German. His primary interests were in English literature and poetry as well as in chemistry and physics. Alfred’s father, who wanted his sons to join his enterprise as engineers, disliked Alfred’s interest in poetry and found his son rather introverted. In order to widen Alfred’s horizons his father sent him abroad for further training in chemical engineering. During a two-year period, Alfred Nobel visited Sweden, Germany, France and the United States.
In Paris, the city he came to like best, he worked in the private laboratory of Professor T. J. Pelouze, a famous chemist. There he met the young Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero who, three years earlier, had invented nitroglycerine, a highly explosive liquid. Nitroglycerine was produced by mixing glycerine with sulphuric and nitric acid. It was considered too dangerous to be of any practical use. Although its explosive power greatly exceeded that of gunpowder, the liquid would explode in a very unpredictable manner if subjected to heat and pressure. Alfred Nobel became very interested in nitroglycerine and how it could be put to practical use in construction work. He also realized that the safety problems had to be solved and a method had to be developed for the controlled detonation of nitroglycerine. In the United States he visited John Ericsson, the Swedish-American engineer who had developed the screw propeller for ships.
In 1852 Alfred Nobel was asked to come back and work in the family enterprise which was booming because of its deliveries to the Russian army. Together with his father he performed experiments to develop nitroglycerine as a commercially and technically useful explosive. As the war ended and conditions changed, Immanuel Nobel was again forced into bankruptcy. Immanuel and two of his sons, Alfred and Emil, left St. Petersburg together and returned to Stockholm. His other two sons, Robert and Ludvig, remained in St. Petersburg. With some difficulties they managed to salvage the family enterprise and then went on to develop the oil industry in the southern part of the Russian empire. They were very successful and became some of the wealthiest persons of their time.
After his return to Sweden in 1863, Alfred Nobel concentrated on developing nitroglycerine as an explosive. Several explosions, including one (1864) in which his brother Emil and several other persons were killed, convinced the authorities that nitroglycerine production was exceedingly dangerous. They forbade further experimentation with nitroglycerine within the Stockholm city limits and Alfred Nobel had to move his experimentation to a barge anchored on Lake Mälaren. Alfred was not discouraged and in 1864 he was able to start mass production of nitroglycerine. To make the handling of nitroglycerine safer Alfred Nobel experimented with different additives. He soon found that mixing nitroglycerine with kieselguhr would turn the liquid into a paste which could be shaped into rods of a size and form suitable for insertion into drilling holes. In 1867 he patented this material under the name of dynamite. To be able to detonate the dynamite rods he also invented a detonator (blasting cap) which could be ignited by lighting a fuse. These inventions were made at the same time as the diamond drilling crown and the pneumatic drill came into general use. Together these inventions drastically reduced the cost of blasting rock, drilling tunnels, building canals and many other forms of construction work.
The market for dynamite and detonating caps grew very rapidly and Alfred Nobel also proved himself to be a very skilful entrepreneur and businessman. By 1865 his factory in Krümmel near Hamburg, Germany, was exporting nitroglycerine explosives to other countries in Europe, America and Australia. Over the years he founded factories and laboratories in some 90 different places in more than 20 countries.
Although he lived in Paris much of his life, he was constantly traveling. Victor Hugo at one time described him as “Europe’s richest vagabond”. When he was not traveling or engaging in business activities Nobel himself worked intensively in his various laboratories, first in Stockholm and later in Hamburg (Germany), Ardeer (Scotland), Paris and Sevran (France), Karlskoga (Sweden) and San Remo (Italy). He focused on the development of explosives technology as well as other chemical inventions, including such materials as synthetic rubber and leather, artificial silk, etc. By the time of his death in 1896 he had 355 patents.
Intensive work and travel did not leave much time for a private life. At the age of 43 he was feeling like an old man. At this time he advertised in a newspaper “Wealthy, highly-educated elderly gentleman seeks lady of mature age, versed in languages, as secretary and supervisor of household.” The most qualified applicant turned out to be an Austrian woman, Countess Bertha Kinsky. After working a very short time for Nobel she decided to return to Austria to marry Count Arthur von Suttner. In spite of this, Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner remained friends and kept writing letters to each other for decades. Over the years Bertha von Suttner became increasingly critical of the arms race. She wrote a famous book, Lay Down Your Arms and became a prominent figure in the peace movement. No doubt this influenced Alfred Nobel when he wrote his final will which was to include a Prize for persons or organizations who promoted peace. Several years after the death of Alfred Nobel, the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) decided to award the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize to Bertha von Suttner.
When Alfred Nobel died in 1896, he bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to create five annual prizes honouring ingenuity. He wrote his will in Swedish a year before his death while he lived in Paris, and the portion dealing with the prizes was one long paragraph. It named the groups to make the awards: the Karolinska Institute (medicine), the Swedish Academy of Sciences (chemistry and physics), the Swedish Academy (literature) and the Norwegian Parliament (peace). Nobel named these institutions without consulting them first! And the prize money was to come from a non-existent foundation that his executors had to create posthumously! He bequeathed his fortune to this foundation, that would then provide the funds to the various institutions.
Nobel said in his will that he wanted to reward those “who during the preceding year shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” in five categories. The economics prize was created later, after an endowment from the Swedish central bank (Sveriges Riksbank) in 1968 “in memory of Alfred Nobel”. The Economic Sciences prize has been awarded every year since 1969.
The Nobel prizes almost never came to be, largely because of the unsophisticated way Nobel drew up his will. It was flawed and legally deficient because he lived in many places and never established a legal residence. Nobel resided for many years in France, made intermittent visits to a home in Sweden and amassed assets in many countries before dying of a stroke at his villa in Italy.
To secret Nobel’s French assets to the Swedish consulate in Paris before claims might be made on them there, the will’s principal executor literally sat on Nobel’s millions as he rode a horse-drawn cab through Paris. “I sat with a revolver at the ready in case of a direct attack or a prearranged collision with another vehicle, a trick not unusual among thieves in Paris at the time,” the executor, Ragnar Sohlman, wrote in The Legacy of Alfred Nobel, which was published in English in 1983.
Large philanthropic gifts to science were rare in Nobel’s day. Moreover, establishing annual international prizes in any field was novel. And controversial. News of Nobel’s plan sent shock waves through Sweden with the intensity of a dynamite blast.
Bitter members of Nobel’s largely disinherited family fought the will in court. Scorn was heaped on Nobel’s gift, the equivalent of $9.5 million and one of the largest fortunes of his time, by the king of Sweden, Oscar II, newspapers, political leaders and other Swedes.
Nobel’s earnings came from his 355 patents and factories in many countries. Swedish leaders vehemently opposed dispersing a Swedish fortune to the rest of the world. Among their reasons: it was immoral, particularly at a time when many Swedes were impoverished.
King Oscar II changed his mind after the Nobel Foundation was established in 1900, in part because he thought publicity about the prizes might benefit Sweden. He was too ill to attend the first ceremony in 1901. Starting in 1902, Oscar II and his royal successors have handed the prizes to the laureates on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.
Alfred Nobel never explained his choice of prize categories. Chemistry and physics seem obvious choices because he was a trained chemical engineer.
The medical prize appears to reflect his heritage and interests. A 17th century ancestor, Olof Rudbeck the Elder, a professor of medicine at Uppsala University, was a discoverer of the human lymphatic system. With other researchers, Nobel discussed experiments in blood transfusions. While alive, he gave generously for research at the Karolinska Institute and at Ivan Pavlov’s laboratory in Russia.
Nobel often relieved his depression by writing fiction, drama and poetry, which probably explains his interest in the literature prize.
The reason for the peace prize is less clear. Many say it was to compensate for developing destructive forces. But his explosives, except for ballistite, were not used in any war during his lifetime.
Swedes were astonished that Nobel prepared his will unaided and without consulting the executors of his estate and the institutions that he entrusted to make the awards.
Ragnar Sohlman had to persuade the Swedish institutions to overcome many objections before agreeing to administer the prizes. The new demand was costly and added to the workload of academicians whose salaries were meagre. No blueprint existed to guide the prize juries. Those “who during the preceding year shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” was a rather non-specific and subjective directive. Sweden had produced leading scientists, but insecurity existed about whether a small group of scientists in a small country could effectively judge claims for the discoveries made worldwide.
If any institution that Nobel named in his will rejected his charge, there probably would be no prizes. But by 1900, Mr. Sohlman had gained their cooperation.
The Karolinska Institute decided to primarily reward fundamental biomedical research, not clinical research. That action is credited for linking medicine to the emerging wave of laboratory science illustrated, for example, by Louis Pasteur, a chemist and bacteriologist. Pasteur, who died the year Nobel wrote his will, was ineligible for a prize because the Nobels are not awarded posthumously.
There were many competitors for the first awards, which went to well-recognized scientists: a German, Emil von Behring, for developing a diphtheria immunization; a German, Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen, in physics for the discovery of X-rays; and a Dutchman, Jacobus H. van’t Hoff, for discovering the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions.
No more than three individuals can win in any science category. The system to choose Nobel medical prize laureates is costly. About $700,000 is spent for the research into the medical prize, now worth about $1.4 million.
The winners are announced in October, over consecutive days. But the nomination process for the next year’s prizes begins a month earlier. The Karolinska Institute asks 3,000 scientists and administrators to nominate by January 31 researchers who they believe have made the most prize-worthy discovery for consideration in that year’s competition.
The first prizes were awarded in 1901, five years after the death of Alfred Nobel. One hundred years later, the Nobel Museum was opened, as a fascinating homage to geniuses and their pathways to their Nobel Prize.
That took a while to read about… 🙂
And it’s time for lunch! At Bistro Nobel, located in the same building. We want this table!
Being on the short side 🙂 little bears easily found the chair signed by Barry Marshall.
In 2005, Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren were named joint winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of “the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease”. Professor Marshall is based at UWA and The Marshall Centre was founded in 2007 to celebrate the award of the Nobel Prize.
Love this photo from the Marshall Centre!
In the artefacts collection, we found the item donated by Professor Marshall, the sample jar that he used to drink the bacterium Helicobacter pylori in a broth solution. He contracted an infection, thereby proving that the bacterium causes gastric ulcers.
Next time you stop for a coffee or a meal at Bistro Nobel don’t forget to turn your chair upside down and see if it has been signed by one of the Nobel Laureates.
There is a more formal guest book for the laureates 🙂
Suitably fed, little Puffles and Honey went to explore Stockholm City Hall where great Nobel banquet is held.
Stockholm City Hall, with its spire featuring the golden Three Crowns, is one of the most famous silhouettes in Stockholm. It is one of the country’s leading examples of national romanticism in architecture. Designed by the architect Ragnar Östberg, the City Hall is built from eight million bricks. The 106-meter tall tower has the three crowns, which is the Swedish national coat of arms, at its apex. Behind the magnificent facades are offices and session halls for politicians and officials, as well as splendid assembly rooms and unique works of art. Stockholm’s municipal council meets in Rådssalen, the Council Chamber.
After dinner in Blå Hallen, the Blue Hall, Nobel Prize laureates, royalty and guests dance in Gyllene Salen, the Golden Hall, with its 18 million gold mosaic tiles.
Nobel laureates walk down the stairs to join the great Nobel banquet held in their honour. If they have stage fright 🙂 a star has been provided on the wall to help them focus!
The Blue Hall, with its straight walls and arcades, incorporates elements of a representative courtyard. But, not so blue! For a long time the architect, Ragnar Östberg, wanted to paint the brick walls in the Blue Hall blue, but he changed his mind when he saw how beautiful the red brick was. Although the hall remained red, he kept the name “Blå Hallen” (Blue Hall) because it was already in general use among Stockholmers. The Nobel Banquet takes place here in the City Hall’s largest ceremonial hall on 10 December every year. The actual prize award ceremony takes place at the Stockholm Concert Hall. The Blue Hall also houses one of the largest pipe organs in Scandinavia, with 10,000 pipes and 135 stops.
The walls of the Golden Hall are decorated with mosaics created by Einar Forseth, depicting the history of Sweden from the 9th century to the 1920s. The images consist of more than 18 million mosaic pieces made of glass and gold. The Queen of Lake Mälaren, that is, Stockholm in human form, sits on a throne and beside her there are figures and buildings from the rest of the world. The balls after the Nobel Banquet always take place in the Golden Hall.
The City Hall of Stockholm can only be visited with a guided tour. Little bears went walkabout 🙂
The Council Chamber is where the 101 members of Stockholm Municipal Council meet. The meetings are open to visitors, who are welcome to sit on one side of the gallery. On the opposite side there is a gallery for journalists. The painted opening in the beamed ceiling is designed to resemble a Viking longhouse.
The walls in the Oval Room are covered in tapestries which were woven at the end of the 17th century in Beauvais, France. On Saturdays civil weddings take place here.
From the Prince’s Gallery you can see the view over Lake Mälaren and Stockholm’s shores. On the other side of the room you can see the same motif in a painting by Prince Eugen. The black pillars are made of diabase rock. By the windows facing the water there are reliefs featuring male and female characters from Norse and classical mythology.
That was fun!
“Between four and five o’clock, the great new warship Vasa keeled over and sank.” A few short lines about a major disaster were written in a book on August 10, 1628. For a magnificent ship that sank on her very first voyage, this could have been the end. Instead, it was the beginning of an adventure that is still in progress. The Vasa was found almost intact, standing on the seabed, after three centuries. The ship was salvaged and it is on display at Stockholm’s Vasa Museum, one of Sweden’s most popular tourist destinations.
Stockholm, summer 1628. For three years, carpenters, pit-sawyers, smiths, ropemakers, glaziers, sailmakers, painters, boxmakers, woodcarvers and other specialists had worked on building the Navy’s new warship – the Vasa. She was a “royal ship”, the 17th century designation for the largest type of naval vessel. The Vasa was designed to be the foremost of Sweden’s war-ships, with a hull constructed from one thousand oaks, 64 large guns, masts more than fifty meters high and many hundred gilded and painted sculptures. The shipyard where the Vasa was built, Skeppsgården, was located on the island of Blasieholmen in the middle of Stockholm. In 1628, the Vasa was moored immediately below the Royal Castle. There, ballast was loaded, as well as the ammunition and guns required for the maiden voyage.
The new ship aroused the admiration and pride of Stockholmers, but intimidated the country’s enemies. We know that her construction was followed with interest abroad. One good source of information on the Vasa’s guns, for example, is a letter written by Erik Krabbe, the Danish Ambassador in Stockholm. Impressed, he reported that Vasa had 48 big guns for 24-pound ammunition, eight 3-pounders, two 1-pounders and six mortars.
By Sunday August 10, everything was ready for the maiden voyage. The weather was fine and the wind light. On board were around a hundred crew members, but also women and children. This was to be a great ceremonial occasion, with pomp and circumstance, so the crew had been given permission to take their first families on the first voyage out through the archipelago.
Countless curious spectators gathered in the harbor. They had plenty of time to follow the ship’s departure. The wind was from the south-west and, for the first few hundred meters, Vasa had to be pulled along using anchors. At Tranbodarma, the present-day Slussen, Captain Söfring Hansson issued the order: “Set the foresail, foretop, maintop and mizzen!”
The sailors climbed the rig and set four of the Vasa’s ten sails. The guns fired a salute and slowly, serenely, Vasa set off on her first voyage.
In a letter to the King, the Council of the Realm described the subsequent course of events: “When the ship left the shelter of Tegelvikden, a stronger wind entered the sails and she immediately began to heel over hard to the left side; she righted herself slightly again until she approached Beckholmen, where she heeled right over and water gushed in through the gun ports until she slowly went to the bottom under sail, pennants and all.”
Struck by a powerful gust of wind, Vasa capsized and sank after a voyage of only 1,300 meters.
Admiral Erik Jönsson witnessed the terrifying seconds on board when water poured in through the gun ports and the ship began to sink. Jönsson was inside the ship, checking the guns: “By the time I came up from the lower deck, the water had risen so high that the staircase had come loose and it was only with great difficulty that I climbed out.”
The Admiral became so “waterlogged and badly knocked about by the hatches” that he was near death for several days. Some fifty people are said to have followed Vasa into the deep.
Before continuing with the Vasa’s story, let us for a moment imagine what would have happened had the ship never sunk. As a warship, she was built for the purpose of warfare – the fact that she was the most heavily armed warship in the Baltic and perhaps of the day, with a total of 64 guns on board (including forty-eight large guns for 24-pounder ammunition, eight 3-pounders, two 1-pounders and six mortars) attests to this. Had she managed to leave the harbour, had she arrived in Prussia, had she recuperated the King, and had she gone off to war, one of two things would have happened. Either she would have had a successful career spanning between 20 and 30 years, after which she would have been dismantled as was customary for warships of the day, or she would have been so heavily damaged during combat that she would have met a watery grave following a bloody battle, lost to the world forever. In either case, the Vasa would not have been here today, and the contemporary world would have been all the poorer for it. By sinking, the Vasa did modern times a favour, and as such her sinking can be seen as a (very) fortunate tragedy.
News of the disaster did not reach the Swedish King, who was then in Prussia, until two weeks later. He wrote to the Council of the Realm in Stockholm that “imprudence and negligence” must have been the cause, and that the guilty parties must be punished.
Why did Vasa sink?
Where you intoxicated? Had you failed to secure the guns properly? Questions and accusations echoed in the hall at the Royal Castle. Just twelve hours after the loss of Vasa, her Danish-born captain Söfring Hansson, stood before the Council of the Realm. He had been taken prisoner immediately afterwards and the report on his interrogation has survived to this day.
“You can cut me in a thousand pieces if all the guns were not secured,” he answered. “And before God Almighty I swear that no one on board was intoxicated.”
Söfring Hansson thus swore that he was innocent.
“It was just a small gust of wind, a mere breeze, that overturned the ship,” Söfring Hansson went on to relate. “The ship was too unsteady, although all the ballast was on board.”
Thus, Söfring Hansson placed the blame on the ship’s design – and, by the same token, the shipbuilder.
When the crew were later questioned, they said the same thing. No mistake was made on board. It was impossible to load more ballast. The guns were properly lashed down. It was a Sunday, many people had been to Communion and no member of the crew was drunk. Instead, the fault lay in the unstable construction of the ship: the keel was too small in relation to the hull, the rig and the artillery.
“The ship is top-heavy with her masts and yards, sails and guns,” they declared.
Shipmaster Jöran Matsson also revealed that Vasa’s stability had been tested before sailing. Thirty men had run back and forth across Vasa’s deck when she was moored at the quay. After three runs, they had to stop – otherwise, Vasa would have capsized. Present during the test was Admiral Klas Fleming, one of the most influential men in the Navy. The Admiral’s only comment, according to Jöran Matsson, was: “If only his Majesty were at home!”
Those responsible for Skeppsgården, where Vasa was built, were then questioned. These were shipbuilder Hein Jakobsson and Arent de Groot, the lessee of Skeppsgården. One complication was that the actual builder of Vasa, the Dutchman Henrik Hybertsson, had died the year before. However, Jakobsson and de Groot also swore their innocence. Vasa conformed to the dimensions approved by the King himself, they said. On board were a number of guns, as specified in the contract.
“Whose fault is it, then?” asked the interrogator.
“God only knows,” answered de Groot.
God and King, both equally infallible, were thus drawn into the case. The subsequent deliberations of the Council of the Realm on the issue of guilt are unknown to us. No guilty party was ever identified, and no one was punished for the disaster.
Can we today, 390 years later, identify the guilty party and explain why Vasa sank?
The accusation that the guns were not properly secured can be dismissed. When Vasa was salvaged in 1961, the gun carriages were still arrayed in neat rows, and the ropes were in place around the carriages’ wheel axles. Present-day technical calculations have also shown that Vasa is extremely top-heavy and requires only a moderate wind to overturn her. Thus, “a small gust of wind”, as the captain said during the interrogation, was enough.
Who, then, was at fault?
Admiral Fleming? He failed to prevent the ship’s departure after the stability test, although it was within his power to do so. Not enough backbone to do so since Vasa had already been completed and the King was waiting impatiently in Prussia.
King Gustavus II Adolphus? He was anxious to acquire a ship with as many guns as possible on board. He had also approved the ship’s dimensions and was keen to have it completed rapidly.
The shipbuilder? Henrik Hybertsson was a very experienced Dutch shipbuilder. He had previously built many good ships. Vasa was extremely well constructed and the shape did not differ from other naval vessels that sailed in the 17th century. All ships carrying many guns were tall and highly unstable. It was impossible to see that Vasa was top heavy.
The theoretical know-how of the period? 17th century shipbuilders did not have the capability to make construction drawings or mathematical calculations of stability. The only recourse of the shipbuilder was to a table of figures, the ship’s reckoning, which recorded certain ship measurements. The reckoning was often a well-kept secret – something a father passed on to his son. Thus, a new ship was often modelled on its predecessor.
Fred Hocker, an archaeologist at the Vasa Museum, has been trying to find some definitive answers. Hocker and his team spent three years measuring every single piece of the wood in the ship. “If we want to understand how the ship was built, that’s what it takes,” says Hocker.
Hocker’s meticulous measurements paid off. They gave him fresh insight into what made the Vasa unstable. For one thing, the ship was asymmetrical, more so than most ships of the day. There is more ship structure on the port side of the hull than on the starboard side, Unballasted, the ship would probably heel to port.
No wonder the ship tipped to the port side when the winds hit. But why was the ship so lopsided? While examining the ship, Hocker discovered four rulers the workmen had used. Those rulers were based on different standards of measurement at the time. Two were in Swedish feet, which were divided into twelve inches. The other two were in Amsterdam feet, which had eleven inches in a foot. So each carpenter had used his own system of measurement.
“When somebody tells him, make that thing four inches thick, his four inches is not going to be the same as the next guy’s four inches,” says Hocker. “And you can see those variations in the timbers, as well.”
But that wasn’t the only reason the ship sank. Hocker says the Vasa was also top-heavy. “The part of the ship that was above the water is too heavy compared to the part of the ship that’s in the water. [It] makes it too easy for it to heel over.”
People in the 17th century were aware of that fact, but they didn’t understand what made the ship top-heavy, or whom to blame for the poor design. Some historians and military architects have blamed the King.
They thought that he had interfered with the ship’s dimensions after the construction had begun. But Hocker’s measurements offered no evidence to support that theory. He uncovered a simpler cause.
“The deck structure is simply too heavy,” he says. “It’s heavier than it needs to be to carry the guns that Vasa was armed with.”
Why were the decks so heavy? Hocker studied historical documents and found that the shipbuilder, Henrik Hybertsson, had never built a ship with two gun decks or with so many guns. He thinks Hybertsson erred on the side of caution and made the decks heavier than they needed to be. In other words, as Hocker puts it, “the design was simply flawed from the beginning.”
The management world has a name for human problems of communication and management that cause projects to founder and fail – Vasa syndrome. The events of August 10, 1628 had such a big impact that the sinking is a case study business experts still read about.
“An organization’s goals must be appropriately matched to its capabilities,” write Kessler, Bierly and Gopalakrishnan. In the case of the Vasa, “there was an overemphasis on the ship’s elegance and firepower and reduced importance on its seaworthiness and stability,” they write, “which are more critical issues.” Although it was originally designed to carry 36 guns, it was sent to sea with twice that number. At the same time, the beautiful ornamentation contributed to its heaviness and instability, they write. These and a host of other factors contributed to Vasa’s sinking and provide a cautionary tale for those designing and testing new technologies.
Salvage attempts in the 17th century
After sinking, the masts (the only parts of the ship that were still visible above water) were removed in order not to interrupt ship traffic in the busy harbour, but no attempts were made to bring the ship to the surface as technology was not yet far enough advanced to undertake a project of this magnitude.
While Captain Söfring Hansson was still in captivity, the first wreck salvagers arrived at the site of the shipwreck. The Englishman Ian Bulmer was the first to arrive; only three days after the disaster, he was given the sole right of salvaging Vasa. But the Council of the Realm stipulated that no money would be paid until Bulmer had fulfilled his promises.
Bulmer failed, and Admiral Klas Fleming – the same man who interrupted the stability test – took over attempts to salvage the ship and save the many valuable guns. To assist him, he engaged Hans Olofsson from Karelia, who “could walk under water”. But Olofsson failed as well, and after a year of fruitless attempts Fleming wrote to the King: “This is a more onerous test than I could ever have foreseen.”
Fleming gave up, but many others were attracted by the valuable Vasa guns. In the decades after the shipwreck, numerous adventurers, treasure-seekers and inventors arrived in Stockholm. Hooks and anchors were fastened to the hull; they pulled and tugged, but all to no avail. The treasures of Vasa remained inaccessible right up to the 1660s, when Albrecht von Treileben, the Swede from Värmland, and the German Andreas Peckell began to take an interest in the 64 guns. Both men had extensive experience of salvaging wrecks, and their primary tool was a diving bell. The first diver to be lowered to Vasa was called Anders Amundsson. He reported that the previous salvagers had caused considerable damage to the ship: “It looks like a make-shift fence down there,” he said.
Under the leadership of von Treileben and Peckell, the salvage work commenced. In pitch-darkness, at a depth of thirty meters, the divers were to:
– loosen the guns, weighing one ton each, from their carriages;
– remove the guns through the gun ports;
– bring the guns up to the surface.
The succeeded, over fifty guns were lifted during the years 1664 and 1665.
An eyewitness account of the salvage operations has survived. Francesco Negri, an Italian priest who was on a short visit to Stockholm, observed the diving operations of 1663. He wrote in his diary: “The diver was entirely clad in leather and had double leather boots. He stood on a platform of lead hanging under the diving bell.
“I asked him how long he would stay down there on the seabed. He answered ‘Half an hour’. But this was at the end of October and after quarter of an hour the bell was hoisted up, and the man was then shivering with cold although he was a strong, native Swede.
“I myself wanted to try the diving bell, but was advised to refrain since the water was so cold and there was a danger of falling ill in consequence.”
The achievement of the “men who could walk under water” was a remarkable one. These men included Abraham Eriksson, Anders Dykare, Johan Printz, Johan Bertilsson, Johan Wik and Lars Andersson, all from Goetheburg. By way of comparison, in the 1950s, it took a whole day for a deep sea diver with modern equipment to salvage one of Vasa’s remaining guns.
Discovery and salvage
On September 13, 1956, a notice in Expressen, the evening paper, announced: “An old ship has been found off Beckholmen in the middle of Stockholm. It is probably the warship Vasa, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. For five years, a private person has been engaged in a search for the ship.”
It was a short notice about a major sensation. The “private person” was the 38-year-old engineer Anders Franzén. He was one of Sweden’s foremost experts on naval warfare in the 16th and 17th centuries and a specialist on wrecked naval vessels. He was also one of the few who both researched in archives and then went out on a boat to find the site of the wreck.
Franzén knew that the Baltic is unique. Here there is no shipworm, the tiny Teredo that destroys all wood in saltier seas. Wooden vessels that sink in the Baltic are therefore preserved for centuries, even millenia.
Historians know of twelve sunken warships from the 16th and 17th centuries, six of them not yet located. Between the cold brackish water protecting them from shipworm and the Swedish laws protecting them as national antiquities, chances look good of finding and benefiting from yet another treasure trove of history.
It was professor Nils Ahnlund, an authority on 17th century Sweden, who first aroused Franzén’s interest in Vasa. Professor Ahnlund did not know exactly where Vasa had sunk, since the data in the 17th century archives pointed to several different locations. Franzén set out to search the seabed of Stockholm harbour with a grapnel, a sounding line, maps and information from the archives.
After searching for several years, Franzén succeeded on August 25, 1956. His home-made core sampler, with its hollow punch at the tip, got stuck and came up containing a plug of blackened oak. A few days later, the diver Per Edvin Fälting went down and was able to confirm Franzén’s find. Over a crackling diver’s telephone, he reported: “I can’t see anything, since it’s pitch-dark here, but I can feel something big – the side of a ship. Here’s one gun port and here’s nother. There are two rows. It must be Vasa.”
A large, nationwide “Save the Vasa” campaign was launched, and money and materials were donated by foundations, individuals and companies. The Navy made staff and boats available and in autumn 1957 the divers began to dig, or rather flush out, tunnels beneath the ship. Their tool was a hosepipe with a special mouthpiece. Mud and gravel were washed away – a task requiring immense technical skills and even greater courage. The work was carried out at a depth of more than 30 meters and in total darkness. The tunnels were so narrow that the divers had to squirm through.
Work on the tunnels went on for two years without serious accidents. At the end of August 1959, it was time for the first lift. The Neptun Salvaging Company’s salvaging pontoons were placed above Vasa, cables were pulled through the six tunnels and the old ship was raised from the seabed without any problems. The hull did not give way, and Vasa was then lifted into shallower water in 16 stages. It was still too early to bring the ship up to the surface. The hull had to be made watertight and reinforced for the final lift. Again, it was the divers who performed this task. For two years, they were busy filling in the thousands of holes formed where iron bots had rusted away. The partially broken stern had to be reconstructed and all the gun ports fitted with new, watertight hatches.
On April 24, 1961, everything was ready for the lift. After 333 years on the seabed, Vasa broke the surface and a piece of untouched 17th century history came to light. When the railing was above the surface, powerful bilge pumps were started. By May 4 the ship was so free of water and mud that she was able to float and be towed into a dock at Beckholmen. The first people to board Vasa were Anders Franzén and Per Edvin Fälting.
Since 1961, Vasa has been gradually restored in its entirety. The destroyed portions of the ship, the main deck, the sterncastle, the bow of the ship and the fitments inside the ship had to be rebuilt. This work was undertaken by ship technicians, shipwrights, and museum staff, using the original timbers and parts of the structure. 98 per cent of the ship and 60 per cent of the sails are made up of original parts.
Vasa offers a window onto the past, illuminating the life of a 17th century sailor and the horrible scenes of a desperate, drowning crew. Teams of archaeologists have explored every nook and cranny of the veritable time-capsule, complete with 500 sculptures and such ordinary objects, as watches, games, forks, shoes, a bible, carpenter’s tools and Sweden’s oldest clay pipes. They have also uncovered remains from 25 of the 50 men and women who went down with the ship, including the skeleton of a sailor still carrying his leather money pouch.
The brackish water in the Stockholm archipelago didn’t provide perfect conditions just for the preservation of the shipwreck but also for everything – as well as everyone – inside. About 50 people perished in the sinking, and the remains of about 15 of those who died during the accident were so well preserved that some were found with their hair (and even their brains) still intact and with their shoes still on their feet. Tests done on these remains have been able to determine the kinds of diets that they had, which grants significant insight into the daily life of early 17th century Stockholm. Along with these remains, many personal belongings such as clothes, shoes, combs, sewing thread and smoking pipes were found, along with eating utensils, over 4000 coins, medical equipment and even a board game that one sailor brought on as an off-duty pastime. By studying these items, it is possible for archaeologists and anthropologists to piece together the lives that surrounded them, which helps us to better understand the conditions during this time and ultimately leads to better understand life as it is today.
Up until 1990, the Vasa Museum was housed in a basic aluminium building which slowly rusted with the 98% humidity need for the ship’s restoration. But in 1990, a new museum awaited: a modern building crowned by three masts, complete with cinemas, computer rooms, replicated captain’s quarters, sailors’ cabins and a cannon deck.
The Vasa was the centre of all activity at Skeppsgården, the Stockholm shipyard, for two years. Skeppsgården was not only a shipyard but also the main station for the naval forces in a country that was constantly armed for war. 400 people worked there.
The shipyard model shows the intensive activity in the spring of 1627. Raised on her bed of supports the Vasa is almost ready to be launched. Woodworkers of all sorts dominate the work. Visitors can make out sawyers, turners, platform makers and mast makers, carpenters, painters, sculptors, sail makers, rope makers, anchor smiths, blacksmiths, nail smiths, and a fine smith. The shipyard also employs a master glassworker, a tar-spreader and a nail bearer.
The construction of the Vasa required thousands of oak trees. Her rig used almost twelve kilometres of rope.
The model shows the construction of the Vasa at different stages.
A painted model of the Vasa (1:10) gives visitors an idea of how the ship might have looked as she sailed out in 1628.
The model was built by four model builders at the Maritime Museum in Stockholm. The work took 12,000 hours and the model is adorned with over 500 sculptures.
It’s Monday morning and as we suspected, there is no queue at Conditori La Glace!
As we were enjoying yet another cinnamon bun, what we really wanted was an actual breakfast. Which Conditori La Glace does not provide. It’s wall to wall sweetness! Google came to the rescue, and before we even left Conditori La Glace, we chose Café Norden for our next stop. It is located in Copenhagen city centre, near the main shopping street Strøget, and far more importantly, near Conditori La Glace. There was a limit to how far we were prepared to travel for a good breakfast! Unlike Conditori La Glace, Café Norden was packed, but we were lucky to find a table straight away. Norden’s menu is extensive and they have an English version.
Suitably fed, the next stop was the Royal Copenhagen flagship store on Strøget, barely 50 metres from Café Norden.
Every year since 1963, Royal Copenhagen has asked prominent artists and celebrities to set the Christmas tables in their store on Strøget. Six different tables all tell an entirely different story. The artists are allowed to interpret their own ideas of a Christmas tables and can pick and choose from the extensive Royal Copenhagen collection of iconic porcelain and figurines.
Previous years have seen royalty, comedians, actors and creatives participate, and in 2017 members of the Royal Ballet were invited to set the Christmas tables. The 2017 decorators include principal dancers Alban Lendorf and Ida Praetorius, soloists Andreas Kaas and Femke Mølbach Slot, former principal dancer Kristoffer Sakurai, as well as former dancer and leader of the ballet school, Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter.
Kaas’ table is inspired by his own apartment, and Praetorius’ is set up as if a gathering of friends has come together after a show. Music plays and candles burn at Femke Mølbach Slot’s table, as though someone is about to walk right in to plate the goose. Femke Mølbach Slot created a tribute to the glamour of 1940’s film, love and to her partner, jazz musician Chris Minh Doky. The table has been set for a memorable evening with the poetic and romantic dinnerware Flora. It is Puffles and Honey’s favourite 🙂
Anne Marie Vessel Schlüter’s table is an enchanting construction, built around the Nutcracker fairy tale, with a beautifully impractical floor made of walnut shells. Kristoffer Sakurai’s clean and minimalist table reaches into fantasy as he takes reference from Alexandre Dumas’ novel, ‘La Dame aux Camélias’. Alban Lendorf’s deconstructed Christmas setting aims to shock the senses and challenge traditions by twisting reality and showing the other side of perfect.
Five minutes walk from the Royal Copenhagen store is the 17th century tower and observatory Rundetaarn, or the round tower, the oldest functioning observatory in Europe.
When Christian IV built the tower, Denmark was quite famous for its astronomical achievements thanks to the astronomer Tycho Brahe. When he died in 1601, the King wished to continue Brahe’s research, and thus the round tower came into being.
It has been a while since the scientists left, but the observatory is still used by amateur astronomers and the many visitors. The observatory is encircled by an outdoor platform from which you have a magnificent view of the old part of Copenhagen.
To get to the top of the tower you need to walk up the spiral walk, which is 268,5 meters long at the outer wall and only 85,5 meters long close to the core of the building. This means that you walk around 209 meters to get to top even though the tower is only 36 meters tall.
Halfway up the Round Tower is the entrance to the large and beautiful Library Hall, which now serves as a popular gallery for exhibitions of art, culture, history and science, and concert venue. In the Library you’ll also find the Round Tower Shop & Café. The Library was once home to the entire University book collection. It opened in 1657 and housed approximately 10,000 books until 1861 when the book collection was moved to new premises on Fiolstræde. The old Library was later used as a studio by theatre-painter Carl Lund, and as a depot for the Zoological Museum. The famous Danish writer H.C. Andersen used to visit the library to find inspiration for his work.
And speaking of H.C. Andersen, you can find him at the Christmas market in Nytorv square 🙂
The Round Tower experience wasn’t quite what little Puffles and Honey expected, so they tried the Tycho Brahe Planetarium. They got to sit on a sextant and a meteorite, but it was another disappointing experience.
But the rubbish bins were cool!
By now the queue was in full swing at Conditori La Glace, so it was back to take away sweetness to make it all better!
Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) was born in the south-coast town of Mandal in Norway. For centuries, his ancestors had lived as farmers in a nearby valley, but his father became a master carpenter with his own furniture workshop. He was a devout follower of the Protestant Pietistic movement and the artist’s childhood was spent in a strictly religious atmosphere.
Vigeland’s artistic talents were first revealed in his drawing and woodcarving and at the age of fifteen his father took him to Oslo to apprentice him to a master. On the death of his father only two years later, Vigeland was compelled to return to Mandal and relinquish all hopes of becoming a sculptor. Helping his mother to support his family took most of his time, but every free moment was spent in reading and drawing. his favourite literature was Homer and the ancient Greek dramas, but he also read about and studied a great deal of anatomy and art, particularly the sculptures of the Danish neo-Classicist, Bertel Thorvaldsen.
In 1888 Vigeland was again back in the capital, this time taking with him a bundle of sketches for statues, groups and reliefs, their motifs mostly deriving from Greek mythology and the Bible. It proved impossible to earn a living as a woodcarver and after a period of severe hardship, he finally decided to contact the sculptor Brynjulf Bergslien. Impressed by Vigeland’s drawings, Bergslien took him into his studio and gave him his first practical training. Some months later, Vigeland was able to exhibit his first sculpture at the State Exhibition of Art in 1889. For a short period he attended the School of Design.
Vigeland’s talent was soon recognised and he received several grants that enabled him to travel. He never attended an art academy but worked and studied on his own. He spent 1891 in Copenhagen where he was allowed to work on his own sculptures in the studio of Vilhelm Bissen. In 1893 he was in Paris where he remained for six months. The work of August Rodin, seen by Vigeland on visits to the artist’s studio, made a perceptible impact: inspiration from the Gates of Hell can be seen in Vigeland’s relief “Hell”, the magnum opus of his early years.
Rodin’s intimate treatment of the relationship between man and woman was also influential in Vigeland’s lifelong development of his theme.
A long-standing wish to visit Italy became reality in 1895. On his way to Florence he spent a few months in Berlin, mixing there with an international Symbolist circle. Among these was the Polish author S. Prszybyszewski who wrote the first monograph on Gustav Vigeland, entitled “auf den Wegen der Seele” (“The Path of the Soul”), in which he considers Vigeland as opponent of Realism in art. In Italy, to which he returned again in 1896, he devoted himself to art studies of Antiquity and Renaissance. “Every day I realise that sculpture must be stricter”, he wrote home, revealing ideals of a more monumental sculpture, different from the modern Rodinesque style. Many years were to pass, however, before such ideals found an outlet in his own sculptures.
The grants came to an end and in order to make a living, Vigeland took on commissions for the restoration work of the medieval cathedral in Trondheim from 1897-1902. Among his works here are the sculptures for the choir and gargoyles for the towers. Inspired by fantasy sculptures from the Middle Ages, he took up the motif of Man in combat with dragons and lizards which, according to Christian tradition, are symbols of evil and hostile powers. This theme was to reappear in several later sculptures.
Vigeland modelled more than 100 portrait busts of prominent Norwegians, contemporary or from the recent past. The most striking feature is not always the likeness to the person portrayed, although Vigeland took particular care of its resemblance. He sought the immediately expressive and characteristic in his models. At the same time, the modelling gave him the opportunity to study man, for free; the costs for professional models were high.
He modelled the first busts in 1892, at the age of 23, and the last was made in 1941. He worked with busts in two distinct periods separated by a pause between 1908 and 1915. The busts reflect his change of style from a naturalistic rendering, via an impressionistic expression to an almost abstract, stylistic form.
The busts were in general modelled on Vigeland’s own initiative and he was seldom paid. The early family and friend portraits gave him the opportunity to experiment. From 1901 to 1905 he wanted to portray a number of well-known people. Several of his late busts are symbols of his gratitude to friends.
Vigeland also designed the statue of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson standing in front of Den Nationale Scene in Bergen.
His most remarkable creation as a sculptor, however, is the wealth of statuary in Vigeland Park.
The Municipality of Oslo was to show Vigeland exceptional generosity, not only in connection with the park. In 1921 an agreement was drawn up in which Vigeland was to be provided with a new and spacious studio. In return, Vigeland would bequeath to the city all works of art in his possession as well as all original models of future sculptures. Vigeland lived and worked in the palatial building from 1924 until his death in 1943. In 1947 the studio was opened to the public as a museum of his works – some 1,600 sculptures, 12,000 drawings and 420 woodcuts. The present Vigeland Museum also serves as the mausoleum of the artist; the urn containing his ashes is placed in the building’s tower. Vigeland was appointed Officer of the Order of St. Olav in 1901, and received the Grand Cross of the Order in 1929.
By far the most interesting sculpture 🙂
Unfortunately, Lekande björnar (presumably playful bears) was purchased by Marabouparken in 1939 and therefore is in Sweden. The group was originally made as part of a fountain.
Vigeland Park, which has partially become an integrated part of the older Frogner Park, covers an area of 80 acres. It functions both as a sculpture park and a public park, open all year round.
The park contains 214 sculptures with more than 758 figures, all modelled in full size by Gustav Vigeland without the assistance of pupils or other artists. He also designed the architectural setting and the layout of the grounds with their expansive loans and long, straight avenues bordered by maple trees.
The park in winter…
Even the statues are cold 🙂
The main entrance consists of five large gates and two smaller pedestrian gates in wrought iron. Railings curve outwards on each side and are terminated by two small gatehouses. The final designs for the wrought-iron gates were made in 1926 and exhibited in 1927 together with some details executed in iron.
From the entrance gates, paths skirt either side of a spacious lawn leading up to the Bridge which is 100 metres long and 15 metres wide. On the granite parapets stand 58 single figures or groups in bronze (1926-33). The sculptures on the Bridge potray people of widely different ages. Many characteristic representations of children are noticeable. Dominant motifs among the groups are the relationship between man and woman and between adults and children. The representation of mother and child has a long and popular tradition in art. A more unusual theme is the father and child relationship, which is the subject of several sculptures.
Beyond the Bridge, the path continues through a rose garden to the Fountain, the earliest sculpture unit in the park. In the centre of the basin six giants hold the large saucer-shaped vessel aloft and (in summer!) from it a curtain of water spills down around them.
The twenty tree groups on the surrounding parapet symbolise “the tree of life”. The tree groups represent a romantic expression of Man’s relationship to nature. They also form the setting for life’s evolving stages, evolving from childhood and adolescence through adulthood to old age and death.
The theme of the different ages of life and life as part of an eternal cycle are repeated in the frieze of sixty bronze reliefs on the parapet.
The ground around the Fountain is paved with mosaics in black and white granite and not visible in winter!
From the Fountain the path continues upwards to the highest point in the sculpture park. The Monolith plateau is reached by ascending three terraces.
As in the Fountain, the principal theme of the Monolith plateau is the circle of life. The monolith consists of 121 figures and was modelled by Vigeland in the years 1924-25. It has been named the Monolith because it was carved out of a single block of stone. Vigeland carved the Monolith on site and he finished it just before he died.
Little bears have been keeping warm in the cafe near the main entrance 🙂
Since Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen is one of our favourite plays, J.T. Rogers’s Oslo became an interesting option for a night out. It was our last night in London and the last night of a six week trip and the thought of skipping the play and getting a bit more sleep briefly came to mind. Luckily, it quickly left the mind!
Oslo tells the true story of how one young Norwegian couple – Terje Rød-Larsen, played by Toby Stephens, and Mona Juul, played by Lydia Leonard – planned and orchestrated top-secret, high-level meetings between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which culminated in the signing of the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.
This gripping play by J.T. Rogers, directed by Bartlett Sher, was awarded ‘Best Play’ at the 2017 Tony Awards and was winner of every ‘Best Play’ award on Broadway in 2017 including those given by New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, Obie and Lucille Lortel Awards.
J.T. Rogers has lots of experience at dramatising foreign affairs, all his major plays deal with the subject: The Overwhelming (2006) dramatises the Rwandan genocide and Blood and Gifts (2010) explores the wars in Afghanistan. He has also written plays set in Spain, Germany and now Norway.
Oslo is the story of a peace process; it is almost wall to wall men in suits. But the events it elucidates are riveting. As is the dramatisation of the events for the play by Rogers. Improbably, the secret talks that led to the 1993 Oslo accords, the first agreement ever struck between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (remember the PLO?) and the state of Israel, were organised not through official channels but by a Norwegian academic and his diplomat wife. The negotiators were served waffles in a remote Norwegian house 🙂 The US was not told of the encounters. Yet later that year Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin were shaking hands on the lawn of the White House. There were sobs of joyful surprise from witnesses as agreement was reached.
Sitting anonymously among the thousands of global dignitaries who had flocked to Washington to witness this historic event was Terje Rød-Larsen, the cultivated, softly spoken Norwegian diplomat who, with his wife Mona Juul, made it all possible by enabling the rival delegations to meet in secret to thrash out their differences.
The sobs provoked by watching this now are bitter: by the end of the decade the accord was in tatters.
Rogers’s play is not verbatim theatre but a reimagining. With fierce individual confrontations and high-powered comic eruptions. Rogers has fashioned an unexpected thriller out of the brave and inspired Palestinian and Israeli negotiators who came together to put aside decades of hostility and make peace.
Philip Arditti as Uri Savir is a chameleon Israeli negotiator who swivels from seductor to boa constrictor with a shimmy of his snake hips. He does provocative take-offs, not only of Henry Kissinger but also (jacket backwards over the head) Arafat.
Peter Polycarpou’s depiction of Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian finance minister sent by Arafat to make peace, admirably captures the conflicting emotions of enduring the pain of exile while seeking to wreak terrible vengeance on the Israeli occupiers.
Both of them have daughters called Maya.
At one Broadway performance, the entire 1,000-seat theatre was booked for the United Nations. They didn’t react to Philip Arditti’s Uri Savir impersonation of Arafat as an effeminate narcissist and a man whose vanity knew no bounds. Rogers suspects, they all either knew him or were terrified of being seen laughing at him. Even 13 years after Arafat’s death!
Bartlett Sher’s incisive production makes debate look like action. Which is part of Rogers’s point: in a peace process, talking is a deed – and may replace an act of war. Against the odds, the evening is truly theatrical – because it is essentially a backstage story. It makes most “news” look like mere window dressing.
The task facing the rival delegates when they first meet was a daunting one. For the Israelis, if the fact became known that they were talking to the PLO, the government would most likely fall. For the Palestinians, it would mean an assassin’s bullet.
Many of the players portrayed are no longer around to reflect on Rogers’s version of events. Rogers interviewed Terje Rød-Larsen at length, but spoke to only a few of the other participants: “I stalked the characters, through memoirs and TV interviews. But the lines on stage are all mine; there’s no verbatim. My rule, though, was that no one expresses views that they didn’t hold.”
Someone he apparently didn’t speak to was Yossi Beilin, who was a member of the Israeli delegation to the talks, and is disturbed that the playwright never contacted him even though Beilin’s character has a substantial role in the production. “No one bothered to call me, other than to tell me that there is such a play, and that if I’m ever in New York they’d be happy to invite me,” Beilin said. “I assume that the play has no connection to reality, but they tell me that it’s actually successful. it’s not clear to me why the playwright didn’t speak to those [involved] who are still alive.”
Joel Singer, who was the Israeli delegation’s legal adviser to the Oslo talks has seen the play on Broadway. “There’s very little resemblance to what you see on stage and what actually happened in Oslo. Even though they claim that the play is based on extensive research, there’s almost no link between what you see on stage and what really happened.”
Singer, along with other Israelis who’ve seen the play, found the Palestinian representatives were presented in an authentic manner, but didn’t find the Israeli representatives believable. Interesting cultural bias. Singer said, “All the Israeli representatives looked like cartoon characters, like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. The Israeli characters are all distorted. It bothered me personally that they were using the names of people I know and attributing characteristics to them that they don’t have.”
None of the players were presented as their real-life versions. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if they had, a three-hour play about politics, even the politics of a peace process, would have been far too boring. The real Terje Rød-Larsen is a quiet and patient man, who never seemed to be entirely comfortable with the rough-house atmosphere of the Middle East region, where disputes were often more likely to be resolved through rocks and rubber bullets than rational persuasion.
Uri Savir, who was deputed by Peres to run the Israeli side of the negotiations, was an urbane multi-linguist of an academic disposition, softly spoken and thoughtful when discussing regional issues.
Ahmed Qurei is reported to be a man of great personal charm, tolerant and good-humoured, which no doubt contributed to his appeal as a negotiator. His easy-going style has won him friendships over the years with his Israeli counterparts.
Yitzhak Rabin, the great Israeli warrior-turned-politician who agreed to make peace with Arafat, a man most Israelis, as one Israeli character in the play remarks, saw as being akin to “Hitler in his bunker”, was murdered by a Jewish extremist in November 1995 in revenge for signing the deal.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding Arafat’s death in a Paris hospital in November 2004 remains a source of controversy among his PLO loyalists, many of whom believe he was poisoned by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.
By the time Shimon Peres, the Nobel Prize-winning prime minister of Israel who helped resolve many of the more intangible issues, died more peacefully aged 93 in 2016, he had become one of the most accomplished statesmen of our age.
For all the quips and light-hearted banter, and occasionally over the top characters, Oslo is, at heart, a deeply emotional drama. When the Israelis finally strike a deal with the Palestinians during a telephone call to Arafat’s headquarters in Tunis, they think they can hear music playing in the background. In fact it is the battle-hardened veterans of the PLO sobbing at the prospect of being allowed to return to their homeland.
Ultimately, the play is an implicit tragedy about the failure of both sides to build a lasting peace on the basis of the painful concessions made during the Oslo negotiations. “Between our peoples lies a vast ocean,” says Ahmed Qurei, the finance minister for the PLO, in the play, just before the negotiations start. Twenty-five years on, that ocean seems as vast as ever.
Little bears are listening to Uuno Klami’s Suomenlinna Overture, composed in 1940, a loose musical description of the 18th century sea fortress guarding the Helsinki archipelago. Klami was a modernist, but this overture reveals him at his most traditional and conventionally patriotic. It makes for easy listening, a refreshing change in Finnish music! Goes very well with chocolate 🙂
The founding of the city of St Petersburg in 1703 changed the strategic significance of the Baltic Sea in one fell swoop. The era of Sweden as a superpower ended with the Great Northern War fought between 1700 and 1721. After the Russo-Swedish war of 1741-1743, with the treaty of Turku, signed in 1743, Sweden lost of all its important Finnish border fortresses to Russia. To safeguard the eastern border of the kingdom, the Swedish Riksdag (parliament) decided to establish a new depot fortress on a group of small islands, called the Susiluoto islands, off the coast of Helsinki. The construction of Sveaborg, called at the time Viapori in Finnish, began in 1748.
Viapori was intended as the main fortress of Finland – a depot fortress acting as a naval base and a place where troops were assembled. Initially, a double fortress was planned for Helsinki, in which the city of Helsinki and the Susiluodot islands would be fortified. The building began on the mainland in the Ullanlinna district, but the project was soon limited to the construction of the Viapori fortress. The work was supervised by the Swedish Admiral Augustin Eherensvärd (1710-1772), who adapted Vauban’s theories to the very special geographical features of the region.
The fortress was built by Finnish and Swedish soldiers. Most of the funding came from France, the then ally of Sweden. Construction of the fortress continued for about 40 years but was never fully completed. However, Suomenlinna was capable of defence and in the early 19th century still considered a very strong fortress.
Viapori was among the world’s largest fortresses of its time and one of the Swedish state’s most significant construction projects. It was estimated to take about 7000 men to defend the fortress. Suomenlinna saw military action during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-1790, the Russian siege of 1808, the Crimean War of 1855, the Viapori Rebellion in 1906 and the bombings of the Continuation War in 1944.
An irregular bastion fortress built on six islands, Suomenlinna has been compared to the fortress of Gibraltar, which was considered unassailable. Four of the islands had enclosed fortifications, and two had open defences.
The original fortress was built using local rock and fortified with a system of bastions over varied terrain. The purpose of the fortress was originally to defend the Kingdom of Sweden against the Russian Empire and to serve as a fortified army base, complete with a dry dock. The Viapori dockyard built, repaired and stored the Swedish archipelago fleet’s frigates, barges, gunboats, sloops and other vessels. These vessels were designed specifically for the difficult conditions of the Finnish archipelago. The low-draught vessels could be both rowed and sailed. The large dry dock was the world’s first and probably the largest. Its construction began in 1749.
Sandbanks, barracks and various other buildings were added during the 19th century Russian period. The defensive system was adapted to match the requirements of a modern fortress and developed in the 19th century using contemporary fortification equipment.
Under Russian rule (1809-1918), the dockyard was used significantly less. An aircraft factory operated in the area in the early years of Finnish independence. After the Second World War, the dockyard built ships for the Soviet Union for Finland’s war reparations. The dock basin is still in use, but the last new vessel built was completed in 1974.
Today, Suomenlinna’s dry dock is run by a foundation whose mission is to preserve and pass on traditional boat-building skills.
The fortress has experienced two changes of ruling regime. From the year 1809, Viapori became a Russian fortress. When Finland was merged with the Russian Empire in 1808, the Russian military maintained a permanent presence in Helsinki. The bulk of the troops were accommodated in the Viapori fortress, but some units were housed in the city area.
The Viapori fortress and the excellent port it protected were significant factors in making Helsinki the capital of Finland in 1812.
Finland declared independence on 6 December 1917. The fortress of Viapori, nevertheless remained under the control of the Russian military for some time; during the Russian era, the fortress had not been administratively part of the Grand Duchy of Finland. A Civil War was fought in Finland in spring 1918. The Russian troops on Viapori did not engage in the hostilities; instead in April 1918 they gave over Viapori to the Finnish Army and began their withdrawal from Finland. The Finnish flag was raised on Kustaanmiekka for the first time on 12 May 1918. The islands were formally annexed by the Republic of Finland and the fortress was renamed with the Finnish language Suomenlinna.
When the fortress was being built in the 18th century, it was a sort of national masterclass in building technology. Men from all over Finland were recruited for the construction project. These men only knew about building in wood. On Suomenlinna, they worked under the supervision of Swedish engineering officers and other experts and learned about new techniques and materials, such as building in stone.
Today, Suomenlinna is something of a field laboratory in the area of restoration and conservation and traditional construction methods. Experts in a variety of fields take part in the work: architects, engineers, professional builders, stone masons, gardeners, painters, researchers and restorers. Repair work on the walls and ramparts is also done as prison work by inmates at Suomenlinna prison. Because of the harsh and humid climate on Suomenlinna, repair work on the stone walls and elevations is a never-ending job.
Until the mid-1980s, the renovation policy on Suomenlinna was to restore the exterior elevations of buildings but to outfit the interiors as if they were new buildings. Today, the basic principle is to use the techniques and methods with which the buildings were originally built. Repairs are undertaken so that as much of the original structure and materials are retained as possible. Any new structures are built so that they can be dismantled without interfering with the original structures.
Suomenlinna is also home to more than 800 permanent residents, as a district of Helsinki. Most of the flats on Suomenlinna are rented and are owned by the state. The houses are maintained and restored and blend unobtrusively with their surroundings. Most of the current residential buildings were originally used by the garrison, but by the 19th century they had begun to be transformed into homes.
One of the residents is Petra Tandefelt, the owner, collector and manager of the Suomenlinna Toy Museum. She represents the fourth generation of a Suomenlinna family.
Although Suomenlinna is often considered to be a summer attraction only, it is open to visitors all year round.
Puffles and Honey made a beeline for the Toy Museum, of course 🙂 Elevenses first!
Before catching up with some friends.
The toys in the museum are collected from Finland, played with by Finnish children, mostly made in other countries, but bought from Finnish toy shops originally. The Finnish toy industry has never been very big.
Moomin dolls from the 1950s were made by Atelier Fauni that specialised in troll characters. The Moomin family of Atelier Fauni had 14 members: Moomintroll, Moominmamma, Moominpappa, Snorkmaiden, Too-Ticky, Hemul, Fillyjonk, Snufkin, Mymble, Little My, Stinky, Sniff, Miisa and Hattifattener.
Atelier Fauni was established in 1952 when Helena Kuuskoski (1919-2013) sew her first plush characters. The Atelier closed down in 1971. The first Moomin figures created in the mid 1950s were made of leather and fur and approved by Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomins. Moomins were dressed up in Marimekko designs. Stockman was the first store to have Moomin dolls for sale and they sold out in record time. More than 80,000 Moomins were exported to Sweden in the late 1960s.
In April 2017, Finland entered the Space Age by launching into space its first satellite, Aalto-2. To celebrate the occasion, the Suomenlinna Toy Museum launched its own little satellite, a selection of space toys ranging from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. The ‘satellite’ also showcases futuristic toys relating to science fiction television shows, with the emphasis on British producer Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999 (1975-77) and Thunderbirds (1965-66).