Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our Trip to Europe: Swedish Museums

One thing we did fairly often during our trip was go to museums.

We like museums.  They’re full of just the darndest things, they are often painlessly educational, and most of them have gift shops to appease the tchotchke lover in all of us.  What’s not to like?  So when we weren’t going to actual historic sites we were often visiting sites devoted to history, which is almost but not quite the same.

We saw several in one day while we were in Stockholm.

In the morning we took the subway and bus into the city to see the Toy Museum, except that it isn’t just the Toy Museum – and if you just went by what was on the outside you wouldn’t know it was a Toy Museum at all, because the sign says Transportation Museum (Well, actually it says Sparvagsmuseet, with a circle over the first “a” and an umlaut over the second, but that’s only because it’s in Sweden.)  The Toy Museum, it turns out, is located in the back of the Transportation Museum.

I’m sure this makes sense to someone.

We decided to split up when we got there, so Kim, Sara, Mats, Lauren, Maria and Helena went dashing off to the Toy Museum while Tabitha and I explored the Transportation side of things.

If you’ve never been there (and really, who hasn’t?), the Transportation Museum is quite a wonder.  It is a giant barn of a place dedicated to public transportation in its many forms in Stockholm since the late 1800s.  It contains several dozen full-sized trolley and light rail cars, some of them so old that they were made of wood.

There are even a few that were horse-drawn, and these are duly tethered to stuffed horses so you can see how it worked.  There are also buses – a complete set going back to the 1910s.  And if you’ve lost your way, they have the complete selection of signs.  It’s like a Swedish M*A*S*H.

There is also a good-sized section way in the back devoted to both the design elements of Stockholm’s public transportation system (logos, uniforms, typefaces for station signs, and so on) and Lego recreations of a number of stations.  Each of the Lego recreations was about four feet square.  Someday Lego will make faces for its people figures that actually smile, though perhaps a scowl was appropriate for a late Lego commuter.

I’m still not sure why those things were linked together in one display area, but then given the larger disparity of museums under this roof that does seem like a quibble.

When we’d finished looking at the trains and buses (which are surprisingly fascinating – it took us some time) Tabitha and I headed over to the Toy Museum part of the building.  This part is much smaller, and jam packed with just about every toy ever manufactured.

There are sections devoted to dolls.  There are sections devoted to model ships.  There are board games, fire engines, trains, and a working pinball machine.

There is also this:

This is without a doubt the creepiest Mickey Mouse ever assembled.  It’s the Zombie Mickey, starved for brains (you would be too if you hung out with Donald Duck and Goofy most of the time). Or maybe it’s the Zombie Minnie.  Either way, I’m sure it was meant well but it is Coraline-grade unsettling.

We got lunch at the museum (a tasty but time-consuming process, given the speed at which the cafe there operated) and then took the bus back toward the old section of Stockholm (“Gamla Stan” – “Old City”) to go to the Medieval Museum.

The Medieval Museum is a classic example of how a small museum can be packed with displays and information without feeling like Fibber McGee’s closet.  Museum designers from all over the world should head there immediately and take lessons.  It was fascinating.

It’s set up underneath a bridge, where an actual medieval archeological dig took place, and the main room is bisected by a portion of the old city wall still in its original location.  That’s the wall in the background in this photo:

The figure in the foreground is dying of the Black Death, and is remarkably powerful when you’re standing right in front of it.  The museum actually does a good job of showing the starker aspects of medieval life, with a cemetery exhibit (including bits of the actual medieval cemetery and a skeleton that was found there) and a dark corner devoted to the executioner’s hill.  There is also a large boat that was unearthed nearby and a fairly extensive collection of weapons.

Of course, not everything is so grim.

I’m not really sure who this figure is supposed to be, but he was just too silly not to take this photo.

We spent several hours in the Medieval Museum, and it flew right by.  They had a recreation of a medieval street, a house you could climb up into, and – rather incongruously – a temporary exhibit bemoaning the evils of genetically modified foods, which fit into the medieval world only with difficulty but there you go.

On the outside wall of that exhibit was a map showing the trade routes used by medieval Swedish merchants and what they obtained using them.  Stockholm, by virtue of its location, tended to trade with its Baltic neighbors and with Russia, while Goteborg, on the west coast, tended to trade with the Danes, the English, and the Germans.  It was quite interesting, but it didn’t really explain the illustration of the bear that Lauren is pointing to in what is now Finland.

That’s one sick bear.

On our last full day in Sweden we went to Haga Park to see the Fjarilshuset (umlaut over the “a”), which translates more or less to Butterfly House.

It turned out that there was a rather critical lack of butterflies, but there were loads of fish.

And we did eventually find the butterflies.

There are also a number of flightless birds hopping about, a wide assortment of plants, and probably a few other things that I missed.  They have to keep the place hot and humid so that the critters stay comfortable.  On the one hand, it was still considerably cooler than the temperatures back in the US.  On the other hand, it was quite muggy for those of us used to the more temperate climate of Scandinavia, and eventually we left to go explore the rest of the grounds.

Haga Park is quite extensive, actually.  There are quite literally dozens of historic buildings to visit, ten different museums, and a giant park to wander around in when you get tired of the man-made stuff.

This is the Koppartalten (umlaut over the second “a”).  It’s actually a normal building from the back, but for reasons that were never really clear to me somebody slapped a vast quantity of copper sheeting across the front and painted it to look like a circus tent.

There’s a cafe inside.

The fun part for me was the Slottsgrunden, which is down from the Koppartalten, toward the lake (of course there’s a lake – this is Sweden) along the less-used path.  This was the foundation of a giant palace, begun under King Gustav III in 1787.  Unfortunately Gustav was assassinated in 1792 (it was a bad decade for kings) and the project died with him.

We came to it from the side less traveled, and wandered in.  This was probably the courtyard or something similar, since it was only one layer deep.

But if you went past the end there, you found yourself in a three-dimensional playground that must have been meant to be the basement.

Because we came around from the wrong side we didn’t see any of the signs warning us in dire language of the illegal nature of what we were doing among the foundations until it was time to leave, and by then it was too late.

So there.

We continued down to the lake and explored a number of other structures, including the Echo Pavilion.

Apparently this was designed as a picnic spot, and you can in fact stand right in the middle and hear your voice echo.

Who knew?


Julia Lawrence said...

Maybe the flightless birds would explain the comparative lack of butterflies.

Ewan said...

You went to Stockholm and did *not* go see the Vasa? Jenny (my wife) only got to spend 15 min there and still claims it is her favourite museum anywhere in the world; I spent a few hours there this summer and although not *quite* as enraptured, would still place it a solid top-10.

You should go back immediately.

David said...

Well, this is not our first time in Stockholm!

We were there in 2004, before this blog got started, and we spent a very entertaining afternoon at the Vasamuseet. We went through the entire ship in minute detail - at least the parts they let you see (and the mockup), and we bought the adorable children's book that they sell. The girls were little at the time, and we spent the next several years reading that book for bedtime stories.

Not that I would object to going back, mind you...