Story and photography by Bo Zaunders

Stockholm Stortorget


Manhattan has SoHo, short for South of Houston, and Stockholm has SoFo, South of Folkungagatan.

From what I hear, the Swedish counterpart was coined seven years ago when three guys from Stockholm’s Söder (short for the island of Södermalm) brainstormed over a bottle of wine, trying to find a distinctive name for their updated hip new neighborhood.

Hip indeed. Not having been back to the Swedish capital for a while, I’m struck by how things have changed, especially on Söder. Long known for being a blue-collar district, it now gloats in being the trendiest and most fashionable part of Stockholm. Some credit goes to pure fiction. I’m referring to author Stieg Larsson’s staggeringly successful Millennium trilogy, read by over 70 million people. By using Söder for most of the action, Larsson put it on the map like no other. In highly popular walking tours arranged by the tourist office, fans by the thousands now follow in the footsteps of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander, his two main characters – tours usually start at Bellmansgatan where Mikael had his apartment, continue to the Millennium editorial office, pass Lisbeth’s luxury apartment, and include visits to their favorite haunts, such as the Kaffebar, a café popular with Mikael, and Kvarnen pub where Lisbeth spent time with friends from the rock band Evil Fingers.

Stockholm girl w. tattoo

Speaking of Lisbeth, her dragon tattoo appears to have started a trend in body modification not to be believed.  According to my Stockholm guide Marco Giertz, in the past few years forty tattoo parlors have sprung up on Söder alone. As we walked around, I saw several, but mostly took note of the many new outdoor cafés and restaurants lining the streets, crowded with stylish young people, many of whom flaunted – you guessed it – tattoos.

Though chic and up-to-date, with a proliferation of fun eateries and smart new shops, Söder retains an old-time flavor. High elevation is another characteristic. This makes for some magnificent viewpoints, the most famous of which is Mosebacke, just south of Gamla Stan, the Old Town.

Stockholm Bellman's house

Which brings us back to literary connections associated with the district. It was here on Mosebacke that the hero of Strindberg’s first novel, The Red Room, stood on an early May evening around 1880, marveling at the life and bustle that lay below him. Before Strindberg there was Carl Michael Bellman, a native of the island and the great troubadour of the 18th century. His house at Urvädersgränd 3 still stands, and is occasionally open for guided tours.

Swedish literature once again presented itself when we ran into, of all things, a children’s playground. Apparently it was inspired by Per Anders Fogelström, a 20th century writer, famous for his deep affection for Söder, and for a series of books beginning with Mina Drömmars Stad (City of My Dreams).

Stockholm Fotografiska

Now for my next appointment. This time I’m joining my wife Roxie for a tour of Fotografiska, a center for contemporary photography, which ever since it opened in 2010, has had one smashing success after the other. Housed in a former customs building on Söder’s waterfront, it boasts an exhibition space of some 8,000 square feet, and features four major exhibitions a year along with maybe a dozen smaller ones.

Stockholm Genesis Print

Ah, the power of black-and-white photography!

Wandering from room to room – noticing how subdued the lights were, presumably to minimize distraction, protect the images, and bring greater focus to the exhibits – I arrived at “Genesis,” an outstanding collection of B&W Images by the Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado, showing nature, animals, and indigenous people with such beauty that it took my breath away.

Remarkable also was Isaac Julien’s “Ten Thousand Waves,” a film installation projected onto nine double-sided screens, and I rather enjoyed a smaller exhibition featuring selected work by the Swedish photographer Dana Sederowsky, in which she herself, in a nurse’s uniform, shows up in each and every picture.

Stockholm Svinet

Roxie and I did a lot of walking that afternoon, mostly in Gamla Stan, which, with its narrow medieval streets and 800-year history, remains a favorite haunt. And here we had dinner, pigging out in an outdoor restaurant called Svinet, the Pig.

Stockholm Svinet Main Course

The place was filled to the last seat. In the middle, like a throne, stood the charcoal grill, turning out pig delicacies like there was no tomorrow. Our meal began with gazpacho and a succulent piece of smoked pork, grilled to perfection and served with special syrup. Then came the main course, “Cerdo Barbacua Bang Bang Verano,” consisting of different pork cuts, such as glazed and baked ribs and chuledonkas of spicy neck. Add to that a smoky chorizo, thrice-fried fries, and two bottles that looked as if they contained mustard and ketchup. Not so. The “mustard” turned out to be anchovy mayo, and the “ketchup,” roasted red pepper in pig fat.

“Really good and satisfying,” wrote Roxie in her notebook.

From utter disaster to big success. I’m referring to Vasa, the 64-cannon warship that capsized on its maiden voyage in 1628, was salvaged in the 1950s, and is now on display in what has become Scandinavia’s most visited museum, located on the island of Djurgården in central Stockholm.

Stockholm Vasa

We had both been there before, but it still felt new and exciting as (in semi-darkness, just like at the Fotografiska) we circled the old ship. What a rare insight into an era long gone. And what a mind-goggling surplus of sculptures and guns! Apparently, King Gustav II Adolf, who ordered the ship to be built, did little to contain his appetite for excess - an appetite which, by all accounts and in no small measure, contributed to what happened on that fateful August day nearly four hundred years ago.

Known as the “Lion of the North,” His Majesty was no doubt pleased that, among the five hundred sculptures, fifty-two depicted ferocious lions with big manes. Besides lions, the ship brimmed with carvings: mermaids, Roman emperors, bearded tritons, angels, devils, even a large-breasted woman sticking her tongue out and licking her own nose. Now faded, these once blazed with color. Great efforts have been made to ascertain what they originally looked like. The news is that they were even more colorful than previously thought. We are talking of an orgy of rosy breasts, pink skin, yellow hair, intense blues, flaming reds, and poisonous greens. In other words, a sight to behold for the thousands of spectators who saw Vasa set sail for the first and last time.

Coming out of the Vasa Museum we sighted a long line of people, presumably fans of the pop group ABBA, since it wound toward ABBA The Museum, which recently opened nearby. It would have been interesting to see what it was all about, but the crowds were daunting and, besides, we were set for lunch at nearby Ulla Winbladh.

Stockholm Winbladh Exterior

One of the pleasures in coming back to Sweden is to reacquaint oneself with some of the country’s traditional cuisine; certain dishes that rarely show up anywhere else, or if they do, lack that special touch.

For our purpose, Ulla Winbladh was perfect. Not only does it serve good traditional fare, the setting could not have been more propitious. Located in an old inn, originally a bakery built in the 1890s, the restaurant is a five-minute walk from the Vasa Museum, sits among trees, and features a large outdoor terrace.

Winbladh style bleak roe

For an appetizer we had Swedish bleak roe with toast, crème fraîche and red onion. A little dill and a slice of lemon, and we were set. Cold poached salmon with boiled potatoes, dill mayonnaise and pickled cucumber followed. How more Swedish could you get? In addition, we indulged in a very commendable casserole of fish Ulla Winbladh style, served with shellfish sauce.

The name of the restaurant brings us back to troubadour Carl Michael Bellman. A fictional character, Ulla Winbladh appears in many of his songs, and was based on a woman friend with a completely different name.

The next day’s program called for a tour to Fjäderholmarna, a small group of islands, just half-an-hour’s ferry ride from the city center. An easy yet satisfying glimpse, you may say, of the Stockholm archipelago.

Stockholm Ferry

The first thing that caught our attention as we left Nybroviken harbor was the Vasa Museum, highly noticeable because of the three masts that shoot straight up through the roof. Then came Gröna Lund, the amusement park and, farther out, “God, our father, on the rainbow,” an eye-catching Carl Milles sculpture, with a god-like figure perched on a 60-foot high arch.

Fjäderholmarna turned out to be a popular destination. Visitors crowded the narrow paths that led to a few restaurants and cafés, a boat museum, craftsmen’s workshops, a smokery, even a small beach. Our first appointment was with Pelle Ågren, the owner of Fjäderholmarnas Bryggeri, which is a so-called Brewpub, meaning a microbrewery integrated with a pub. Tall and bearded, he greeted us with a friendly smile, and took us for a peek at his brewery and then to the pub, where we were given a sampling of his offerings: a variety of excellent beer with pithy names, such as Bitter Bandit and Monkey Business.

Stockholm Lobster & Frøyalaks

Later, at Fjäderholmarnas Krog, sitting outdoors overlooking the water, we indulged in some outstanding seafood: lobster with mayonnaise, as well as Frøyalaks, a Norwegian salmon, served with mustard and honey seared with dill-creamed new potatoes. A small serving of bleak roe and smoked sirloin, along with a plate of red beets with warm cheddar started our meal. For dessert, we decided on cheese from Österlen, Skåne, a region in the far south of Sweden.

I recall being here once several years ago. It was Christmas time so, of course, everything had taken place indoors. I remember it as being quite formal, with people all dressed up, sitting at long tables with red tablecloths, raising their glasses in unison as the toasting ritual was performed with regular intervals.

Our evening in the Stockholm archipelago culminated with an outdoor concert in which Sarah Dawn Finer, a popular American-born Swedish singer, performed in front of an enthusiastic audience. It occurred to me that her spontaneous, totally uninhibited, way of expressing her love for Stockholm struck a chord with all those naturally reserved Swedes.

Stockholm Freden Interior

Before leaving Stockholm we had one more memorable dinner, this time at Den Gyldene Freden, which, like Svinet, is located in Gamla Stan. Apart from that, the two have little in common. Whereas Svinet is new and hip, Den Gyldene Freden is the country’s oldest most traditional restaurant, serving authentic Nordic home cooking since it opened in 1722. A genuine 18th century tavern, it bristles with history and literary associations. Early on a hangout for Bellman, it later became a favorite of Sweden’s 20th century troubadour, Ewert Taube, and here, in a room upstairs, the Swedish Academy meets regularly every month - presumably to pick Nobel Prize winners.

It should be mentioned that the artist Anders Zorn bought the restaurant in 1919, thus saving it from being torn down when there were plans to demolish much of the Old Town.

Our table (once Ewert Taube’s favorite table, according to the waitress) was old and wooden and next to the window. For an appetizer we picked the “House-made” selection of herring with aquavit-seasoned Västerbotten cheese.

Two main courses followed, both of which we shared: Swedish meatballs (which seemed unavoidable) and an exceptional sausage and roasted lamb dish, with chanterelles, cabbage and cheese curd.

Not surprisingly, the restaurant carried an aquavit all of its own. Named Den Gylden Snapsen, it arrived in a small carafe, on ice and in a silver bucket.

Skål to Stockholm – old and new!




© February 2015 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.