OR SWEDEN GOES WEST
15.10.2004 - 16.10.2004
SWEDEN GOES WEST
It is impossible to talk about Gothenburg without talking about Stockholm.
Because Gothenburg, created as an opposition or rather counterbalance to Stockholm, is everything Stockholm is not.
It is, simply, a response to Stockholm’s weaknesses.
Which are, as any Gothenburger knows, quite a few.
First, Stockholm is too cold. Its winters are freezing. In response to this inconvenience, Gothenburg offers a much milder and human-friendly climate.
Second, Stockholm is too eastern. Its eastern exposure may have been an excellent idea in times when Sweden’s priorities were competing with Russia for influence in the Baltic Sea basin, invading Finland and waging wars with Poland.
But as the world grew bigger Swedes realized that Helsinki, Tallinn and Riga should be their priorities no more. Instead they needed a city that would be a convenient post for trade with Asia and the Americas as well as for contacts with financial centres of the world, like London and New York. For these purposes Gothenburg was as good as it got.
Third, Stockholm is too royal. Over the centuries the world not only got bigger but also somewhat republican. Sweden needed a city that would be more in line with new political tendencies of the world. A city that would be diligent, unpretentious and practical. That would take no notice of royal lavishness, show-off and decadence. For this purpose Gothenburg, located hundreds of km away from any of the residences of the Swedish royal family, was just fine.
So this is Gothenburg. Sweden's gateway to the west. Focused on trade, fishing industry and hard work. Not exactly a dream tourist destination, but maybe worth taking a look if you happen to be around.
Photo: Landshövdingehusen in Haga district
Gothenburg canals (Göteborgs kanaler)
Gothenburg was planned and built by the Dutch, so no wonder that it is crisscrossed with canals. The most important of them is called Stora Hamnkanalen (Big Harbour Canal). Stora Hamnkanalen is lined with many of Gothenburg’s most interesting buildings, like the German Church (Tyska Kyrkan) a.k.a. Christinae Church, the Town Hall and the Stock Exchange.
Photo: The German Church (on the left) and the Town Hall (on the right) as seen from the other side of Stora Hamnkanalen
Gustav Adolf Square (Gustav Adolfs Torg)
Located by Stora Hamnkanalen, Gustav Adolf Square is the administrative and political centre of Gothenburg. In the midst of the square stands the statue of Gustav II Adolf, who founded Gothenburg in 1621. It is here where the the Town Hall and the 19th century Stock Exchange (Börsen) are located. Börsen is my favourite building in the centre of Gothenburg.
Photo: Gustav Adolf Square with the statue of Gustav II Adolf and Börsen
Kungsportsavenyn a.k.a. Avenyn
Many European cities claim to have their own local Champs-Élysées. Gothenburg is one of them. Its Champs-Élysées is called Kungsportsavenyn (King’s Gate Avenue) or just Avenyn. Lined with fashionable shops, nightclubs, bars, restaurants and cafés, Avenyn is Gothenburg's major avenue and Sweden's most famous street. As far as architectural beauty is concerned, I found Avenyn quite forgettable.
Gothenburg Cathedral (Göteborgs Domkyrka)
Gothenburg Cathedral is an unassuming but pleasantly harmonious neo-Classical church located in the centre of the town. Its interior, like most Lutheran churches, is austere and sparsely furnished.
Photo: The tower of Gothenburg Cathedral
In the 19th century Haga was a shabby overcrowded working class suburb of Gothenburg. Today it is a hip place, full of small cafés and shops. And undeniably the most picturesque neighbourhood in town. Its wooden houses are a charming example of Nordic small town architecture. Many of them feature characteristics typical of landshövdingehusen, which is a type of residential architecture unique for Gothenburg. Landshövdingehusen are two-floor houses with the ground floor in stone and the other two in wood. They can be spotted in many parts of Gothenburg, but the ones in Haga are definitely the most beautiful.
Photo: Landshövdingehusen in Haga district
The Masthugg Church (Masthuggskyrkan)
Masthuggskyrkan holds a very special place in the hearts of not only Gothenburgers, but also all Swedes. Its 60m brick red tower was the last memorable sight of Sweden visible to thousands of emigrants who at the beginning of the 20th century left their native land to start a new life in America. I saw Masthuggskyrkan only from a distance for it didn’t look appealing enough to make me climb the hill on top of which it stands. But fact is that it is one of the most important examples of Nordic National Romantic style, which was quite popular in Sweden and Finland at the beginning of the 20th century. I guess I am not a fan of this style.
The Skanska Scraper (Skanskaskrapan) a.k.a. the Lipstick (Läppstiftet)
When in Gothenburg you may notice a lipstick somebody dropped on the pavement by the riverside. Since it is quite big (83m in height), it is rather easy to spot. Actually, it is so big that many consider it the landmark and symbol of Gothenburg. Some locals claim it is not a lipstick but instead a pile of Lego bricks and therefore call it Legohuset. Whatever it is, I think it is a very ugly thing and the person that dropped it (I’ve heard it was a Brit named Ralph Erskine) should have been fined for littering in Gothenburg.
Photo: Gothenburg harbour with the Lipstick on the right
I knew that Gothenburg is a very young city (by European standards) focused on making and not spending money so didn’t expect Medieval nooks, Gothic spires, Renaissance plazas or opulent Baroque domes. Still, it was rather a letdown. Clean, airy, functional and well-organized, Gothenburg looks like a great place to live, but it is scarce with memorable sights and buildings. Its modern architecture, which in case of young towns is always a chance to make a difference, does stand out, but rather on the negative side. Both the famous Lipstick and the ultramodern Opera House (which is a brand new architectural pride of Gothenburg) would be strong candidates to enter the list of the ugliest city landmarks I’ve ever seen. Gothenburg was built by the Dutch, but don’t expect it to be a Nordic counterpart of Amsterdam. Apart from the canals, I noticed no similarities with Dutch cities. Instead its 19th century neo-Classical historical core is very much reminiscent of Helsinki (the difference is that Helsinki skyline is decorated with two outstanding churches while Gothenburg’s temples are rather unremarkable).
On the bright side (yes, there’s a bright side), I was very glad I had a chance to see Haga district. This laidback, predominantly wooden neighbourhood is the architectural highlight of Gothenburg. It feels a bit like a Siberian town with an IKEA twist. A unique place, especially in winter I guess.
Photo: Neo-Gothic Centralstation is one of the most interesting buildings in Gothenburg
Paddan (the toad) is the name of flat-bottomed open top sightseeing boats that cruise through Gothenburg’s canals and harbour. I gave up on the idea of taking a paddan tour because boat tours I took in some other European cities (i.e. Amsterdam and Seville) taught me that they rarely are an interesting alternative for walking unless you are an elderly person or have a disability. Views from the boats are no much different than from the street (usually slightly worse), you can hardly move for at least an hour, have to listen to recorded commentaries in languages like Japanese, and on top of that pay for all of it. Thank you, I'll take a walk.
If you fancy a paddan tour note that the boats have no protection from the rain.
Blue trams (Göteborgs spårvagnar)
Gothenburgers are very proud of their tram network. And quite deservedly, for with its 190km it is the longest tram network in Scandinavia. All of Gothenburg trams are blue and they are as ubiquitous a sight here as red double-decker buses in London. I’ve always been into trams so no wonder that they became the highlight of my visit to Gothenburg.
Photo: A blue tram in central Gothenburg.
SURROUNDINGS OF GOTHENBURG:
Gothenburg Archipelago (10 km west of Gothenburg)
Island hopping is something Greece is famous for, but Gothenburg? Yes, in Gothenburg you can also island hop till you drop. Or rather, skerry hop (skerries are small rocky islands typical of the Scandinavian coast). Gothenburg boasts two skerry archipelagos called Northern (Göteborgs norra skärgård) and Southern (Göteborgs södra skärgård).
The gateway to the Southern Archipelago is Saltholmen, which is a suburb of Gothenburg located at the mouth of the Göta Älv River. You can get there from the city centre by tram. After arriving at Saltholmen all you have to do is choose the island you want to visit (the biggest are Styrsö, Asperö, Brännö and Donsö) and hop on a ferry.
Photo: Gothenburg Southern Archipelago as seen from Saltholmen
MOVIES SHOT ON LOCATION IN GOTHENBURG:
1. Jalla Jalla – Sweden 2000, dir. Josef Fares
2. The Third Wave (Den Tredje Vågen) - Sweden/Finland 2003, dir. Anders Nilsson
3. God Save The King (Tjenare Kungen) – Sweden 2005, dir. Anna Fredriksson
4. A Song For Martin (En Sång För Martin) – Denmark/Sweden 2001, dir. Bille August
5. Zero Tolerance (Noll Tolerans) – Sweden 1999, dir. Anders Nilsson