Stockholm: Introduction

  • © ferrantraite, iStockphoto.com

    © ferrantraite, iStockphoto.com

DISCOVER STOCKHOLM!

Yellowish-golden town houses that glow warmly in the clear Scandinavian light, magnificent Renaissance buildings that testify to a glorious past, screaming seagulls flying over white steamships on their way to the skerries: Stockholm, the dazzling capital of the north, is a fascinating city – especially as a result of all the water surrounding it that glitters so wonderfully in the sun and then freezes in winter.

A third of the surface area of Stockholm is water and, being unpolluted, is of excellent quality. You can swim in the middle of the city without any qualms and, if you want to, even try to catch that big fat salmon! A second third is green. Apart from the many small intimate corners with trees, shrubs and lawns, a gigantic, protected national park, the Ekoparken, covers an area of 27 km² (6700 acres) within the inner city district. Can any other city with more than a million inhabitants make such a claim? And the green areas are very popular with visitors in summer and winter because the people of Stockholm – and this applies to Swedes in general – feel very close to nature. Nothing can keep the sun-hungry people in the capital indoors as soon as the first rays of the spring sun make themselves felt after the long months of darkness.

Then, it’s off into the great outdoors. Armed with their mobile phones, they sit dreaming on the steps of the Dramaten and soak up the warmth and light which they had to do without for so long over a caffè latte. Tables and chairs – and warm woollen blankets – are put out in front of even the smallest cafés as soon as possible. But be careful, compared with other Europeans, the Stockholmers seem to feel temperatures somewhat differently. Even if the temperature still appears to be low at the start of spring, they go out lightly dressed while visitors from a bit further south are still shivering with cold.

Soaking up light and energy for the long, dark, winter days ahead

The city really comes to life in May and June when everything is in full bloom: that’s when the skerry steamers start the new season, festivals and marathon runs attract visitors, and the Stockholmers gather their entire family for an outdoor picnic. They need to soak up light and energy for the cold, dark winter days when the streets of the capital are deserted, the ships lie at anchor in the docks and it is much cosier indoors. Countless lights in windows shine warmly into the winter darkness and flaming braziers in front of doors create a feeling of cosiness. This is how the Stockholmers make it through the dark half of the year.

Sport can also help conquer the winter blues. The Stockholmers just adapt their favourite sport to the season. The wonderful lakes for swimming and streams for kayaking in the summer become perfect ice rinks in winter; the golf courses people teed off from in summer make ideal cross-country skiing trails in the dark months. And one thing is certain: the next summer is bound to come!

A pioneer in the battle against traffic chaos and air pollution

People visiting Stockholm for the first time soon realise that it is relatively small for a capital city. The city on 14 islands meanders around the many bays and expanses of water over more than 50 bridges, makes its way from one tunnel to the next, before climbing up the hills and rising at the other end – it does cover a large surface area, but the centre itself is relatively compact, and its grid-like layout will make it easy for you to explore.

You will also notice that, for such a major city, Stockholm is very relaxed, peaceful and spotless. You will even be able to smell it because Stockholm’s buses are fuelled with ethanol or biogas and, in this way, play their part in keeping the air clean. That is the reason that Stockholm was named the first green environmental capital of Europe in 2010. It is a pioneer in the battle against air pollution, traffic chaos and the emission of greenhouse gases. The city hopes to be completely independent of fossil fuels by the year 2050 – regardless of the fact that Stockholm’s population is increasing rapidly by 20,000 people each year.

With its more than 2 million inhabitants (844,000 in the inner city), Stockholm is Sweden’s largest city and political centre. After years of Social Democratic leadership, it has been governed by a conservative coalition under Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt since 2006. This course was confirmed in the 2010 elections and makes the conservative alliance the first to be in power for two consecutive legislative periods.

One reason for the election victory: through the state’s economic programme, instituted by Reinfeldt’s government with financial support from the National Bank, Sweden was able to absorb the shock of the international financial crisis after 2007 relatively easily. Tax relief for low and medium-wage earners as well as active labour-market policies also contributed to the conservative alliance’s success with voters. But there was one sour note. For the first time, a right-wing populist party, the Swedish Democrats, entered the Swedish parliament. 

Stockholm is where all the decisions affecting the country are made; this is where the money is, the largest number of working places and the highest wages – therefore, it comes as no surprise that the rest of Sweden is somewhat envious of the Nollåttor (‘zero-eights’, from 08, Stockholm’s telephone code). The image their country men have of them has a few flaws: they are considered arrogant, haughty and snobbish.

Stockholm has the largest Baltic harbour, and is the fastest-growing economic area in the Baltic region. At the same time, Stockholm is also the most important business location in the country. Almost a quarter of Sweden’s enterprises have their headquarters around Lake Mälar – including Ericsson, Vattenfall, Scania and SEB. The most important financial centre in North Europe has also been established here – the Stockholm Stock Exchange. Numerous media, book and newspaper publishers, and the Swedish television and radio organisation, also have their headquarters in Stockholm.

The rest of Sweden is envious of those living in the capital

In addition, the Swedish capital is a leader in the area of research and development; universities such as the Karolinska Institutet, the Royal Technical University, the Royal University of Music and the Business School are among the best in the country, and are trailblazers in the fields of bio-technology, pharmaceutics, information technology and mechanical engineering. This makes it easy to understand why the Nobel Prizes for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics are awarded here by the King every year on 10 December. 

Even Stockholm has problems with unsuccessful integration

Stockholm is an attractive place to live and work and has become a new home for people from many countries. The number of immigrants is increasing steadily. In the 1960s, these were mostly Finns but today they mainly come from Iraq, Poland and Somalia. As is the case in many other cities, it cannot be overseen that Stockholm has difficulties integrating these newcomers. Suburbs with a high percentage of foreigners, such as Rinkeby and Skärholmen, are examples of unsuccessful integration.

Unemployment, drug problems and criminality are all part of the sad everyday situation there. Even in Stockholm, foreigners with outstanding qualifications work as taxi drivers, cleaning personnel or are forced to take up illicit employment. This exclusion of the ‘New Swedes’ has also led to tension, even if it is not as obvious as in some other countries. Even the most carefully worded criticism of multi-culture is considered a social taboo and is quickly interpreted as racism. Immigrants make a significant contribution to urban life in many areas: Croats and Brazilians shoot goals for Stockholm’s football clubs, Italians and South Koreans sing in Stockholm’s opera house, and Vietnamese and Ethiopians cook for all they’re worth in Stockholm’s restaurants. 

Stockholm is a modern, European capital city but there is one fundamental difference compared to other metropolises: Sweden’s capital is characterised by a feeling of peace and relaxation instead of an enervating mad rush, by calm people, by the relaxing effect of all the water and green areas. A city with a high standard of living. Let yourself be charmed by this fascinating mixture!


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