The second leg of my Southern Sweden goodbye tour was Visby on the Baltic island of Gotland. Gotland is a renown summertime destination, where its possibly to bike around the whole island in a day. However, when I arrived the island was covered in snow — it’s very flat so any storms that come through the area completely cover it. I arrived around sundown (5pm), and I was lucky enough that it rained overnight so that in the morning there wasn’t as much ice for my walkabout.
Visby is the biggest city on Gotland and the old town, inside a beautiful 3km stone wall, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The wall was built to keep out the invading Danes, and later the tribes that would soon be Germany.
There were ruins of two gigantic and beautiful stone churches in Visby, they are bare because of a fire. It was really awesome to see the skeleton of a beautiful structure.
There is also a gigantic beautiful church, whose spires you can see while coming in from the airport. I love the understated ornament in Swedish cathedrals, and this church didn’t have any crucifixes which was interesting. Perhaps because it is Lutheran?
I thought this was a pretty painting of Jesus with a rainbow on his shirt, the bible says ‘Var Inte Rädd’ which means ‘Don’t Be Afraid’, a rather ominous statement, but the painting was made for Gotland’s 2013 Pride Week; it is meant to be, “A reminder to all who need faith that God is gender-blind when it comes to love and love is a diverse rainbow in the sky over humanity”.
The other ruin in the city is of St. Lars, and I thought it was funny that this ruin is just sitting in the backyard of these peoples’ homes.
There were also some really wonderful parks and gardens.
There is a botanic garden inside the Visby walls that is truly adorable, and its origin story is even cuter! The full name of the garden is “The Botanic Garden of the Society of the Bathing Friends in Visby”. From an interpretive plaque in the garden:
It all began in 1814 when a few young men gathered to bathe in the sea, drink punch and socialize. They decided to form the Society of the Bathing Friends (DBW). After a short time they wanted to combine pleasure with usefulness and ‘to do something useful for the community’ became the Society’s statue. a hundred years later yet another main objective was added: “The preservation of the extraordinary beauty and quaint character of Wisby”.
In 1815 the Society set up a free school for poor boys and a school building was erected in 1822 on Klinten above the Cathedral. Today it houses the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators.
In 1830 the Society established a savings bank. In 1903 a grand bank building in the neo-Gothic style was completed at S Kyrkogatan. Changes in legislation gradually separated the bank from the Society and the bank merged with other banks. The bank closed in the 1970s.
In 1855 the Botanic Garden was created on the suggestion of the priest and teacher HP Gustafson. Education, gardening and a nursery were the central tasks during these early years; recreation came naturally and beauty was and is evident. The garden is owned by the Society. Investments are made by the Society and the garden is maintained by grants from the Municipality of Gotland. The ruin of Sain Olaf in the southern part of the garden is what remains of the church built in the 13th century.
In 1863 a Gazebo was built on the Temple Mound.
In 1876 a Pavilion was erected north of the garden. The Society held their meetings there and it became a well-known building in Visby. It was completely destroyed by a fire in 1951. In 1904 a field, Ahsbergska hagen, was bought and it is still under the ownership of the Society. It is located about 2km north of the Botanic Garden and it was here the Society was founded on the 9th of July 1814. Nowadays it is a recreational area that is always open to the public.
Today the Society is to a great extent characterized by its support of Gotlandic research, cultural life and the Botanic Garden. Substantial sums are allocated annually for these purposes. Naturally the members of the Society still bathe, especially on the first Tuesday in July, which is the traditional Bathing Day. The Society’s Annual Feast Day is on the 9th of July.
I think this is the sweetest little story, and it feels SO Swedish to me… A bunch of young people bathing in the sea deciding they should do something that benefits the community…
My next stop after Visby was Norrköping, a small former industrial city about an hour southwest of Stockholm. I wanted to visit Norrköping because of the Industrilandskapet, a renewal of the Bråviken River that runs through the center of town. Norrköping was built on the production of wool in its numerous mills. The mills lined the river, which generated power through its numerous dams and locks. The mills were productive during the 17th century, but demand dropped after the First World War; other countries’ wool was of higher quality and more cheaply produced than Sweden’s. After demand crashed, Norrköping experienced high unemployment, but has since rebounded. The old mill buildings are now full of university and conference spaces, a science park, and lots of free museums depicting the history of the city.
After seeing the Industrilandskapet it occurred to me that not only is Sweden really great at using color, designing objects, and designing pleasant environments by using time-tested principles of spatial arrangements, but the Swedes create amazing opportunities for themselves. Hammarby Sjöstad and the Royal Seaport in Stockholm, the Västra Hamnen in Malmö, and the Industrilandskapet are all examples of industrial environments that are reborn to accommodate contemporary needs — space for science and tech, housing, and pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.