Monday, December 08, 2008

Home of the Nobel Prizes and more

Because the academic semester concluded last week, allowing many of my colleagues to leave Qatar over the weekend, I was facing a pretty lonely time in Qatar during the Eid Al Adha break. I decided to use up some frequent flier miles to go someplace that might feel like the holidays. I landed on Stockholm, Sweden, as my destination - a great decision for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the beautiful Christmas Market to the right in Gamla Stan (the old city area of Stockholm).

Stockholm is an old city, serving throughout its history as the capital of Sweden and claiming rights as the unofficial capital of Scandinavia. Sweden became very prosperous during Europe's days of domination in shipping. It was one of the countries that prospered most; as a result, Sweden built many imposing buildings throughout the 16th and up and through the 19th century. The entire city of Stockholm is plotted on islands among waterways and canals. Like other cities of Europe where access by water was very important to their development (i.e. Amsterdam and Dresden), it claims to be the Venice of the north. I don't know which city has the most justified claim but water certainly plays prominently in Stockholm's history.

One of the most fascinating reminders of Sweden's history as a maritime power is a ship that sank on its maiden voyage from Stockholm in 1628. Because the ship sank twenty minutes after setting sail, and sunk in waters that protected it over the centuries, archaeologist were able to raise and restore it at the Vasa Museum. The ship that you see here is 95% complete with the original wood that shipbuilders used to construct it. The ornamentation is incredible, an assertion of the wealth and power of Sweden as it engaged in the "30 years war" that gripped Europe in the 17th century. I thought that the ships in "Pirates of the Caribbean" were impressive but they are dwarfed by the size of the Vasa. Standing by the side of this vast ship, I could just imagine what it must have been like to have the ship sail by, overwhelming everything in its path. The sinking of Vasa was the result of over-building with two decks of heavy canon and towering sails that capsized it when a strong wind tipped the ship, the balast rolled, and water gushed in through the canon portals. One can only imagine...

More impressive than the beautiful buildings and the amazing reconstruction of Vasa, the Nobel Prize overwhelms this city. I just happened to be here during preparations for December 10, which is the day on which the prizes are always awarded. It was awe-inspiring to say the least to see the Nobel winner museum and observe the preparation for the Nobel banquet at City Hall.

It's ironic that a city that built its wealth from domination by sea is the home to the recognition and celebration of people who have contributed most to the advancement of science, economics, and peace. The buzz of the city is palpable and a joy to observe. I have one more day left before I return to Qatar. My feet/legs are so tired I can hardly walk but I'll dive into several more museums tomorrow.

1 comment:

Matt said...


I am glad that you had the chance to see the Vasa Museet. I think it was one of my favorite museums in Europe. Enjoy your time in Stockholm, it truly is enchanting. Also, make sure to have some Sweedish meatballs and lingonberry jam...its well worth it! Hope all is well!

-Matt Hoffman