Trying to take in the multitude of museums in Stockholm during a weekend trip is a daunting task. No fewer than 35 major cultural institutions showcase art, design, history and science, strewn across the archipelago of 14 islands that make up the city. I didn’t make it to the Tobacco & Match Museum, for example, but managed to visit three places that provided a glimpse of the Swedish experience.
Vin & Sprithistoriska Museet (Historical Museum of Wines and Spirits) is dedicated to the manufacturing, distribution, and drinking of alcohol in all its refined glory. It’s difficult not to like a city with a museum like this.
Focusing on wine, vodka and spirits produced in Stockholm, the museum was founded in the 1920s by the government monopoly that distributed alcohol in the country at the time. It’s now in private hands, as is the manufacturing and distribution of alcohol in Sweden. Thankfully, attempts by the government and populous movements to control alcohol ultimately failed and the Swedes now openly enjoy their snaps (shots) in public.
On display are distilling equipment, a 500-year-old Italian wine press, and various containers and glasses used to serve spirits over the years. My favorite artifact is the “scent organ,” which dispenses the aromas of 55 spices used to flavor vodka and other local liqueurs, such as Swedish punsch.
Wine overtook vodka during the 1970s as the Swedes’ alcoholic beverage of choice, even though Sweden lacks the climate to produce its own. However, vodka remains the drink most associated with Sweden (Absolut, please) and the museum spends a great deal of time examining its origins. A precursor was the Scandinavian akvavit (“water of life”), distilled from grapes. Vodka first appeared in Sweden in 1505, distilled first from grains, then potatoes, which proved cheaper and made vodka affordable to the masses.
The museum is on the third floor of a non-descript brick building well outside the town center but easily accessible by bus or tunnelbana (subway).
Nobel Museum certainly isn’t the largest of the many museums in Stockholm, but it packs a big punch with multimedia displays honoring more than a century of human achievement. Opened in 2001 in Stockholm’s old town, the museum has become a bit cramped and there’s talk of moving the collection to a larger building.
Primary focus is Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, inventor of dynamite, holder of more than 300 patents, and head of a global manufacturing empire. The museum’s collection contains his books, furnishings, inventions, and original documents pertaining to the creation of the Nobel Prize and Nobel’s vast business holdings.
Artifacts include the typewriter used by Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky and the Nassan Passport, but the big draw are films of every Nobel winner from 1901 to date, telling their own stories. Overhead, a portrait and prize citation of more than 800 Nobel Laureates passes by on a cableway in the ceiling.
Nationalmuseum is undergoing a major renovation for the first time in its 143-year history, to return the building to its original grandeur while adapting it to meet modern needs. A primary goal is to bring natural light into the rooms by restoring windows concealed over the years.
During the renovation, a clever and creative exhibition, “Work in Progress: A Museum in a New Light,” fills these rooms. The first installment showcases the museum’s vast sculpture collection. Under newly-painted circular ceilings, sculptures peek out from columns in an otherwise bare room and sculpted heads perch, in a haphazard way, on bare scaffolding.
Displayed in a shipping container atop a skid, Triton, a bronze nude by Dutch sculptor Adriaen de Vries, sits on a ring of fish blowing into a horn-shaped shell. Partially obscured by a plastic sheet and artfully draped foam wrapping, the life-size figure is dramatically lit by an overhead spotlight. The description explains that the work spends much of its time traveling to different museums around the world, part of an outside fountain in storage. Exhibits will evolve as renovations continue.