Stockholm: Following the “Dragon Tattoo”

Blomquist’s home, courtesy Visit Sweden

Mikael Blomqvist is sitting in front of me on my SAS flight to Stockholm.

If you’ve read any of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular novels (known collectively as the Millennium Trilogy around the world) or seen Daniel Craig in the recently released dark and brooding Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, you’ll know just who I mean.

Blomqvist, whom Craig plays, is a crusading journalist with lofty ideas, a big heart and a knack for attracting trouble. Along with iconoclastic,
multi-pierced, expert hacker Lisabeth Sander — he fights bad guys in the Swedish-based thrillers.

It turns out that my flying companion is Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist, who portrays Blomqvist in the Swedish film versions of the novels. And yet, nobody but me on this plane recognizes the guy. Or, maybe they’re just cooler than I am.

Nevertheless, it’s an enchanting coincidence since I’m flying SAS to Stockholm on a Millennium mission. (I have to ask: did somebody plant this guy on my plane?)

Tourists have been flocking to this waterside capital city in hoards lately. But here’s the news flash: they’re not just coming for the Gamla Stan, the restored medieval quarter. Nor are they coming merely to cross the myriad bridges that link the 14 islands that compose this geographically deconstructed Venice of the North.

And, they’re not coming purely for the meatballs, the herring or the lingonberries.

Photo courtesy of Vist Sweden

What’s luring them to the capital of IKEA, H & M, and Volvo en masse is the chance to walk in the footsteps of Larsson’s characters and to experience for themselves the real places so sharply drawn and detailed in the author’s works.

Larsson drew from his own experiences and daily rituals as a writer in Stockholm. Writing about Sodermalm, the bohemian chic island/neighborhood where he lived and worked, Larsson brought to life many typical — even ordinary — spots, and made them compelling.

Tourists now come to Stockholm demanding to meet characters from the books as if they were real — and one newspaper notice I see advertises the opportunity to buy an apartment in the same building as Salander (that’s the palatial one which has 21 rooms and cost her some of her ill-gotten billions).

Yes, it is a real place — and I’ve seen it. And you can, too.

I feed my frenzy with the Stockholm City Museum’s two hour guided Millennium Walk.  The tour takes participants on a winding route through Sodermalm — the apex of Bohemian hip, a gentrified, off beat bastion of bars, cafes, coffeehouses, galleries, vintage shops.

Amid crowds that range from trendy teens to yuppies with fully loaded strollers to artsy looking senior citizens, we gambol about in search of the places where Larsson set the novels. His characters live, love and work here. Even our guide talks about them in the present tense as if they were real. Rattling off theories and trivia, she further inflames the Millennium mystique.

We stop at Bellmansgatan1, where Blomqvist lives in an attic apartment with views of the water and Old Town.  We linger at Monteliusvagen, a
vista point that looks out over Kungsholmen island — and we spot the courthouse where Blomqvist is convicted of slander and Salander is
declared innocent.

In awe, we gape at Lisbeth Salander’s 3,800 square foot apartment on the top floor of Fiskargatan 9, step into the 7-Eleven where Salander buys Swedish junk food such as Billy’s Pan Pizza, and discover the offices where Blomqvist worked.

Photo courtesy Visit Sweden

Later, I grab a self-guided Millennium walk map. With it, visitors can take themselves to sights not covered on the tour. From it, I pick Kvarnen, one of Stockholm’s oldest taverns, and make reservations for dinner.  Here, Blomkvist hung out with his Millennium colleagues and Salander cavorted with her friend Miriam Wu.

Over a plate of smoked salmon and a Swedish beer, I take in the gritty-cum-exuberant atmosphere. I can just imagine the characters sitting at the table next to me.

Maybe it’s silly to visit a city in pursuit of fictional characters. But it’s one way to peel away the layers and discover an aspect of a place you haven’t experienced previously. Thanks to Larsson, tourists are seeing Stockholm as they’ve never seen it before.