Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn is the capital city, and major political, financial, cultural and education hub of Estonia.  It is also where about 440,000 of Estonia’s 1.3m population live. Tallinn’s Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – gotta love those UNESCO people… preserving all the history for future generations.  I’ve been to more UNESCO sites this year than you can poke a stick at!  ( <– Australian expression for a ‘whole bunch of them’).

Anyway, Tallinn is first mentioned as having received city rights as far back as 1219, (I actually typed that as 1912, twice, before getting it right!), but humans are believed to have settled here as long as 5,000 years ago. Initially, the land was owned by the Danes in the 13th century after a successful raid of Lyandisse led by Valdemar II of Danmark.  After this, Estonia alternated between Scandinavian and German rule.  Due it’s important strategic location, Tallinn became a major trade hub from the 14th to 16th centuries as it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League – I’ve written about the Hanseatic League before, but if you’re unfamiliar with it, you can kinda think of it as the early European Union.

This striking pink building is the Riiggikogu, or Estonian Parliament, also known as Toompea Castle located in the upper part of the Old Town.  According to legend, Toompea is the grave mount of an ancient Estonian king, Kalev, which was created by his wife, Linda, who carried rocks for it in her apron.  A thousand years ago, it was the seat of an Estonian stronghold, and from the 13th-19th centuries was the home of the nobiity.  The houses and palaces that decorate the Toompea now were all built after a huge fire in 1684 and are in the German-Batlic style preferred by the families of noble descent who lived here.Directly opposite Toompea Castle stands the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky – built in 1894-1900, the building has five onion-shaped cupolas that rest of a study granite blocks and follow the 17th century building style of Mosow and Yaroslavl.  The facade mosaics are by A Frolov as are the wall paintings on the inside.Alexander Nevsky Cathedral boasts the most impressive ensemble of church bells in the country – it comprises of 11 bells, including Tallinn’s largest bell which weighs over 15 tonnes.
The church holds services and local worship here still.

Around the corner is Toomkirik, also known as the Cathedral of St Mary the Virgin which dates from the early 13th century, howeve, all the older decorations were destroyed during the fire of 1684, so the rebuild occured after that and it acquired a baroque spire in 1778-79.
The interior of the cathedral is relatively simple but contains a remarkable collection of heraldic epitaphs for many of the Baltic-Germa noble families that patronised the church.  There are more than 100 of these elaborated impressas decorating the church, many of which were made by Tallinn wood carver Christian Ackerman in the late 1690s. The narrow cobbled streets of the upper Old Town. View from the panorama viewpoints towards the gate towers of the lower Old Town. Rear of the Presidential residence. Rooftops of Tallinn.We had a little bit of time to poke around the shops in the upper area of the old town, and there is a heavy focus on amber (amber, amber everywhere!), woolen sweaters, Russian dolls, painted plates, and strangel little ceramic buildings that can be used as candle holders).

St Catherine’s Church – though which Catherine, I couldn’t tell you. Our next stop was to Kadroig Palace.  Literally meaning ‘Catherine’s Vale’, Kadroig with its beautiful gardens and huge swan lake is a favored outing place for locals.  The palace and grounds were built by Russian Tsar Peter I.  He had acquired some land with a small house on it and launched on the construction of a summer palace for his wife, Catherine, in 1718.  The design was by Italian architect Niccolo Michetti. and has extensive parterres, fountains, cascades, canals, and lakes.
When completed, Kadroig Palace was the most magnificent example of baroque architecture in Estonia.  At present, the main hall is the only extant example of a completely unaltered baroque hall from the time of Peter I.  The building is currently used to house the Estonia Art Museum’s collection of foreign art.
Peter’s second wife, Katherine who it is claimed he fell in love with at first sight, even though she was a common washerwoman at the time.  He left? abandoned? sent his first wife to a convent? and married Katherine who then became Empress of all Russia. Allegorical fresco depicting the goddess Diana being surprised as she bathed with her nymphs by a hapless hunter.  She turned him into a deer, and he grew horns; his dogs did not recognize him and they ripped him to pieces… apparently, Diana represents the triumphal hunter, ‘Russia’ and the hapless hunter-turned-deer, represents ‘Sweden’. A random Bruegel in the collection… A chinoiserie ceramic slipper – no provenance listed anywhere. Heating furnaces. Front facade of Kadroig Palace. Another chance to have a bit of a poke about the shops came up and we found more textiles… this time in the form of heavy felt hats with cat faces embroidered on them…?!

We went for a bit of a wander through the lower Old Town area in the afternoon, which afforded some beautiful examples of gloriously textured old buildings… A Medieval merchant’s home. Tomb’s on the outer wall of St Catherine’s Church (or should I say another St Catherine’s Church). Katariina Kakik – St Catherine’s Alley Wandered through the artsy fartsy section of the old town – glass blowers:
Timber workers:  Loads of buttons made of juniper, applewood, ash, birch etc.  Smelled amazing. Traditional wooden cups and ladles: The original medieval fortress walls and gatehouses of the Old Town.  

Rickety and uneven stairway up to the walkway above the city gates. The nice and stable Medieval walkways of the walled city. Over the roof tops from the medieval walled walkways. Arrowslit fortifications. View out a window from the Medieval gate house. More textiles shopping markets along the fortress walls.  The Old Town of Tallinn certainly is a good example of a Medieval city – I think it probably rivals Toledo for having that ‘medieval feel about it’.  It’s beautiful and I am now more determined to visit Dubrovnik one day (no segue, it’s just on my list!). The Viru Gate at the end of Viru Street.

We had a lovely day out in Tallinn, but in the interests of self-preservation – we have two full on days in St Petersburg coming up! – and the fact the ship was due to leave at 1630, we didn’t really have time to go enjoy some of the local food and drink etc.  Though Mr K did get to ride on the first ever driverless bus we have ever seen… it was a dinky little thing that is doing runs back and forth along a set route, but it does navigate live intersections with other vehicles.  He was very excited – more than one should be by a self-driving bus imo… but there you have it!  😉

Warnemunde and Rostock

As a cruise port, most people use Warnemunde as a gateway to Berlin, but if you’ve been to Berlin before or you think Berlin needs more than just eight hours of exploration, then you might find yourself exploring the little seaside towns of Rostock and Warnemunde instead. Which is what we decided to do today.

Rostock is the largest city in the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, located on the Warnow River.  It is a beautiful university town, with the University of Rostock at its centre having been founded in the early 1400s.

The Neuer Markt with its double gabled houses and vaulted cellars were built in 1270.

Directly opposite is the Rostock Town Hall, which is a large baroque fronted building with seven brickwork spires.Right next to this centre part of town is the St Marien Church.  With buildings across narrow streets right beside this church on every side, it is very difficult to stand back far enough to take a photo of the outside of the building – but it is a stunning and very significant church having been built in 1230 and it contains a unique medieval astronomical clock.Stained glass in the southern portal windows depicting “Christ as the Judge of the World”.  Tirolean stained glass painting. c.1904.  Wing of the Our Lady Altar, the painting depicting scenes from the passion of Christ.  (c1430-1440AD). The Prince’s Gallery and pipe organ were added in 1749-1751 for Duke Christian Ludwig II who reigned at this period.  The two-storey organ was Rostock local, Paul Schmidt, however from the outset, the instrument was deemed wheezy and it needed considerable restoration work as early as 1791.  The present organ dates from 1938 and was made in Frankfurt.  It is a 4-manual siding chest organ with electro-pneumatic action and 83 stops with 4 free combinations (which no doubt means something to someone, but very little to me).  It certainly is quite an impressive work of art. Both the organ, the Prince’s Gallery, and the pulpit which was added around the same time have been executed in a soft olive green with gilded accents to maintain a singular colour scheme with the main altar. The main altar was created by cabinet maker Kahlert and painters Hohenschildt, Marggraf and Bromann. Behind the main altar is the most extraordinary astronomical clock that was made in 1472, attributed to master clockmaker Hans Duringer.  Before this, Duringer made the Danzig Clock at St Mary’s in Danzig, which together with the Rostock Clock makes the ‘Baltic Clock Family’.  This clock in Rostock is the only one that still has its medieval clockworks, which are still in working order.  From 1641-1643, it was renovated and extended, figures were changed and a carillon was added.  The latest restoration occurred between 1974 and 1977.The clock consists of a calendarium and a clock face, figures of the apostles stand in niches at the top, and Christ is depicted in the middle.  At midday and midnight, one of the apolstlyst walks from right to left and the carillon plays at ever other hour. The field below shows the time of day, the zodiac with the appropriate month sign, the position of the sun, and the phases of the moon.   The calendarium is approximately 2m in diameter and revolves 360 degrees one every year.   Carved figures supporting the calendarium. In the northern portal is this spectacular triptych altar piece. Fountain in the Rostock University Square. The Kropelin Gate is a magnificent fortification gate built in 1280, one of 22 former city gates.  Now the ultra modern KTC shopping center sits incongruously right beside it! View from the top of the Kropelin Gate… below are part of the medieval walled fortress. Canon balls. Kropelin Gate. After wandering Rostock a little more and doing some shopping, the weather started to come in.  Normally when this happens, I head for a museum, and Rostock has an excellent museum – the Kulturhistorisches Museum of Rostock.  Unfortunately for us, it’s a Monday and that means, (in the habitually annoying habit of museums the world over), that all the museums in the town were unhappily closed today.  Instead, we decided to head back to Warnemunde to find a nice German pub to warm up and to find a couple of pints and maybe some schnitzel… as you do!

I honestly thought I was ordering a chicken fillet burger of some sort… the menu said: ‘hamburger chicken schnitzel) – turned out to be chicken schnitzel with potato and an egg on it!  Delicious still.
And… mulled wine!The canals of Warnemunde. A quaint little fountain I found in a back street… I could find no information on this and not being able to read the plaque that was situated beside it, it remains a mystery.  🙂  European lock habits strike again. As luck would have it we have arrived in the area in the middle of the summer strawberry festival – I have never seen so many strawberry based products before… strawberry soft drink, strawberry liquor, strawberry hand creams and beauty products, strawberry confectionery and strawberry homewares!

We had a lovely day in Rostock, my only lament was that the historical and cultural museum was shut.. but you have to be somewhere on a Monday when you’re traveling, and unfortunately we were here.

The port of Warnemunde is a very busy little place, and quite a nice stop for an easy day of cultural immersion instead of running all the way to Berlin and doing the headless chook thing.

I found this schedule of ships that were due in during the 2017 season – the Regal Princess is the biggest one that calls in here.

Hei from Norway

Oslo sits at the northernmost end of the rather long and very pretty, Oslofjord in south-east Norway, and is Scandinavia’s oldest capital city. According to the sagas recorded in the 13th and 14th centuries, it was founded in 1050AD by the famous Viking, King Harald Hardrada, but is now a bustling modern city of roughly 640,000 people.  The city sprung up from the Viking’s need for a center for trade and shipbuilding, and while there was a very large settlement here during that period, there is little signs of the Viking settlement here now.

Oslo City Hall. There are so many things to see in Oslo, and we have relatively little time, that we have had to be selective about what we were going to see.  We started off the morning heading to Vigeland park, and after getting ever so slightly lost, we discovered a strikingly designed 80 hectare park with five distinctive formal garden spaces.  The park showcasing over 200 sculptures created by renowned sculptor, Gustav Vigeland between 1924 and 1943… while the park itself is often referred to ‘Vigeland Park’, the term is actually a misnomer for the world’s largest sculptural installation from a single artist within Frogner Park.  The figurative sculptures depict the various stages and elements of the human life cycle, from birth to death to everything in between. 

The Monolith at the center of the park. After checking out the sculpture park, we made our way to the Vikingskipene – the Viking Ship museum which contains the best preserved Viking ships in the world.  There are three ships in the museum, the Oseberg ship, the Gokstad ship and the Tune ship.  The Vikings had a material view of life after death and their grave and burial sites showed that they believed people’s position and possessions carried on after this life into an afterlife.  These three ships were used at sea for several years and finally brought ashore to be used as burial tombs.  The deceased were laid in the ships and amply provided for with clothing, food, drink, items of everyday use, art objects, and jewellery, and weapons.  Animals, such as horses, dogs, peacocks, and goshawks were also found in the burial mounds having been sacrificed to follow the deceased into the afterlife.  The ships were then thoroughly buried with large amounts of soil and peat, which helped considerably in preserving them.

The Oseberg ship, built around 820AD, is about 21.5m long and 5m wide.  There are oar holes for 15 people on each side, so with a helmsman and a lookout, there would have been a crew of about 32 or so people.  Built first, but discovered last, the Oseberg ship was excavated in 1904 and took three months to complete.  Two wealthy women were buried in the Oseberg ship, and they were joined by a multitude of burial girls – personal items such as clothing, shoes, combs, ship equipment, kitchen utensils, farm equipment, large decorative sleds, a huge cart, carved animal heads, five beds and two tents … along with the fifteen horses, six dogs and two cows that had been sacrificed indicated just how important these two women were.  The ship itself could be both sailed and rowed and it is a particularly grand and decorative ship.  The owner would have spent considerable resources in having the ship made, and was definitely an item associated with the upper classes.

Ceremonial cart/wagon from the Oseberg find.

Of the two short (153cm tall) women buried in the Oseberg ship, the older was 70-80 years old when she died, very possibly of cancer (she had osteoporosis, a lumbar fractures, two fused neck vertebrae, and a knee injury which would have caused her great pain in her later years as well as a stoop and a limp when she walked).  The other, younger woman, in her 50s, had healthy teeth with little wear indicating a good diet and good hygiene habits; she had a broken collarbone some weeks before her death, but there is no evidence to indicate this was the cause of her death.  Archaeologists have been unable to determine who the ‘main person’ in the grave was.

Decorative tent timbers: One of several carved animal heads found in the Oseberg grave – origin and purpose for which remains unknown. Oseberg chest. Very odd enameled mount on a bucket handle. Bucket found in the Oseberg grave, but determined to be of Irish origin.  I’m buggered if that doesn’t look like actual heraldry on something that was buried c.820AD.

The Gokstad ship, built c.890AD, is approximately 23.5m in length and 5.2m wide, with 16 slots for oars down each side.   So it’s crew would have been at least 34 people. It was unearthed in 1880 and was the burial tomb of a very rich and powerful man.  This is evident in that the deceased was accompanied by many lavish burial gifts.  His weapons and jewellery were gone, very likely the work of grave robbers in the Viking age, but they did not take everything.  Left behind were playing pieces made of horn, fish hooks, harness fittings for horses, gilded items of bronze and lead, kitchen utensils, six beds, one tent a sled and the remains of 12 horses, six dogs, two hawks and two peacocks.  Three smaller boats were also buried with the Gokstad ship for the use of the deceased in the afterlife.  

What is known about the Gokstad man is that he was 181-183cm tall and powerfully built – making him a large man for that period.  He was in his 40s, and marks on his skeleton show that he was killed battle.  The spectacular funeral he had, demonstrates that he was of high status and either a powerful political ruler or perhaps from a ‘royal’ family.  The peacocks in the tomb are quite the oddity, indicating that he was a man with considerable international connections – the birds may have been a gift from another ruler or brought home as trophies from a war expedition. The Gokstad ship could be sailed or rowed and was suitable for trade journeys, discovery voyages as well as Viking raids.  64 shields were found attached to the railing of the ship, though of these mainly only the shield bosses remain.

The Tune ship, which was built in 910AD, is somewhat smaller, at roughly 19m long and a little over 4m wide.  It has only 12 oar holes down either side and possibly would have gotten away with a crew as small as 24-26 people.  The Tune ship was excavated in 1867 and was the first Viking ship discovered in modern times, creating quite a stir in archeological circles.  The mount was unusually large – 80m x 4m making it one of the largest burial mounds ever found.  Unlike the Gokstad ship, the Tune ship was a smaller, faster, ocean-going vessel which was suitable for moving people rapidly which was an important characteristic of a Viking warship.  It is probable that the tomb was that of an important man of high rank, but it is also possible that this burial mound had been plundered in period, as the only items of the burial gifts remained.  Found in the ship was: the bones of three horses, some weapons (a sword grip, two spearheads, a shield boss, and some chain mail remains).  Other than that a dice, two small gems, a saddle remnant and some cloth remnants are all that was found in this grave.

After the excitement of the Vikingskiphuset (we got there just at the right time while people were all busy having lunch, but it got very busy as we were leaving), we decided to swing by the open-air Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Museum of Cultural History), primarily to see the only surviving wooden stave church in Oslo. 

Dendrochronologically dated to the approximately 1157-1212AD, the Gol Stave Church (Gol stavkyrkje) is was originally located in the city of Gol, Hallingdal, Norway.

The city of Gol in Hallingdal decided to replace their dilapidated church in 1880.  Thankfully, it was saved from destruction by King Oscar II who funded its relocation and restoration to its present location – officially, it is still the nominal property of the reigning monarch today. The Gol Stave Church is now part of the collection at the open-air museum in Oslo. Ironically, in 1980 the people of Gol in Hallingdal, decided to build a replica of this self-same stave church, that they wanted to destroy 100 years earlier to be used as a major tourist attraction – but if you go to Gol, you will see only the replica, not the original early 13th century church, which is here in Oslo.

The interior of the church is cool and dark, smells wonderfully of timber and is lavishly painted with early Christian iconography.

The cloisered balconies? verandahs? that surrounded the church allow you to walk the entire perimeter of the church without going outside. The carved entry doors to the stave church.

We also saw a number of other period buildings at the Norsk Folkemuseum mainly some farm buildings, a weavers workshop and a merchant’s home.

After admiring the church, we made our way back to the CBD to find the Museum of Cultural History  – where, my research indicated, the bulk of Norway’s Medieval and Viking artefacts are housed.  The museum’s collection had been built up over more than two centuries and includes over 1.5million objects (most of which are not on display of course).  The collection includes medieval church art, coins, swords, household items, jewellery, some textiles (impossible to photograph), wood panels, furniture and all good things.

You enter through the Medieval exhibition which features famous the famous painted ceiling from the Al stave church – also from Hallingdal c.1250AD, and reflect very heavily typical Christian iconography of the Middle Ages… the Creation, the Nativity, the Passion and Resurrection of Christ.  Unfortunately for foreign tourists, many, if not most, of the artefacts have plaques with little to no English on them, and the bookshop was closed on Saturday afternoon, so I was disappointed at how little information I was able to glean on each item – so, you will have to make of them what you will, and attempt to fill in the gaps where I have been unable to place any useful provenance.

Stave church doors depicting the story of Sigurd, the Dragon Killer. Faberg Church, Gudbrandsdal, Oppland, late 12th century.  Horse collar, unknown provenance, c.1250-1300AD. Sheild, 14thC bearing Runic inscription: “Gunnar made me, Helge owns me.” Drinking horn, c.1300 with secondary mounts. Horn appears to be of a native Norwegian breed of cattle. Drinking horn, horn and gilt silver. 15th century, Elingard, Onsey, Ostford.
Latin inscription: Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
Chair, Tydol church, Osterdolen, Hedmark. c.1150-1200. Baptismal font, Vale church, Westfold, c.1210-30. Aquamanile (knight), Helgeland, Nordland, c.1300.  Brass. Northern Germany.

Through the Medieval exhibition is the Viking Exhibition rooms which introduce visitors to Viking life from the late 700s to the mid-1000sAD, with particular regard to politics, religion, social practice and technology of the period… which is awesome except for the continued lack of multi-lingual signage.  :/

Shield bosses and horses bridles. Iron age period c.9th -11thC  More lovely beads in predominantly matching colour schemes.  Brooches, beads, and bracelet below – 10thC.
Shaman’s drum hammer.  Carved bone. 11th century, Nordset, Rendalen, Hedmark. More lovely matching and symmetrical bead sets… I can’t express how pleased I am to find now three sets of beads, across Sweden and Norway, that are not a completely psychotic arrangement of chaotic colour, type and size.  The order inherent in some of these bead sets is reassuring.

Beads, Hovland, Larvik, Vestfold, Viking Age (not very specific, but we can take that to mean c.700-1100AD 9th C tortoise broach and Verbrannte Leiche.  😀  More 9th century tortoise brooches. This amazing brooch from Hovland, Larvik, Vestfold, shows beautifully braided silver wire wound in and around the holes in the design of the brooch.  I tried to photograph the underside but without success.  9th century, and appears to be very ususual. Trefoil brooches. 9th-10th century.

Male jarl grave find from Funde aus Mannergrab.  Gjermundbu, Ringerkike, Buskerud, 10th century: Contains:  rattles, sickles, rasp, bell, knife, file, horse-bits, stirrups, spurs, helm, chain mail shirt, axe, 2 dice, 3 gaming pieces, sword, spear, fire-steel, spear, shield boss, axe, chape, cauldron, crampons, chain for cauldron. Female grave find from Ryem, Vikna, Nord-Trondelag, 10th century. Brooches, and beads.  Those beads were enromous… my thumb included for scale.  Iron age tools.  Used for ship building.
Chisel set used for timber work, ship building… possibly for rune stone carving as well. Bowls carved using chisels. Viking sword pommels – Vaga kirke, Vaga, Oppland.  9th century. Flattening board and flattening stones. Spinning whorls. Neck band. Viking shield from Oseberg grave.

Sword mounts. Belt mounts.  And on the way out – back to the chaos.After this we went back to town, did a bit of proper touristing… you know, cruised the souvenir shops, stopped for a pint at the Dr Jeckyll pub, walked along the waterfront and checked out the multi-cultural festival being held in Oslo’s town centre.  From there it was back to the ship!  🙂

Drottingsholm Palace and the ABBA Museum

This morning I set off for the happily situated Drottningholm Palace (Drottningsolms Slott), which is the current private residence of the Swedish royal family.  It is, oddly enough, located in Drottningholm, which is on the island of Lovon in Stockholm.  One of many Swedish Royal Palace, it was primarily used as a summer residence prior to the current royal family decided to make it their primary place of residence. The palace and its grounds have seen many alterations and additions over the past 400 years. The main innovations, of course, were adding electricity, heating, sewage, and water lines, followed by a major roof replacement on the castle in 1907 to 1913. The upkeep on these palatial homes must be phenomenally expensive. From the 70s to the late 90s, several areas of the palace were restored and completely rebuilt. The wonderful library and the national hall received a much-needed make over, and fire protection systems installed throughout the palace.

Palace Hall staircase.

Building on our history lesson from the other day, the name Drottningholm, literally means, ‘Queen’s islet’, and stems from a building designed by someone called Willem Boy – who created a stone palace built by John III of Sweden around 1580 for his queen, Catherine Jagellon.  Prior to this palace being built here, there was a royal mansion called Torvesund – which is the traditional way of trading up in real estate when you happen to be royal.

Later, in 1661, the Queen Dowager Regent (great title), Hedwig Eleanora bought the castle, but just as her Queen of Sweden ended, so too did the castle, and it burned to the ground in December the same year. Hedwig Eleonora then hired the famous architect Nicodemus Tessin the Elder (great name) to redesign and rebuild the castle.  The following year, work began on the reconstruction.  Unfortunately, when the castle was almost complete in 1681, poor old Nicodemus died, and his son, Nicodemus Tessin the Younger (unoriginal), was left to finish the construction and complete the elaborate interior designs. Throughout this period of reconstruction, Hedwig Eleonora was head of the protectorate for the underage King, Charles XI of Sweden (1660-1672). Sweden had developed to be a powerful country after the Peace of Westphalia, and the position of Dowager-Queen who was essentially the ruler of Sweden demanded a residence conveniently close to Stockholm for official royal business.

The ceilings throughout are magnificent pieces of art! During the later reign of kings Charles XI and Charles XII, the royal court was often at the palace and it was a favoured place for hunting parties. Hedwig Eleonora used the palace extensively as a summer residence until her death in 1715. Queen’s formal bed chamber – primarily used as an audience chamber. Salon for ladies in waiting. Drottningholms Slott Bibliotekek Palace Hall staircase. Grand Hall View over the baroque gardens as seen from the palace windows. Odd littel chamber under the palace, show casing blue and white china.

After my visit to the Palace, I showed an impressive lack of competence on the city’s public transport system as I took a bus, a train, and another bus back towards the city and the Historiska Museet, and promptly got lost.  Never fear, I didn’t get too lost (all things being relative), and soon found my way back to the right side of the track.

From that quick stop, I thought I would lighten the mood this afternoon with a bit of silliness in the form of a visit to the ABBA Museum!  It’s gotta be done, right?

Another short bus ride, a short wait to buy a $38 ticket (*sticker shock ensues*), and then ushered into the depths of the building to the tune of ‘Ring, Ring’ to be greeted by a very neon’d and glitter’d kinda of ABBA shrine. On display were many of the group’s outlandish costumes – deliberately designed to grab attention and cement ABBA in the psyche of the music loving public, for many years their costume design became more and more outlandish until Bjorn himself declared that they would wear anything ‘no sensible person would wear’.Insta-hit, ‘Ring, Ring’Costumes and instruments from their winning performance at the Eurovision competition that shot them to fame singing ‘Waterloo’. A restaged copy of their Polar Records office. The Polar Records recording studio, complete with many of the band’s original instruments. The quaint little white piano at Benny’s cottage in the Stockholm archipelago – many songs were written in this cottage by Benny and Bjorn. ABBA Mania. Early Merchandise – speaking of which, I had an ABBA t-shirt when I was a kid and I absolutely loved it … right up until it got lost when I was swimming once up at the Noosa River near Harry’s Hut. Tickets from early world tours. Fun little karaoke recording booths for fans to jump in an belt out a tune. Costume design was an important part of the band’s stage appeal. The Arrival helicopter. More merchandise. Lifesized models looking fabulous in skin tight white lycra… like a rock star!  😉  Walls lined in ABBA LPs and singles… I imagine this is quite a valuable collection. More crazy costumes. A wall literally covered in gold records for album sales world-wide.  Including a few from Australia for selling millions of records. Golden cassettes celebrating cassette sales – I didn’t even know they did this!  Many of Angus’ peers have probably never seen a cassette… “music just comes by download doesn’t it, Mum?”The displays were quite impressive and a lot of fun.  The music, the sounds, the costumes, the colours all brought back memories for everyone who enters.

And of course the obligatory museum gift shop… Should have bought a new ABBA t-shirt to replace the one I lost in 1980  😉 

The overwhelming impression that I gained from visiting the ABBA museum was, ‘How much fun was that band and their music?’  They were great.  No wonder they now have a museum dedicated to them to honour their contributions to music.
I’d like to see Beyonce or Snoop Dog trying to flog merchandize at their own museum FIFTY YEARS from their hey day.  Well done, ABBA.

After this, I went to meet up with Mr K back in the Gamla stan just in time to see the change of the guard at the Royal Palace.  We had thought we would come by, have some dinner, grab a few drinks and people watch for a while in the main square.
We’ve had a lovely time in Sweden – the work conference went well, and has been extremely productive.  I managed to squeeze in more museums that I thought was possible in my spare time, which has been wonderful.  Now to pack up and get an early start for our transit to Copenhagen in the morning by train!

The Vasa Museum

In Stockholm in the summer of 1628, carpenters, pit-sawyers, smiths, ropemakers, glaziers, sailmakers, painters, box-makers, woodcarvers and other specialists were putting the final touches on the Navy’s new warship – the Vasa at the Skeppsgarden shipyard.  She was a royal ship designed to be the foremost warship of the Swedish fleet.   With a hull constructed from one thousand oak trees, 64 guns, masts more than 50 meters high and many hundred of carved, painted and gilded sculptures, the Vasa was to be the pride of King Gustavus II Adolphus’ navy.On August 10, everything was ready for the Vasa’s maiden voyage. Stockholmers turned out to see her sail from directly below the Royal Castle located on the island of Blasieholmen in the middle of town. The wind was from the south-west, and for the first few hundred meters the Vasa was pulled along using anchors.  At Tranbodarna, the Captain, Sofring Hansson issued the order to set sail.  The sailors climbed the rigging and set four of the Vasa’s ten sails. A salute was fired from the ships’ guns, and slowly she set off on her first voyage.
In a letter to the King, who was on campaign in Prussia, the council of the realm described the following events: ” When the ship left the shelter of Tegelviken, a stronger wind entered the sails and she immediately began to heel over hard to the lee side; she righted herself slightly until she approached Beckholmen, where she heeled right over and water gushed in through the (open) gun ports until she went to the bottom under sail, pennants and all.” Stuck by a moderate gust of wind, the Vasa capsized and sank after a journey of 1,300 meters. Admiral Erik Jonsson was witness to the terrifying seconds on board when water poured in through the gun ports, after the first heel, he had gone below decks to ensure the canon were properly secured and returned to the just as the water had risen so high as to sweep loose the staircases.  While the Vasa would have been crewed by nearly 400 people, there were fortunately only fifty people on board who are believed to have gone down with the Vasa that day… many of those, however, were the wives and children of the few crew that were required on the ship to move it from the Royal Palace to the Navy dockyard. Upon the sinking of the ship, the Captain was immediately taken prisoner and the report of his interrogation survives to this day.  “You can cut me in a thousand pieces if all the guns were not secured… and before God Almighty, I swear that no one on board was intoxicated.”   He claimed that “It was a small gust of wind, a mere breeze, that overturned the ship… the ship was too unsteady, although all the ballast was on board.”  In doing so, his testimony squarely placed blame on the ship’s design and the shipbuilder.  The crew supported the Captain’s report – no mistakes were made, the ship was loaded with maximum ballast, the guns were properly lashed down and it was a Sunday, so many of the crew had been at Communion and no member was drunk. When the King received news of his pride and joy having sunk (a full two weeks after the sinking), barely 1.3kms from its berth, he wrote to the Council of the Realm in Stockholm claiming that “imprudence and negligence” must have been the cause of the disaster and that the responsible parties must be rooted out and punished.  A formal inquest was held to determine blame.Fault was eventually found with the ship’s unstable construction.  It was an innovative and ambitious project, to begin with – the King wanted two gun decks so the Vasa could have twice as many guns as any other ship around at that time, this made the ship top-heavy with her masts, yards, sails, and guns. The shipbuilders Jakobson and Arent de Groot were questioned regarding the construction and they testified that everything was built in accordance with the dimensions of His Majesty’s instructions and approval.  The actual builder of the Vasa, Dutchman Henrick Hybertsson had died the year before, complicating the placement of blame.  But between them, they had built many successful warships that had given years of service, it was the alterations to have a second gun deck while maintaining only a 11m width that made the Vasa top-heavy.

When asked by the interrogator why the Vasa faltered, de Groot replied, “Only God knows.”
Shipmaster Joran Matsson also revealed that the Vasa’s stability had been tested before sailing.  To stability test a ship, thirty men were made to run back and forth across the Vasa’s decks when she was safely moored at the quayside.  After three runs, Matsson put a halt to the test, otherwise, the Vasa would have capsized then and there.  Present at the test was Admiral Klas Flemming, one of the most influential men in the royal navy.  His only recorded comment regarding the failed stability test was, “If only His Majesty were at home!”

No one wanted to tell the ambitious King, that his flamboyant and expensive Vasa was unstable.   God and King, both considered equally infallible were drawn into the case.  The subsequent deliberations of the Council of the realm on the issue of guilt are not recorded, but no guilty party was ever identified, and no one was ever punished for the disaster. 380 years later with a salvaged ship 98% complete, we can explain quite readily why the Vasa sank.  Firstly, evidence supports that the guns were properly secured as reported, only four sails were set (the remaining six were still stored in the sail lockers), the ballast was as fully loaded as possible.  Many people are partially to blame in the Vasa disaster – the King, with his drive to acquire a ship with as many guns as possible and his drive to have it completed rapidly.  Admiral Fleming who failed to prevent the ship’s departure after the abysmal stability test.  But the ultimate blame lays with the defective theoretical knowledge of the period.  17thC shipbuilders were incapable of making construction drawings or doing mathematical calculations for stability… instead, shipbuilders used a table of figures, the ship’s reckoning which was somewhat of well-kept secrets passed down from father to son.  Many ships were modeled on its predecessor, but the Vasa was not.  It was more massive, had more guns – it was too large, too strong, and as a result was a big expensive experiment. The Vasa was lavishly decorated – each of the gun ports had a carved depiction of a lion – a symbol of the Swedish King. Directly after the ship sank, the masts of the ship were cut off, primarily because the ship had sunk in a relatively busy shipping channel, but also because the city did not want a constant visual reminder of this most spectacular naval failure.  Salvage efforts started immediately, and many tried to particularly raise the Vasa’s valuable guns.  It was not until the 1660s that fifty of the Vasa’s guns were retrieved with the use of a diving bell, by salvage workers, von Treileben and Pecknell.With her valuable guns removed, the Vasa fell into obscurity until in 1956, a newspaper announced, that an old ship had been found off Beckholmen in the middle of Stockholm and that it was probably the warship, the Vasa which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628. It was engineer Anders Franzen, an expert on Swedish naval warfare of the 16th and 17thC who had discovered the location of the ship from archives and renewed interested in the Vasa.  Franzen knew that the Baltic sea is unique in that here, there are no shipworms (the tiny Teredo worm that eat timber), and many vessels had been preserved for centuries before.  He had high expectations that the Vasa might be in reasonably good shape thanks to the absence of the shipworm and little oxygen in the cold, low saline, waters.
The raising of such a large and old ship had never been attempted before – heavy cables were laid beneath the hull and attached to water filled pontoons.  When the water was pumped out of the pontoons, they would rise, stretching the cables and lifting the Vasa from the seabed. A large, ‘Save the Vasa’ campaign was launched and money and materials were donated by foundations, individuals and companies to Brostroms, the parent company of the Neptun Salvaging Company who promised to carry out the work, free of charge. The Vasa had sunk in barely 33m of water but it was still an enormous undertaking.  The ship was raised in 16 stages, moving to shallower and shallower water, until eventually it was salvaged and taken to dry dock in Beckholmen, directly adjacent to where she had sunk. It was 1961 before the ship was raised in its entirety and all the world’s news media was watching as seven large bilge pumps were used to assist with the final lift.  After 333 years on the seabed, the Vasa was back on the surface.  Amazingly the ship was sufficiently watertight to be able to float and move on her own. The brackish, deoxygenated water and mud on the seabed has perfectly preserved the Basa, but now in the warm dry air, the wood would start shrinking and splitting and a huge question of how to preserve the 1,080 tonnes of waterlogged oak with a volume of 900sqm was to be accomplished?  In addition, there were 13,500 wooden figures, 500, sculptures, 200 ornaments, 12,000 smaller wooden objects, as well as textiles, leather and metal objects to be preserved. With no previous experience of how to preserve such a large amount of wood – a method was adopted of spraying the timber with a mixture of water and polyethylene glycol (PEG)to penetrate the wood and displace the water.  The PEG successfully prevented shrinking and cracking.  Sculptures and small wooden objects were also treated in vats of PEG. Vasa in Figures:
Length:  including bow sprit is 69m; the hull is 47m
Width:  11.7m
Height: 52.5m
Draught: 4.8m
Displacement: 1,210 tonnes
Sail area: 1.275sqm
Number of sails: ten (six preserved)
Armaments: 64 guns (48 x 24 pounders, 8 x 3 pounders, 2 x 1 pounders and six mortars)
Crew: 145 seamen, 300 soldiers.
The Vasa was built not only to dominate the waves with her superior military armaments, but also to impress with her lavish visual appearance.  Many works of art sank with her in 1628 including hundreds of wooden sculptures that had been carefully painted and gilded.  The work was predominantly in the German-Dutch late Renaissance/early Baroque style and executed by master carvers.  Most of the works depict large expressive sculptures of lions, angels, devils, warriors, musicians, emperors and gods.
Opulence and extravagance were the fashion of the 17th century, though, to the modern eye, the riot of colour that covered the ship would be considered terribly gaudy.  Chubby angels, with ruddy cheeks, golden hair, pink fleshy tummies, blue and grey armoured Roman soldiers, bright green sea monsters – it was a riot of colour. On the stern, but not painted in letters is the name “Vasa” – the name of the Swedish Royal family depicted instead by their family impressa. Researchers have identified over twenty different colours were painted on the sculptures on the ship, as well as gold and silver gilding. Surrounding the gun galleys (spaces the soldiers could fire their weapons from when engaged in closer combat), are statues of Roman soldiers standing on the heads of sea monsters.  Every statue is unique, and in this case to represent the superiority of the navy over the seas. Original documents from the inquest into the sinking of the Vasa, “Between four and five o’clock, the great new warship Vasa keeled over and sank.”   A 1960’s replica of the diving bell used in the 1660’s to salvage the Vasa’s expensive guns. A modelled cross section of the ship which shows the limited space for ballast to offset the huge weight of the cannon decks and the enormous height of the ship.   A 1950’s diving suit, the kind used in the operation to resurrect the Vasa. Scale model of the Vasa showing the vibrant coloured sculptures and a depiction of the ship had she ever had all her sail hoisted.In the Vasa’s day, the Swedish navy ships were largely crewed with conscripts, the most able seamen frequently defected to foreign fleets where the wages were apparently better. One man in ten was usually taken on active service, only children under 15 and men older than 60 were exempt from service.

The Vasa would have been crewed by an Admiral, a barber/surgeon, a priest, a trumpeter, a Captain, 2 lieutenants, 2 steersmen, 2 shipmasters, 1 leading seaman (also the chief gunner), 12 deck officers, 90 seamen, 20 gunners, 1 cook, 1 cook’s assistance, 4 cabin boys, 4 carpenters, 1 flog master (!), two companies of soldiers comprising of 30 commanding officers and 270 men.  That’s not a lot of floor space to accommodate so many people.

Life on board was particularly rudimentary for crew and soldiers.  Conditions for sleeping and eating were very cramped and dark.  Each man was allowed only meagre possession as there was no space for such things. Each man would have a wooden chest for sitting on, storing his things, and eating on. The crushing lack of space would have been claustrophic to say the least.

17thC wooden chest belonging to a crew member. Above: some leather mittens/gloves.  Below: Shoes belonging to a crew member.
Potentially made by the owner. A leather pouch remnant. Small casket with a ‘combination’ lock. Earthernware likely from the officers mess. Simple wooden dishes and spoons mostly likely used by the conscipted seamen.  In contrast the officers would have had pewter and faience dishes served in the Captain’s quarters. Entrance to the Captain’s quarters – which would have doubled as the King’s quarters if he was on board.  Gustavus was an unusual Renaissance king and led his troops into battle for nearly 30 years.   Captain’s quarters – the ceiling height is barely 5’5″ inside. The Vasa Museum itself is quite a spectacle, if you look out the window,s it is only a few hundred meters from the spot where the Vasa sank.  The museum also occupies the site of the former naval dockyard.  There were 384 proposals to build a museum to house the important Vasa warship The blue window to the right, depicts the depth of water in which the Vasa sank. The height of the ceiling marks the point at which the masts were cut off when the ship was submerged.  Part of the architectural design has the full size of the masts on the outside of the building showing the full 52.5m height of the ship. It is an exceedingly impressive ship, and in a perfectly designed musuem to showcase it.  No wonder it has become one of the world’s premiere tourist attractions – you can not seen anything like this anywhere else in the world.

A recreation of the gun decks shows how large the cannon were and in what tight quarters the soldiers lived. Six to eight men would ‘live’ between each gun.  This was achieved by working and sleeping in shifts.  Still, it would have been extremely close and uncomfortable quarters for what was potentially months at sea. I was fortunate enough to visit the museum during regular public hours, as well as to attend a private conference dinner at the museum.  It was a very special experience to be able to admire and explore the ship and the museum without the hordes of bustling tourists present.  I’ve put way too many photos into this post!

Again #sorrynotsorry  😀