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25 Things You Should Know About Stockholm

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Stockholm’s 73 square miles stretch over islands and hills [PDF], encompassing modern Scandinavian designs and cobblestone streets that look straight out of a fairytale. Located where the Baltic Sea meets Lake Mälaren, Sweden's waterfront capital has as little as six hours of daylight in the winters and as much as 18 hours of sun in the summers. Read up on 25 other tidbits about the city nicknamed the Venice of the North.

1. The name Stockholm comes from the words stock meaning "log" and holm meaning "islet." No one seems to know exactly how the town got its tag; one account claims that Vikings trying to determine the location of their new settlement used a log bound with gold, while others point to the masses of logs driven into the waters near Old Town.

2. The first recorded use of the name "Stockholm" dates back to 1252 when it appeared in a letter written by Swedish statesman Birger Jarl.

3. Stockholm was built on 14 islands, connected by 57 bridges, earning the Swedish capital the nickname "Beauty on the Water."

4. Kungliga Operan—the Royal Swedish Opera—was founded by King Gustav III in 1773. Nineteen years later, he was shot at a masked ball at the venue and died. The building stood for another century, then was torn down in 1892. A new opera house was built in 1898 and inaugurated by King Oscar II. Today, the theater still stands in the same spot across the Norrbro bridge from the Royal Palace.

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5.
Stockholm’s Old Town, or Gamla Stan, remains one of the best preserved historic districts in Europe—partially due to the fact that its cobblestone streets are reserved for pedestrians only.

6. The narrowest street in Old Town is Mårten Trotzigs alley, which has 36 steps and is a mere 35 inches wide at its slimmest point.

7. The Baroque-era Royal Palace on the Old Town island has more than 600 rooms spread across seven floors and a daily Changing of the Guard at 12:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m. on Sundays).

8. In 1628, the great Vasa warship, which took three years to build, sunk in the Stockholm harbor after sailing barely 4200 feet. It took a whopping 333 years to salvage the remains. Today the iconic ship stands in its own equally striking 134,979-square-foot museum, which features 55 outer wall corners.


9.
Sweden’s oldest amusement park, Grona Lund, dates back to 1883, when a garden inside Djurgårdsstaden was transformed into the fairgrounds. Among the 30 rides are the Lustiga Huset (Fun House), which opened in 1917, and the Blå Tåget (Ghost Train), which has been scaring thrillseekers since 1935.

10. Built in 1891, Stockholm’s Djurgården island is home to Skansen, the world’s first open-air museum. The 150 buildings are a journey through 500 years of Sweden’s history, including Skåne farmsteads and Sami camps.

11. The Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature have been awarded in Stockholm every year since 1901 on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. Why? The Swedish-born inventor requested so in his will. As for the Nobel Peace Prize? That honor is bestowed in another Scandinavian capital: Oslo.

12. If a local invites you to join him or her for fika, they're really just asking you if you'd like to take a coffee break. (Usually there's also some kind of pastry involved.)

13. When an architecture student discovered that 13 elm trees were scheduled to be chopped down in Stockholm’s Kungsträdgården for construction of a metro station, he got his hands on a copy of the plan—as well as three alternate plans which didn’t involve touching the trees—and spread the word. The day before they were supposed to be cut on May 13, 1971, almost 1000 Swedes gathered in protest, some even climbing the trees. Trees from the Battle of the Elms still stand today—although scars from a chain saw can still be seen on one.

14. The Nordic tradition of saunas is still alive at the 32,292-square-foot Centralbadet bath house in the heart of Stockholm. Designed by architect Wilhelm Klemming and opened in 1904, the spa’s main pool has hosted world-class competitions, including several with five-time Olympic medalist Arne Borg.

15. Craving some art? Head down into Stockholm’s metro stations. Dubbed the World’s Longest Art Gallery, more than 90 of the 100 stations along the 68 miles of track have been decorated with mosaics, paintings, sculptures, and carvings by artists since the 1950s.

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16.
Sweden’s national treasure, the global furniture chain IKEA, boasts a 594,167-square-foot location in Stockholm’s Kugens Kurva municipality. Opened in 1965, it remained the world’s largest for 49 years, until the 2014 construction of a 635,070-square-foot store in South Korea’s Gwangmyeong.

17. The term "Stockholm Syndrome" was coined by criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot after hostages from a six-day siege at Norrmalmstorg Square’s Kreditbanken bank in 1973 developed a liking for their captors. As one of the victims, Kristin Ehnmark, explained in 2009: "It's some kind of a context you get into when all your values, the morals you have, change in some way."

18. Sweden’s literacy rate is 99 percent, so it’s no surprise more than 4 million books are borrowed from Stockholm’s libraries annually.

19. What do Nelson Mandela, Beyoncé, and the Swedish national hockey team have in common? They’ve all taken center stage at the 16,000-seat Ericsson Globe, the world’s largest spherical building, which opened on February 19, 1989.

20. True Swedish Blood: Alexander Skarsgård was born in Stockholm on August 25, 1976 to actor dad Stellan Skarsgård, who has starred in 1990’s The Hunt for Red October, 1997’s Good Will Hunting, 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and 2008’s Mamma Mia.

21. Swedish commuters love their bikes: approximately 70,000 cyclists cross Stockholm’s city borders daily.

22. Tourism has been on the rise in Stockholm, with more than 26.5 million passengers arriving at Stockholm’s five area airports and more than 12 million overnight commercial hotel stays in 2014 [PDF].

23. To encourage people to take the stairs, in 2009, Volkswagen turned a staircase in the Odenplan metro station into a Big-like giant piano keyboard, so that Swedes could literally dance over musical notes as they exited. They found 66 percent more people opted for the stairs over the the escalator next to it.

24. When in Sweden, indulge in the Swedish meatballs. At Stockholm’s Meatballs for the People, you can sample14 kinds of meatballs, including ones made from turkey, reindeer, salmon, pork, boar, ox, moose, and rooster—all of which are “ecologically bred.”

25. Mamma mia: Stockholm has an entire museum dedicated to ABBA. While visitors can get a glimpse at some of the 1970s band’s gold records, wardrobe pieces, and gadgets, the true goal of the museum is to let you “experience the feeling of being the fifth member of ABBA,” by trying on clothes, singing in the Polar studios, and even channeling your inner dancing queen by getting on stage with holograms of the band.

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IKEA's New Collection for Tiny Apartments Is Inspired by Life on Mars
IKEA
IKEA

Living in a city apartment can feel claustrophobic at times. As Co.Design reports, the Swedish furniture brand IKEA took this experience to the extreme when designers visited a simulated Mars habitat as research for their latest line of housewares aimed at urbanites.

The new collection, called Rumtid, is tailored to fit the cramped spaces that many people are forced to settle for when apartment-hunting in dense, expensive cities. The designers knew they wanted to prioritize efficiency and functionality with their new project, and Mars research provided the perfect inspiration.

At the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station in Utah, scientists are figuring out how to meet the needs of potential Mars astronauts with very limited resources. Materials have to be light, so that they require as little rocket fuel as possible to ferry them to the red planet, and should ideally run on renewable energy.

IKEA's designers aren't facing quite as many challenges, but spending a few days at the simulated Martian habitat in Utah got them thinking on the right track. The team also conducted additional research at the famously snug capsule hotels in Tokyo. The Rumtid products they came up with include an indoor terrarium shaped like a space-age rocket, a set of colorful, compact air purifiers, and light-weight joints and bars that can be snapped into modular furniture.

The collection isn't ready to hit IKEA shelves just yet—the chain plans to make Rumtid available for customers by 2020. In the meantime, the designers hope to experiment with additional science fiction-worthy ideas, including curtains that clean the air around them.

Air purifiers designed for urban living.

Furniture joints on bubble wrap on black table.

Modular furniture holding water bag.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of IKEA.

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8 Projects That Reenvision the Traditional Cemetery
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Globally, nearly 57 million people died in 2016. If you happen to be a cemetery caretaker, you might be wondering where we managed to put them all. Indeed, many cemeteries in the world’s major cities are filling up fast, with no choice left but to tear up walkways, trees, and green spaces just to make room for more graves.

In response to these concerns, a variety of visionaries have attempted to reimagine the modern cemetery. These plans tend to fall into one of two camps: Biologists and environmentalists have brainstormed alternate methods for disposing of bodies, some of which are said to be better for the planet than the traditional methods of burial and cremation. Meanwhile, architects have looked at ways of adapting the burial space itself, whether that means altering a traditional cemetery or creating something new and more ephemeral. Here are just a few of the creative ideas that have emerged in recent years.

1. VERTICAL CEMETERIES

As cemeteries started running out of ground to dig, it was only a matter of time before they started building up. There's been a lot of talk about skyscraper cemeteries in recent years, although the idea dates back to at least 1829, when British architect Thomas Willson proposed a 94-story mausoleum in London.

"The vertical cemetery, with its open front, will become a significant part of the city and a daily reminder of death’s existence," says Martin McSherry, whose design for an open-air skyscraper cemetery with layers of park-like burial grounds was one of the proposals presented at the Oslo Conference for Nordic Cemeteries and Graveyards in 2013. Another recent plan by architecture students in Sweden suggested repurposing a cluster of silos into a vertical columbarium (a place to store urns). Brazil’s Memorial Necrópole Ecumênica was one of the first places to implement this vertical concept back in 1984, and at 32 stories high, it currently holds the Guinness World Record for the tallest cemetery.

2. REUSABLE GRAVES

For much of human history, graves were often reused, or common graves were dug deep enough to accommodate multiple bodies stacked one on top of the other. “Our current cemetery design is actually a pretty new thing,” Allison Meier, a New York City cemetery tour guide (and Mental Floss writer), tells us. “It wasn’t normal for everyone to get a headstone in the past and we didn’t have these big sprawling green spaces.”

Now that many urban cemeteries are filling up, the idea of reusing plots is once again gaining popularity. In London, it’s estimated that only one-third of the city’s boroughs will have burial space by 2031. In response, the City of London Cemetery—one of the biggest cemeteries in Britain—has started reusing certain grave plots (the practice is legal in the city, even though grave reuse is outlawed elsewhere in England).

Across continental Europe, however, it's not uncommon for graves to be "rented" rather than bought for all eternity. In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and Greece, families can hold a plot for their loved one as long as they continue to pay a rental fee. If they stop paying, the grave may be reused, with the previous remains either buried deeper or relocated to a common grave.

Meier says she isn’t aware of any cemeteries in New York City that have started reusing their plots, though. “That’s a tough thing for Americans to get on board with because it’s been a normal practice in a lot of places, but it’s never been normal here,” she says.

3. A FLOATING COLUMBARIUM

A rendering of a floating columbarium
BREAD Studio

Ninety percent of bodies in Hong Kong are cremated, according to CNN, and niches in the city's public columbaria are at a premium. The average wait for a space is about four years, sparking concerns that Hong Kongers could be forced to move their loved ones' ashes across the border to mainland China, where more space is available. (A space at a private columbarium in Hong Kong can be prohibitively expensive, at a cost of about $128,000.) To address this issue, a proposal emerged in 2012 to convert a cruise ship into a floating columbarium dubbed the “Floating Eternity.” Designed by Hong Kong and London-based architecture firm BREAD Studio, the columbarium would be able to accommodate the ashes of 370,000 people. Although it's still just an idea, BREAD Studio designer Benny Lee tells CNN, "A floating cemetery is the next natural step in Hong Kong's history of graveyards."

4. UNDERWATER MEMORIALS

An underwater lion sculpture and other memorials
Neptune Reef

Land may be limited, but the sea is vast—and several companies want to take the cemetery concept underwater. At Neptune Memorial Reef off the coast of Key Biscayne, Florida, human ashes are mixed with cement to create unique memorials in the shape of seashells and other objects of the client's choice. The memorials are then taken by divers to the ocean floor and incorporated into a human-made reef designed to look like the Lost City of Atlantis. Eternal Reefs, based out of Sarasota, Florida, offers a similar service.

5. SPACE MEMORIALS

Not a water person? Try space instead. Elysium Space, a San Francisco-based company founded by a former software engineer at NASA, offers a couple of “celestial services.” At a cost of nearly $2500, the Shooting Star Memorial “delivers a symbolic portion of your loved one’s remains to Earth’s orbit, only to end this celestial journey as a shooting star,” while the Lunar Memorial will deliver a "symbolic portion" of human remains to the surface of the moon for a fee of nearly $10,000. Another company, Celestis, offers similar services ranging in price from $1300 to $12,500.

6. HUMAN COMPOSTING

Shoveling soil
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Critics of burial and cremation say both are bad for the environment. To address the need for a memorial method that doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, waste resources, or release carcinogenic embalming fluid into the soil, a number of eco-friendly options have emerged. One such innovation is the “mushroom burial suit," a head-to-toe outfit that's lined with mushroom spores designed to devour human tissue and absorb the body's toxins. Another company, Recompose, espouses human composting—a process by which a corpse would be converted into a cubic yard of soil, which could then be used to nurture new life in a garden. The procedure isn’t legal yet, but the company plans to work with the Washington State legislature to make it available to the general public before eventually rolling it out nationwide.

7. DEATH AS ART

Many innovative proposals have emerged from the DeathLAB at Columbia University, including a plan to convert human biomass (organic matter) into light. The design—a constellation of light that would serve as both a memorial and art installation—won a competition hosted by Future Cemetery, a collaboration between the University of Bath’s Centre for Death & Society and media company Calling the Shots. John Troyer, director of the UK-based center, says they're working on raising funds to install a concept piece based on that design at Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol, England, but any usage of actual biomass would have to be cleared through the proper regulatory channels first. According to DeathLAB, the project would save significant space—within six years, it would more than double the capacity of the cemetery orchard where the memorials would be installed.

8. VIRTUAL CEMETERIES

As virtual reality technology gets more and more advanced, some question whether a physical cemetery is needed at all. The website iVeneration.com, founded by a Hong Kong entrepreneur, lets users "create virtual headstones anywhere in an augmented reality landscape of Hong Kong, including such unlikely places as a downtown park," as Reuters describes it. In Japan, one online cemetery allows the bereaved to “light” incense, share memories of their loved one in comments, and even grab a virtual glass of beer. Similarly, an app called RiPCemetery created a social network where users can craft a virtual memorial and share photos of the deceased.

However, Troyer says he doesn’t believe technology will ever usurp the need for physical spaces. “A lot of the companies talking about digital solutions talk about ‘forever’—and that’s very complicated with the internet, because the virtual material we create can easily disappear," he told the The Guardian. "The lowly gravestone has been a very successful human technology, and I suspect it will last … I would go with granite.”

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