OLD STOCKHOLM


My work for Index and Stockholm Stadsmuseum has been inspired by the Stadsmuseum's collections and exhibitions. In the archive, I discovered photographs dating from 1897 that portrayed 16th century Stockholm, complete with participants wearing period dress. In other words, these images feature some kind of game, theatre or historical reenactment. They remind me of today's re-enactments; how an age long since past can be brought back to life through roll-playing, performances and historical handicrafts. I myself have a connection to re-enactments through roll-playing. So what is the point of staging history? What is the relationship between today's re-enactment culture and the romantic 19th century fad for all things medieval? And how does the city come to act as centre-stage and inspiration for these activities?


At the end of the 19th century, the 'Art and Industry Exposition in Stockholm 1897' was arranged in the Djurgården district. The main attraction of the exposition was 'Old Stockholm' in Framnäs Park, an interpretive reconstruction of the capital as it was in the age of the Vasa Kings. It was part of an international fad with similar historical stagings taking place in expositions throughout Europe. These 19th century reconstructions are sometimes considered the forerunners of modern research into historical settlements.


Old Stockholm consisted of the Three Crowns Castle, 'Helgeandsholmen', a Town Hall, a church and several neighbouring blocks. Fredrik Lilljekvist was both the instigator and architect. He was assisted by a group of experts including Hans Hildebrand, Director-General of the National Heritage Board and Gustaf Upmark, Superintendent at Nationalmuseum. They also produced a publication titled 'Stockholm in the Middle Ages and the Age of the Vasa Kings' including a map of Old Stockholm.


Old Stockholm's buildings were slightly scaled down, yet clever use of perspective, stone paving and superficial coverings and exteriors helped create an illusion of reality, despite many of the facades actually being plaster-cast mountings on timber frames. The same degree of care shown in the details of the staging was also applied to the exposition's programme: personnel wore period costumes from the Renaissance or Middle Ages, restaurants and stores offered goods in the same historical spirit. Jesters, innkeepers, fortune-tellers and artisans helped create a lively aspect to the townscape in which visitors were simultaneously both observers and participants. Director Emil Grandinson staged realistic jousts between knights and Strix magazine published a special issue dedicated to the Medieval theme, produced by one Albertus Engstroem. Lilljekvist himself adopted the name Fredericus Ramusculus.


The 1897 Stockholm Exposition also marked a culmination of innovation with attractions boasting the X-Ray, moving pictures and sound recording. It may seem a contradiction that these newfangled inventions were actually presented in Old Stockholm. However, the supernatural character of the sciences bore certain similarities with the occultism so popular at the time. This in turn was depicted as being related to the magic crafts of the Middle Ages. These technical wonders implied a limitlessness that presumably was simply reinforced by the historical context. Fun and games with the past provided a contrast to the present: a 'fairy tale castle in electric moonlight' where 'past meets present'. In history, the future is written. The Three Crowns Castle housed a cinema featuring films by the Lumière brothers. The exposition itself was filmed and hence Old Stockholm provided the set for the very first Swedish movie pictures. Court photographer and a pioneer of film, Ernest Florman, filmed two short scenes showing jousting knights and life around the castle gate. The footage was 15 metres long giving a running time of approx. 30 seconds.


There are many clubs and associations in Sweden today staging historical periods. One such re-enactment association is 'Stockholm's Fänikan', which I first encountered in a roll-playing context. 'Fänikan' was formed in the early 90s and presently has approx. 30 members. Just like Old Stockholm, the association portrays life in 16th century Stockholm. King Gustav Vasa recruited the original Stockholm's Fänikan from foot soldiers in Sweden and Germany. It was led by a Captain Bagge and Stockholm's Fänikan arrange annual feasts in the cellar-vault under Bagge's house, in what is now Stockholm's Old Town. Stockholm's Fänikan are also renowned participants at the Medieval Week on Gotland Island. At the 'Old Stockholm' exhibition at Stockholm Stadsmuseum, I am showing documentation of Stockholm's Fänikan and Old Stockholm. The Old Stockholm photographs come from the department of photography at the Stadsmuseum. The exhibition also includes period costumes, sketches, plans and films. The period costumes have been lent by Stockholm's Fänikan and Skansen's clothing collection where the period costumes from Old Stockholm are preserved. Ernest Florman's films are lent by the Swedish National Archive of Recorded Sound and Moving Images. Film and photo documentantion of Stockholm's Fänikan is lent by the association's members. The 'Old Stockholm' exhibition is incorporated into 'A Journey in Time - Stockholm 750 years'. This exhibition traces the history of Stockholm from medieval port town to today's capital city. Both the 19th century's Old Stockholm exhibit and the 21st century's Stockholm's Fänikan have value in terms of historical staging. In my opinion the display of the actual re-enactment and its generated reality is of interest. Fun and games with history is not beyond the scope of history in Stockholm; if nothing else it serves as a kind of history of the city.


Martin Karlsson, Stockholm, January 2006.

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