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Category: Swedish Royal Family

Pancakes and pea soup? Must be Thursday!

A week ago, it was Thanksgiving in America. Here in Sweden it was just another Thursday.

But every Thursday in Sweden brings with it a tradition many times older than Thanksgiving. It’s even many times older than the United States. Thursday in Sweden means one thing: pancakes and pea soup.

Swedish pancakes are very thin, unlike American pancakes. They are more doughy than crêpes but thin enough to be folded. They’re served with whipped cream and fruit preserves; typically strawberry, raspberry, blueberry or cloudberry.

The pea soup that accompanies them is not necessarily green. It is sometimes made with yellow peas. The pea soup in Sweden almost always has pork or ham in it, so a lot of people like to season it with mustard. Because I’m vegetarian, I skip over the pea soup on Thursdays and go straight to a double serving of pancakes.

The tradition of eating pancakes and pea soup on Thursdays goes back hundreds of years to when Sweden was more heavily populated with Catholics. I’m talking like more than 500 years ago.

Back when the Catholics were running the show and they were fasting on Fridays, the day before required a big, hearty meal. A large serving of meaty pea soup topped with a heavy dessert of sweet pancakes and even sweeter toppings was just the trick to fill up those Swedish bellies for the long haul through to Saturday morning.

After the country’s modern borders with Denmark were drawn and the Protestant Reformation took hold, the Catholic religion was largely pushed outside the borders. Today, most religions would find Sweden to be a really hard place to find followers. However, the tradition of pancakes and pea soup has survived.

Most restaurants in Stockholm have pancakes and pea soup on the lunch menu every Thursday. This meal is also still served to members of the Swedish military each week. (What? Sweden has a military?) Yes, and the country also has a king. In fact, the official name of the country is “Kingdom of Sweden.” (Sure it is.)

This dietary tradition has even claimed a notable victim. In 1577, the 43-year-old King Erik XIV, a Lutheran (gasp!) died after eating a bowl of pea soup tainted with arsenic.

Personally, I haven’t tasted any poison in my Thursday meals, but I did just now get a kick out of using the word “tainted.” Sheesh, I’d want to die, too, if someone did that to my soup. Ew.

My co-worker Fredrik is seen photographing his Swedish pancakes while sporting a traditional Scandinavian fisherman’s sweater (popularized by Pippi Longstocking, so it is sometimes called by her name “Pippi-sweater”)

Tihi och Touché

Two can play at that game, Madeleine.

Still playing hard-to-get, eh?

This is the second time that Princess Madeleine has gotten engaged since I moved to Sweden. And she still hasn’t called me. Not once.

Not a “Welcome to Sweden” or a “I like you.” She never even picked up the phone.

Still playing hard-to-get, eh? Well played.

Act Princessy

“Kom igen, Madge. Keep it together. Act princessy. Ten more minutes.”

“I just remembered…”

“Fan i helvete! Scott har bott i Sverige nästan tre år nu. Jag helt glömde att ringa honom!”

Princess Preggers!

Well it’s like the wheels are about to come off the tabloids here in Sweden over the past week, on the heels of the news that the crown princess has a little majesty in the oven.

Victoria, the oldest daughter of the king and queen of Sweden — not to be confused with Madeleine (the cute one who likes to party… she’s like the Mary-Kate and Victoria is like the Ashley) — got married last summer to a commoner, Daniel Westling.

It now seems that Prince Daniel has made short work of getting some more Swedish blood back into the royal lineage.

The Swedish Royal Family has a mix of French and German heritage at the moment, with a dash of Brazilian, depending on how you’re keeping score.

Just a year after Sweden was wrapt in royal wedding fever, now royal baby fever is the wildfire du jour.

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The morning after the announcement, I was on the train to work when I took a quick look at the Expressen newspaper’s website on my iPhone.

The site was ablaze with every angle of the pregnant princess story. In fact, I counted the headlines: eleven of the top 14 stories were related to the royal pregnancy.

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The free daily Metro paper dedicated a magazine-style cover to its front page, which is usually a standard newspaper style headlines-n-articles things.

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One article I read was completely dedicated to speculation about the exact moment the princess got knocked up. Best guesses are placing the moment some time before a late-May visit to Munich or some events around Sweden’s National Day on June 6. Too much information?

Another article asked people on the street what they think the child should be named. One guy said Mohammed if it’s a boy and Aisha if it’s a girl. Just to do something unexpected.

My vote is for Princess if it’s a girl or Prince if it’s a boy. Chances are, this kid will be king or queen one day. How awesome would it be to have a King Prince or a Queen Princess?

The Immigrant

A lot of what makes for good writing is having the time to write.

After spending most of 2009 in Sweden, I’ve been back in America since December. Since being Stateside, I’ve realized that I just haven’t had the time or inspiration to write as much or as often as when I was in Sweden. Certainly, those who follow my articles on this site have noticed the same thing.

Frankly, it’s hard to write about life in Sweden when you’re not in Sweden.

The long road back

In January, I applied for a Swedish residence permit, a process that can take many months – after you finally complete the stack of paperwork and apply – to get an answer.

Legal residency has many of the benefits of citizenship, but is a softer, less permanent version of it. For many immigrants, residency is the first step toward becoming a Swedish Citizen. But for me, I am simply an American citizen who would like to live in Sweden on a longterm basis.

While I have been going through the residence application process this year, I considered writing periodic updates about my progress, but honestly, every time I attempted to sit down and share it, the experience was too nerve-wracking to put into words.

Typically, I prefer to write about things I know about, things I can research, or things I think may be of interest to readers. Applying for Swedish residency, while it was a unique, titlating and potentially life-changing experience, it is largely one in which the main character is in the dark about what’s happening in the story. The entire process is your classic “don’t call us, we’ll call you” experience.

Now that my application has been fully processed, I can more comfortably spill the beans about the whole adventure. Grab a snack.

Residence permit process

To become a legal resident of Sweden, one must apply at the Swedish Embassy in their home country. My home country is God’s Great United States of America (you may know us as “the bad cop”) and our Swedish Embassy is in our nation’s capitol, Washington, DC.

As you can imagine, the paperwork one must fill out is quite comprehensive. Obviously, like any country, the Swedes don’t want a bunch of unsavory characters moving into their country.

As much as any country wants to be hospitable and diverse (Sweden has welcomed more Iraqi refugees than any other nation), they also want to maintain a comfortable environment for the native population. The goals of ensuring economic vitality and security for the country are always primary.

To that end, the Swedish immigration authority, Migrationsverket, wants to know everything about you when you apply: who you are, where you come from, who is related to you, who loves you in Sweden, who is related to them, how many times you’ve been to the country, why you visited, how you’ll support yourself, how much money you have, where you will live, if you really think you can live without Mexican food or high-quality peanut butter, and detailed explanations of why you would possibly want to live in complete darkness for five months out of the year… especially if your home country is open 24 hours, you can take your gun to church, and the place is so plentiful, well, the oceans are practically filled with oil.

Louisville: featuring buildings by Michael Graves (the pink tower on the right that looks like a cash register) and the last structure ever designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (the short, 6-story black box at the front and center).

Despite the careful and meticulous nature of this process, from what I’ve heard, it is downright friendly in comparison to that of legally immigrating to the United States. I’ve read horror stories of families being split up in America due to immigration problems or as a result of painstaking investigations.

In my case, throughout the whole process, I felt like the Swedish officials I dealt with were on my side. Whereas US Immigration agents often seem to be portrayed as adversarial – even going to some lengths to “trick” applicants – it seemed the Swedes were there every step of the way doing everything they could to help me succeed.

I didn’t have to sing the Swedish national anthem. I was never forced to eat a jar of lingonberries or smell any pickled herring. I was never asked a single question about Olof Palme, that creep from True Blood, or Agnetha Fältskog. There were no games, no memorization, and no history tests.

Hurry up and wait

After submitting my documents to the Swedish Embassy in Washington, DC, in January, there was a silent period. This quiet zone can last several months and there’s no way to know how long it will be. For me, it turned out to be two and a half months.

Not knowing what was happening – or what was going to happen or when – was rough. I got really restless during this time.

Finally! Someone to pray for me. I mean, who has the time anymore? Now I can just SMS it!

At first, it was awesome to be camped out in America without a proper job or responsibilities, but after a while, the novelty of temporarily living in Louisville again began to wear off. I was beginning to gain back the weight I had lost last year in Sweden (did I mention the food in America is amazing?) and I was realizing that living without a plan can be as unsettling as it is freeing.

Waiting around to find out what’s going to happen with your own life ain’t easy. It prohibits you from making longterm plans, from seeking regular work, from building relationships, from buying a car, from entering into anything like an apartment lease or an annual cell phone plan.

Essentially, nobody wants to make an investment in someone who is possibly leaving in a few months. It’s hard to just wait and see what’s going to happen.

Luckily, I have some amazing friends who made this entire period a lot easier for me. I never would have made it through with my sanity in check without them.

We’d like to meet you

In late March, I finally received notice that I was being called in for my immigration interview. Heja Sverige! At last, something was happening! Now I just had to set up an appointment with the Swedish Consulate for my interview.

There are more than thirty offices of the Consulate General of Sweden in the United States. The offices are located in places as cold as Alaska and as warm as the Virgin Islands; as expected as New York City and as surprising as Raleigh, North Carolina. The closest one to my hometown of Louisville is the office in Chicago, just four and a half hours away by car. I picked that one. My interview was scheduled for early April.

A secret patch of Swedish soil

The Swedish Consulate’s office is a nondescript space of no more than six small rooms on the nineteenth floor of a downtown Chicago office tower. To enter, you walk in through one of those electronic glass doors that is always locked unless an important person activates it for you from the other side. (Further proof that all Swedish people are vampires: they have to invite you in.)

Outside the Consulate's office, post-interview in Chicago

The tiny lobby is lit by fluorescent tubes and decorated with framed portraits of the King and Queen. A coffee table is stacked with magazines and books about Swedish life (all beautifully photographed and designed, of course). Seating is provided for four or five guests and a doctor’s office-style sliding glass window is on one wall, through which reception is offered and forms are passed.

I really wanted to take some pictures of the space for the purposes of sharing them here – if I ever actually got around to writing this article – but more importantly, I didn’t want to do anything that would jeopardize my chances of making a good impression. Hence no photos of the inside of the office.

I was told that the Swedish Consulate’s office is technically Swedish soil, so it felt reassuring to be back. (I’ve also been told that whenever a Van Halen song is playing, you’re technically in America, but I don’t know if that’s true or not.) The inside of the office actually did feel notably more Swedish than Andersonville, Chicago’s Swedish neighborhood.

And coincidentally, within the same few blocks of the consulate’s Michigan Avenue office, South Africa, Spain, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Japan, Italy, Pakistan, Ireland, Turkey, France, El Salvador, Switzerland and several other countries also have consulships. It’s like a bureaucratic EPCOT Center.

Interviews are my specialty

I love the idea of interviews. 60 Minutes is my favorite TV show. I always think the best magazine articles are the ones in which the writers simply coerce the subjects into telling their own stories. Vanity Fair comes to mind. I have even published thirteen editions of my own magazine called K Composite that is comprised almost entirely of interviews of my friends.

Watching SVT's live Internet feed of the Swedish Royal Wedding in Kentucky by hooking the Mac up to the TV.

What I kind of don’t love about interviews is being on the receiving end when I’m trying to get something. Job interviews are probably one of the things that make me feel the most uneasy.

For some reason, when I have run for political office in the past, being interviewed on television or for the newspaper barely fazed me at all. It was exciting and invigorating, and the same goes for being interviewed for my music.

Once the interview becomes one in which my performance will be subject to approval – one in which there is an invisible, unknown line between acceptable and unacceptable answers – all comfort goes out the window.

So despite my interviewer being very friendly, helpful and accommodating, this interview was anything but relaxing. I have dreamed of living in Sweden since the first time I visited more than ten years ago. Now I have awesome friends and loved ones in Sweden, and my chances to really make it happen have come down to this one interview. Oy vey.

The best advice I could give to anyone reading this, who may also be going through the process, would be to just try to relax. It’s easy to get carried away with the thoughts of how devastated you’ll be if it doesn’t go well, but that should be the farthest thing from your mind. I tried to remember that as I walked in.

In the hot seat

The interview itself is kind of a blur when I think back on it. It took place in a small office with big windows. I was seated beside a desk where a 50-ish Swedish woman was facing both me and her computer. The screen was in my field of view, framed by the backdrop of a foggy downtown Chicago morning and the smaller buildings outside the window.

After a brief introduction, she opened a blank Word document and began the interview. The Q-and-A was conducted in English and while I spoke, she converted everything I said into a narrative story in Swedish. I understood almost all of what she typed. It lasted about 30 minutes. Maybe less. When we were finished, she asked me to sign a form, and I was on my way.

On a couple of occasions during my visit to the office – when I expressed thanks, greetings or farewells – I spoke Swedish to her and the other people I encountered in the office. They always answered me in English. I knew it! The Swedes really are trying to keep Swedish to themselves!

Ombord!

Metric of course. Those are mid-70's at night at mid-90's during the day. The humidity is a different story.

In mid-May, about a month after my interview, I received word that my application for Swedish residency had been approved. Helt otroligt! Weeks later, when I received my US passport in the mail with my Swedish residence permit affixed into it, I honestly could not stop looking at it. It remains one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life. Naturally, it’s my prized possession.

When I arrive back in Stockholm in a couple weeks, I’ll apply for my personnummer and settle into life in Sweden. Just in time for the cold, dark winter.

I’ve been told that no one ever moved to Sweden for the weather or the food. I believe that (though Louisville’s weather this summer hasn’t especially been ideal). However, there are plenty of other reasons to go.

This ain’t a reality show or a diary, so I won’t bore you with the fascinating, sexy details of my personal life. Suffice it to say that I’ll miss a lot of amazing people in America and a lot of great food, but I’m immensely excited about being surrounded by Sweden and within arm’s reach of the people and places I love there.

Tack så jätte mycket to everyone who helped me start this new chapter in my life. It is with great humility and honor that I accept this opportunity to be fake-Swedish.

Now somebody give me a job!

Sigvard Bernadotte: Design Prince of Sweden

Part 2 of 2 on the life of Sigvard Bernadotte. See the earlier story of his battle to be reinstated as a prince at this link.

While Sigvard Bernadotte may not have left our world as a prince, he is commonly referred to as the “Design Prince of Sweden.” That title is perhaps even more honorable because it hails his contributions and accomplishments rather than simply a name someone can be born with.

Bernadotte is one of the few people born into the Swedish royal family who was able to carve out a name for himself and to have a direct, lasting effect on the daily lives of ordinary people.

While you may never have known his name or face, you are likely familiar with his work as a graphic artist and industrial designer. You may even have a piece of his work in your home.

During Sigvard Bernadotte’s career as a graphic and industrial designer, he amassed an impressive and influential body of work, the products of which – calculators, can openers, flatware, radios – have found their way into literally millions of homes and offices around the world. Under the shadow of his fight to regain his royal title, Bernadotte blazed his own way, building a reputation and legacy as one of Sweden’s most famous and revered designers.

The clearest indication of his global impact is the simple fact that many people who are familiar with the Swedish Royal Family recognize the royals only by their titles – such as King Carl XVI Gustav – yet they are unaware that the family’s last name is Bernadotte. Sigvard Bernadotte arguably made the Bernadotte name more recognizable as his own than it is for the royal family he was denied a place in.

Hard to believe, I know, that some dude who basically drew pictures of tea kettles for a living could have been so influential. Maybe if you’ve ever burned your hand on ugly, crappy, old tea kettle or had something slip out of your grip you can appreciate the work that goes into making the simple things in life more livable.

Bernadotte’s ubiquitous 1957 Virrvarr pattern has been used on everything from countertops and cutting boards to blankets from Sassabrassa to American floors by Formica.

From an early age, young Sigvard was influenced by his great uncle, Prince Eugén. His great uncle was recognized as much as an artist as a member of the royal family. Eugén became known as the “Painter Prince” and earned a stature as one of the top artists of his day. (That day was a reeeeeally long time ago. The Painter Prince lived from 1865 to 1947.)

Sigvard recalled his great uncle’s example in a 2002 interview with the now-defunct but nonetheless gorgeous Stockholm New Magazine, saying that Prince Eugén’s attitude of making his own way in the world was an unforgettable early inspiration.

Eugén reportedly advised Sigvard’s father, Gustav VI Adolf, to not feel bound by his nobility. “Gusti, look at me. I’ve done quite well for myself,” he proclaimed, implying that a man could be whatever he chose in life. Amen to that, brother. Don’t let the man keep ya down, Siggie.

A sampling of kitchenwares designed by Sigvard Bernadotte. Click images for larger views.

Young Sigvard took this sentiment to heart post haste. At age 16, he became the first member of the royal family to ever graduate from high school. Apparently it didn’t take much to be an overachiever in that family. He was born in 1907, so we’re talking Class of ’23 here.

Within a few years he had upped the ante to become the first Swedish royal to graduate from college. He earned multiple degrees at Uppsala University, studying art history, English and political science. As he had grown up the Duke of Uppland, it was somewhat notable that the local duke had graduated from the local university.

Being among common people quickly became a theme of his life. From there, Sigvard was off to studying theater in Munich. (Slow down, dude, you’re making us all look lazy!)

After a couple more years, Sigvard was working as an apprentice under famed Swedish artist Olle Hjortzberg, famous for designing the 1912 Stockholm Olympics poster.


Hjortzberg can be credited as a significant, early influence toward Sigvard’s eventual focused and discplined style. Stockholm’s Aftonbladet newspaper described Sigvard’s style in a postmortem retrospective by saying “His idiom was tight and stylish.” Hjortzberg’s trademark style was just that.

At age 23, after leaving his appreticeship under Hjortzberg, he began sharing his time between crafting silver pieces for Georg Jensen in Copenhagen and directing films and doing set designs for MGM in Hollywood.

He didn’t have to do any of this stuff. Being born into royalty, he could have just as easily sat on his royal ass in Sweden. He wasn’t a prince in Germany where he studied drama. He wasn’t a prince in Denmark where he designed silver. And he certainly wasn’t a prince in California where he worked on films. Come to think of it, after he married a commoner in 1934, he wasn’t a prince anywhere.

Finally settling down a bit at age 43, Sigvard Bernadotte teamed up with Acton Bjørn to establish the cleverly named Bernadotte & Bjørn industrial design studio in Copenhagen. That was 1950.

As Scandinavia’s first company dedicated exclusively to industrial design, you can’t really understate what a ground-breaking and influential move this was. The recognition that Scandinavian countries now enjoy as design capitals of the world can be traced back to this forward-thinking move. It seems only appropriate that Swedes and Danes collaborated to make it happen.

Bernadotte & Bjørn specialized in what has been described as “functionality with a human element.” They were very much inspired by American ideas and practicality, but brought a refined simplicity to their work.

The company grew with Sigvard dividing his time between design work and actively pursuing clients. Whether the items were kitchenwares for Husqvarna, flatware for Scandinavian airline SAS, bowls for Rosti, radios for Bang & Olufsen, it was functional objects that were his greatest joy, so he sought clients whose products were used in everyday life.

In 1953, Sigvard published a book as an homage to the craft he so loved. Almost as cleverly named as his company, his book Industrial Design was also revered for its simplicity and beauty.

Before long, Bernadotte & Bjørn expanded to establish branch offices in Stockholm and New York. The firm boasted an impressive list of international clients – clients who became as known for smart design as Bernadotte & Bjørn themselves. Having produced everything from tables and chairs to eyeglasses, if you had the money, you could conceivably outfit your home entirely with Bernadotte & Bjørn designs.

His reputation was so solidified by the early sixties that Sigvard became president of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design and served in that capacity for nearly three years. He also co-founded the Society of Swedish Industrial Designers.

After fourteen years of innovative collaboration with Acton Bjørn, it became time for Sigvard to strike out on his own again. He did that in 1964 by establishing his own design studio in Stockholm. Again, a real joker with naming things, he dubbed the studio Bernadotte Design AB. (“AB” stands for “aktiebolag” and is the Swedish equivalent of “corporation.”)

Bernadotte Design continued cranking out the goods and Sigvard continued his hands-on approach. His house of designers was said to have enjoyed his constant involvement, and the new company quickly covered the ground from classical dinnerware to the logo of the Marabou chocolate company – as omnipresent in Sweden as Hershey’s is in America.

To chronicle his life’s adventures, he published another book in 1975. This one, Krona Eller Klave (“Heads or Tails“), was his autobiography. The book debuted when he was 68 years old, though he would live another 26 years after its publication, barely slowing down before his 2002 death at age 94.

Sigvard Bernadotte’s designs have proven to be timeless. The practical sensibilities he brought into his designs for usable, everyday items still balances the lines between retro, modern and futuristic. His classic silversmith work is represented in the permanent collection New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Even now in 2010, manufacturers are producing new items based on his designs. Swedish eyewear maker Skaga has just released a beautifully simple line of eyeglasses from Sigvard Bernadotte’s drawings from the 1960’s.

I need a new pair of glasses and I think I found just what I’m looking for here. How amazing would it be to be able to use one of Sigvard’s designs every day to see my own design work with more clarity? Now it’s just a matter of deciding which ones I want and then saving some dollars and kronor.

Current Swedish Princesses Madeleine (left) and Victoria (center) at the opening of a 2008 event honoring Sigvard Bernadotte’s design work.

Despite decades of fruitless appeals to his nephew, King Carl XVI Gustaf, to restore his princely title – some would say being a “royal pain in the ass” – recognition and appreciation from the current royal court is not entirely absent.

In the summer of 2008, both current princesses, Sigvard’s great nieces, chaired the grand opening of an exhibition of his lifelong work in pioneering Swedish industrial design.

The exhibition at the Sofiero Park in Helsingborg displayed “a wide range of Sigvard Bernadotte’s rich and multifaceted designer efforts… drawings, silver objects from Georg Jensen, typewriters from Facit, kitchen furniture from Formac, housewares from Moderna Kök and Rosti, and filmed material.” The event was covered by Life Magazine.

The princesses’ brother has also doled out the acknowledgments. Following in his notorious great uncle’s footsteps, the current Prince of Sweden, 30-year-old Prince Carl Philip, is now working in graphic and industrial design.

In an interview last year with the magazine Hus och Hem (“House and Home“), Carl Philip’s style was described as modern, simple and timeless. The article contains a gallery with images of Carl Philip’s and Sigvard’s tablewares.

Sigvard Bernadotte’s 1966 flatware designed for SAS Scandinavian Airlines (It’s true, they really used to hand out knives during flights.)

Presumably during a break the prince was taking from driving absurdly fast, interviewer Stefan Nilsson asked the inevitable question, “Is Sigvard Bernadotte is a role model?” Carl Philip complimented his great uncle, “He created many great things. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to talk to him about design because he passed away before I decided that I would become a designer.”

Nonetheless, one could easily draw a parallel between Prince Eugén’s influence being passed to his great nephew Sigvard, and that in turn, being passed to Sigvard’s great nephew Prince Carl Phillip.

Some of Carl Philip’s notable work is a set of silver tableware for Swedish cutlery house Mema/GAB, the first new set of silver the company had produced in 30 years. Great Swedish design will live on in the royal family, it seems.

Aftonbladet has a small gallery featuring highlights of Sigvard Bernadotte’s life and work on their site.

If you haven’t yet seen the earlier story of Sigvard Bernadotte’s battle to be reinstated as a prince, it is still available at this link.

The Would-Be King is Dead. God Save the Man Who Would Have Been King.

To tantalize their readers, some writers would need to concoct an absurd and elaborate fictitious story about a royal family, a tragic plane crash, forbidden love, an intriguing, influential and tortured artist, an endless court drama, family disputes, and a fascinating cast of colorful characters involved in devastating public betrayals.

This story has all of those things and more, and better yet, it’s all totally true.

PART ONE: THE CONTROVERSY

“Count Sigvard Bernadotte, who wanted to die as a prince, was remembered instead as an artist on Friday during a funeral attended by the Swedish royal family and Denmark’s Queen Margrethe.”

That’s how the Associated Press reported his death in 2002.

“Hundreds attended the funeral … in Stockholm. Bernadotte, who died February 4 at age 94, was the second son of the former King Gustaf VI Adolf, and an uncle of the present King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf.”

Sounds innocent enough, right? Well, the sordid details this simple report doesn’t divulge are the basis of our story today, and they include such gems as the fact that the current king of Sweden may never have become king if Sigvard Bernadotte’s life had played out differently, and that the King himself was responsible for Sigvard’s wish to die as a prince going unfulfilled.

Also see Part Two: Design Prince of Sweden

At this point, I gotta warn ya, this story has a dozen characters with similar names and loads of details. It’s a mess, albeit a fascinating mess, but if you can manage it, snuggle in and grab a snack.

When he was born in 1907 as Prince Sigvard (Duke of Uppland), his grandfather, Gustaf V, was the king. By all reasonable expectations, Sigvard’s father, Prince Gustaf Adolf (Duke of Skåne), would eventually ascend to the throne upon grandpa’s death.

Prince Sigvard was the second son of the King’s son, making him third in line to the throne at birth. That’s pretty far, but a lot closer than most people will ever be. If something tragic or unforeseen were to happen to his older brother before he had any sons, that would put Sigvard second in line behind only his father. Under circumstances such as those, it would be perfectly plausible to expect that Sigvard Bernadotte would one day become King of Sweden.

Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf (Sigvard’s father) on the left and King Gustaf V (grandfather), right, presenting a medal to Nazi commander Hermann Göring in 1939. And you thought your old photos were embarrassing!

Nobody would really want to become king at the expense of his father and brother dying, of course, but unfortunately, that’s one of the few situations that can accommodate such an ascension.

As fate would have it, something tragic and unforeseen did happen to his older brother in 1947. Prince Gustaf Adolf (Duke of Västerbotten) died in a bizarre airplane crash on the runway at Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen, Denmark.

After a routine stop at the airport, the KLM flight carrying Prince Gustaf Adolf and 21 other passengers and crew left the ground with its rudders inadvertently locked in the parked position. This mistake prohibited the pilot from having full control over the plane and it took a nosedive from just 50 meters (165 feet) above the runway. The plane exploded on impact and everyone on board perished.

Unfortunately for Sigvard Bernadotte, not only had his older brother been taken from him in a disastrous accident, but the sequence of events to make him king had already played out all wrong.

The year before dying in airline disaster, the prince had welcomed a son into the world, Prince Carl Gustaf (Duke of Jämtland). That birth moved Sigvard farther down in the line of succession. Yet, even if that newborn had not come about, another controversy had already pushed Sigvard out of the way.

Prince Sigvard and Erika Maria Patzek, the lady whose love cost him his royal name.

Thirteen years earlier, in 1934, the 27-year-old Prince Sigvard was stripped of his noble title of prince and his place in the line of succession when he married a non-noble woman without prior approval of his grandfather, the king.

Marrying a commoner doesn’t disqualify you outright from retaining your title and your place in the line of succession. Generally, if you want to keep either (or both) you have to tell the king that you want to marry a commoner. The king then has to make an arrangement with the government to approve the marriage. Erika Maria Patzek was a German civilian Sigvard met while working as a stage designer in Berlin and although it may have been love at first sight, it was a non-royal love the king was none too thrilled about.

So by the time his brother died in 1947, had Sigvard not married a commoner – well, two commoners by that time – thereby losing his title and position in succession and had his brother died before generating an heir, Sigvard would have become next in line to the throne. Following that sequence of events, Prince Sigvard would have become king in 1973 instead of Carl Gustaf. Instead, his nephew, 39 years his junior, became king at age 27.

Carl Gustaf is the King of Sweden today and in an odd twist, he is the man most commonly credited with allowing Sigvard to go to his grave with an unfulfilled lifelong wish of having his title reinstated. I mean no disrespect to His Majesty (especially in light of my upcoming residence permit application), however, it is the popular consensus that the King could have changed it had he wanted to.

According to the Royal House of Sweden, the power to reinstate Sigvard’s title of Prince Sigvard does not rest at the King’s hands. According to almost everyone else, it does.

It all comes down to the Swedish Act of Succession. Although this act has been revised occasionally in the centuries since it was adopted – most recently in 1980 – the act itself has been set into Sweden’s law since 1810.

Article 5 of the Act of Succession reads: “A prince or princess of the Royal House may not marry unless the Government has given its consent thereto upon an application from The King. Should a prince or princess marry without such consent, that prince or princess forfeits the right of succession for himself, his children and their descendants.”

Interestingly, the act discusses only the right of succession, not the right to one’s royal title. The title of “prince” seems to be something that King Gustaf V – Sigvard’s grandfather and the monarch at the time of the wedding – took away from Sigvard at his own discretion.

In 1888, about two decades prior to Gustaf V’s reign, Prince Oscar married a commoner without prior consent. Not only was Oscar permitted to retain his title, but his wife was given the title of Princess.

In other words, King Gustaf V took Prince Sigvard’s title away because he could. He was the king, goddammit, and he didn’t want his pristine, royal grandchildren running around with the dirty regulars.

King Gustaf V: Sigvard’s grandfather and the man who stripped Sigvard of his title.

Throwing his weight around as king was a bit of a hobby for Gustaf V. He had some ego and power issues. I mean, this guy was going around acting like he was the effin’ King of Sweden or something.

According to the Guardian newspaper, at Gustaf V’s direction, the Royal Court of Sweden confiscated Sigvard’s passport within hours of the wedding because it bore the title “Prince.” He was subsequently issued a replacement passport with a title equivalent to “Mister” (“Herr”).

During his famous Courtyard Speech in 1914, Gustav shocked the nation and was accused of overreaching the realm of his control by aggressively demanding a larger military. The public agreed with him and the ensuing wave of support for the King’s positions forced out the liberal government. Gustaf V himself appointed conservative replacements who implemented the changes he wanted.

If you are a Swedish prince with a place in line to the throne (as I know many of my readers are) and you are hopelessly, madly in love with a non-royal girl (gasp!), there are basically two ways to be with her forever without losing your title and place in the line of succession.

The first way is to just never marry the girl and the second way is to get prior approval by request of the king. Sigvard’s younger brother Prince Bertil did both.

Sigvard Bernadotte at age 37 pictured with items he designed for the Danish firm Georg Jensen

Bertil remained unmarried to his lifelong lover – the British commoner Lillian Davies – for decades in order to remain second in line to the throne. When it became clear that Prince Carl Gustaf (Sigvard and Bertil’s nephew, the son of the crown prince who died in the plane crash) would ascend to the throne at a young age instead of the then-elderly Bertil, his priorities changed. It seemed the time was right to finally marry the love of his life.

Prince Carl Gustaf became King Carl XVI Gustaf in 1973 and he approved his uncle’s marriage to Lillian Davies just three years later. Prince Bertil kept his title and his wife was christened Princess Lillian.

Despite this act of kindness toward Uncle Bertil, King Carl XVI Gustaf (the current king of Sweden) never acted to reinstate the princely titles for his other uncles, Bertil’s brothers, Sigvard and Carl Johan.

Bertil and Sigvard also had a younger brother who, now at age 93, is still living. Carl Johan Bernadotte had also invoked Gustaf V’s wrath back in the ’40s and was stripped of his royal title and succession rights as a result of marrying Swedish commoner, Elin Kerstin Wijkmark.

The boys’ sister Princess Ingrid avoided the whole mess by simply marrying another royal. In 1935, she was wed to Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Iceland. She subsequently became Queen of Denmark and is the mother of Denmark’s current Queen Margrethe.

After Sigvard’s nephew Carl Gustaf became king in 1973, then later approved the marriage of his brother Bertil to a commoner, Sigvard felt a more reasonable standard bearer had ascended to the throne. He asked the King to restore his title numerous times. These requests fell sadly upon deaf ears. Sigvard got the run-around. The King and Swedish government both refused to act, or each pushed the decision upon the other. The Royal House said it was a government issue and the government said it was a Royal issue.

That’s where this story gets truly bizarre.

Despite accommodating the marriage of Sigvard’s brother Bertil to a British commoner; despite the previous historical instances of Swedish royals retaining their titles after marrying commoners without prior consent; despite the King’s own marriage to a German commoner; despite, it seems, practically everyone in the Swedish Royal Family marrying commoners, for whatever unknown reason, King Carl, for decades, has ignored every opportunity to help restore Sigvard’s royal title.

Now we can even add an additional “despite” to that list: despite the current engagements of the King’s own daughters (Princess Madeleine and Crown Princess Victoria) to commoners. At this point, well, it’s just absurd to not give Sigvard Bernadotte the title he went to his grave yearning for.

“I want to die as a prince.” A rare meeting of King Carl XVI Gustav and his Uncle Sigvard in 1997.

At two different points in his life, it seems Sigvard finally had enough. After years of recurrently unanswered appeals, without official sanctioning, he simply began calling himself Prince Sigvard again in 1983. Then, in 2001, at age 93, he resorted to taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights and filed an official legal complaint against the Kingdom of Sweden.

2001 is the year the dispute came to a head. Regardless of the fact that Sigvard was invited to the Royal Castle for the first time in more than sixty years that spring (for the King and Queen’s 25th wedding anniversary), the Aftonbladet newspaper reported that the relationship between the King and his uncle had “never been especially cordial and is now as frosty as ever.”

Professor Emeritus Gunnar Bramstång, an expert on monarchy, told Aftonbladet, “It was a legal mistake committed in 1934 by [the king at the time]. Since then, this wrong has been continued against Sigvard and despite repeated requests, he has not received a positive response to return his title of prince.”

Sigvard’s counsel Eva-Maj Mühlenbock stated at the time, “The prince title is the same as a name and you can’t take away a person’s right to their name.”

In a series of articles in Aftonbladet and Dagens Nyheter, both sides were at an impasse and the King’s lawyer finally submitted a letter to DN.

The letter began by saying that the Royal Family never comments on internal matters, but that public interest had become so great that they felt compelled to make a statement so their position would be clear.

The article says the King’s counsel “writes that the King can not change the decision of 1934. Sigvard married in London without the approval of the then-King Gustaf V and the government. Therefore, he lost his right to succession as prince.” The King’s lawyer Bengt Ljungqvist wrote: “Our present king has, with respect to his predecessor and the previous governments’ decisions, not revised or undertaken any reinterpretation of these decisions, which were made under a different constitution and long before his time as monarch.”

Sigvard’s lawyer responded, “On the contrary, it is the king and only the king, who can modify or reinterpret the relevant decision.” Adding that the Royal Court seems to be missing the point, “The most serious problem is that [their response] does not at all address the question at issue, namely the right to his name and birth title. We believe that the title is part of Prince Sigvard Bernadotte’s name.”

The Guardian reported, “Mr. Bernadotte has always accepted his removal from the line of succession to the Swedish throne, but not the removal of his title.” The paper also made the point, “King Carl XVI Gustaf had already been crowned king when he married a commoner who now holds the title of Queen Silvia, but [the King] has steadfastly refused to return the title of prince to Bernadotte.”

“I was born as a prince, and I want to die as a prince. Once a prince, always a prince,” Sigvard was quoted as saying.

The Swedish public seemed squarely in line on the side of the former prince. Aftonbladet ran an online poll in May 2001 with the question “Should Sigvard Bernadotte regain his prince title?” Of the 39,987 people who voted during the one-day poll, “A clear majority of over 80 percent clicked on yes.” However, just days later, the position of the Royal Court was slammed home in a stark headline: “Sigvard Bernadotte will never be prince again.”

Sigvard Bernadotte passed away in 2002, just months after the controversy hit its boiling point. He was laid to rest at the Royal Burial Ground (Kungliga Begravningsplatsen) at Haga Park in the Stockholm neighborhood of Solna.

Two years after his death, the European Court of Hunan Rights ruled that his application was inadmissible. Even posthumously, neither the Swedish Parliament nor King Carl XVI Gustaf have acted to restore Sigvard’s title.

The inscription on his grave reads as a bit of a compromise to the impasse that plagued his life, “Sigvard Bernadotte: Born Prince of Sweden.”

When I first learned of this controversy seven years ago in the amazing (yet now defunct magazine) Stockholm New, I couldn’t believe how this man had been seemingly been stonewalled his whole life for doing something first that everyone else ended up doing later. “None of my nieces or nephews have married a royal either,” he said.

It seemed to me that the common threads in Sigvard and Carl’s lives – their family relationships and their marriages to German women – allowed some parallels and many opportunities for shared compassion.

As an aspiring Swedophile, I thought of the story many times. While living in Los Angeles in 2003, I created a wall mural of Sigvard’s image on a fictitious postage stamp, of course, with the title Prince Sigvard Bernadotte of Sweden.

Ultimately, I wanted to make sure I had the story straight for my own peace of mind. In 2006, I wrote a letter to the Royal Court of Sweden. As you’ll see in the messages attached to the end of this article, I got sent into the same kind of circle Sigvard himself was sometimes sent into. The Royal Court referred me to the Riksdag; the Riksdag referred me to the Swedish Act of Succession; and the Swedish Act of Succession addresses only ascension to the throne but contains nothing pertaining to the removal or reinstatement of royal titles. No real reason.

Of course, I could be wrong, but it only makes sense that if King Gustaf V can revoke the title, King Carl XVI Gustaf can reinstate it. I think it’s as simple as that.

Again, I want to make perfectly clear that I mean no disrespect to His Majesty the King, but it just seems that he never wanted to do anything about the situation, purely based the principle of not doing anything about it.

As Sigvard Bernadotte’s obituary states, he wanted to die as a prince but is remembered instead as an artist. In his career as a graphic and industrial designer, he amassed an impressive and influential body of work. He has been nicknamed “The Design Prince of Sweden,” a title perhaps more honorable because it hails his contributions and accomplishments rather than a title someone is born with by chance.

Though you may not know it, you are probably familiar with many of his designs – furniture, kitchenwares, logos, appliances, movie posters, et cetera – especially if you live in Sweden or the United States.

We’ll look at his rich and pivotal creations as a designer in PART TWO: DESIGN PRINCE OF SWEDEN.


From: Scott Ritcher
Subject: Fråga från Kentucky
Date: July 20, 2006
To: Royal Court of Sweden Info [[email protected]]

Hejsan,

I am a great admirer of Sverige and all things Svensk. I have visited your beautiful country many times.

I would like to know if there is an official reason why Sigvard Bernadotte’s royal title was not restored…

I respect the Swedish government’s decision, but in my research I have not been able to find an explanation for it. Is there an official reason that the government of Sweden has not reinstated Sigvard’s title? What steps would need to be taken for such an event to occur?

Many people around the world who know of the situation (I live in Louisville, Kentucky USA) feel that Sigvard Bernadotte brought much glory and respect to Sweden through his work, and that even after his passing in 2002, Sweden should restore Sigvard’s title.

Tack så mycket,
Scott Ritcher
Louisville KY USA


From: Royal Court of Sweden Info [[email protected]]
Subject: SV: Från engelska kontaktsidan på webbplatsen
Date: July 24, 2006 3:24:39 PM GMT+02:00
To: Scott Ritcher

Thank you for your email to the Royal Court of Sweden

The answer of your question is, that when it was declared that Count Sigvard Bernadotte was no longer part of the Royal House (which is a protocol state matter, and has nothing to do with the membership of the Royal Family), it was in that time a governmental resolution – a decision made in a cabinet meeting, dated in the 1930:s.

According to the Swedish law, the King is not in charge to change any governmental declaration from now or before. And therefore, there was no official declaration made by the King.

Yours sincerely,

Morgan Gerle
Information Officer


The next day, I forwarded my question to the Swedish Parliament and received the following response:


From: Sveriges Riksdag [[email protected]]
Subject: Ang. Fråga från Kentucky
Date: July 26, 2006 1:30:04 PM GMT+02:00
To: Scott Ritcher

Dear Sir,

You’ll find the Act of Succession translated to English here:

You need to contact a library in order to find a parliamentary record dated in the 1930:s. You’ll find information about the Riksdag library here:

Please note that they are closed until August 14.

Sincerely,
Louise Norlander
Information Department
The Swedish Riksdag
100 12 Stockholm
Phone: +46-8-786 40 00
Fax: +46-8-786 61 45
www.riksdagen.se

Dropping like flies

Being an unmarried member of the Swedish Royal Family has been going out of style this year… and fast.

About six months ago, before I arrived in Sweden, both of the Swedish princesses were single, well, unbetrothed. Today, they’re both engaged to be married.

First, in the spring, 31-year-old Crown Princess Victoria got engaged to her longtime boyfriend, a businessman and gym owner named Daniel Westling.

At the time I thought, “If you can’t have the crown princess, at least the cute one who likes to party is still single.” She’s the one I liked anyway. Well, now, Madeleine is engaged, too. Curses!

Last week, the Aftonbladet newspaper announced (a day before anyone else) that Princess Madeleine, 27, had secretly become engaged to her boyfriend … pfft! … some handsome attorney (they have lawsuits in Sweden?) a casanova named Jonas Bergström … And in fact, this engagement has been a secret for more than two months.

Great! Two wasted months of writing love letters and riding my bike past the Royal Palace at night to see if her bedroom light is on! (I’m kidding, of course. I don’t have a bicycle.)

Keeping such a high-profile secret in Sweden is almost as difficult as finding a can of refried beans. Furthermore, the fact that the engagement of the last remaining Swedish princess was kept undiscovered for two months from the obsessive Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet is as flabbergasting as the fact that both princesses became engaged within a period of four months.

What it all really means, though, as I’m sure my faithful readers already understand, is that barring some unforeseen events which could break off one or more of the engagements, it appears that all my hopes of marrying into the Swedish Royal Family have, for the moment, been dashed. Brutally crushed, really. It’s a sad day. I, too, may have to marry a commoner. Ugh… I shudder at the very thought of being touched by any of their filthy, cake-eating hands.

I know what the Swedes reading this are thinking: “Prince Carl Phillip is still single.” Wink, wink. Sure, maybe I could get a job as his chauffeur. It’s kind of a long, old story about his great grandfather, King Gustav V.

Yet, despite any lessons he could have gleaned from his great grandfather about the dangers of driving too fast around curves, Prince Carl Phillip, 30, has become an enthusiast of just that. He’s a race car driver.

“I see here on your resumé that you are the Prince of Sweden, the Duke of Värmland and you drive really fast in circles. Is there any other experience you’d like us to know about?”

He seems like a nice guy, but suffice it to say that I would have preferred one of the girls.

It’s just that both of these birds were single forever and within a few months of me being in the country they both got engaged. Suspicious, isn’t it?

I mean, it’s like as soon as I get here, they both suddenly decide to run off and married to basically any old guy they’ve been dating for seven years.

What is it about women that makes them so interested in men who are handsome, successful and have steady incomes? Don’t they know that all the real excitement is with guys who are courageous enough to have no idea where next month’s rent money is coming from?

While the media coverage of Madeleine’s engagement… whoa, give me a second… I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Sorry, let me start that over…

While the media coverage of Madeleine’s engagement has been fairly extensive, it really hasn’t matched the circus that surrounded Victoria’s. Perhaps that’s why they kept it a secret – to prevent such a frenzy.

The media is covering every aspect of the story down to the trivial details.

One story in the Metro newspaper analyzed reports that the King “clicks better with Jonas” than Daniel, saying that Jonas had a more proper upbringing and already knew how to behave at fancy events.

Aftonbladet reported that there was a secret meeting between the sisters in order to make sure it was okay that Madeleine and Jonas weren’t stealing Victoria and Daniel’s thunder by getting engaged just a couple months later. It’s totally true. I believe everything I read in Aftonbladet, The National Enquirer and The Bible.

A separate article in the Stockholm City paper was essentially an obituary of Madeleine’s party-going lifestyle. The headline announces their investigation of “the impression she made.” The spread went into retrospective detail about her all-night ragers and showcased some of the fashions and styles she made famous.

City credits “Madde” with helping to popularize wearing oversized sunglasses at any time of day among the girls in Östermalm – “like in Hollywood,” it says – and Canada Goose winter jackets. Those jackets are crazy-popular here, rivaled only by the locally produced Fjäll Räven coats which are ubiquitous in Sweden.

“She got the name ‘party princess,” it says, but “It is over now. Madeleine’s engagement with Jonas Bergström means the end of Stureplan‘s big party era.” Wow, sounds like marriage really does equal death.

That story was accompanied by a photo of her ex Erik Granath groping her in public. I’m sure the King clicked royally with that.

Nationaldagen and the Royal Palace

Let’s take a look at a selection of photos from last Saturday which was Sweden’s National Day. How does that sound? Would you like that? Hmm?

I’ve heard a lot of talk about how Swedes are so modest and not especially proud or nationalistic. That’s mostly true. Granted, there were no fireworks or any boisterousness equivalents to the familiar “U-S-A!” chants. I think there certainly is a lot of national pride here, but like everything else, it’s a little more reserved and quiet. Either way, there were thousands of people out celebrating everywhere last weekend. The weather was nice, so that helped bring out the crowds. The outdoor bars and restaurants were jam-packed and the parks were full of picnickers.

The Royal Palace was open to the public free of charge, so I stopped by there to have a look early in the day. The castle was swarmed by the people when I arrived (whoa, I said swarmed not stormed).

This was a already several hours after Princess Madeleine had done the ceremonial honors of opening the dump for the day. I would have liked to have made the scene a little earlier to catch a glimpse of my favorite princess, but since I had been up late the night before and because she has never called me – not once – I slept later and missed her.

I can only imagine that she was scanning the crowd relentlessly, looking past every face in hopes of seeing mine. “He simply must be here somewhere,” she thought desperately, all the while maintaining a coy yet official state-sponsored smile.

This isn’t your typical medieval castle with towers and a drawbridge. Because Stockholm is a city built on about a dozen islands, a moat and drawbridge would be kind of pointless. The Swedish Royal Palace is actually based on the French castle at Versailles – kind of a theme since, as we’ve learned, the Swedish Royal Family also came from France.

Completed in 1754, after fifty-seven years of construction (bo-o-o-o-oring!), it is the world’s largest royal palace that is still in regular use by its head of state. Of course, the heads of state in Sweden are ceremonial, but they still use the old shack. And why wouldn’t they? This little cabin home on the hill has a paltry 608 rooms. The photo above is from the center courtyard. You may notice several people in the photo who do not have blonde hair and are not dressed entirely in black. Rest assured, those people are tourists.

I recently met the woman who designed the directional markers and signage around the palace. Naturally, we talked about her font choices and the color combinations she used. While I don’t have any photos of those signs, I can share with you something she said that I’m not sure I will ever forget:

“The worst thing about America is the coffee… except for the racism and poverty.”

Yeah. I’d say those two things are probably worse than the coffee. Adding sugar or milk to a racist doesn’t really make it any more tolerable.

As I walked out of the royal compound to leave the oldest part of town (so old they call it “Old Town”), I passed some of the official guards in fancy hats. I guess a lot of countries have these guys who stand there all day dressed like they’re in a marching band and walk around like robots when it’s time to clock out. They’re not gonna stop anybody from doing anything and it seems that in modern times the true nature of their duties involves keeping a straight face while odd and assorted shenanigans and jack-assery are acted out in front of them.

The Swedish guards aren’t so strict. They actually smile and will speak with tourists who want to have their photos made alongside the guards. I guess there is even a bit of lagom in ceremonial guardposts.

Everyone knows that Americans are crazy about their flag, especially around July 4th, but the Swedes are really giving theirs a pretty good showing for June 6th. I guess I’d have to say that it’s not really limited to Nationaldagen, the Swedish flag seems just about as omnipresent in Sweden as the American flag does in the United States.

In the photo above and the one right below, I counted 16 flags in each. There are probably more in the distance, but Old Timey Tower can’t see so well out of these old peepers. Suffice it to say that business is still booming at the local blue and yellow ink factory.

The image above is the Grand Hotel. When this photo was taken, Bruce Springsteen was probably inside this building. He played three concerts in the soccer stadium in Stockholm over the weekend and stayed at the Grand, as most illustrious visitors seem to. Since this was taken Saturday morning, I would presume he wasn’t out raging.

Had he been, he could have joined me at the Smaka På Stockholm Festival (“Taste of Stockholm”). In years past, I have seen this festival on television in America, so it was pretty cool to be living here and to just walk through it. Smaka is a typical street-food fair with quite a variety of cuisines from around the world, sponsored by Stockholm area restauranteurs.

One tent that caught my eye was called Latino-Cajun. I thought, “Oh nice, a little something from the Bayou or the Deep South.” Well, sort of.

Their menu board had jambalaya but also a little shout-out to my homeland: Kentuckyfriterad kyckling (you guessed it, “Kentucky fried chicken”). Kentucky isn’t anything close to being Cajun or Latino. What is considered Southern-fried or Kentucky-style fried chicken (even outside of the restaurant by that name) isn’t really the kind of fried chicken they had here.

It’s still really cool to see “Kentucky” on a sign so far from home. Most people in Kentucky don’t even know the difference between Sweden and Switzerland, so I’m not gonna get all upset because somebody here isn’t schooled in the minute details of American menu items, geography or “culture.” However, this may be the only place in the world that sells “Kentucky fried chicken” and also has a wine list.

Without fail, every single time someone asks me where exactly I’m from in the United States, and I say “Kentucky,” the next words out of their mouths are, “Oh, Kentucky Fried Chicken!” I smile and laugh, “That’s right!”

While there are a lot better things Kentucky could be first known for (Muhammad Ali, bourbon, Johnny Depp, George Clooney), there are really a lot worse things also. I don’t eat animals, but all things considered, being known for a type of food isn’t so bad. My German teacher in high school, Klaus Mittelsten, said the thing he always heard was that “Kentucky is famous for its beautiful horses and fast women.”

Wait a minute. Did I just say “shout-out” a few paragraphs back? I’m sorry about that. I try to keep my writing a little more gentlemanly and proper than that (and not “proper” in the MC Hammer sense).

Other than being a national holiday, it was also a big weekend for sports in Sweden. The Volvo Ocean Race was rolling through Stockholm. This race is nicknamed “The Mount Everest of Sailing.” I’m sure you can see the similarities: these multi-millionaires on their boats know exactly what its like to freeze or starve to death alone in the cold. Riding on a sailboat followed by a television crew is just the same as breathing thin air at the top of the atmosphere with ice all over your face, then arriving home to have your frostbitten toes amputated.

Maybe it’s a clue that your sport sucks if one of its highest pinnacles is nicknamed after a high pinnacle from another sport. Can you imagine one of the climbers turning to Sir Edmund Hillary following their brutal ascent to the top of Mount Everest and saying, “Sir, that historic climb was more punishing than a sail boat race. I mean, they should call Mount Everest ‘the sail boat race of mountain climbing.'”

Also happening in the big weekend of real sports, Sweden’s own Robin Söderling surprised tennis spectators by meeting Roger Federer in the final of the French Open, and the Swedish national soccer team was hosting neighboring rival Denmark in Stockholm.

As I made my way out of the Kungsträdgården park, where the food fest was, I was quite accustomed to the sea of blue and yellow flags. When I turned the corner and reached one of the city’s main plazas at Sergels Torg, I gasped in horror as my breath was taken away.

What laid before me was a hideous mess of Danish football fans, cloaked in their foul red and white, singing drunken soccer anthems, and surrounded by piles of garbage in a mess of Tuborg and Carlsberg cans. They had posted their flags around the square like red blood stains splattered on a beautiful blue-and-yellow day.

The whole disgusting display turned my stomach. Like an obscene parasite on the city, these filthy Danes had all the aristocratic etiquette of a bunch of Yankees fans parading through Boston.

(Note: I actually love Denmark and I thought it was really pretty hilarious that all these guys were making a ruckus in the middle of Stockholm, I’m just trying to assimilate in Sweden by acting offended.)

Some countries have rowdy soccer hooligans who flip over police cars, trample other fans, or get in fights, but perhaps you’ll enjoy this take on some more respectable fans in Sweden. This is from a Swedish sketch comedy show called “Hipp Hipp” from a few years ago. It’s all in Swedish, but I think you can get the idea.

Syntest = vision test
Pengar kommer så småningom = Money will come eventually
Slut på kontot = End of account
Sopa = Sweep
Vem får inte följa med in = Who may not follow me in?
Hunden, katten, glassen = dogs, cats, ice cream

Transit Museum, museums in transit, Nationaldagen, and the studentflak

In keeping with the theme of public transit, on a recent Saturday, Erik and I paid a visit to the Stockholm Spårvägsmuseet. The name literally means track-way-museum, but you can call it the Transit Museum.

Anyone who knows me also knows that one of my general interests is old timey shit. Boy oh boy did they have some reeeeaaallly old timey shit at this place.

Spårvägsmuseet

Naturally, they have all kinds of super cool old trains, buses, uniforms, maps, clippings, and pictures, but they also have old ticket booths, turnstiles, snack kiosks, and totally reconstructed historic bus shelters and Tunnelbana environments. Museums are always advertising “you can walk back in time” and it was kind of like that. The whole experience was a sweet deal for only 30 kronors (less than $4) and a great way to kill several hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Oddly enough, the transit museum is not located near any of the subway stations. I was as amazed by that as some of the actual exhibits because I kept wondering how they got all those trains to the building and put them inside. Trains are kind of big and heavy, you know?

Underground Art

Since you have read every single story on this website, you know that one of my favorite things about the Stockholm transit system – other than the fact that it eliminates the need to own a car – is that all of the Tunnelbana stations have been designed by different artists.

Several stations have features that aren’t really art but are nonetheless creative, for example directional compasses carved or embedded into the platforms. This photo shows one of those as well as part of an extensive prism of illuminated walls in the station at Bagarmossen.

“The world’s longest art exhibition” is what Stockholm’s subway system is sometimes called. Because of this, one entire section of the transit museum is dedicated to art in the underground and surface stations. There is so much art and information crammed into this single room that I could have spent a couple hours there and still not have seen it all. I think the art area could be expanded into an entirely separate museum and it would still be worth the price of admission. I suppose this isn’t necessary since “the world’s longest art exhibition” is just outside.

I took advantage of the opportunity to make a 360° view of the art room in the Stockholm Transit Museum.


Click to view full size

Some of the highlights you’ll see in the panorama are: actual ticket booths and electronic entry points, a bench shaped and painted to look like trees, some old street cars, Erik enjoying the exhibits, a station-by-station guide to every installation, a re-creation of one of the arched tunnels from the Kungsträdgården station, a section of the gigantic tape measure that snakes all the way through the Bandhagen station, a bus from the 1970’s, and some little kids riding in a miniature train that winds through the museum.

This miniature train is presumably safer than the one at the Louisville Zoo which crashed this week, sending 20 people to the hospital. One of the reader comments on The Courier-Journal newspaper’s website said, “more proof that light rail won’t work in Louisville.” Brilliant!

Radio Documentary Train

Not to be outdone by all the visual art in Stockholm’s subways, the national broadcasting company has commandeered some of the trains in the system and outfitted them as rolling museums.

When you take a Tunnelbana train anywhere in Stockholm, you may randomly happen upon a Sveriges Radio train, like the one pictured here. It will take you where you want to go just like a regular train, but it is packed with a variety of audio documentary stations.

The outside of the SR train has been colorfully decorated with graphics which are a distinct difference from the typical solid blue and silver color scheme. The doors are emblazoned with Sveriges Radio logos and the greeting “Welcome inside Stockholm’s fastest subway wagon” (…presumably because your trip will seem faster if you’re hearing something interesting. I’m sure if the train actually was traveling faster than other trains that could turn out to be a problem.)

When you step inside the train, all the usual advertisements have been replaced with red information panels and, upon sitting down, attached to the handle below each window, you’ll find a small red box with audio jacks. Just unhook your headphones from your iPod and plug into a documentary.

Each set of seats has a different story so if the train is not too crowded you can pick a seat that has a story you’ll find interesting. The day I was lucky enough to have a chance meeting with the documentary train, I was unlucky enough that it was packed with commuters coming home from work. Suckers!

One of the few open seats was next to a box with a documentary about kidnappings in Kashmir. The little bit of Swedish I am able to understand is easiest when it’s on the radio and people are speaking slowly and clearly, but you don’t have to understand much to grasp how depressing this story was.

Another box in the train had a story about Raoul Wallenberg, a famous Swede from the World War II era. Wallenberg worked as a diplomat in Hungary and saved thousands of people from the Nazis by issuing them fake Swedish passports.

Renting dozens of buildings in Budapest, he helped house more than 35,000 people in an impromptu compound of buildings disguised with fake signs of offices and research institutes.

What an awesome dude. I mean, he saved tens of thousands of lives and here I am just typing on the internet about other people’s art. Oh well, maybe I’ll do something cool tomorrow.

Three cheers for Raoul Wallenberg on Sweden’s National Day! … oh, right, I forgot. June 6th is not only my parents’ anniversary (45 years!) it is also Nationaldagen in Sweden.

The Sixth of June in Sweden

Nearly half a dozen significant events in Swedish history have transpired on the sixth of June, including Swedish independence from the Kalmar Union, various transfers of power, and some royal weddings (though the one next year of Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling is oddly scheduled for June 10th).

Although the importance of June 6th in Sweden goes back nearly 500 years, it was not declared an official national holiday until 2005. It’s like the Swedish 4th of July and it’s practically brand new! The date was traditionally celebrated as Flag Day but recently the Swedes finally decided it’s not too nationalistic to celebrate your country. I celebrate their country every day, so I’m glad this weekend everyone else is joining me. There are outdoor festivities and music going on everywhere.

These National Day celebrations are being augmented with the endless racket of thousands of high school graduates in their traditional, white, sailor-style graduation hats, riding around on the backs of giant trucks, pumping loud music, screaming, drinking beer, and otherwise generally shattering everything I’ve said about Sweden being a reasonable, quiet place.

Such a truck is called a studentflak (student flatbed truck). They have huge sound systems and are covered in homemade banners, flowers, and sometimes trees. Yes, there are trees on the trucks with the kids who are partying. Maybe you should just see for yourself.

I didn’t take that picture and I didn’t make this video of trucks riding through Stureplan, I found them on the website of a company that rents the vehicles, but I think they capture the idea. (Click the HQ button to see it in higher quality) There are companies who specialize in renting out these trucks, just as they would any other party supplies.

Here is a link to a television commercial for a studentflak rental service, and here is a flak with trees on it leaving a school with the parents proudly watching.

It’s a big deal. A big loud, annoying, whooohooo-hip-hop-party deal. I mean, it would probably be fun if I was 18, but I ain’t, buddy. I was once, but that was a loooonnnngg time ago.

För Svankvinna i tiden

As I mentioned before, most of Sweden’s coins carry a picture of King Carl XVI Gustaf, a man who is still alive and just 62 years old.

Every time he buys something, he pays with money that has his own picture on it. I’m sure he’s used to it now, but when he became king at age 27, it must have been weird at some point, like the first time he saw the coin. Perhaps it’s not strange at all since the previous coins had a picture of his dad (correction: his grandfather). Then again, he’s the king, so it’s possible that he never actually buys anything for himself, rather, he has people doing all that kind of stuff for him.

His profile image is updated periodically, so if you get an older coin he looks much younger. In every photograph I’ve ever seen of the King, he is wearing glasses, yet on the coins he is mysteriously unbespectacled. Yes, I think I just made up that word. It means “not wearing glasses.” Does he have contacts in or is it just not respectable to be bespectacled?

In America, there has been a debate going on for years about whether or not to stop making pennies. For quite some time it has cost more than one cent to produce the one-cent coins. Sweden is going to cease minting of its smallest coin next year. Interestingly, the 50 öre piece is worth about six cents in US currency.

If I was the king – which I had high hopes of becoming until that rascal Daniel Westling got engaged to Crown Princess Victoria about two weeks after I moved here – I’d probably carry around a little loose change. Jingle it in my pockets. Show people my picture. No big deal.

Daniel and Victoria aren’t getting married until next year, so anything can happen. I’d hate to split up the happy couple, as they are the darlings of the Swedish media, besides, I’ve really always had my eye on the younger sister, Princess Madeleine.

That’s Madeleine smiling there on the right. Victoria is behind her, not as happy because she has the weight of the throne on her shoulders for the rest of her life. Princess Victoria can look forward to being the first female to have her picture on a Swedish coin since 1720. Daniel Westling will be able to say, “Wanna see a picture of my wife?” each time he pulls a coin out.

Each time Sweden gets a new monarch, that person selects a new slogan or motto. Some of the previous ones have been “Sveriges väl” (Sweden’s welfare), “Folkets kärlek min belöning” (The people’s love is my reward), and “Plikten framför allt” (Duty above all). Currently, the obverse side of Sweden’s coins are christened with “För Sverige i tiden” (For Sweden, with the times). King Carl XVI Gustaf picked that out when he took the reins in 1973.

In addition to choosing a more modest and contemporary royal motto, he also made addressing the king less ostentatious. Since the 16th Century, the king of Sweden has been referred to with an elegant title that roughly translates to “By the Grace of God the King of Sweden.” Carl XVI Gustaf ended that tradition by humbling it simply to “Sveriges Konung” (Sweden’s King). So maybe he isn’t so crazy about having his picture on the money. From what I’ve gathered, he seems like a very private and quiet guy. I hope that will make it easier for me to talk to him at family events when he’s my father-in-law.

I’m kidding, of course. I’m sure that if I end up with a Swedish girlfriend she’ll probably be someone like the Svankvinna. This lady is Sweden’s answer to the woman who had 130 cats. The Svankvinna (“swan woman”) is a 68-year-old lady who got busted with eleven swans living in her tiny, 85-square-foot apartment in central Stockholm. Her neighbors and the police thought there was a corpse in the building until they looked through her mail slot and saw a bunch of little swan feet walking around. What I wouldn’t give to see that view! “Chief, you better take a look for yourself.”

Iida told me about the Svankvinna last night when we overheard some guys in town using her name when saying that someone was crazy. Apparently if someone thinks you’re nuts, they can call you Svankvinna. This guy called her the Svantant (“swan old lady”), so I guess he has his own nickname for her. He’s an independent thinker and not about to follow the rules by using the media’s common name for her.

Anyway, the Svankvinna was “rescuing” all these giant birds and keeping them in her apartment to “help” them. She gave them baths in the tub every two or three days and carried them around in big, plastic Ikea bags! Awesome. She “fixed” one of their broken legs with a popsicle stick and tape. I love her!

This article about her is in svenska, but there are some priceless photos of the cops cleaning out her apartment. Even though the police in Sweden seem downright friendly compared to their American counterparts, it must be so hard to look authoritative when loading a trailer full of swans.

She told the newspaper that she usually doesn’t keep so many swans there and the apartment is usually cleaner, but they came on a bad day. Oh, I’m sure they did. As many as 150 swans had gone through her place over a period of seven years. Nice.

Unfortunately, my sweet Svankvinna was convicted of animal abuse and of being bat-ass crazy, and a few of the swans died.

Well, it’s Friday night, so I’m off to see if I can get a date with the Svankvinna. If she’s half as pretty as her blurred-out face in the newspaper… Well, I’ll let you know how it goes.

King Carl


I know that by now every designer in America has done a take-off of Shepard Fairey’s Obama “Hope” poster. At this point it’s almost like coming up with my own version of the “Got Milk” slogan or an “I heart _____” shirt.

Nonetheless, I’d like to contribute to the iconic, ironic overkill with my version featuring the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustav.

World’s largest Ikea and the Swedish Royal Family

Even in America, every Ikea store is incredibly huge. The closest one to where I live has the distinction of being the largest in the world. I visited a couple weeks ago and spent a few hours getting lost in the maze. I bought some candles, hangers, and what I believe may be the best pillow ever. Oh yes, and I ate dinner in the cafe where they have one of the best deals in Stockholm: pizza slice and a drink for 12 kronors (about $1.50). I don’t know if they have it in American Ikea stores, but here they sell Ikea brand cola and other flavored sodas including lingonberry, a Swedish staple. I was excited and wanted to try both the cola and lingonberry soda, so of course, I ended up drinking too much of it.


This is a 3-story sign on the building that says “New! Open 10-8 every day” … Um, excuse me, how late are you open? What about tomorrow? And Sunday? Is that new?


More gigantic words at Ikea that say “entrance.”

This Ikea is near the Skärholmen area in a neighborhood called Kungens Kurva (the King’s Curve). The area got its name after a car chauffeuring the King of Sweden ran off the road there in 1946. That king, Gustaf V, was the grandfather of the current king, Carl XVI Gustaf. The King was not injured in the accident, but still today there are endless rumors about how the car actually happened to run off the road. Apparently, “something” may have been going on in the car between the King and his chauffeur. These rumors went along with other allegations and scandals at the time relating to the King’s sexuality. He was kind of a twink and had a fancy mustache, so I don’t know, maybe he was asking for it.

Just after I arrived in Sweden, it was announced that the 31-year-old Crown Princess Victoria had become engaged to her longtime boyfriend, a 35-year-old personal trainer and businessman named Daniel Westling. It is no overstatement to say this was HUGE news in Sweden. Every TV channel, the cover of every newspaper, every magazine, et cetera. Pictures of the ring, the press conference, the couple sitting awkwardly on a fancy sofa making the announcement, and later, more awkwardly at a table with the King and Queen. It was everywhere, I tell ya.

Of course, Sweden has a prime minister and a democratically-elected parliament, so the Royal Court’s duties are now ceremonial. But like the British, the Danes, and others, people are still fascinated with royal families, and this engagement is big news not just for the obvious reasons.

In 1980, Sweden became the first country to change its rules of succession to equal primogeniture, meaning that the oldest child would become the head of the monarchy regardless of their gender. Victoria, born in 1977, then became heiress apparent which was historic. It means if the King passes away or abdicates the throne, she will be the first regnant queen of Sweden in nearly 300 years.

A queen regnant is a female who is the head of the monarchy. The current queen, Silvia, is a queen consort, that is, she is the wife the reigning monarch but she could never become the sovereign leader. The last queen regnant in Sweden was Queen Ulrika Eleonora whose short-lived rule ended in 1720 and there were only two other female heads before her. Those reigns ended in 1412 and 1654. Surprisingly, none of those broads were even in the same family as the current lineage of royals.

Get this: An entirely new family was shipped in from France in 1810 to take over the throne. During 1809 and 1810, there was a quick succession of four kings in Sweden. The reigning king was overthrown in a coup and temporarily replaced by his uncle who had no children, who was replaced by a prince from Denmark, who died the same year.

So the Swedish Ståndsriksdagen (the people in charge of filling the vacant seat) actually elected a French general named Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte to be the new king. This guy was Napoleon’s sister-in-law’s sister’s husband. Napoleon liked this guy because he kicked some ass in the French Revolution and the Swedes wanted to pick someone the little guy would look favorably on. So there you have it, the Swedish Royal Family is from France.

The current queen, who married into the family, isn’t natively Swedish either. Queen Silvia has a Brazilian mother and a German father. She met the King at the 1972 Munich Olympics. It’s important to a lot of people here that Princess Victoria’s husband-to-be, even though he is a commoner, is from a proper Swedish family. It gets more Swedish blood back into the lineage, especially if they have children.

Oh, one more thing about the Swedish Royal Family: the King’s picture is on all the coins here. Weird, right? A guy who is alive has his picture on the money. The paper currency is not like that. It has pictures of artists, writers, and musicians, but I’ll write about that soon. Swedish paper money is interesting and beautiful enough to get its own story here. I’ll save it for a rainy day.