I have returned to Stockholm for a few days. Me and friend do what we always do when I am back, go to the pub we like to call ours, located on one of the fourteen islands that make up the city of Stockholm. This particular one is called Gamla Stan, or Old town, and once was the only part of the capital of Sweden. Our little pub is located just off one of the bigger roads on the small island and built just like all the other ones on Old Town, of clay and stones and dates back to the beginning of the 13th century. When I still lived here me and my friends used to spend our summers on the chairs outside placed on the street while tourists passed by, feeling the breeze from the nearby floodgates, when the temperature sunk and snow started making the stones slippery, we hid inside its stone walls.
Today we sit outside even if it is just the beginning of April and the temperature is not above nine degrees but we are Vikings, or at least we like to pretend so. I wait outside while my friend is buying drinks and I am yet again amazed by this 900-year-old island. The buildings are not very high but underneath all the houses there are mazes of chambers and rooms. Most of the streets are too narrow for cars to pass which speaks even louder about the old times they were built in. Underneath the cobblestones, hide layers of trash from the older days and if we go even deeper we might still be able to find the logs that expanded the city over the medieval period. There are thirteen other islands but out of all of them this is the one I have always felt I had a special connection to, maybe it’s because here a rich imagination, or a poor one for that matter, can run free. Or maybe it is because here is where it all started.
Just down the road Stora Nygatan, in a pub just next to the bay, located on a spot that nine hundred years earlier was covered in water, we can find the pub called Engelen, the angel. The place to be back in the days, where young people from around the city gathered to meet new people, dance and drink beer. On the ground floor there was the bar Engelen, where they had live music and downstairs in the basement there was a dance club called Coolingen, the cool guy, which was playing everything from Björn Skifs to Queen.
One autumn evening in the early 80s two people, unknown to each other, decided to spend their day off there. From the medieval building you could hear the faint sound from the live band playing, from time to time the music grew louder as the guards let another group of youngsters through the doors. The woman studying to become a nurse had always enjoyed live bands, she was sitting upstairs at a table she shared together with a girlfriend. The man was one of those people who fitted in everywhere, he had been dancing downstairs before deciding to go upstairs for some air. The man ordered a beer from the bartender while looking at the people enjoying their evening around him. He spotted a beautiful brown haired woman sitting alone at one of the tables with an almost empty beer in front of her. She was gently tapping her foot against the heavy wooden floor at the pace of the music. The man who had always been good with women, you could call him a ladies’ man, decided to talk to this particular woman on this precise autumn evening. He walked through the crowd until he was standing at her table.
“Hi, are you having a good evening?” He asked her.
“Sure” She said, still looking at the band playing. Her heart had been broken not long before and she was not interested in flirting tonight.
“Can I buy you another beer?” He said.
“I am here with a girlfriend actually.”
“Then let me at least keep you company until she comes back.” She decided to look up at this man and found his ice blue eyes looking gently at her. He didn’t look like one of those guys who flirts with everything that walks, he seemed nice.
“Alright” she said.
My mother and father didn’t get together that night, but it was the first time they ever met. A couple of weeks later my father saw my mother on the underground, ran up to her and asked her out. That did not happen here, but if this island did not exist maybe they wouldn’t have ever met.
My friend is still missing which is not unusual, this pub is located perfectly for thirsty tourists who want to pop in for a beer or two and still take in the atmosphere of this unique place. And thinking about beginnings and thirsty travellers I can’t help but imagine how Old town must have looked like out of the eyes of someone who arrived here 900 years ago.
At the bay, where the underground stops today, a young blacksmith had just stepped off the wooden boat that brought him here. He had been gone for years, travelling from Stockholm, to Gotland, to Lubeck and back for his line of work. He was tired after the long journey but he was also pleased with having been able to sell most of his goods. The moneybag strapped to his belt was beating satisfactorily against his leg while he made his way from the pier back to the forge on Mynttorget. He had to pass trough long streets of houses with incredible slim passageways. When he was walking on one particularly narrow street he heard a window being opened and someone screaming for anyone underneath to look out. He couldn’t really locate the sound from above him but it sounded like it was further up the street. Fortunately, he was right, from the window a few meters in front of him trash was thrown out and hit the street. He kept walking more swiftly not to be hit by any trash, or worse, faeces.
It didn’t take him long before he could see the castle rising above the houses and he knew it wouldn’t be long until he saw his father’s forge. He was still cautious where to put his feet but there was less trash on the streets here, closer to the water. He couldn’t wait to get inside to show his father all the pennings earned, he had even gotten himself a gold coin which he had in his moneybag and he was also longing for something to drink.
He knocked on the heavy wooden door which lead into the forge and it didn’t take long until it was opened by his mother. He could almost not recognise her, the years had changed her, but she remembered her son instantly and let him inside. He was presented with a plate of bread and herring. He was also given a large mug filled with mead. He took a big mouthful of the honey flavoured drink and he instantly felt like home. He knew he wouldn’t stay here long and this time one of his brothers would come with him but right now he tried to forget about the hard journey, the men that were lost at sea and the years that went by without him. Because as long as the gods were kind he knew that one day he would be back. Like all people from Stockholm.
At least that is what everyone says when someone leaves Stockholm, that we will always be back in the end. And while I sit here and wonder I hear my friend put down the drink in front of me.
“Are you sitting here and daydreaming again?”
“Of course.” I laugh. “Don’t you ever wonder what have happened here before us and what might happen in the future? Don’t you ever think about what our children will one day see here? Will they walk down these streets, wondering who had walked there earlier, will they see the day when this part of Stockholm is beyond repair and they will finally be able to witness those old logs that we are now walking on but can’t see. The old wood that was able to expand the city with the help of the dried litter from the inhabitants. Or will they simply move on, stop at an old pub, order a beer and create a new generation of memories in a town that is already crowded with them?”
My friend looks at me but, after knowing me for so long, nothing really surprises her.
It does not really matter what this or the next generation will do or experience in Old town because wherever they decide to walk, wherever they decide to stop, wherever they eat and whatever building they might be amazed by. They will keep walking in the footsteps of the people before them, fray the cobblestones until they at last reach the logs. The same logs that named the city Stockholm.