New centre will dispel Viking myths

Who were the Vikings? For most people, thoughts of raping and pillaging probably spring to mind, as do images of busty women called Brunnhilda with blonde plaits and horned helmets.

The Vikings sailed from the Nordic countries to Britain, Ireland, North America, Russia and even Turkey. Yet for visitors to Scandinavia and locals alike, there are currently precious few opportunities to find out the truth about the extraordinary people who spread their culture over most of the known world.

This could soon change, as plans have now been unveiled to start an interactive museum in Stockholm to satisfy tourists’ hunger for the medieval Scandinavians.

“There is a big interest worldwide in the Vikings,” says Marie Nork, one of those trying to set up the Stockholm Viking Center. Quite apart from countries actually visited by Vikings, there is huge interest in both the United States and Japan.

“They are used in commercials – they’ve even been used in propaganda. During the 19th century they really became romanticized: that’s when they acquired their horns.”

The Stockholm centre, which is still in the planning stages, will look at these myths and compare them against the reality of Viking life – a reality that was more usually centred around trade and farming than the art of war.

“East-bound Vikings particularly did lots of trading, rather than fighting and pillaging,” she says.

Nork, herself an archaeologist, believes that the lack of a modern Viking centre in Stockholm has been a glaring gap in the capital’s offering to tourists.

“People are often surprised that we don’t have more on offer. Maybe we Swedes don’t quite understand what a big deal the Vikings are internationally,” she says, and compares the lack of a Viking centre with the lack of any museum about Abba, a gap which other entrepreneurs recently announced plans to fill.

Her eyes were opened, as were those of fellow Viking enthusiast Veronica Ekberg, when they were both studying archeology at York University in England. York is home to the hugely successful Jorvik Viking Centre, which Nork and Ekberg are holding up as an inspiration.

Like the Jorvik Viking Centre, in which visitors travel back in time through mock-ups of Viking York, Nork wants the new centre to be more accessible than a normal museum. The aim is to site it in central Stockholm on a 6,750 square metre site. Glass display cases will be conspicuous by their absence.

“We’re looking into how we can use virtual reality to tell the Viking story,” Nork says.

Nork and Ekberg expect the centre to attract up to 800,000 visitors a year, and bring new tourists to the Swedish capital:

“Stockholm is a natural place to site a museum like this – the city is something of a showroom for Scandinavia.

“And if you can use the Vikings to attract people to northern England, then it won’t be a problem for Stockholm,” she reasons.

The centre will also have an academic research element, including collaboration with other universities. It could even end up organizing archaeological digs, something that Jorvik already does.

Preliminary estimates suggest that getting the project off the ground will cost 230 million kronor, but those behind it believe that they will soon be able to recoup their expenses. The project has received valuable support from Stockholm University’s commercialization experts, consultants, architects, designers and figures from the Swedish culture world.

Nork says that the huge international interest in the Vikings means that the search for finance and other forms of support is being carried out abroad as well as in Sweden, with help from the Swedish consulate in Los Angeles and international Swedish women’s network Swea.

While Nork admits that the Viking centre is a long-term project – she reckons that it will take four years from securing finance to the museum opening – there is no doubt in her mind that it will happen.

“The question is not whether a Viking centre will be built, but when.”