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INTRODUCING

Introducing…the Wallenbergs

Introducing... is The Local's weekly look at the great and the good of Swedish society. This week, the Wallenbergs, the aristocrats of Swedish business.

Who are they and why are they famous?

The Wallenbergs are Sweden’s most powerful financial family. Just over 150 years ago André Oscar Wallenberg started literally minting it when he established Stockholms Enskilda Bank. Since then the family’s power has become almost regal in its scope. In fact one of them, Marcus “district judge” Wallenberg, was a Knight of the Order of the Seraphim and had a type of minced veal burger named after him, a wallenbergare.

Mmm, tasty. Are they involved in anything I might have heard of?

Yes. The family has formed a seemingly unbreakable bond with the Swedish economy. In 1916 they set up Investor, an investment company with a major interest in Scania, Ericsson, Saab, ABB, Electrolux, AtlasCopco, AstraZeneca, and a ridiculous number of others besides.

That’s quite a list. They must be absolutely rolling in it.

They’re not strapped, that’s for sure. Although Marcus “Dodde” Wallenberg did once claim to have lived “a life of chronic herring weeks”.

What in the name of Mammon is a chronic herring week?

No human being living or dead had ever mentioned such a fish-tinged seven day period prior to the man from the clan, but it is assumed that he meant something akin to living on the breadline.

I’d say he knew very well which side his bread was buttered on. Anyway, why are these Wallenbergs in the news?

National broadcaster SVT has just run a three-part documentary on the family, which has planted bums firmly on seats all over the land.

Why? They just sound like a bunch of suits with visible history stains.

Ah yes, but these particular suits constitute the very fabric of Swedish society. And they very rarely give interviews. If we look at Sweden as being divided between state and capital, they have supplied das Kapital.

And the Social Democrats have been der Staat?

Precisely. And since we’ve come over all German, it’s probably worth mentioning that the Wallenbergs have a Second World War hero in their ranks. While off on business trips to the continent Raoul Wallenberg was soon confronted with the treatment of Jews by Nazi Germany. In Budapest he acquired diplomatic status and saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing them with false protective passports and claiming they were awaiting repatriation to Sweden.

Nice work! Was he treated as a hero when he returned to Sweden?

Unfortunately he never did return. He was arrested by the advancing Soviet forces, who took him to be a US spy. He was never seen again.

A tragic end…

Indeed, and there are other tragic tales too. Remember the bank that began the family fortune?

Yes.

Well, Marc Wallenberg was its chief executive when, in 1971, it was to be merged with another bank to form what is now SEB. Marc committed suicide that same year, possibly because the onus on him to perform became too great. His father, Marcus “Dodde” Wallenberg had pushed the merger through against his wishes.

Dodde seems to have been a central Wallenberg.

Yes, he was. He was also a dab hand at tennis and competed for the Swedish Davis Cup team in the mid-1920s.

Good for Dodde. Are there any other Wallenbergs with silly nicknames?

Oh yes, tons of them. There was Jaju (Jakob) for example, who was Dodde’s older brother. Both were involved in “the Bosch Affair” at the end of the Second World War, which led to them being accused by the USA of collaborating with Nazi Germany. The SVT documentary gives the brothers the benefit of the doubt on this score, particularly Jaju, whose name was mud after the scandal broke.

As if it wasn’t bad enough being called Jaju! Any more?

Yes. There’s Pirre (Peter), of course, born in 1926 and still a major power broker in what is commonly known as “the Wallenberg sphere”. Then there’s his son Poker (Peter), who’s on the board of Investor. And Husky (Marcus), who is chairman of the board of SEB.

Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen.

Hey, show some respect! Husky’s younger brother Wawa (Axel) is moving back to Sweden this summer after six years in Italy and the USA. And let’s not forget Gustaf Wally, a latter-day Billy Elliott who left the world of finance in 1929 to become a ballet dancer in New York.

What’s going to become of them now that they have been giving an airing on the telly?

They will probably return to the motto that has served the family so well over the years: Esse non videri – to be, not to be seen.

Right, and I’ll return to mine.

What’s that then?

Aliquando et insanire iucundum est – It is sometimes pleasant even to act like a madman.

Yeah, thought it might be.

CELEBRITY

Is Elijah Wood in Sundsvall and what is he doing there?

It is not that Sundsvall is not a nice town. It is just that it is not normally the place where Hollywood stars go for a night out. So rumours that Elijah Wood was visiting the town quickly went viral on Thursday.

Is Elijah Wood in Sundsvall and what is he doing there?
The main shopping street in Sundsvall. And Elijah Wood. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT & Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

The 35-year-old actor of Lord of the Rings fame was reportedly spotted visiting restaurant 'Tuppen' in the central Swedish town, which posted picture evidence on Facebook and Instagram late on Wednesday.

News of the unexpected celebrity visit quickly dominated local news headlines in Sweden, and was picked up by some of the national newspapers too, with growing excitement on social media. Several newspapers even asked readers to call them if they had any more information about the visit.

“Starstruck at Tuppen. Celebrity visit in the shape of Elijah Wood himself from the Lord of the Rings. Thanks for the visit!” wrote the restaurant.

Not everyone was convinced that it actually was the star, however, and some speculated that it could just be a lookalike or a clever PR trick by the restaurant itself to attract more visitors.

“I think it's fake. They had a customer who looked like him and wanted to joke,” wrote one person on their Facebook page. “Is it fake or is he looking for the ring in Sundsvall now?” wrote another.

Wood, who's currently starring in BBC America series Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, visited Stockholm last month to perform at the Södra Teatern venue with his friend Zach Cowie as DJ duo Wooden Wisdom. His film production company SpectreVision, of which he is a co-founder, helped produce Swedish 2013 science fiction movie LFO.

With a population of some 50,000 people, historic sawmill town Sundsvall is the third biggest town in Sweden's northern region Norrland and Sweden's 21st biggest town overall. It is home to one of the campuses of Mid-Sweden University as well as Sweden's first-ever international casino.

Sundsvall's nearby island Alnön was recently voted one of the most beautiful places in Sweden. Restaurant Tuppen is one of a number of restaurants in the town. It opened in May this year and aims to serve locally produced meat and fish.

The reason behind Wood's supposed visit to the town was not immediately known, but it would not be the first time an international celebrity has fallen in love with unexpected places in Sweden.

Last year US-Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean revealed that he wanted to move to Sandviken outside Gävle. British actor Hugh Grant recently bought a house in Torekov, southern Sweden. And rapper Kanye West paid a visit to the rural town of Älmhult to convince its Ikea headquarters to let him design furniture.