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Västerås: A walk back in time

Robert La Bua · 2 Jul 2009, 15:58

Published: 02 Jul 2009 15:58 GMT+02:00

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The history of Västerås stretches back more than a thousand years; at 59 minutes, it's less than an hour away from Stockholm by rail, yet worlds away in atmosphere.

The train goes past some rather colourless industrial estates and one very smelly farm—survive these challenges to the senses and be rewarded with the charmingly evocative old town centre of Västerås, located in Västmanland county. Of course, Västerås is as thoroughly modern a city as any in Sweden, but it is the unique attractions of its historic past that grab one's attention immediately upon arrival.

Västerås Central Station is located right across the street from a big park, Vasaparken to be precise, which serves as an ersatz looking glass; a walk through it takes you back in time on the other side. The first step, though, is not so far back—only to 1963, the year when the imposing City Hall's current structure, designed by Sven Ahlbom, was completed. Today, the golden sculptures adorning its western façade complement the 65m tower, which houses 47 bells, the largest peal (set of bells) in Sweden. Sharing the same square, Fiskartorget, is the genteel home of the Västerås Konstmuseum.

It is further north that the city shows its age—in a good way. The Church, as was so often the case in medieval times, was the centre of life in the town. Today, past the seemingly whimsical statue of Bishop Johannes Rudbeckius to the left of its entrance, the very imposing Västerås Domkyrka remains one of the city's principal attractions and houses one of Sweden's largest organs, dating from the 17th century.

On what used to be grounds of the cathedral, across the street among several former service buildings, sits the small structure known as the Proba, a prison for priests, government officials, and other offenders of the time. The Proba was used in this capacity right up until 1801. Probas were not uncommon in the past, but they certainly are today; in fact, the one in Västerås is the last of its kind. Not that there's a lack of need.

A bit further north again is the jewel in the Västerås crown of attractions, the humble yet captivating Kyrkbacken. Here in the Church Green, amid the small cabins that housed the city's poor and derelict during the 16th century, new life springs forth from the quaint homes, art galleries, and assorted creative businesses revitalising this atmospheric quarter. If Kyrkbacken were in a larger city in another country, the fast-food outlets and T-shirt shops would have taken over long ago; there is none of that here. Indeed, it is the complete integrity of the place that adds to its charm; with the well-tended garden lanes adding to the ambience, the sum is greater than its parts. Also dating from the 16th century is the nearby Botaniska Trädgården, site of the oldest horticultural school in Sweden; today, several modern sculptures complement the plants and peacefulness.

Not all the Old Town's attractions are old. There are numerous cafés with outdoor seating to breathe in the atmosphere along with the aroma of fresh coffee, and the many parks and gardens make for pleasant strolling. On Stora Torg is a modern sculpture called The Asea Stream portraying several men on their bicycles on their way to work at Asea Brown Boveri, which has its worldwide headquarters in the city. The statue was created by Västerås artist B.G. Broström and may also be considered a tribute to the city's cycling paths; there are more than 300km of paths for two-wheeled enthusiasts.

Story continues below…

Four-wheeled enthusiasts should circle the dates 2-4 July on their calendars, or key them into their PDAs, and make plans to spend US Independence Day at Västerås' Power Big Meet, one of the largest car meets in the world, bringing together thousands of owners of American-made cars and their admirers—and, undoubtedly, a lot of bored wives and girlfriends once again keeping their men appeased. Not that women are uninterested, of course; they figure highly in the number of visitors eager to see the results of the judging to determine Best In Show. A swap meet is also part of the fun; where else in Sverige can you find a bumper for a '57 Ford Fairlane? Early arrivals participating in the show will be rewarded for their bleary eyes with one of a limited number of Power license plates, which will become instant collectors' items the moment they are distributed.


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Robert La Bua (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

04:55 July 3, 2009 by lingonberrie
Being overun on the American fourth of Juli holiday by Americans of wealth is not what I would believe is the fondest idea of the locals.

I lived in Italy for three years--and I avoided them like the plague, and I am, by nationality only, an American.

I am Swedish raised and bred from those grandparents of the old School, and I would fit into Sweden like a glove.

Once there, my American passport would be history.
22:31 July 4, 2009 by Bluesuede

Tsk tsk... Unlike you I am Swedish by birth. American by choice.

Swedes are very welcoming to foreign visitors. Maybe they are a bit more accepting and tolerant than you are?
01:43 July 5, 2009 by lingonberrie

Yes. Intolerance where loud , rude, fat, and overbearing Americans are concerned, which takes up about 75% of them.

I met a Swedish girl on a train in the US. She was born in Sweden of a Norwegian father and French mother, he deserted and the mom raised her. I have more Swedish ancestry than she, but she reminded me that she was born, raised and schooled in Sweden.

I don't make claims about Sweden because I don't live there. You live in the United States now, so you cannot play both roles. My Grandmother, her 100% Swedish 5 daughters and son, all spoke or understood Swedish, all were Americans. We were not taught but heard the same and lived with the culture and customs. Her sister spoke Swedish.

She was the most intolerant woman that I knew, and though her body was in the US, her mind was in Sweden.
09:09 July 5, 2009 by Bluesuede
Err... I was born, raised and schooled in Sweden. I lived and worked there until I married and moved to the US. So yes, of course, I can have it both ways. Sweden is my heritage. My family all live in Sweden except for a sister in Palm Springs. I will be visiting family members in Västerås, Stockholm and Sala later this month.

I have my nephew and 2 friends visiting and staying with me right now. Funny, they don't find Americans loud, rude, fat and overbearing at all. In fact they're blown away by the kindness of people here and how friendly everyone is.

You must be living in a "liberal" state such as CA, Oregon, Vermont et. al. Heck, you sound like a liberal yourself. None of them are to fond of this country either. I think you should move to Sweden. Sounds like you'd be happier there, eh?
14:58 July 23, 2009 by bigmikey

You were not born and do not live in Sweden. You have as much claim as I do to Sweden. My family is one more generation removed from Sweden than yours, but the largest difference between us is how ashamed you are of your nationality. Give up your passport already and become Italian(or wherever you live now).

I agree with bluesuede. My wife's family visits from Sweden every year, and they love it. We also spend 3 weeks every year visiting them , and haven't had to run away from the crowds of fat obnoxious Americans you seem to encounter.

I don't think you'll fit into Sweden like a glove unless its your Grandmother's glove. Then again, you definitely sound like a liberal, and the grass is always greener on the other side. You'll be complaining about Sweden in no time.
02:56 August 19, 2009 by P. Hruby
Now let's see. My last name is Czech, I am 1/2 Swedish, 1/4 German, and the rest is a mix of Irish and French Roma. And my children will be that plus Jewish with parentage from Germany.

I think everyone needs to read a little history and see that we are all a blend of survivors dating back to neolithic times and beyond
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