A Tuesday evening in mid-June, and in true Swedish style, rain is absolutely bucketing down upon the intrepid little crowd gathered outside Stockholm’s City Hall.
Guide Eva Palmqvist apologizes that her outfit isn’t more historically accurate.
“I was planning to go for a more 1970s look – but with this weather a rain coat seemed more appropriate!”
Thirty or so of us braved the torrential downpour to convene for a two-hour walking tour through Stockholm, in a bid to learn more about Abba, Sweden’s most successful music group of all time.
The meeting point is aptly chosen: Stockholm City Hall was the location of band member Benny Andersson’s very first gig.
Following the popularity of similar themed walks in other tourist destinations, Stockholm’s City Museum (Stockholms stadsmuseum) has given the concept a whirl.
Thus far the museum has reaped great commercial success and now have a range of city walks, including the ever popular Stieg Larsson walks, now running in their fourth year.
This summer the turn has come for Swedish disco kings and queens, Abba, to get a city walk of their own.
“‘Location’ walks are incredibly trendy right now,” Eva Palmqvist explains. She is one of four guides employed by the City Museum who’ll be taking turns to show audiences the way to Abba’s 1970s Stockholm this summer, with tours offered in both Swedish and English.
“New York has Sex and the City walks, and London has Beatles walks,” she says. “Why shouldn’t we tag along?”
Abba, inventively named using the initials of band members Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, was active during the seventies and early eighties, reaching worldwide superstardom as pop hits such as “Dancing Queen”, “Mamma Mia” and “S.O.S.” filled teens around the globe with disco fever.
With a whopping 400 million albums sold to date, they outsell all other Swedish musical acts by a wide margin.
Considering Abba’s overseas success, Eva Palmqvist is counting on the tours attracting a large number of foreign tourists. In fact, the walk has been designed with visitors to Stockholm in mind.
“In planning the route, we’ve tried to present a look at 1970s Sweden for foreign visitors,” she explains.
“Some things which may seem perfectly natural for a Swede may seem exotic and interesting for foreign tourists.”
Even so, the walk doesn’t disappoint even if you’ve been living in Stockholm for quite some time.
When The Local tried out the Abba tour, all but one of the attendees turned out to be from Stockholm.
Not necessarily for tourists alone then, the tour offers a chance to see some well-known city spots in a whole new light, flavoured by the guide’s factoids and anecdotes.
Some of the connections between Abba and the locations visited are tenuous at best.
For instance, the stop outside Sheraton Hotel, chosen purely because one scene in the film “Abba – The Movie” was filmed in one of the hotel’s suites.
But perhaps that is precisely what the City Museum intended.
“This walk is more than just Abba facts,” says Eva Palmqvist.
On top of being navigated through disco-sparkling Abba flashbacks, attendees are also given a history lesson on some events that formed the decade’s political scene.
Topics introduced include the demolition of central Stockholm’s old Klara district, and 1971’s vicious dispute over Kungsträdgården’s elm trees.
These serious anecdotes are mixed up with some more light-hearted elements, as Eva Palmqvist intersperses her tour with trivia questions about the band – “With which song did they win Melodifestivalen?” as well as the odd musical number or two.
At the end of tonight’s tour, the audience is drenched, but definitely better-informed, and possibly even infected with a touch of that old disco fever!
Starting on July 1st, the English-speaking Abba City Walk will take place on Fridays and Saturdays in July, August and September at 4 p.m. The meeting point is Stockholm City Hall’s courtyard. Tickets cost 120 kronor ($19), and can be bought at the Stockholm City Museum or Ticnet. The duration of the tour is approximately two hours.
Editor’s note: Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, UK in 1974 with their hit song Waterloo.