Visby Medieval Week offers ‘full on experience’

Visby Medieval Week offers 'full on experience'
The story of an American man who awoke from a coma able to communicate only in Swedish made headlines this month and brought attention to the re-enactment movement which will gather in Visby in August for the 30th annual Medieval Week festival, Peter Vinthagen Simpson reports.

“The Medieval Week was founded to stimulate learning and study of the Middle Ages. It has grown to massive proportions with some 40,000 visitors, of whom several thousands are in character,” Björn Sundberg at the Medieval Week organizing committee tells The Local.

Sundberg explains that the tourists flocking to the suitably Medieval-era setting of the walled town of Visby in early August will be treated to festivities such as jousting, parades, lectures and a raucous medieval market.

“It’s a full on experience,” Sundberg says.

The Medieval Week is a major tourist attraction for Gotland, second only to the Almedalen political week in July, and it is also a key event on the re-enactment movement calendar.

“The Medieval Week attracts some 3-4,000 enthusiasts. They come from different origins within the role-playing and re-enactment communities and together we create the stage,” Olle Sahlin of the Swedish chapter of the US-based Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA) tells The Local.

Sahlin explains that the “coma man” identified in the US and Swedish press in mid-July as US-native Michael Boatwright, attended the Medieval Week in Visby in 1985 and was a dedicated member of the early years of the SCA, known then under the pseudonym Michael Strongbow.

Pseudonyms are a core part of the re-enactment and role-playing scene and devotees are spread across kingdoms, principalities and shires/baronies. Sweden is part of the principality of Nordmark in the Kingdom of Drachenwald. Stockholm, for example, is the shire of Holmrike.

Subjects adopt SCA names while maintaining their “mundane names” for everyday purposes and some members of the organization are divided into royalty and other social ranks such as seneschal, herald and chatelaine.

The Kingdom of Drachenwald currently has a Sweden-based king and queen and celebrates its 20-year anniversary this year and so combined with the Medieval Week, the twin birthdays promise something special.

“We are laying on a massive anniversary concert. The largest band from the medieval rock genre (Corvus Corax) is coming from Germany. It is set with the city walls as a backdrop and is going to be a major event,” Björn Sundberg says from his office on Gotland, sorry Styringheim.

The Medieval Week attendees are divided into two overlapping groups – the re-enactment people and the role-playing people, Sahlin explains. But one thing they all have in common is an interest in history.

Sahlin reveals that this occasionally causes problems as the far-right and white power circles in Sweden also lay claim to the old Viking and historical symbols. He says, for example, that the Swedish jousting team was forced to change names from Ultima Thule after the emergence of a white power band with the same name.

“We are bothered from time to time by the connection and the Sweden Democrats’ interest in the Vikings is irritating. But the re-enactment and role-playing movement is an open and international movement and we don’t share any values with them,” he says.

The Medieval Week takes place within the city walls of Visby on Gotland and begins on August 4th 2013. Information in English, Swedish and German can be found on their website.

Peter Vinthagen Simpson

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