(scroll down to the end to find our most read story of the year)
The folks in Sweden’s second city have a reputation for their sense of humour, and with 2016 barely days old, one Gothenburg resident decided to prove that by sneaking out onto a frozen canal in a central park and drawing a huge snow penis on the water.
A few prudes complained and it was eventually cleared away, but that only led to a popular uprising, under the banner of the ‘Restore the snow penis’ group on Facebook, which attracted thousands of members.
One of the men involved in destroying the short-lived icon finally decided to put things right in the only way possible: by creating a new, much bigger snow penis with the help of professional snowblowers. Sweden spoke, and Sweden wanted its penis.
The giant snow penis, version two. Photo: Screenshot from video by Emilian Sava.
2. The off-duty cop who made the arrest of the year in her bikini
There’s an enviable no-nonsense, practical approach that some Swedes have, and a perfect example came in the summer when an image of an off-duty cop forcing a would-be thief to the ground while wearing a bikini went viral.
Mikaela Kellner and her friends were sunbathing in a Stockholm park in July when someone approached, pretending to sell magazines for homeless people. After lingering for a while he eventually took no for an answer and left, but not before helping himself to a mobile phone.
Unfortunately for the man, Kellner and one of her friends are police officers, and as soon as they noticed something was wrong they jumped into action, forcing him to the ground and detaining him on the grass until a colleague came to arrest him.
The moral of the story: don’t presume a Swedish cop won’t be ready to put you in a hammerlock just because he or she is wearing an unusual outfit.
Mikaela Kellner in action. Photo: Private
3. Danish or drunk? Not sure…
Unfortunately not every cop in Sweden is capable of impressive split-second judgment when facing a tricky situation. A case in point was the Trollhättan resident who managed to inadvertently convince the police that he was Danish, through the simple act of being drunk.
Officers approached the 29-year-old after he allegedly crashed into two parked cars, drove away, then got stuck in the snow in the western Swedish town. They couldn’t decipher a word of what he was saying and deduced that he was therefore Danish.
In reality, the guy was just drunk and slurring his speech, which fortunately they later realized. An easy mistake to make…
Danes and Swedes at the opening of the Öresund Bridge in 2000. Photo: Klas Andersson/TT
4. Sweden and Denmark go to war… on Twitter
Speaking of Denmark, Sweden has a healthy rivalry with its Scandinavian neighbour, and while that tends to manifest itself most clearly during sporting encounters, in July, the tech-savvy Swedes decided to adopt a more modern method of warfare and hit out at the Danes via Twitter.
What followed was the biggest conflict between the two since Napoleonic times – we think. It all started with a simple, sly comment from the official Sweden Twitter account about how their lakes are bigger than the entirety of Denmark. The Danes responded in turn by making fun of the Swedish obsession with rules, as you would.
Pretty soon everything was fair game, with the Danish language, the cost of alcohol in Sweden, and even elks caught in the cross-fire.
The good natured war of words got plenty of attention, and it’s probably for that reason that later on in the year a similar stunt was attempted, this time involving all of the Nordic nations, ahead of a cultural expo in Canada. It lacked some of the excitement (and the sharpness) of the original dispute though. Blame it on the Norwegians.
A screenshot from the great Swedish-Danish Twitter war of 2016. Photo: Twitter
The annoying thing about Swedes and technology is that they’re enviably good at it, as proven by a venture launched in April that had other countries the world over wishing they had been so creative: The Swedish Number.
The hotline, created by the Swedish Tourist Association, allowed anyone outside of Sweden to dial up and be transferred to a random Swede who had signed up via an app. The aim was to promote Sweden abroad, and judging by the global headlines it attracted as well as the 197,678 calls made during its 79 day lifespan, the number was a success.
The service was at its best when a range of well-known Swedes took a turn at answering. Oscar winner Alicia Vikander was one example, with the Gothenburg native using the anonymity provided as an opportunity to play a few tricks on callers, while the most powerful person in the country even had a go, Swedish PM Stefan Löfven’s spell taking calls leading to some pretty shocked reactions on the other end of the line.
Stefan Löfven taking calls on The Swedish Number. Photo: The Swedish Number
6. The fearless woman who was the talk of Sweden (and elsewhere)
The Swedish number got people talking to Sweden, but around the same time, Tess Asplund became the talk of Sweden as a picture of her fearless protest in the face of a neo-Nazi march went viral.
On May 1st a photographer captured Asplund producing a Nelson Mandela-inspired raised fist salute in defiance of a racist demonstration in Borlänge, as neo-Nazi participants walked past her.
It was compared to ‘The old lady with the bag’, an iconic Swedish image from 1985 depicting a woman in Växjö hitting a neo-Nazi demonstrator with her handbag, and hailed by many as the image of the year.
In the months since, Asplund has been named as one of 2016’s most inspiring women by the BBC.
“The Nazis who knew me before the picture hate me now even more,” she told the British broadcaster in a video profile about the image.
Tess Asplund's protest in May. Photo: David Lagerlöf/Expo/TT
The shot of Asplund wasn’t the only Swedish protest image which stood out this year. A high school student managed to spark fierce debate in May when she chose to pose topless for her school photo as an act of feminist protest.
Explaining why she done it, Hanna Bolander told The Local:
“Why shouldn’t I be able to do that if guys can take their tops off? It was kind of spontaneous but I really do care about these questions.”
“I think it’s a social construct that we should think of breasts as such a big deal,” she added.
Bolander wasn’t the only topless person in the picture – her male friend was too – but she was the only one the school felt the need to warn about the potential risks of the image. Agree with her message or not, for a 19-year-old to prove so effective at making a statement and stimulating debate says much about Sweden's youngsters and their ability to think big.
Hanna Bolander. Photo: Private
8. Defending gender equal snow clearing
The subject of gender equality in Sweden reared its head again in November, when the Green Party’s transport head was forced to defend a gender-equal snow-clearing policy that was blamed by some for the transport chaos which followed a day of record snowfall in Stockholm.
The city’s policy of prioritizing cleaning pavements and cycle lanes before roads was brought in last year in an effort to make moving around on icy days just as safe for women as men (statistically there's a higher chance that drivers are male, and users of pavements, cycle paths and public transport are female).
When a wave of snow hit the city in November, anti-feminists and even liberal newspaper Dagens Nyheter suggested the policy was to blame. The person behind it, Green Party transport head Daniel Helldén, refuted that rationale however, noting that it appeared the policy hadn’t even been followed well in the first place.
“There is a lack of gender equal snow-clearing now according to the reports I’m getting. It’s still difficult to walk on pavements and it is important that snow-clearing prioritizes walkways, public transport and cycle paths,” he told Expressen.
“It’s obvious it hasn’t worked, the question is why? Is it the weather, or the procedures which we in the city have put in place?”.
Stockholm experienced a huge amount of snow in a short period of time in November. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
9. What happened when a dog ate Swedish fermented herring
Some would argue that there is nothing more Swedish than surströmming – herring that has been fermenting in a can for months – but Ella the French bulldog would likely argue that it’s just wrong. If she wasn't a dog and had the power to make an argument, that is…
Malin Jonsson from Umeå in northern Sweden filmed her dog begging for food at the table during a surströmming party in the summer. When she obliged and allowed the pet to try some of the delicacy, Ella’s attitude soon turned from lip-smackingly keen to, well, find out for yourself by watching the video, which isn’t for the weak of stomach.
The clip quickly went viral, but Jonsson wasn’t sure she understood why:
“It is peculiar. To think that so many people want to see a dog throw up, again and again…”
People will watch anything involving dogs (and fermented herring), it seems.
Ella the dog trying surströmming. Photo: Malin Jonsson
A late but great arrival on the list comes from Malmö, where in December residents were delighted to see that an incredible piece of miniature art had popped up on one of the city’s busy streets.
The detailed, anonymously created “Noix de Vie” shop and “Il Topolino” restaurant for mice quickly became a phenomenon as locals scrambled to see it in person and posted hundreds of pictures on Instagram. And it only got bigger from there.
Pretty soon, people had started to make contributions of their own, adding miniature cheese, Christmas presents and even a tiny bus stop to the installation. It even attracted a real mouse, who was disappointed to be turned away at the door.
Media outlets from across the world reported on the creation, and it also made the cut on US TV when James Corden mentioned it on a Late Late Show segment in praise of Sweden.
The artists behind the now iconic work will have a tough time bettering that with their next piece!
Malmö's most famous restaurant. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
If there is one Swedish animal story to rule them all in 2016 then it’s undoubtedly this bizarre tale from Insjön in central Sweden.
On a Friday night in August, at the height of the Pokémon Go craze, two teenage siblings went out looking for some of the fictional monsters.
Instead, they found something far more disturbing: a couple wearing rubber pigs’ head masks, screaming and waving a green laser.
One of the lasers met one of the teens in the face, and they promptly rushed home. But it wasn’t the last sign of the masked shooters, who were wearing T-shirts labeled ‘King’ and ‘Queen’, by the way. They were soon spotted again, this time by motorists, having sex beside the town’s waterwheel.
Drivers slowed down, and some got out of their cars, stunned at what they were seeing. Judging by how popular our original article on the subject was, international readers were just as dumbfounded.
The now infamous waterwheel in Insjön. Photo: Jan Ainali
And with that reminder of just how crazy 2016 has been, we'd like to wish all of The Local’s readers Gott Nytt År – Happy New Year! 2017 will have a tough time topping its predecessor.