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Why are so many Germans obsessed with Sweden?

The number of German tourists and expats in Sweden is rising, while in Germany the positive view of the Swedish lifestyle is so widespread there's even a specific word for it.

Why are so many Germans obsessed with Sweden?
A group of tourists in Stockholm's Old Town. Photo: Adam Wrafter / SvD / TT

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The number of German tourists coming to Sweden grows every year.

Last year, German visitors spent just above three million nights in Sweden, according to Tillväxtverket, the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth. Compared to five years ago, that's an increase of more than half a million, making Germany the second most common country of origin for tourists in Sweden, just after Norway (3.3 million nights in 2017).

German fascination for all things Swedish got so strong that several years ago it even prompted Swedish officials to warn of German tourists stealing elk warning signs from Swedish roads.

What's more, many Germans seem to extend their stay and move to Sweden permanently. According to Statistics Sweden, there were 50,863 German-born people resident in Sweden in 2017 – making Germany one of the five European countries with the most emigrants to Sweden. 

In fact, the positive view of Sweden is so widespread in Germany that there's even a term for it: Bullerby-Syndrome or Bullerbü-Syndrom in German. 

“The Bullerby-Syndrome states that Germans see Sweden as a very romantic country,” Charlotta Seiler-Brylla, a professor of German at Stockholm University, tells The Local. “They see it as a country with lots of nature, in which everything is stable and in good order.”

The term gets its name from the characters in a series by Swedish children's author Astrid Lindgren, whose other stories of Pippi Longstocking and  Emil of Lönneberga are much loved in Germany and have contributed to the traditional image of red wooden cabins, sprawling nature, Midsummer festivities, and happy people.

But she isn't the only one painting a positive picture of Sweden.

“There's a German TV series called Inga Lindström,” Seiler-Brylla explained. “It's set in a fictional Sweden, that basically depicts only good sides and lots of beautiful nature. Many Germans feel like spending their holidays in Sweden because of that romantic picture.”

READ MORE: 'The image of Sweden in Germany is quite old-fashioned'

An episode of the German TV show “Inga Lindström” is recorded in Dalarö. Photo: Jurek Holzer/Svenska Dagbladet/TT

However, German tourists are also intrigued by the prospect of a darker side of Sweden – Swedish crime novels are immensely popular in Germany.

Germany has long had a huge appetite for detective fiction, and was home to some of the earliest examples of modern crime fiction by E.T.A Hoffmann and Friedrich Schiller. These days, novels by Swedes such as Stieg Larsson and Maj Sjöwall are found in bookstores around the world and not least in Germany, which may lead to an interest in their country of origin.

“There has been a wave of Swedish crime novels rolling over Germany since the '70s,” says Seiler-Brylla, suggesting that the German interest in so-called 'Scandi noir' long predated the trend in many other countries. 

The professor adds that it's not just the fictionalized, exaggerated versions of Sweden that appeal; many Germans also follow current affairs in Sweden closely. 

One topic discussed widely in Germany, especially in tabloids and magazines, is the Swedish royal family.

The magazine Bunte frequently publishes articles about the Swedish royals, covering their holidays, family photos, and travels. When magazines post photos of the family on Facebook, the comments are usually sympathetic: “What an appealing, down-to-earth family they are. I love them,” is one typical recent response.

READ ALSO: Five ways to cure homesickness as a German in Stockholm

The Swedish royal family in 2016. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

The Swedish ambassador in Berlin told The Local earlier this year that Sweden generally enjoys a good reputation in Germany, and there is a high level of knowledge among Germans about Swedish culture and companies.

The German ministry of foreign affairs states that the country is “keenly interested” in Sweden's socio-political progress – childcare, family policy and diversity are just some of the themes to mention.

Especially Sweden's gender equality policy is talked about frequently in Germany, and mostly with a favourable view.

The online magazine orange by handelsblatt published an article with the headline “Do you want to experience gender equality live? Then go to Sweden!”, the German radio station Deutschlandfunk did an article titled “How do feminist foreign- and trade politics work”, talking to Swedish ministers. 

“Additionally, I think that there is a certain recognition value that Germans see in Sweden,” explains Seiler-Brylla. “The countries have been historically linked for decades.”

The German-Swedish relationship started off well with an elective affinity in the 19th century, according to Seiler-Brylla. After the Second World War it changed for the worse, but nowadays Germany's reputation is getting better again, with many young Swedes showing a growing interest in Berlin.

Today, there are striking similarities between the two countries on several levels: a booming tech industry and strong industrial sector, close partnership within the EU, and closely linked languages, which may make communication easier.

READ MORE: Coffee, cash and Eurovision: Eight differences between Germany and Sweden

The Local spoke to two young Germans about their opinions on Sweden. Johanna Stein, a trainee at the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung in the German city of Hannover, has spent three months in Stockholm for an internship. She decided on Sweden because she heard many good things about the country beforehand.

“Many of my relatives are fans of Scandinavia. It seems like everyone has an idea of Sweden, which in most cases is quite positive,” she told the Local.

Asked what she likes most about Sweden, Stein stated: “The tranquility. Everyone seems so relaxed.” She also talked positively about the “great nature and culture” and added that “Swedes are really good people, once you crack them.”

Johanna Stein. Photo: Private

Andreas Wershofen, a student of plant biotechnology, also has a good picture of Sweden, due both to the country's cultural output and his experiences socializing.

“I recently found out that a lot of the bands I like are from Sweden… The Hives, Royal Republic, In Flames and so on. That's the reason why I have a growing interest in that country,” said Wershofen.

He added: “Some of my friends went to Sweden after school. When they came back they talked very positively about the informal way of addressing people, and that Swedes seem to be a really respectful folk. When a non-Swedish speaker was in a group of Swedish students, they usually started talking English, even to each other.”

READ ALSO: Alter Schwede! The surprising role of old Swedes in the German language

Andreas Wershofen. Photo: Private.

It is reasonable to expect that Sweden will remain interesting to Germans in the future, says Seiler-Brylla, listing the Bullerby-Syndrome as the biggest reason for that. And even if life in Sweden doesn't quite resemble an Astrid Lindgren book, there's still a lot to interest Germans who stay in the country on a temporary or even permanent basis.

“The countries actually have a lot in common, for good and for bad,” she says. “Both represent a humane refugee policy, but also a growing right-wing party.”

As long as both countries stay on the same side in the future, she sees positive effects though: “Sweden will always be interesting for the Germans.”


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For members


‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT


Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden