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Secret romance! Fire inferno! The story of Stockholm’s Gröna Lund

In the 1930s, a devastating fire and a secretly kindled romance threatened to permanently engulf Gröna Lund Tivoli in Stockholm.

Secret romance! Fire inferno! The story of Stockholm's Gröna Lund
A fire gutted Gröna Lund in the 1930s. Photo: SvD/TT

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Today, Gröna Lund Tivoli, located on Djurgården island in Stockholm, is Sweden’s oldest amusement park, attracting some 1.5 million visitors each year. But on March 22nd and 23rd, 1935, the future of the already historic attraction was put in jeopardy when it was almost completely destroyed by fire.

Opened in 1883 as a small venue for “carousels and entertainment,” Gröna Lund was by 1935 well on its way to becoming a truly modern amusement park. Influenced by American and British amusement parks, it had been undergoing major transformations since the 1920s. With new land acquisitions, the park began to take over more prime real estate on Djurgården. As new facilities were built and older buildings were upgraded or replaced, careful attention was given to architectural design and functionality.

Most importantly, at least from the visitors’ perspective, the sedate carousels and entertainments of yesteryear were beginning to take a back seat to larger-scale performances by well-known entertainers, themed attractions, and modern American- and British-style rides, including a roller coaster and a Ferris wheel. In the early 1930s, some of the most popular new additions were the open-air dances with live jazz music, the German-themed Tyrol restaurant, opened in 1933, and Gröna Lund’s first “dark ride”, Skräckexpressen (The Horror Express), which was built in 1932.

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Gröna Lund today, located on the edge of the Djurgården island in central Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The modernizations were not only good for business, they were also essential for Gröna Lund’s survival, especially after 1923, when a competing amusement park, Nöjesfältet, opened quite literally next door. From its start, Nöjesfältet was larger and more cutting-edge. It had the first roller coaster in Stockholm and was ahead of Gröna Lund with rides like bumper cars and a more extensive range of attractions and events.

For more than a decade, Gröna Lund’s owners had worked hard to get and maintain an edge over the competition. By 1935, the park seemed to be holding its own, and was attracting a more diverse crowd than Nöjesfältet. It had also surpassed its competitor in sophistication by shedding its somewhat makeshift and temporary appearance of earlier years – a characteristic that still defined Nöjesfältet.

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Despite its grander appearance, many of Gröna Lund’s rides and buildings were still constructed of wood, and this proved to be its proverbial Achilles’ Heel when on the night of March 22nd, a fire started in a workshop. Spreading rapidly, it devastated most of the new area of the park, where many of the modern rides, including Skräckexpressen and the roller coaster, were completely or mostly destroyed by the following day.

“The heat from the fire was so intense that the large steel beams on the Ferris wheel bowed and the paint flaked away from the open-air dance floor wrapped in a steam cloud,” according to a history on the official website of Gröna Lund.

From our modern vantage point, we of course know that the destruction did not mark the end for Gröna Lund. In fact, it instead demonstrated the incredible resilience of its owner, Gustav Nilsson, who managed to have several of the rides rebuilt – including Skräckexpressen, which was renamed Blå Tåget – by the end of the summer, as well as of the steadfast loyalty of its visitors.

While the competition between the rebuilt Gröna Lund and Nöjesfältet continued, a fire of another kind was being kindled which, though controversial, would benefit Gröna Lund in the long term.

In 1940, both Gustav Nilsson and the owner of Nöjesfältet, Johan Lindgren, died. Not long after, Nilsson’s daughter Ninni and Lindgren’s son John went public with their romance, which they had kept secret during their fathers’ lifetimes, and ultimately married in 1942. Together, they ran Nöjesfältet until it closed in 1957, and then Gröna Lund until their son, John Lindgren Jr took over as CEO in 1981.

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.

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HOUSING

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in

Whether you're moving to Sweden’s second biggest city for the first time or are looking for another neighbourhood, The Local talks you through some of your best options.

Moving to Gothenburg? The best areas and neighbourhoods to live in
Which neighbourhood of Sweden's second city is right for you? Photo: Per Pixel Petersson/imagebank.sweden.se

First of all: where to look? The city of Gothenburg suggests on its website that sublets, houses and townhouses to rent all across West Sweden can be found on Blocket, a popular digital marketplace (in Swedish).

Other alternatives for rentals include the sites Bostaddirekt, Residensportalen and Findroommate, as well as Swedish websites like Hyresbostad and Andrahand. Note that some of the housing sites charge a subscription or membership fee. There are also Facebook groups where accommodation is advertised. An example in English is Find accommodation in Goteborg!.

If you’re buying, most apartments and houses for sale in Gothenburg and West Sweden can be seen on the websites Hemnet and Booli. Local newspapers often have property listings. Real estate agents (mäklare) can also help you find a place.

Majorna on a hot summer’s day. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT

Majorna

Majorna is a residential area in Gothenburg that has transformed from being a classic working-class district to becoming a hip and restaurant-dense cultural hub in Gothenburg. The buildings typical for Majorna are three storey buildings with the first storey built in stone and the topmost two built with wood — the houses traditionally called Landshövdingehus. This neighbourhood just west of the city center, beautifully positioned between the river Göta älv and the park Slottsskogen, is hugely popular with young families.

Majorna was traditionally populated with industrial workers and dockers. The area is still supposed to have a strong working-class identity, with many people living in Majorna seeing themselves as radical, politically aware, and having an ‘alternative lifestyle’.

This doesn’t mean, however, that one can live in Majorna on a shoestring. The average price per square meter here is approximately 55,000 kronor as of May 2021, according to Hemnet.

Eriksberg on Hisingen. Photo: Erik Abel/TT

Hisingen

From the centre of Gothenburg it’s only a short bus or tram ride across the river to Hisingen. It’s Sweden’s fifth largest island – after Gotland, Öland, Södertörn and Orust – and the second most populous. Hisingen is surrounded by the Göta älv river in the south and east, the Nordra älv in the north and the Kattegat in the west.

The first city carrying the name Gothenburg was founded on Hisingen in 1603. The town here, however, was burned down by the Danes in 1611 during the so-called Kalmar War and the only remnant is the foundation of the church that stood in the city centre.

Hisingen housed some of the world’s largest shipyards until the shipyard crisis of the 1970s. Over the last 20 years, the northern bank of the Göta älv has undergone major expansion. Residential areas, university buildings and several industries (including Volvo) have largely replaced the former shipyards.

Hisingen comprises many different neighbourhoods — Kvillebäcken, Backa and Biskopsgården are only some examples. At Jubileumsparken in Frihamnen, an area bordering the Göta älv, there is a public open-air pool and a spectacular sauna. Further inland you’ll find the beautiful Hisingsparken, the largest park in Gothenburg.

Apartment prices are still relatively low in certain parts of Hisingen, while the housing market in other neighbourhoods is booming. The average metre-squared price on Hisingen lies around 41,000 kronor.

Gamlestaden

Gamlestaden or the Old Town was founded as early as 1473, 200 years before Gothenburg’s current city centre was built. You can take a seven-minute tram ride towards the northeast to this upcoming district (popularly known as ‘Gamlestan’) which, like Majorna, is characterised by the original Landshövdingehus in combination with an international atmosphere.

What was once an industrial centre, mostly the factory of bearing manufacturer SKF, is now rapidly turning into something new, as restaurants and vintage shops move into the old red-brick factory buildings.

The multicultural neighbourhood is also close to the famous Kviberg’s marknad (market) and Bellevue marknad, where you can buy everything from exotic fruits and vegetables to second-hand clothes, electronics and curiosa.

The Gamlestaden district is developing and should become a densely populated and attractive district with new housing, city shopping and services. In the future, twice as many inhabitants will live here compared to today, according to Stadsutveckling Göteborg (City development Gothenburg). Around 3,000 new apartments should be built here in the coming years. The current price per metre squared in Gamlestaden is 46,000 kronor.

Södra Skärgården. Photo: Roger Lundsten/TT

Skärgården

It might not be the most practical, but it probably will be the most idyllic place you’ll ever live in: Gothenburg’s northern or southern archipelago (skärgården). With a public bus or tram you can get from the city centre to the sea and from there, you hop on a ferry taking you to one of many picturesque islands just off the coast of Gothenburg.

There are car ferries from Hisingen to the northern archipelago. Some of the islands here are also connected by bridges. The southern archipelago can be reached by ferries leaving from the harbour of Saltholmen.

Gothenburg’s southern archipelago has around 5,000 permanent and another 6,000 summer residents. The archipelago is completely car free and transportation is carried out mostly by means of cycles, delivery mopeds and electrical golf carts.

Most residences here are outstanding — wooden houses and cottages, big gardens — and always close to both nature and sea. Finding somewhere to live, however, is not necessarily easy. Some people rent out their summer houses during the other three seasons. When buying a house here (the average price being 5.5 million kronor) you have to be aware that living in a wooden house on an exposed island often comes with a lot of renovating and painting.

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