When David Walker heard the Hesa Fredrik alarm test on arrival in Stockholm seven years ago, he was terrified, thinking enemy bombs, perhaps atomic ones, were poised to rain down on the city.
“I genuinely thought there was an air raid,” he remembers. “I was very hungover at the time and called my partner while he was at work until he picked up. He laughed and told me he had simply forgot to mention this fun little noise.”
Walker is not alone. Mona Daniela was used to the sound from Romania, where the government also periodically tests its sirens. But that did not mean Sweden’s version didn’t scare her.
“I didn’t know about the test every three months, so I was like ‘oh my God, now is not the time for something bad to happen, as I’m home alone with two small kids’.”
Sweden created its alarm system in 1931, erecting a network of sirens in all major populated areas, so that residents can be informed if there is a public danger such as a big fire, an explosion or a war.
It was nicknamed ‘Hoarse Fredrik’ (‘Hesa Fredrik’) after a Swedish columnist at Dagens Nyheter in the 1930s, Oscar Fredrik Rydqvist, noted that it sounded like himself when he had a cold.
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The siren system is still tested in populated areas all over Sweden, on the first Monday of March, June, September and December at three o’clock on the dot.
Mustahid Ahmed thought it was the foghorn of an oncoming container vessel the first time he heard it.
“Once I heard this sound, and thought ‘where is the ship is coming from?!'” he remembers. “I was totally confused. Then I came to know about the fact.”
Thays Santos Duarte, a student at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, thought it was a car alarm.
Rodrigo Franco, a user interface designer at the Swedish birth control app Natural Cycles, said that on the first sounding after he arrived from Sweden in January it was only his wife who heard it.
“We live right next to one of those towers that blast the alarm,” he says. “First time I was in the office and my wife told me about it and she thought it was some ‘prepare for the war’ kind of thing.”
It took the coronavirus pandemic and the shift to home working for him to experience it himself. But when that happened, it came in the middle of a conference call, and it could be heard simultaneously in the background of all the Sweden-based employees’ various apartments and houses.
“Second time, I was in a company-wide conference call and the offices in other countries thought we were all doing a prank on them!”
Do you remember the first time you heard the Hesa Fredrik siren? Scroll down to share your story in the comments below or join the conversation in The Local’s Living in Sweden Facebook group.