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SWEDISH HISTORY

IN PICTURES: The history of Sweden’s prime ministerial rowing boat

When Boris Johnson visited Magdalena Andersson at her official country residence this week, the two were seen taking to the water in a rowing boat. But they weren't the first prime ministers to do so. Here's the history of the Harpsundsekan rowing boat.

IN PICTURES: The history of Sweden's prime ministerial rowing boat
The Harpsund boat with the Swedish prime minister's official ministerial residence, Harpsund, in the background. Photo: Jack Mikrut/TT/Scanpix

How long has the boat been around?

The boat is a special type of rowing boat produced in Sweden known as an eka. This specific eka, Harpsundsekan, has been around since 1953, when the Harpsund residence was acquired by the Swedish government as their official retreat – similar to Chequers in the UK or Camp David in the US.

Tage Erlander, who was Sweden’s prime minister at the time, was the first to take to the waters in the Harpsundseka.

Erlander was also featured in one of the first famous images of the boat at Harpsund, when he shared a boat ride with the Soviet Union’s de facto leader Nikita Khrushchev alongside an interpreter.

Nikita Khrushchev rows the Harpsund rowboat with Tage Erlander and an interpreter. Photo: Jan Collsiöö/Pressens Bild

Since Khrushchev and Erlander’s famous boat tour on the lake at Harpsund, it’s become a tradition that visiting presidents or prime ministers join the Swedish prime minister for a boat ride – and Johnson was no exception.

Boris Johnson and Magdalena Andersson row the Harpsundsekan in May 2022. Photo: Ninni Andersson/Regeringskansliet/TT

Many commented on the fact that Johnson chose not to wear a life jacket on the boat, although the majority of Harpsund boat passengers have gone without – prior to 2014, no lifejackets were worn on the boat, as seen in this image of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme and German chancellor Willy Brandt in 1970.

Olof Palme and Willy Brandt in the Harpsund boat. Photo: TT/Scanpix

Johnson is not the first British prime minister to visit the Harpsund boat – Harold Wilson is pictured visiting the pier where the boat was moored in 1969 (although it’s not clear whether he actually went for a row).

Harold Wilson and Tage Erlander visit the Harpsund pier in 1969. Photo: Ragnhild Haarstad/SvD/TT

David Cameron is, however, pictured on the boat. He joined former German chancellor Angela Merkel, Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte for a tour during an EU meeting at Harpsund in 2014.

David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Fredrik Reinfeldt and Mark Rutte in the Harpsund boat. Photo Anders Wiklund/TT
Boat tours at Harpsund aren’t just limited to heads of state – Kofi Annan, then-UN Secretary General took a trip with Swedish prime minister Göran Persson in 1997 when Annan was on an official visit to Sweden.

Göran Persson and Kofi Annan in the Harpsundeka in 1997. Photo: Bertil Ericson/Scanpix
The traditional Harpsund boat tour has become an important photo opportunity for visiting officials in recent years – with press clambering to get a good quote or photo upon the boat’s return to shore.

The reasons behind the tradition aren’t clear – but maybe the fact that it gives Swedish and foreign officials an opportunity to talk privately, away from the press and their advisors – is one of the reasons it has survived.

 

Poland’s president Aleksander Kwasniewski (centre) looks up at the waiting press as Sweden’s prime minister Göran Persson (right) steers the boat towards the pier. Kwasniewski was on an inofficial visit to Sweden in May 2001 to discuss Poland’s membership of the European Union. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix/TT
Swedish prime ministers have also enjoyed solitary boat tours at the lake at Harpsund. Here’s Andersson’s predecessor, Stefan Löfven on a solitary boat tour in 2021, in an image which could definitely feature in this article of Löfven looking incredibly Swedish.

Stefan Löfven rowing at Harpsund in 2021. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

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SWEDISH HISTORY

Centuries-old time capsule opened in Stockholm Cathedral

Multiple time capsules from the 1700s and early 1900s were discovered during renovation works at Stockholm Cathedral (Storkyrkan).

Centuries-old time capsule opened in Stockholm Cathedral

The first and oldest of the boxes, from 1742, contained a tightly-folded A3-size piece of paper covered in elaborate handwriting stating that the old tower was removed in 1736 and the new one was completed in 1742, a date which had not previously been confirmed.

“This is the nicest capsule I’ve ever opened,” building restoration expert Max Laserna told church magazine Kyrkans Tidning.

“The handwriting from 1742 was so beautiful, almost like a piece of art, it really stood out,” he said.

The capsule from 1903 was flat like an envelope and difficult to open. It contained a newspaper, some letters and an old piece of sheet metal with the text “gammal plåt” (old sheet metal), presumably a piece of the old roof from the 1700s.

A historian opens the time capsule from 1742. The younger time capsule from the early 1900s can be seen in the background. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The final capsule from 1930 contained a gilded piece of metal along with a number of daily and weekly newspapers. This piece of metal sparked a renovation of the cathedral’s spire when it was discovered on the ground one morning after falling down from the cathedral’s roof.

There was also a rusty nail in the same capsule along with a ten-page long text titled “An account of the 1929 renovation”. According to Laserna, such a detailed report is a rare find.

Similarly to 1929, the current decision to renovate the cathedral was made when a large piece of stone was discovered on the ground outside in 2016. Upon investigation, it was discovered that it had also fallen down from the roof, which had loose plaster in many areas and needed renovation.

The cathedral’s facade is currently being renovated and will return to the same pink colour it had in the 1700s. It is expected to cost over 100 million kronor and be finished in January 2023.

The time capsule tradition will be continued, with a new capsule being placed in the cathedral’s tower to mark this renovation. 2022’s capsule will include pictures of the workers who carried out renovations, drawings from five-year-olds and a copy of Kyrkans Tidning – to be opened the next time a piece of stone or metal falls down from the heavens, maybe in another 100 years’ time.

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