Since April, I have been living in Södermalm, Stockholm. The area I live in is colloquially known as SoFo (South of Folkungagatan) and is full of vintage shops, dive bars, trendy restaurants, jewellery and art studios, little parks. The area is a fascinating mixture of original working class roots with a touch of slum thrown in, and gentrification. Next to a dive bar you will find a small trendy goldsmith and beside that will be a vintage shop, or a bar that does everything in total darkness. Every weekend there is a farmer’s market.
I studied Swedish at Stockholm University, and one of our homework tasks was to read one Swedish classic novel every week. The one that really changed my life was Mina drömmars stad (City of My Dreams), a 1960 novel by the Swedish writer Per Anders Fogelström.
Mina drömmars stad, set in 1880, showed me that now-rich Sweden was once a desperately poor country. The book followed the lives of a group of workers in the Södermalm area where I now live – so well, in fact, that this whole area came alive for me. My then-husband gave me a ‘City of My Dreams’ map so that I could go on my own or on one of the guided tours and see where the book was set. I have never forgotten that book – it is one of the best books I have ever read and taught me so much about Sweden. I loved it so much carried on reading through the series (there are five books in total).
When I have time now that I live here, I take a walk through the historic area and feel that the ghost of the characters are still there, walking between the little red and white cottages, carrying out their daily duties. My favourite place to sit is on the top of a hill overlooking the water, where the lookout once went at the beginning of spring, hoping to see the first boats coming into the harbour at the end of the long winter, when the sea was too frozen to navigate.