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Sentimental Sweden

The past, present and future seem to melt smoothly into each other in the Swedish city of Lund, exemplified by its Cathedral from the 1100s and the 34,000 students at Lund University.

New students

On a spring day like today, students and other young people use the Cathedral for their own purpose; as a back support while enjoying the sun and each other on the benches along the southern wall. On the shadier opposite side, a high-spirited group of students wearing funny hats, and equipped with cases of beer and wine, are waiting for a bus to take them on a surprise trip with their special “nation”, a geographically defined club within which social life unfolds, a very old tradition. Swedes are actually quite sentimental about their traditions and history.

The Cathedral, Lund’s landmark, is a Romanesque jewel with grey-black patina, once the core of an archbishopric comprised of Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. This part of Sweden, Scania in the southwest, was Danish land until 1658. Lund was at that time a religious, political and cultural center. The University, founded in 1666, has departments in the cities of Malmo and Helsingborg as well and cooperates with Danish counterparts in the so-called Oresund University, facilitated by the Oresund Bridge connecting Malmo and the Danish capital Copenhagen.

Time Goes By

They really know how to attract a crowd in the Cathedral; not by means of its ecclesiastical treasures, but by sentimentally focusing on an astronomical clock from around 1420, sheer nostalgia, occupying one corner inside. Appealing to people’s weakness for technical curiosities works, for every day towards noon, children accompanied by teachers or parents, a flock of tourists and a student or two, eagerly approach the arched entrance between the Cathedral’s twin towers.

A priest in loose white garments, today a young man sporting a smart half-long haircut, explains how the medieval clock not only shows the time, but also the phase of the moon, the date, name day and month, merely failing to reveal the year. At 12 sharp, a fascinating show begins, including knights, holy men and the Virgin and Child, to the sound of a built-in organ. Some follow the priest to the nave for a noon prayer afterwards, the rest are recommended to leave, thereby missing the deafening peals of the proper organ.

Many take a walk on the Philosopher’s Path after the church visit, admiring the flowers and trees in the little park of Lundagard on the nothern side of the Cathedral, perhaps seeking inspiration like the powerful archbishops once did. This park and the buildings surrounding it are Lund in a nutshell. After the last Danish king left, the King’s House opposite from 1584 became the University’s headquarters for two centuries and is nowadays assigned to the Philosophical Institution.

New headquarters, in a whitish Hellenistic palace to the left behind the King’s House, opened in 1882. Four sphinxes on the roof, symbolizing the faculties which are now eight, have a perfect view of the University Square, a park of its own with magnolias and a circular granite fountain where workmen are making four bronze frogs fit for another season of water-spouting. At this early stage, the fountain is surrounded by colorful pansies, and by sporadic groups of happy new students in white caps, celebrating that they are finally ready for the University; to get a degree, like an astonishing 58 percent of the city’s working-age population already has.

Lost in thought, people stroll past on their way to the various University departments spread over the northern part of town, or possibly heading for the Ideon Science Park, the home of nearly 200 creative companies busy transforming their visions into viable reality, drawing heavily on the expertise of Lund University. Readiness to share knowledge seems to be the order of the day in Lund; even tourists are met with a helpful attitude, reflected in polite and cheerful answers to any question.

Roots and Traditions

To the east lies The Fortress, or rather the Student Union Building, a brick castle from 1830, housing the largest cafe in Lund: Athens, a huge white hall hung with thin white curtains. Its customers are discussing peacefully, net-surfing or just relaxing, some cuddling their babies. Athens is where the students recharge their batteries on Friday nights when the light is turned down and the music up. Others prefer “spex”, another student tradition. “Spex” is a revue containing elements of satire and commedia dell’arte, in which only men or only ladies are allowed on the stage.

Next door, there is talented popularization –  Kulturen – the Museum of Cultural History, covering two full blocks. The open-air part is a journey through time in southern Sweden, inviting you into private homes, lofthouses, smithies and vicarages, complete with gardens, furniture and tools. True sentimentalists can get married here, in the tiny Bosebo Church, and start their honeymoon at Hokeriet, a cozy shop abounding with candy and special treats as cloudberry jam and gooseberries in rum; all after time old recipes.

Kulturen’s permanent exhibitions interweave the past with the present, thus preparing you for the future. “Metropolis” is a concentrate of Lund in the Middle Ages, whereas “Modernism” takes you back to the early 1900s, to an explosion of colors, noises and new ideas, plus an awakening sexuality, the latter also popping up in the latest temporary theme exhibition: “Underwear”. Kulturen’s creativity is encouraged by the local citizens who enjoy seeing their 1000-year history presented in surprising and provocative ways.

The local authorities are more clever than creative; they use somebody who was not even a Christian, Finn the Giant, to assist the medieval clock in attracting visitors to the Cathedral. Legend has it that Finn built the church for St. Lawrence who ended up as its patron saint. Ever since losing a bet between the two of them, Finn has tried to pull the church down again, but he will never succeed – he’s petrified, embracing a column in the crypt, staring towards the exit. The authorities will never allow Finn to escape, for the simple reason that he attracts 500,000 visitors each year, five times Lund’s population.

Lund is a stronghold of education and research, producing a doctorate practically every day, or 300 annually. However, there seems to be a general attitude among the students that the doctor’s degree must wait, because they need to acquaint themselves with their own roots and satisfy their sentimentality by socializing and performing according to inherited traditions, while others are too busy singing their hearts out in Lund Student Singers – extolling their own happy student days.

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