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Christina Pech leads a city walk for a group of international Master’s students through central Stockholm. (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

Master’s students curious about Stockholm

Published Dec 13, 2011

A windy Saturday during Advent, and Olga from Russia, Youbei Jin from China and a dozen other Master’s students trudged their way through the centre of Stockholm, from the Main Square to Sergel’s Square. The city walk is part of an introductory course for international Master’s students.

On the Main Square in Gamla stan (the old part of town), the Christmas shopping is in full swing. This is most fitting, says Christina Pech, a teacher from the School of Architecture who is in charge of the walk through the town.  Because it was at the market area where Saltsjön and Lake Mälaren came together which formed the beginnings of the city of Stockholm.

“The convergence between the sea and the lake provided this strategic meeting point, a place where goods could be unloaded for further transport within the hinterland or out across the Baltic Sea,” explains Christina Pech for the 15 Master’s students who were gathered.

Architecture and Urban Planning is one of four main themes of the introductory course about Sweden, the others are Identity, Politics and Society and Science, Technology and Industry. The course "Swedish Language and Culture" consists of two parts. The "Culture part" which took place during the autumn term, is about culture in a broader perspective.

“We aim to highlight different aspects of Sweden from a historical perspective. And I hope that the students will learn something valuable not just about Sweden but also about the connection between technology, society and culture,” says course leader Dag Avango from the Division of History of Science and Technology.

A quick look into the past

Christina Pech is leading the group down through Ankargränd, via Prästgatan and Storkyrkobrinken to Mynttorget. Here, she takes a quick look at the history of the buildings in the area, from Tessin the Younger’s Italian-inspired 18th century castle, through to the previous century’s parliament building on Helgeandsholmen to the extension to the former Riksbankshuset (the building that used to house the Central Bank of Sweden) which was erected between 1980–1983 to make room for a unicameral parliamentary assembly hall.

We carry on across Norrbro and end up, with a leap backwards into architectural history, in Gustaf Adolf’s market square in front of Arvfurstens palats (the palace of the heir-apparent). This is where Christina Pech tells us, among other things, about the plans that were never realised to build a massive church on the square, and then she speaks about Sweden as a secularised country.

The Master’s student Olga Dovbysh, who is studying Media management, asks why fewer and fewer people go to church?

That question is not of course that easy to answer. Christina Pech points to the relationship between the Royal powers/the state and the church. Dag Avango mentions social democracy, and the strong influence of modernism on Sweden.

From Gustaf Adolfs torg, in the background, the Parliament building (Riksdagshuset) can be seen.

The religious issue connects up to the theme Identity. A subject which fascinates Olga Dovbysh.

“I want to try and understand why we are so different. I mean – Stockholm and Moscow are roughly on the same latitude, the nature and climate are similar – but the culture and the people are completely different,” she says.

The introductory course is offered to the Master’s students from non-European countries at no charge, but nor do the students receive any credits for the course. This does not worry Olga Dovbysh too much, she regards the course as an excellent opportunity to learn something about Sweden.

“And if you are going to live in a country for two years, you should also get to know it. But these lectures do sometimes clash with the Swedish lessons,” she points out.

Films about Sweden

The culture part, “Swedish Society, Culture and Industry” is a short version of the 7.5 credit course which has the same name. The shorter course includes three excursions and five lectures, with four of the lectures ending with a film show. Fanny & Alexander, Fucking Åmål, När mörkret faller and the Swedish/Norwegian coproduction Psalmer från köket are the films that have been selected to connect to the theme of the course.

“The films have been the absolute best as far as I’m concerned”, Youbei Jin says who comes from China and who is studying the Master’s course “Communication System”.

We continue trudging our way towards the City. Christina Pech stops at the Kungsträdgården to tell the group about the Almstriden (the battle for the Elms) before we turn up onto Västra Trägårdsgatan where Christina begins to tell us about the transformation of Stockholm’s central parts during the 50s and 60s.

“In the middle of the 1900’s, all this area still had a traditional city structure. This is one of the few streets in the so-called Klara district that remained untouched,” she explains.

The Palace of the heir-apparent

From this outpost of the old Stockholm, we continue straight into the new, in and through the shopping temple Gallerian. From Brunkebergs torg, Christina Pech stops to talk about Peter Celsing’s Riksbanksbyggnad (the building where Sweden has its Central Bank). The tour ends at Lasse Andreasson’s sculpture "Klara", a bronze model of the demolished Klara district which has been erected below the fifth Hötorgshuset.

Several other students wonder what happened with the people that lived in the district Klara.

“Did they move voluntarily or were they forced?” Karim Zakiyev wonders, who is studying “Economics of Innovation and Growth”.

Christina Pech accounts for the poor standard in the area, how the lengthy discussions about the district’s future continued for several decades and how it paved the way for the demolitions and she also mentions the arrival of the Million Programme areas.

Karim Zakiyev, who comes from Kazakhstan, appreciates the fact that the introductory course takes up several different aspects of Swedish society.

“And the lectures have been extremely interesting with excellent guest lecturers,” he points out.

The introductory course is a pilot initiative which has been provided for the first time this year. Dag Avango hopes that it will continue and that the course will be able to provide credits in order to encourage more students to participate. Approximately 60 students have applied for the course, but only 35–40 have been present at the lectures.

“The more extensive course which does provide credits usually has significantly more students attending the lectures. So it is not a question of the students not being interested in Swedish culture. Those who have participated on this course have also been enthusiastic,” he says.

The first part of the course will end in December. In the New Year, the language part will commence, which will be held by the Department for Library services, Language and Communication.

Text: Ursula Stigzelius