Capitalist, Monarchist Sweden?

by Michael

We spent our last day in Sweden visiting the royal palace on Gamla Stan Island in Stockholm, walking around a trendy neighborhood of Sodermalm, and visiting the Nobel Museum.

The Swedish royal family has been mostly without power for centuries, but retains several estates. Although nobody lives in the main palace, it hosts diplomatic and royal functions, so most of it was closed in preparation for the King’s birthday celebrations — our tour guide apologized many times. The guided tour in the morning was helpful, especially for people like me who don’t know much about the Swedish monarchy.


Our guide explaining the formal meetings that take place in this room between the King and the Cabinet.  (According to Elizabeth, our guide was adorably formal.)

In the 1700s, the Queen (married in from a kingdom now in Germany) tried to pawn the royal jewels to fund a coup. The Swedish version of the story is that the broker in Berlin was friendly with members of the Swedish parliamentary government, and her attempt failed.  The Royal Treasury (housed beneath the palace) featured the crown in question, jewels still intact.  Unfortunately (or fortunately?), no photos were allowed in the Treasury.

We also saw the changing of the guard. The ceremony was particularly amusing because it included a few dozen guards, some on horseback, parading about in order to replace the palace’s two lone guards.


Royal guards and horses approaching the palace

Then we were off to Sodermalm, which was heavily featured in the series The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The area mixes older buildings with trendy new shops.  My understanding is that the neighborhood is gentrifying, which made it difficult to tell whether certain “historic” features were actually old, or just designed to look that way to add character.


Old or new?

Lunch was herring sandwiches from a stand near the metro station in Sodermalm. We thought it was cheap (though as I finish writing this from Morocco, I realize that it probably cost more for that one meal than all of our food today).

Our last stop was the Nobel Museum. It celebrates contributions to Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, and Peace, as requested by Alfred Nobel in his will, and Economics, as requested (and paid for) by the Central Bank of Sweden (to promote the study of capitalism as a scientific discipline).

The Nobel Laureates bring an item to be left at the museum — something related to their work. As an economics dork, I was quite happy to see Amartya Sen’s bicycle. Sen was researching children’s health in India, and the story is that a child bit one of his researchers and therefore Sen was forced to collect the rest of the data himself. Sen won his award for his work on famine, where he argued that famine results from economic and political conditions, not food shortage.


This is the same photo that I posted to Instagram. You can find my feed with one picture per day at

Visiting Sweden was never part of the plan for us — not that there was much of a plan. But a couple days to stop over in order to have a cheaper flight to Marrakech, Morocco made it irresistible. I have no idea if it is the socialist paradise that Bernie Sanders’ supporters claim it is, but if you can’t stand royalty or the fruits of capitalism, Sweden isn’t for you. Two and a half days was fun for me.

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