Travelling on the ground – by train through early 20th century Sweden with no hat

I am travelling on the ground again – this time in Sweden, but somehow still with direction Rome. The sun is rising outside the window over still green summer fields. I am on my way to Engelsberg manor and ironworks, founded in the 17th century and a Unesco World Heritage site in Västmanland, Sweden, where I am about to participate in a seminar focusing on the Swedish research institutes in Rome, Athens and Istanbul. Changing trains in Katrineholm and Västerås, I will eventually be picked up by car at the train station in the small village Ängelsberg and transported to the manor. This, and a message from the organizers that almost no Internet and mobile phone network is accessible at the site, lends no slight Bridesheadesque aura to it all, and I feel the severe fault of not having brought a hat of any kind. On the other hand, that aristocratic, secluded elite-notion is exactly what the seminar aims to counteract: after the crisis last autumn, when the Swedish institutes in the Mediterranean were under threat of losing their economic support from the Swedish state, one of the main aims is to spread information about the activities of the institutes to all parts of society, and erase the common misconception that the institutes constitute luxury havens for linen-clad archeologists (with hats) drinking wine in the southern sun.

Since I am so easily influenced by anno dazumal-atmospheres, I brought my Baedeker’s Schweden und Norwegen from 1906 along for the trip (which will take exactly 5 1/2 hours from Gothenburg to Ängelsberg). The first edition came 1879, when, as stated in the preface, the German Reiselust for Scandinavia arose. The whole book is based upon travelling by railway. In fact, this was a time when the railway in Sweden reached its maximum spread, with many smaller routes and stations have later been closed down again. This, the late 19th century, was the period when so many small railway towns emerged, flourished, only to lose importance and population again when their railway stop was suspended in the later 20th century. This was the era of the grand hotels; every town had its city hotel (stadshotell) – magnifique and ornamented buildings at the central square in the city center, where restaurants and ball-rooms attracted both travellers and locals – as well as one or several railway hotels near the station. When I flicker through the pages of the guidebook, it amuses me to see that several of these hotels still exist today, and often have preserved much of their original interiors; I get the urge to from now on always only stay in hotels mentioned in 1906. What is more, the principal train routes in Sweden still, of course, follows the late 19th century tracks, and so, it is really possible to travel through Sweden in style as if the twentieth century still was ony a few years old. For example, the train I am now on, the Gothenburg–Stockholm train, forms an important itinerary in the guidebook, with all the stops on the way, and their hotels, listed: Alingsås has a city hotel, Herrljunga a railway restaurant, Falköping a railway hotel with restaurant (”gut”), Skövde has Hotel Billingen (where I actually have stayed once, when attending a pop concert in Skövde Cultural Centre), Laxå has railway hotel and restaurant, and so have Hallsberg and Katrineholm, the important knots between the south and west main railway lines through Sweden. In Katrineholm, I will change trains and head north, and it remains to see which route that train will take – I will let that be an adventurous surprise, my 1906 Baedeker in hand.

Hotel Billingen, Skövde (Wikimedia Commons)

Hotel Billingen, Skövde (Wikimedia Commons)

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