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Chris Kompanek

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On the Culture Front: 2 Days in Stockholm Tracing the Steps of Larsson, Strindberg and Bergman

Posted: 10/20/11 07:53 PM ET

Sometimes the best way embrace a new season is to jump right in. With that in mind, I took off the other week for Sweden where the weather hovered around a balmy 45 degrees and there was always a chance of rain. Arriving very early on a Monday morning (ahead of schedule on a smooth SAS flight), the drive into Stockholm foreshadowed the climate of the trip. Dark clouds hung low, muting the landscape as far as the eye could see.

Even through the fog, Stockholm's intricate beauty shines through. Built on 14 small islands that are connected by a series of bridges, water surrounds. It's as if each neighborhood in Manhattan were split apart and instead of going through the park, you would cross a bridge to get from the Upper East to Upper West Side. We spent most of our time in Sodermalm, the Bohemian section known now as the setting of Stieg Larsson's insanely popular Millennium trilogy. I was a little skeptical of the walking tour the Stockholm City Museum gives for places of interest from the novels, but was pleasantly surprised. More than just being for devoted Larssonites, the two hour tour showcases some of the city's more interesting architecture -- a building with a single entrance on the top floor accessed by a walking bridge comes to mind -- while skipping over the traditional tourist attractions.

The real excitement for me, though, was retracing the footsteps of much older Swedish literary legends. Eating in Berns Salonger, the bistro and arts venue where one of my favorite playwrights, August Strindberg, hung out, was a particular thrill. Walking through the big doors for the first time and stepping into the cavernous space filled with baroque furniture and massive chandlers hanging from a gold-plated ceiling, a wash of feeling came over me. I could see Strindberg pondering the dark inclinations of the characters of his next play while struggling to find their humanity. I felt this too walking through the small, dark apartment where Strindberg spent the final years of his life. It was similar in many ways to his nemesis Ibsen's last apartment in Oslo. Even their respective neighborhoods were strikingly alike. I never got to see Ibsen's "Berns," though.

Berns holds a series of concerts throughout the year in the main space, and I can't think of a better venue. I was told Bob Dylan played here, making me instantly jealous of those who were there. Berns also has a boutique hotel I was able to peek at. The rooms give off a great vibe that resembles more a stay with a cool friend than a hotel. I'd love to stay here on my next trip to Stockholm.

With just a couple days in the city, it was hard to get more than just a glimpse, but one of the most exciting experiences was riding the metro, which is not only fast, clean, and quiet but is also known as "Sweden's largest museum." Each station has art displayed on the tracks, so straphangers can wander up and down the platform as they would in a gallery while waiting for the train. Venturing to Filmstaden (a defunct film studio where Ingmar Bergman shot his classic The Seventh Seal among many others), the experience really begins in the Näckrosen metro stop where memorabilia from his films are displayed in glass cases.

If Mayor Bloomberg (who sometimes blogs here) is reading, this would be a great way to revitalize our own subway. How great would it be to get off the E train at MoMA and be greeted on the platform by the brilliant chaos of a Jackson Pollock or the expansive clarity of a larger-than-life Andres Gursky photograph? Looking out my window, the overcast skies mirror the ones I saw in Stockholm, yet I can't wait to return.