...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Even places tell stories

Our building is hardly visible, but to the right of the tram tracks.
Picture undated, taken from the city library's photo archive.

About an hour ago in the building's courtyard, I was sanding the wooden panels to Juanita when a grey-haired man came to ask about the sound. Thankfully, I didn't disturb him from his afternoon nap as I first thought; he only wanted to store an old military bicycle in the basement along with the other stuff he was collecting for charity.

Our conversation (which started in Swedish but soon switched to English for convenience, since I'm such a cheater :-P) was pretty much today's highlight. Apparently, the man was custodian of the whole building's basement area, a member of the Historical Society of Norrköping, and a trained history teacher. Eventually, I learned a lot about this building in 30 minutes. It was one of those breif moments where I felt I was part of a continuing history -- or at least, that there was a story behind everything everywhere, if you cared to hear about it. Here's the man's story, as well as some details I just read.

Rewind to the past, year 1700's.

When the baroque-style church in the park in front of this building was built in its present form in 1765, this building actually hadn't existed yet. In fact, there weren't many buildings in this area then to begin with, save churches and fortresses (I have a picture of the remains of the old city fortress here). Most constructions have been burned to the ground by attacking Russians 46 years before that time, so that no building before 1719 exists in its present form today. At any case, most people in the city lived in small shacks between narrow alleys until well into the 1800's. The lot our building is standing on though, apparently used to be a graveyard for the next-door Sankt Olai church (where incidentally a Swedish King Gustav IV Adolf was coronated in 1800), so the lot had not been a residential area until the building's construction in 1862.

By that time, Norrköping had actually grown into a large industrial city. Only Stockholm beat its number of factories (Norrköping actually used to be Sweden's third largest city or so), and posters inviting workers from the provinces advertized the city as "Sweden's Manchester". So at the time this building was built, the capitalists have actually been raking in big money from the industrialization for a long time. Markattan (that's the building's name) was thus originally built as apartments for the rich.

Here's a picture of what the city already looked like 14 years after the building's construction (1876). The big church in the middle is Sankt Olai, so Markattan should be somewhere there as well, in front of the church tower, covered by the other buildings in the foreground:

This was the whole city back 1876.
In 1858, they decided to mark the city bounds with tree-lined avenues (Promenaden) in all directions. The city have of course expanded since then, but the area inside the promenades is today's Central Norrköping.

When Markattan was built, it housed but 3 families, the largest (or richest) of which lived in the building's huge 11-room suite -- the whole third floor. The families' maids lived in wallpapered rooms up in the attic and boiled the soiled laundry in vats down at today's basement. The courtyard doors were the dirty-kitchen doors, so to speak, where vegetables and meat were delivered to the maids without the masters having to see. The masters themselves entered the door from Drottninggatan (seen in the first picture), which was back then the main street of Norrköping. Later on, the building also housed the first bicycle shop in all of the city. The hooks on the courtyard walls were apparently where they hung the bicycles from, and our bicycle shed today was one of Norrköping's first bike repair workshops.

I'm not sure how many years this went on. Anyhow, Norrköping's industrial boom lasted only until the 60's, and now the factory buildings that form its "industrial landscape" is actually pure facade -- literally. What look like factories, complete with chimneys, actually hide museums, concert halls and school rooms instead of masses of workers and greasy machines. Markattan also fell into unuse for a while, until a housing company bought it and renovated its interiors into 19 student apartments in 2002.

Since then -- according to the man I talked to -- a human calf bone had actually been found (by him, actually!) in an old hole in the basement wall. It was a remnant of the times when this lot used to be the Sankt Olai churchyard. The city museum confirmed this, and they brought back the bone to where the man found it and covered the hole with new cement.

Yet another discovery was made in 2003, when the same housing company wanted to build an office building in the empty lot behind Markattan, which has now been converted into a parking lot. During the archeological dig required by the government, remnants of old housing, traces of narrow cobbled alleys, and even pottery were found there, which archeologists believed as dating back to the 15- or 1600's when Norrköping was only newly expanding.

...There you have it. 500 years ago, some 14th-century fishermen were living 3 floors down and 25 meters away from where I sit and write over the internet. :-) Amazing.

All the old man's stories -- too bad I wasn't able to ask for his name -- and reading about this city's history made me want go up to the attic earlier just have the feeling of going back in time. I knew that the housing company still keeps all of last century's doors in there, which are massive and impressive, and some are in art nouveau style. This time though, I went up with the intention of "retracing" the maids' steps from the courtyard up to their living quarters in the attic. Since half a year ago, the housing company had locked the doors to those particular rooms, but I could still take a peek at the blue-and-white details of the wallpaper from the keyhole...


Blogger pj said...

all that history at your doorstep! (or, in your basement! hehe. baka sa susunod skull na yung mahanap.) so cool. i think that's why i like places like quiapo or intramuros better than the swankiest new mall. the stories behind the places are so much more interesting.
anyway, i droped by to tell you, i met Mae (Aguilar) last friday. Small world, she's a friend of Kapi's friend, and we suddenly realized we both know you... one of those things. :D

11:26 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Haha! Oo no! Magkabarkada yung mga mommy namin kasi classmates nung gradeschool yung kuya niya at sina Lea! Small world, ilang relational degrees na yung involved dito? :-)

Oo nga eh, made me think about Manila and the destroyed Jai-alai building... :-( Ano, next year when I visit, can we take a Chinatown (eating) tour and the Imelda tour at CCP? :-D "Huwag maging dayuhan sa sariling bayan!" Heheheh!

3:47 PM

Anonymous pj said...

hahaha oo nga Mae told me that you were together by accident at your immersion and were reminiscing about her mom's carrot cake, or something like that :P hehe. ang liit talaga ng mundo :)
im all for the chinatown tour! let's go! :D

12:20 PM


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