29 May 2003 - Stockholm
Skansen Open Air Museum

I actually like museums. There's something about them that excites the soul. The fact that they're made to edducate the general public gives them a nobility which I'm more than happy to share in.

I read an article recently which criticised museums for becoming more and more populist, moving away from the tradition of educating to one of making money. I didn't fully agree with it; in fact, I think that museums have a duty to be as fun as possible because that's the one sure way of making learning easier. I'm not suggesting that we relabel Disneyland as a museum, but we should see what is it that makes something like that work, and then incorporate it.

Skansen, in my book, is a fun museum. It's not fun in the white-knuckle, adrenaline-pumping way, but more in the this-is-a-nice-place-isn't-it way. (White-knuckle is next door, at the Tivoli Gardens amusement park.)

The down-side is that it's so big that things kind of get samey after a while, and because of the number of things on offer, some don't quite work. But, in general, I'm more than happy with the results.

Skansen is an open air museum, established in the early part of the twentieth century as an effort to preserve Swedish heritage. One thing you can't fault about the Swedes, it's their determination to be kind to the environment and their culture. Who else would invent a
soda-can crushing machine that automates aluminium recycling (including paying people for the effort).

Somewhere along the way, Skansen grew to include a zoo, so now it's can be thought to be in two parts: A set of authentic and well-preserved Swedish architecture that includes demonstrations of craftwork and a zoo that includes some animals native to Sweden and then quite a few that aren't.

The craftwork portion reminded me of the Korean Folk museum. Since Skansen pre-dates that, I'll assume that the Koreans included Skansen in their research, and the similarities show.

For a start, there are samples of architecture from all around the country. Honestly, this is my least favourite part of the whole thing. My poor brain just can't cope with the variety and in the end I've seen twenty different houses, and I'm still not able to tell you
which was which.

Within some of these buildings are museum attendents, but they're all nicely dressed up in period costume (read: turn of the last century). Some of them are actually doing something like baking cakes or working the printing press, and they're all ready to answer any
questons you might have. This is my favourite part of the whole thing. If you have the right people manning the museum, you can do wonders. They're well-informed, friendly and entertaining. And being there actually doing what they're explaining adds a whole new
dimension to the exercise.

You can, of course, buy anything they make, including food, silverware, glass instruments, printed material, you name it. If they make it, you can buy it. The prices are all quite reasonable and I suppose they help subsidise the museum.

(By the way, I think that the state should fund museums, and all this talk about corporate sponsorship should remain with places that are purely entertainment [Petrosains, anyone?].)

The zoo is pretty okay. It goes for the open-air concept popular with modern zoos these days. (Although the wolves and bears are kept in very deep open spaces, just in case some curious tourist thinks it's a good idea to tease one of them. If you ask me, people like that deserve all they get.)

There's actually a surprising amount of farm animals, although I suppose if you're putting up a model of a farm, you might as well include the whole shebang.

There's also elk, bison and seals, and then a special section, which is like a zoo within a zoo, that has exotic creatures, including lemurs, bats and tarantulas. (They let you pet the spiders, if you want. And no, I didn't want to. They're as big as my hand and some of
them have words like "bird-eating" in their names, and I reckon my hand is just the right size for a dove or a small pigeon.)

The zoo suffers from a lack of people to help explain things, and the signs are a little brief to be of much help; they also point out strange things, like how in a particular breed of cattle, the forelegs are bigger than the hindlegs (or something like that).

More annoyingly, because animals are now in their 'natural' environment, they're much better at hiding away from pesky tourists. Good for the animal, not good for me.

It's actually big enough for a whole day if you stop and look at everything, but if you just skim some parts and just do half a day, you can end early and then run off to Tivoli Gardens next door and scare yourself silly, just so that you get the full gamut of


posted on Monday, June 09, 2003 - permalink
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