Karlstad, Sweden: A Cultural Revival in the City of Sola
by Robin Bell
A tradition of warmth and sunshine and a growing musical culture are not usually associated with the word Sweden, but a small town in central Sweden is rapidly putting itself on the musical map of the world.
Karlstad, strategically situated at the mouth of the Klarälven (literally “clear river”) in the county of Värmland, midway between Stockholm to the east, Gothenborg to the south and Oslo, Norway, to the west, has in the last few years been host to some of the biggest names on the pop music scene.
Recent high-profile visitors to this otherwise relatively undiscovered town include Bob Dylan (twice in the space of two years), ex Creedence Clearwater Revival John Fogerty, Judas Priest, Dolly Parton, Whitesnake, Rod Stewart, Chuck Berry and Elton John.
At regular intervals these days Löfbergs Lila Arena, the home arena of the local ice-hockey team, Färjestad, the reigning Swedish masters, is transformed into a 9,600-seat concert hall for the visits of these and other world famous artists.
But it is not only the ice hockey arena that hosts musical events in Karlstad.
The Carlstad Conference Centre, in addition to its conference facilities and hotel, has a small theatre capable of holding 750 fans and in 2005 we baby boomers were able to revive our memories with the visit of Johnny and The Hurricanes (who remembers Red River Rock and Beatnik Fly?) together with Sweden’s 1960’s answer to The Shadows, The Spotnicks.
In 2006 the same venue rocked to the sounds of The Animals, Herman’s Hermits and The Tremeloes.
The Nöjesfabriken (literally Pleasure factory) regularly hosts top line Swedish and overseas musical artists, as well as offering ten-pin bowling, indoor go-karting and a golf simulator. Café August, among other restaurants, offers good quality food together with regular musical events.
All this and classical too
Classical music and opera fans are not left out in the Swedish cold either. Värmland’s Opera and the Karlstad Theatre have a full program of events year round. From 2005’s West Side Story and Mozart’s Don Giovanni through to a musical adaption of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte in 2006 and Sweeney Todd, The Musical in 2007, the range of offerings suits all tastes. Already scheduled for 2008 are productions of Bernstein’s Candide and Puccini’s La Bohème.
Under the leadership of the unlikely named Ole Wiggo Bang, the 34 permanent musicians of the Sinfonietta can and do turn their hands to all types of music and guest musicians and conductors regularly enhance performances. Mariebergskogen, a large open park and nature reserve area in Karlstad was host to an open air concert by the world-famous tenor José Carreras in 2007.
What, you want more culture?
So what is it that makes Karlstad such a cultural place? Maybe it’s to do with the local artistic traditions – the region around Karlstad has been home to poets, writers and musicians for many years. The poets Gustaf Fröding and Nils Ferlin, together with the author Selma Lagerlöf are just some of the more famous names to be associated with the region.
The town itself is not large by any standards – the town population is around 80,000 and the main industry in the area is paper manufacturing, not so surprising when you consider that seven tenths of Värmland is covered with spruce and pine forests.
It is situated on the northern shores of Lake Vänern, the largest lake in Western Europe and was grounded in 1584 by Karl IX. The great fire of 1865 destroyed much of the town, when only seven of the over 240 houses were left standing. Among the surviving buildings is the Cathedral that dominates the town skyline and imposes itself over the town square (Stora Torget).
The Peace Monument in the square, commemorating the peaceful dissolution of Norway and Sweden, was once voted by a local TV program as the ugliest statue in Sweden, but it remains a popular meeting place. Around the square you can also find statues of those two poets Gustaf Froding and Nils Ferlin.
The solar city
Karlstad is known as the solar city and has a smiling sun as it’s official emblem, partly because Karlstad often finds itself at the top of the Swedish list for hours of sunshine during the year (try telling that to a Karlstad inhabitant in the middle of November) and partly because of a young waitress called Eva Lisa Holtz from the 1700’s.
Eva Lisa was a waitress in Karlstad who became very popular through her sunny disposition and warm smile. She was nick-named “Sola” and is probably one of the few, if not the only, waitresses to be rewarded by having a statue of herself erected outside the Stadshotel in which she worked.
On your bike
In summer, between May and September, you can explore the town by borrowing a free bicycle from Solacykeln in the central town square (Stora Torget). The more adventurous and physically fit can cycle the fifty-five miles (ninety kilometers) Klarälvsbana from Karlstad to Hagfors. Built on the disused railway track, the asphalted cycle and in-line skate route has only gentle gradients and offers striking views of the Klarälven all along the way..
As easy as falling off a log
But if that sounds too energetic for you, Highway 62 follows much the same route and from the comfort of your car you can enjoy similar views.
On the way, you will pass the Dyvelsten Flottningsmuseum, a small museum devoted to those times when the logs from the surrounding forests were floated down the Klarälven to the processing plants in Karlstad.
This small offshoot of the larger Värmlands museum in Karlstad is only open a few weeks (normally mid-June to mid-August) in the summer, but is well worth a visit.
Or visit Santa
And if logging isn’t enough, if you ring beforehand, you will also be able to visit the home of the official Värmland Tomten (Santa Claus) at Halla, midway between Forshaga and Deje, and take a look at his reindeer. And if your car breaks down and you need a spare part, don’t despair – as well as his official Santa duties, he also runs a successful car scrapyard.
By air :
Skyways flies three times daily from Stockholm Arlanda to Karlstad airport. Flight time 55 minutes, cost 1000 SEK including taxes. You can also fly from Copenhagen to Karlstad – flight time 1 hour 15 minutes, cost from 1480 SEK including taxes.
There can also be special prices. These can be as low as 447SEK including taxes from Stockholm or 897 SEK from Copenhagen – check via Internet before booking!
Karlstad airport is 16 km from town center, with an “on-demand” airport bus to town for 60SEK one way. Tel: 0771-323200
Skyways Low Price Calendar
Swedish Rail has journeys to Karlstad from Stockholm and Gothenborg several times each day. Travel time from Stockholm between 2½ hrs – 3¼ hrs, cost between 445SEK (2nd class) to 676 SEK (1st class)
Travel time from Gothenborg 2 ¾ hrs, cost between 238 SEK (2nd class) to 610 SEK (1st Class)
You can also get to Karlstad fromn Stockholm and Gothenborg by comfortable coach with Säfflebuss. Travel time around 4 ¼ hours and cost from 200 SEK from Stockholm or just under 4 hours and 150 SEK from Gothenborg. Book online at:
Safflebuss home page
Karlstad is located midway between Stockholm and Oslo (Norway), on the E18 main road. Stockholm is around 4 hours away by car to the east. Oslo is approximately the the same to the west. Gothenborg is just 3 ½ hours away to the south-west by following the E45 down the western shore of Lake Vänern. As in most of Europe, petrol is expensive – January 2008 price around 12.50 SEK per liter.
When to visit:
Any time of year is fine.
Winter can be cold, but that’s Sweden, after all. There is a small ski resort at Domle, around 30 minutes drive north and the ice hockey season is in full swing, so you can catch a top class game.
Summer is the best time to enjoy the outdoor eating areas that many of the small cafes and restaurants provide.
Spring and Autumn show off the surrounding landscape with wonderful displays of spring wildflowers (particularly blue and white anemones) and blazing autumnal colors from the birch, beech and oak trees.
Where to Stay:
Accomodation varies from camping to youth hostels to first class hotels.
Places of interest:
Lofberg Lila Arena
Telephone: +46 54 14 01 00
Telephone +46 54 21 03 90
Telephone: +46 54 87 12 26
Tomten (Santa Claus)
Telephone: +46 54 87 34 80
+46 54 87 08 60 or
Mobile 070- 67 15 850
Nöjesfabriken (The Pleasure Factory)
Telephone: +46 54 22 22 00
Robin Bell is a freelance writer, born in England, who migrated to Australia in 1972. He has published three non-fiction books and several childrens’ books. He has contributed to several on-line magazines, including International Living, Rewind the Fifties and Useless-Knowledge. He currently lives in the forest in Sweden with his two dogs. Visit his website.
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