Sideways to Vasa

I couldn’t leave Stockholm without posting about Vasa. Vasa is an old Swedish warship and the star of the Vasa Museet here in Stockholm. A friend of mine in Malmö told me again and again that I had to go to Vasa, so I promised I would. His other main piece of life advice was to watch Sideways, the film with Paul Giamatti, so I watched it the same day. I’m glad I did both!

This is what you see when you walk into the museum. The ship has been shielded from the “worldly elements.”
This is a 1:10 full-color scale model of what the ship looked like when it was built, with the original in the background.
The Vasa ship was commissioned during the Thirty Years’ War, illustrated by this map.

Vasa was built in 1628, and Vasa sank in 1628. Sadly at the time, but happily for the museum, Vasa set sail in 1628 for a mere 20 minutes before promptly sinking just off the harbor (in view of all the townspeople that had waved goodbye to the ship). Sitting in the water for 333 years before it was lifted in 1961, Vasa was nearly perfectly preserved. Though the colors had worn off, the wood was still strong and the ship had never seen the horrors of war.

In the one room with natural light in the museum, you can see a small model of Vasa just before it sinks. The ship was too top-heavy and narrow, and a gust of wind easily blew it over. You can see it tilting dangerously here.
Here you can see why Vasa was ill-designed. The bottom should have been wider with more ballast. Also, the two gun decks on top (rather than just one) made for a center of gravity that was too high and thus too ‘tippable.’
The “back stern castle” of Vasa was decorated with richly colored statues, all designed to showcase the power of the king.

A beautiful and cannon-filled ship, Vasa was supposed to strike fear into the hearts of Sweden’s enemies. It is covered with religious and political imagery, including Roman Emperors to suggest that the Swedish king was somehow related. The king at the time, Gustavus Adolphus, commissioned Vasa and was partially responsible for its demise, as he insisted on adding a second gun deck (with very heavy cannons!) late in the ship’s construction.

While museum-goers can no longer walk inside the original ship, there are museum workers that work inside, below, and around the ship to maintain it.
This is part of the back stern castle on the top floor of the museum. The ship is huge, requiring a four-floor museum just to see all levels of it!
I really liked this little model display of “tacking,” a technique of turning into the wind – something that might have kept Vasa going for a bit longer than 20 minutes, though not much longer.

As I said in a recent post, I think that museums that have one main focus (something more specific than a region or a time period) are the best, and Vasa Museet is no exception. It was great to hear all the little details about the ship – how it was built, who worked on it, the errors leading to its instability, the crew that sailed with it that day, the dramatic inquest afterwards, and more. I feel like I retained much more from that museum than I did from the Medieval Museum, for example, or the currency museum. Those topics are just too big and broad to delve into over the course of an afternoon.

I think my favorite part of the museum was this “design-your-own-ship” game, in which you could adjust the ballast and width and so on to build a ship sturdier than Vasa. I managed 100% stability, but “lost my job” with the king because I brought the speed down to 20%!

Another cool part of the museum was the complete replica of the upper gun deck. Even though people can’t go into the real deal anymore, it was great to see the deck as it used to be and walk by some cannons.

Life in Vasa (at least, what it would have looked like).
Apparently people played backgammon on ships in the 17th century!
Lastly, there was an exhibit about the 15 people whose remains were found with the ship. Using new facial reconstruction technology, the museum was able to display what they looked like.
Leaving Vasa Museet, which is specially built to house Vasa and protect it from the world outside.

I’m glad I saw the Vasa Museet and the movie Sideways – I do recommend both. There’s still so much more for me to write about Sweden. There are more museums, many more cinnamon buns, more trips to IKEA (via the very-Swedish free IKEA bus), and, of course, more project meetings (including a conference!). But these memories, notes, photos, and recordings will have to wait, as I think about packing and online check-in and various other flight preparations.

Tomorrow will be a full day of travel, and I won’t arrive in Doha until early Friday morning. So, wish me luck! And a big thanks to Sweden for being the nicest, most welcoming first Watson country I could ever imagine. I already know I have to come back.



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