Nobel Museum

Nobel Museum
Nobel Museum

The Nobel Museum in Stockholm is in what used to be the Stockholm Stock Exchange. Until I wrote the previous sentence, I hadn’t thought about how “Stockholm Stock Exchange” sounds redundant to me without being so. But, never mind. That’s neither relevant nor insightful. It’s just how my inane mind works. (I use the word mind loosely. Many people question whether I have one, but those are only people who know me well.)

The former stock exchange building, now museum, is an eighteenth century structure in the midst of the wonderful Gamla Stan district, Stockholm’s old town. (Hmm. When I wrote the post on Gamla Stan, I hadn’t thought to check it out, but according to the good and great, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful Google, gamla stan is Swedish for old town. I wrote the words “Stockholm’s old town” before I knew that. I apologize to bilingual or multilingual English/Swedish speakers for the redundancy.)

Ghostly representation of Alfred Nobel's face
Ghostly representation of Alfred Nobel’s face

If you don’t know, and even if you do know, Alfred Nobel, who died in 1896, was an explosives merchant and the inventor of dynamite. At some point in his life, he came to desire to leave a much larger and more positive legacy to the world. And he did.

Alfred Nobel bequeathed much of his fortune to fund the Nobel Prizes to honour and reward significant contributions to physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. In the years after Nobel’s death, some of the choices of Nobel Prize winners have been questionable, to say the least, including questionable in my mind, such as it. (And, for me, in one or two cases questionable is a euphemism for absolutely and unquestionably insane. I’m thinking of the now deceased kleptomaniac, one-time terrorist, Yasser Arafat here.) However, overall, I think the Nobel Prizes are a fantastic contribution to the good of humanity. Consequently, I was eager to visit the Nobel Museum while in Stockholm.

The Nobel Museum is not large. It’s just a few medium-sized rooms. So, if you go, you probably shouldn’t plan to spend your whole day there.

I imagine that some of the exhibits change from time to time, but when I was there the museum included static and interactive displays about past Nobel prizes. There were also short films about discoveries in various subject areas and about the processes of discovery, as well as about the Literature Prize winners.

2013 Literature Prize Winner, Alice Munro
2013 Literature Prize Winner, Alice Munro

My Canadianism Welled Up in the Heart of Stockholm

Just past the entrance, there was a display showing the most recent winners of the Nobel Prizes in each category. Being a proud Canadian, the Literature Prize winner caught my attention first because the 2013 Literature Prize (I visited the museum in 2014) was won by a Canadian, Alice Munro.

Just beyond that was a set of interactive kiosks where I could look up past Nobel Prize winners in each category. Each kiosk displayed the winners for a different decade. I felt a not-so-inexplicable need to go to the kiosk for the years 1951-1960 and pull up the winner of the 1957 Peace Prize. I already knew the answer, but I felt a strong urge to see the name displayed in front of me in the Nobel Museum.

The winner of the 1957 Peace Prize was Lester B. Pearson. In his career, Pearson had been a Canadian diplomat, Minister of External Affairs and, subsequent to winning the Nobel Prize, he was elected Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and, when the Liberals won the election in 1963 he became Prime Minister. His Peace Prize was awarded during his diplomat days for his efforts in helping to solve the Suez Crisis of 1956. He also was instrumental in developing the UN Peacekeeping model.

Pearson was Prime Minister for only about five years and never won a majority government. Nevertheless, he accomplished considerably more than many Prime Ministers who won majority governments and held the PM post for longer. Lester B. Pearson, who died in 1972, the year I graduated from high school, is my favourite Prime Minister, hence my not entirely rational desire to see his name displayed there in Stockholm.

But enough about my Canadianism. I’m supposed to be talking about the Nobel Museum here.

Nobel Museum exhibit
Nobel Museum exhibit


Other areas of the museum contained what appeared to be a serendipitous collection of artifacts and mementoes about or from various Nobel Prize winners.

There was also an exhibit on Alfred Nobel’s life and his famous will, which established the Nobel Prizes. This included a display of his handwritten will. I don’t know if it was the original or a copy,  but it was protected behind glass, so I’m guessing it was the original. I couldn’t read the will because it was in Swedish, but it was more than a little chilling to see in front of me the document responsible for the Nobel Prizes.

Vox Populi 

The museum also contained a space with an audience-participation, interactive video program that asked what types of discoveries or actions the audience wanted to see rewarded with future Nobel Prizes.

There were five questions, one in each of the Nobel Prize categories. After the voting on each question was finished, the display showed the vote counts for each answer from the current audience, plus the vote counts for all audiences ever.

When I arrived in the space there was only one couple there. The display was in the middle of the set of five questions. I tended to balance out the couple’s votes in that session’s vote count. When the program restarted, I stuck around to vote on the questions I missed, I was then the only person voting. It felt good to rule the world, not that it meant anything.

To sum up, if you’re a fan of the Nobel Prizes and you are in Stockholm anyway, duck into the Nobel Museum (it’s included on the Stockholm Card if you bought one) and take a look around. Although, if you’re not a fan and you are short on time you probably won’t find enough in there to justify the time and cost (there is an admission charge if you don’t have a Stockholm Card; I did).

Been there? Done that? Do tell.