Stockholm City Hall is a functioning city hall, but because it is, architecturally, so much more, it’s well worth a visit if you’re in Stockholm. Stockholm City Hall located on the waterfront, with a small area of grass, benches, a few statues and a small garden separating the building from the water.
Having already read that it was built between 1911 and 1923, my first impression on seeing City Hall was that it is a lot newer than it looks. My second thought was that it might look newer than it is only to my eyes, which are woefully untrained when it comes to architecture. Show me pictures of Rococo and Neoclassical buildings and I couldn’t tell you which is which. If you threw a trashy trailer-park trailer into the mix I could probably pick that one out, but that’s about the extent of my architectural knowledge.
If you want to take a look inside Stockholm City Hall—and you probably do—you have to join a tour. You can’t just wander around. The city runs tours, but tour companies are also allowed to take their groups through.
When I was there, which was a little before prime tourist season, the city ran English-language tours every half hour from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There were also a couple of tours conducted in Swedish during the day.
I was told that there are more more tours conducted in more languages during the busy summer season, but, unless you’re using translation software to read this, English probably works for you. While at Stockholm City Hall, I heard other native tongues being spoken in discussions within what I assume were family groups, but English was the common language.
One of the first things I learned on the tour was that my first impression was not solely due to my architectural ignorance. The tour guide made a point of saying that the building is much more modern than it looks.
The guide’s opinion that City Hall is newer than it looks was imparted on the first room she took us into, the Blue Hall, which is just past the entrance to City Hall. The “hall” in the room’s name is a hall as in a banquet hall, not as in a hallway.
If you’ve ever seen pictures of the Nobel Prize banquet, where the winners walk formally down a stone staircase as they are introduced to the audience, then you will be familiar with the Blue Hall. The Nobel banquet is held there every year on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. (All Nobel Prizes except the Peace Prize are awarded in Stockholm. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway. Another banquet is held there.)
The largest pipe organ in Scandinavia is located in Stockholm City Hall. Music is played on it as the Nobel Prize winners and other VIPs march down steps into hall.
The irony of the Blue Hall is that it’s not blue. It’s built of exposed red brick. The architect originally intended to paint the brick blue but, after 12 years of construction, he changed his mind and left the red brick. However, the name of the hall remained.
The red brick of the Blue Hall was intentionally pockmarked with chisels to make it look old.
Stockholm’s 101 city councilors meet in a cozy council chambers fitted with lots of dark wood. The ceiling is beautiful. A series of wood beams crossed at right angles hangs below a rich blue pattern.
City politics in Stockholm is party-based. Councilors are seated in the council chambers by party, with parties on left of the political spectrum sitting on the left side of the chamber and parties of the right on right. I don’t know if that arrangement is coincidental or if it is intended as a memory aid in case councilors forget which ideology they are supposed to support.
Included among the 101 councilors is one governing Mayor, seven governing Vice Mayors and an Assistant Vice Mayor. These positions are not filled by direct public elections. Instead, the elected councilors decide which councilors will fill which positions.
In 2014, the year I visited, Stockholm city council had achieved as close to gender equality as you can get in an elected body with an odd number of seats. There were 51 women elected to city council and 50 men. The tour guide (a woman) proudly pointed that out. I didn’t think to ask her, and I haven’t subsequently been able to find out, if gender-parity came about by chance or if it is legislated.
In a small room just past the council chamber is musical clock. It didn’t chime while I was there—my pace through City Hall was dictated by the guide—so I can’t describe its dance for you.
Further along on the tour was a very attractive hall that was more hallway-like than banquet hall-like. It is, nonetheless, used as banquet hall for more private city functions, such as entertaining visiting dignitaries.
The last major room on the tour was the Golden Hall. Unlike the Blue Hall, the “golden” in “Golden Hall” does describe the colour of the room. Real gold is pressed into tiles on the walls. However, don’t get any ideas about staging a major heist there. According to the tour guide, the gold is pressed so thinly that the entire room, spread out on all of its walls, contains only about ten kilograms of gold. You probably couldn’t steal enough tiles to make it worth your while, not to mention the fact that doing so would be immoral, unethical, illegal and just plain not nice.
The Golden Room is well decorated with a number of mosaics representing Swedish history. One wall is largely filled with a mosaic of the Queen of Mälaren, the alleged guardian of Stockholm’s lake of the same name, in a sitting position. (There’s a picture of that mosaic in the slideshow below.)
The mosaic of the Queen of Mälaran was rather controversial when it was unveiled. It depicts her at the crossroads of and receiving homage from the east and the west (you’ll spot an American flag there). That’s not what was particularly controversial. It was her hair, which many view as being Medusa-like. I didn’t see the resemblance to Medusa’s snake-hair until the guide pointed it out to us. Now I can’t see it as anything else.
The Golden Hall also plays a role in the Nobel Prize ceremonies. It serves as a ballroom for dancing after Nobel reception.
The Stockholm City Hall has a tower that is 106 metres tall. There was a reason for choosing that height. As the guide explained it, Stockholm City Hall’s architect found out that tower at Copenhagen City Hall is 105 metres. He wanted a taller tower, so he made Stockholm’s 106 metres. I guess size does matter.
Only a relatively small number of visitors are allowed up the tower at a time and only at specific times. You need to buy a separate ticket to go to the top. Each clump of people that go up is given 35 minutes to go up, look at the views of Stockholm, and come down before the next clump is allowed up.
I didn’t bother. It wasn’t the price that deterred me. The tower is included in the price of the Stockholm Card and I had bought one of those. It’s just that I’m an impatient person. The next tour was sold out both of the times I tried to go up the tower. I didn’t want to wait around, nor did I want to juggle my day to be back at City Hall in time for whatever time slot I was able to get. So, while I assume the views up there are wonderful, I’m only guessing about that.