Reserved for the King
Kungsträdgården (= ”the King’s garden” in Swedish, approx. Swedish pronunciation “koongs-traed-gaw-denn”) is the oldest and most centrally located park in Stockholm, 400 m long (in the north-south direction) and 150 m wide. For several centuries Kungsträdgården was literally an exclusive “garden reserved for the King”. It was even walled in, with armed sentries guarding the entrances.
Not until 1795 were ordinary citizens allowed to enter the park. But soon afterwards the walls were removed and Kungsträdgården became the lively, somewhat gaudy public place in the center of the city that it is today.
Streaming water in the South, frenzied shopping in the North
The southern end of the Kungsträdgården Park starts at Strömmen (= “the Stream”), a short stretch of streaming water that conducts the excess water from Lake Mälaren into the Baltic Sea, separating downtown Stockholm from the Old Town (Gamla Stan) island.
The northern end of the park juts deeply into the main shopping district of Stockholm, making Kungsträdgården a popular meeting place for townspeople. This social function has left its mark on the general appearance of Kungsträdgården. It may be a park in the sense of “wooded area”, but what makes a more striking impression on the visitor are the many bars, food-stalls, sidewalk cafés and a large open-air entertainment stage along its pedestrian pathways.
Battle for the elms
In May 1971 Kungsträdgården became the scene of a famous popular uprising, the “Battle for the elms”. At the time the Stockholm city politicians had decided to locate a Tunnelbana (= Stockholm Underground, Subway or Metro) station beneath Kungsträdgården, which unfortunately required that about a dozen large old elms (botanical name: Tilia europaea 'Zwarte Linde') had to be cut down.
When word of this got out, people immediately started congregating around the threatened elms in protest. The woodcutter crews were greeted by angry crowds. Some activists climbed up among the branches, sitting there day and night and making safe work impossible.
What made the protest particularly interesting from a sociological point of view, was that the “elm-savers” were not just young environmentalists, but people from all walks of Stockholm city life, from little old ladies and retired colonels to office workers and pop entertainers.
Police and woodcutters battled with the protesters for a week, until the city politicians finally gave in and decided to move the Tunnelbana station to a different location. The elms are still standing there today, as monuments to “the will of the people”. However, the dreaded ‘Dutch elm disease’ and the advanced age of the trees will in time make them disappear on their own accord. Nature has a tendency of not paying heed to popular opinion.
Bronze kings and icons
Two statues of Swedish kings adorn the Kungsträdgården Park. One is in the image of a lackluster 19th century monarch who never left any tracks in Swedish history. The other, in complete contrast, is the statue of the great historical warrior king Karl XII (Charles XII), who battled for years with Tsar Peter the Great of Russia in the beginning of the 18th century -- and lost out in the end, leaving Sweden destitute and deep in war debt.
Holding a sword in one of his bronze hands, the statue of the warrior King Karl points threateningly eastward with the other. For some reason the minuscule Swedish Nazi party has in recent years made Karl XII their icon. Each November, on the anniversary of the King’s death, a small angry group of Nazis congregates around the statue, often ritually battling with vastly larger crowds of anti-Nazi protesters and police.
In a light-hearted mood
In summertime Kungsträdgården is a favored starting point for people intent on amusing themselves in the city, as the park is close to many theaters, restaurants and night clubs.
But don’t expect Kungsträdgården to be dignified or even esthetic. The various cheap entertainments, bars and eateries rather tend to give it a somewhat vulgar image. Still, at times it may be refreshing to stay out of the demanding circle of uplifting and dignified activities. So Kungsträdgården Park is a good place to start when you happen to be in one of your light-hearted moods. Oh, and in this connection you should perhaps be told that the park is also known as “Kungsan” (pronounced “koong-sahn”), slang-wise.