Vaskning – that sinking feeling

Posted July 17, 2013 in More

New SlussenTHE IDEA

It’s as Swedish as Kalles Kaviar, and twice as bizarre. Depending on who you listen to, it’s also many other things: a response to bars banning the spraying of champagne; a coarse display of financial wealth; a middle finger to convention; or maybe no more than a myth. It’s outrageously expensive and disarmingly simple: buy two bottles of bubbly, drink one, and pour the other down the sink. It’s called vaskning—and it’s the basis for ‘That Sinking Feeling’, Totally Stockholm’s new online feature.

Legend has it that vaskning was devised by a bunch of rich youngsters holidaying in Båstad and Visby—but here at TS we’re taking it to the next level. Forget champagne: in each new instalment we’ll take two of something—streets or suburbs, bars or restaurants, perspectives or points of view—put them side by side, and decide which to ‘drink’ and which to ‘sink’. The harder the choice, the better. And it doesn’t get much harder than our first decision.

We need to talk about Slussen.


In the 1950s and 60s, Klara—a celebrated corner of lower Norrmalm—was torn down and reconstructed in almost unrecognisable form. Gone were the workshops of yesteryear, replaced by office blocks lacking in the storied charm of their predecessors. It was a regrettable loss—and an avoidable one. But as with all losses, this one has a silver lining: half a century on, it might yet serve as a cautionary tale. Or, on the other hand, maybe not.

As plans to redevelop Slussen build towards terminal velocity there are those who fear that history is repeating itself. What’s more, those fears seem well-founded. After all, Slussen isn’t just a waterway between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic; it’s an iconic junction, a piece of history, and an architectural marvel. (Not for nothing was it lavished with praise by the famous De Corbusier.) More than anything perhaps, it’s a piece of Stockholm’s identity—a distinctive feature on the city’s distinctive face. And yet, in a few short years, Slussen as we know it might be just another Klara: a cherished memory, and little more.

The plans for its regeneration are ambitious, to say the least. New parks, squares and waterfront buildings are just the superficial changes; in reality, the plan amounts to nothing less than a complete overhaul of the connection between Södermalm and Gamla Stan: by foot, car, bus, train and bicycle. And, as with all revolutions, this one will take some considerable time: seven years, to be precise. That’s a big upheaval for a vital intersection in a world capital. Whatever you make of ‘Old Slussen’, few would argue that a construction site would be an improvement.

But if Slussen’s own history has a lesson to teach, it’s that construction and improvement go hand in hand. Slussen’s famous ‘cloverleaf’ design has long been recognised as a textbook blend of creativity and pragmatism: the beautiful solution to the problem of slusseneländet—literally, ‘Slussen Misery’—caused by the advent of the motor car. But eighty years after its inception, another bout of slusseneländet is on the cards. And this time, the Slussen we know and love might just be the problem, rather than the solution.

Slussen is sinking. Literally. With every passing year, the view from the top of Katarinahissen gets a few centimetres less impressive; after nearly a century of service, Slussen’s foundations are steadily giving way. The cost of maintaining them falls somewhere between three and five million kronor a year—a number which threatens to head in the opposite direction to Slussen itself. The famous ‘five idealists’ who put forward a counter-proposal to the ‘New Slussen’ project would doubtless argue that you don’t sell your past; others, however, would surely counter that you don’t invest too heavily in it, either.

‘New Slussen’ wouldn’t be cheap, of course—but at least it’s money invested in the future. And, as in 1935, pragmatism may once again have to take precedence over sentiment. But the question remains: is this Klara all over again? Indeed, if the piles continue to deteriorate, can renovation really be considered a mistake at all? It’s a question yet to find a proper answer. The project has been stuck in development hell for several years, with verdicts being appealed and appeals being contested. The people have spoken, but not with one voice: only a slender majority back the changes. A decision is scheduled for August.


Amidst the sound and the fury, the Slussen problem boils down to the lesser of two evils. Whatever happens, Slussen as we know it is going to die; either we can kill it now and regenerate it afresh—staying faithful to its own history of innovation—or we can keep it on life support, watching every day as it edges closer to becoming obsolete. That’s not a sight that anybody who loves Slussen wants to see.

So it’s with a mixture of excitement and regret that we ‘drink’ New Slussen, and ‘sink’ the old one. We might as well. If we don’t, it’ll only sink all by itself.

Do you agree with our verdict? Which would you ‘sink’—old or new? Let us know by contacting us at

words // Tom Bradstreet

(Feeling nostalgic? Over the course of 12 months a Swedish photographer called David Molander captured hundreds of photos of Slussen’s external facade and secret internal chambers. Molander painstakingly stitched his captures together to create a huge panoramic collage. Check it out online here.)



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