For those who missed the first installment, welcome to ‘That Sinking Feeling’, a vaskning-inspired feature where a Stockholm-based comparison ends with us ‘drinking’ the winner and ‘sinking’ the loser. Having already condemned ‘Old Slussen’ to the sea-bed in favour of ‘New Slussen’—which, all being well, will be coming to a Scandinavian capital near you some time around 2020—we pick up almost exactly where we left off: right between Götgatan and Hornsgatan. Both are mainstays of Stockholm’s long-established ‘cool’ quarter; between them, in fact, they make up the spine of Södermalm. But if one had to go, which would it be?
THE DEBATE: GÖTGATAN VS. HORNSGATAN
You’re standing on the corner outside Stockholm’s Stadsmuseum, with the water at your back. You’re in town for an hour—maybe two, at a push—and you’ve only got time to do one street. Which one do you choose? You look left. Before you is the gentle rise of Götgatsbacken, the street criss-crossed with human traffic and flanked by people of all ages having a fika at tables outside. (It’s summer in our hypothetical Stockholm.) Then you look right, to be confronted by an entirely different scene: a widescreen vision of modern metropolitan life. The question of which way to turn is doubly problematic: not only are both wonderful—not to mention essential—routes through Stockholm, but comparing the two is a little like comparing apples and oranges. Stand there for long enough and it’s hard not to feel that the right-angle where they meet is at least as metaphorical as it is geographical.
Both Götgatan and Hornsgatan have their highlights, of course. While the former may feel like the more ‘arty’ of the two, the latter actually has more art on offer. Not only can you find a range of galleries clustered around Hornsgatspuckeln, but look carefully and you’ll see small works of street art planted in all sorts of unlikely corners. Stone mice, boats full of intrepid sailors, and hands clutching the bars of a prison cell can all be found within just a few metres of one another; a more comprehensive treasure hunt would certainly yield many other eccentric little finds. Hornsgatan also boasts the church of Maria Magdalena—a gorgeous oasis amidst the sturm und drang of city life—as well as access to Mariatorget, especially charming at this time of year as locals play boules around its periphery. If you’re a nature lover or an art aficionado, consider your mind already made up.
Götgatan doesn’t offer the same snatches of rural beauty, but boasts a different array of hidden gems. Söderbokhandeln is personal favourite of mine, while the area around Skånegatan and Katarina Bangata—the gateways to SoFo—have a Parisien feel without the self-consciousness of the French capital’s finer avenues. Incidentally, Götgatan is also the only street I know where one can be certain of being approached by a barely-credible number of beautiful women (although, admittedly, most of them work for Unicef or the Red Cross).
If charity workers make up a decent portion of Götgatan’s day-to-day population, the rest of the street’s demographic seems to be comprised almost entirely of hipsters. (In fact, your feelings about Götgatan might well be swayed by your attitude towards Converse and ornate tattoos.) But where Götgatan is all about rolled-up trousers, Hornsgatan is about rolled-up sleeves—or its history is, at least. In 1759, fire engulfed Maria Magdalena and many of the surrounding residences. The wooden ones were turned to dust. The street’s stone buildings, however, were made of sterner stuff; amidst the embers of the blaze, the basis for the Hornsgatan we see today was built on their rock-solid foundations. Götgatan may be full of characters, but Hornsgatan is a street with character; it’s a survivor—bigger, stronger, and longer (by some 600 metres or so) than its south-eastern neighbour.
Hornsgatan continues to move with the times. When local residents decided in 2010 that the fog of smoke from passing vehicles had become too much to bear, they put their foot down—or, to be precise, they put their flags up. Displaying banners from their windows in protest at the state of the air, they convinced local authorities to ban the studded tyres responsible for so much of the street’s pollution. Such dedication to environmental friendliness encapsulates one of Stockholm’s most characteristic (and endearing) traits—but in ecological matters, Hornsgatan still lags a little behind Götgatan, whose northern half is all but devoid of cars, prioritising pedestrians and cyclists instead. There are few fumes here except those wafting from steaming cups of coffee and freshly-baked kanelbullar.
Older Stockholmers might lean towards Hornsgatan, if only because Götgatan was for many years synonymous with the long walk to pay one’s dues. (Until quite recently, Medborgarplatsen’s Söderskrapan housed the Swedish tax authority.) Younger Stockholmers might well disagree, though. If Götgatsbacken announces itself as a piece of Stockholm history, Götgatan proper—starting at Medis and heading towards the space-age beauty of Globen—is obviously Stockholm’s present; as soon as you hit Noe Arksgränden the road transforms from an overgrown historical backstreet into a very modern thoroughfare. In fact, Götgatan is best thought of not as one street, but as two—one old, one new—connected by a shared direction and a common name. They’re Siamese twins; they’re Jekyll and Hyde; together, they comprise a weird timeline of the city they call home. But are two roads really better than one?
In the first edition of ‘That Sinking Feeling’, the question was black and white. ‘Old Slussen’ and ‘New Slussen’ are mutually exclusive; to have one means sacrificing the other. But in this case the setup could hardly be more different. It’s almost impossible to imagine either one of these famous streets without the other. So the question we’re left with is this: which one is the more quintessentially ‘Stockholm’? Both streets are mixtures of past and present, but Hornsgatan is a ‘blandning’ which is just slightly, well, bland. Götgatan’s quixotic personality, meanwhile, gives it a completely different texture. You could argue that it’s the perfect microcosm of Stockholm’s juxtaposition of grand history with fresh, sharp modernity. That’s what I’d argue, at least.
It’s a feeling, nothing more—but ultimately I find it that much harder to imagine a Stockholm without Götgatan than one without its big brother. For that reason, Götgatan goes down the hatch—and Hornsgatan goes down the drain.
words // Tom Bradstreet
Do you agree with our verdict? Which would you ‘sink’—Götgatan or Hornsgatan? Share your thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org