Sunday, May 18, 2008

Glorified Failure: The Vasa Museum

For a country known worldwide for high-quality, extraordinarily efficient products and standards, the story of the 17th century Vasa warship is hard to believe.

Back in the Swedish dynastic era of the 1600s, and in the middle of the wars between Catholics and Protestants, the naval battles determined all power, especially for the countries in and around the Baltic Sea. It was then that Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus commissioned (or commanded) a premiere warship. Two years later, with much fanfare and celebration, the Vasa set sail for the Baltic with over 400 crew on her maiden voyage.

Astonishingly, after a couple light wind gusts, the slight breeze of Stockholm Harbor proved to be too much for this newly-built and latest example of Swedish quality and, just 20 minutes into the inaugural voyage (!), nowhere near outside of Stockholm Harbor, the King’s premiere warship started taking on water and sank, taking down 50 of the 400 crew with her.

Almost as amazing as the sinking of the Vasa itself is the fact that, over time, it’s location in Stockholm Harbor was forgotten. Not until 1956 did a Swedish shipwreck specialist finally find the wreckage and immediately the raising of the Vasa was underway.

The key element to turning this one-time failure into a modern day success was the waters of the Baltic Sea. These less-salty waters have a unique quality to preserve ships over the course of hundreds of years, whereas normal saltier waters of oceans and seas will have eroded the ships over the same period of time. When the Vasa was raised in 1961, it was remarkably intact and resembled the same ship that sailed for all of 20 minutes and sank 333 years earlier.

Today, the oldest and best example of an ancient warship anywhere in the world is found in this incredible museum in Stockholm. The Vasa Museum, with its very impressive organization and exceptionally-informative context and content presentation, tells the compelling story of a failed ship that eventually became one of Europe’s most mesmerizing museums, seen by a now-annual one million awe-struck visitors-per-year. Leave it to the Swedes to turn a miserable failure into a success, after waiting patiently for 333 years.

The last picture above is of Dan and Shena Hinds, previously seen in Salzburg, Austria during Christmas ’07, who came through Stockholm this past weekend on their way home to Seattle. They are the latest of what is becoming a respectable list of people who, let’s face it, have gone a LONG way out of their way to come see me in Sweden.

Thanks, Dan and Shena. Fika forever!


Anonymous said...

Swedish Salmon could be Gravad Lax which certainly is Swedish.

Johan Gunnarsson said...

Sweden does have a history of glorious warships. Unfortunately, we just can't keep them afloat. Ever heard about Kronan? She was the greatest Swedish warship in 1676, but blew up even before the Danes had started shooting at her.

Danes. Always these Danes...

Todd said...

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love the Vasa Museum

5. One of the possible reasons the museum gives for the sinking was "the crew may have had too much to drink."

4. The doorways on the ship were only 5 1/2 feet high. Why? Not explained, but I'm guessing the builders "may have had too much to drink."

3. Even though where it sank in the harbor was historically documented, it took 300 years to find it.

2. Sean emphasized this, but it's worth repeating. THE SHIP IS A FAILURE!!!! (But the museum is pretty cool!)

1. The Ship and the blog provoked Johan (see comment above) to use a phrase I've never heard, but a phrase I plan on using a lot more often. "Danes. Always the Danes..."