There, where the soul of Sweden lives

IKEA, ABBA, Dalarna


Many speak to Dalarna of the heart of the land - me of the soul. Because where people celebrate the festivals, as they want, there is still something in order.

When asked what they associate with Sweden , most IKEA, then ABBA respond. But the superlative is missing - Dalarna. Some call the region of central Sweden, which meets Norway in the west, the heart of Sweden, but that is an understatement: Dalarna, Sweden's soul lies hidden there. Somewhere between red wooden houses, Dala horses and Midsummer celebrations that last until July.

"Seeing the red" is good

In Dalarna it is normal to see red. Whereby the term "Sweden Red" is rather misleading and has to be correctly called 'Falun Red' (Faluröd). First comes from Falun, the capital of Dalarna, and secondly from the Falun Copper Mine , the largest in the world in the 17th century. In 1992 it was shut down, 2001 part of the UNESCO World Heritage. There, since 1764, the so-called pigment Falun red has been removed from iron oxide and other ingredients, burning the color dust which, after passing through the process, turns into rust-red paint on the walls of the house. According to legend, it was the curious goat Kåre, who snooped around in the mine in the 8th or 9th century, returned with red dust on the horns and drew their peasants' attention to the copper treasure in the pit, which they put into operation from the end of the Viking Age was taken. "The supplies last about 100 years," reveals mine guide Johanna Nybelius during the one-hour tour over 400 steps to 67 meters depth.

Important, before the descent begins: knock three times on the front door, while swearing and whistling. The mountain spirit lives in the mine, and he has his welcoming ritual. In the past, more than 1,000 workers took part in the company, today only visitors in rain capes and with protective helmets, who hope that the descent into the +5 degree cool pit will have a rejuvenating effect. Unfortunately, the chance of rejuvenation during the visit is rather small (it would take a little longer, like the Christmas tree, which has been in the mine for years and looks like it was struck yesterday, or Max, a spilled mine worker, 42 years old) Was found years later and was still as crisp as on the day of his death), the danger of getting lost in the labyrinth of low ways, but the greater. Especially when the lights go out and it zappenduster.

However, Falun's copper mine was not only the largest, but also one of Sweden's most important employers. And it gets even better: in the pit is the origin of the Swedish labor law, leave law and sickness care, because it was understood that miners worked better if they earned well. The miners' union was the first in Sweden to go on holiday at all, and there was also health care for the miners - from the end of the 16th century, a doctor was working in Falun, and by the end of the 17th century, an emergency ward was installed at the Pit furnished. This supply was free for the workers. If a man died in the mine, his family was also taken care of. And that sometimes happened, because not only buckets with mined ore were pulled up on the rope in the big shaft - workers, who probably wanted to quit a little bit faster, liked to stand on the edge of the bucket to ride up, or slipped the 200 Meters down the rope. For these ropes made of oxhide, about 10,000 oxen died in the year, whose remainder meat was processed into 'Falukorv', sausage from Falun - today, in addition to the rust-red house color another trademark of Sweden.

Crunchy is good

Anyone who does not like sausage is still right in Dalarna, because there is also crispbread. For example in Stora Skedvi between Falun and Avesta. And not least thanks to Benny Andersson from ABBA. However, one by one. When visitors come to Stora Skedvi, it is mainly Skedvi Bröd , as the village has been producing crispbread since 1950. Until 2013 buk Vikabröd, which belonged to the company Leksand, in the factory, then it was closed. But the people on the ground were not beaten so quickly. Their story and what they achieved fits into a motivational handbook "Everything is possible, if you really believe in it". Plus a little pinch of luck. Naturally. Parishioners and former employees wanted to revive the dead factory, including Malin Floridian and Anders Åkerberg. Anders, who guides groups of visitors through the new factory, radiates self-confidence from one who knows what he wants. And how he can achieve it. Many pairs of eyes cling to his lips as he reports how Skedvi Bröd rose from the ashes like a phoenix.

"Vikabröd did not allow us to use their old stoves, they tore everything out," he says. "We wanted to buy the building anyway and started a crowdfunding campaign." Within a short time, they would have collected a good 60,000 euros, but the most expensive was the new equipment. "We needed more investors, and then it happened: Benny Andersson from ABBA volunteered and offered himself as an investor!" The glow in Anders' eyes still suggests how much he looked forward to it. Benny said, "If you give me bread, I'll give you money," and that closed the deal. "Anders laughs.

Since December 2014, the new ovens of the factory are in full swing. The heat hits visitors, it smells of fresh bread made of rye, water, salt and yeast. And if enthusiasm had a smell, everything would be superimposed. "We wanted to make a tourist attraction out of the factory and bakery, where visitors can watch how we bake bread, and they can eat there too." That was unique, not only in Dalarna, but throughout Sweden. Anders has big plans: If tables are still distributed in a part of the large market hall where visitors can eat, now a real restaurant is to be created. Particularly popular are the tapas with ham and cheese, to which a paper bag full of crispbread comes to the table. It is sold in blue and yellow packs - in blue with darkly baked loaves, in yellow ones with brightly baked ones.

High to (Swedish) Ross

Hardly any visitor to Sweden leaves the country without having one of them in their suitcase - a small, mostly red wooden horse with a brushed saddle and green and white bridle, the symbol of Sweden. Of course it is not produced somewhere in Sweden, but in Dalarna, in various workshops, one of the most important in Nusnäs. The Dala horse became well known in Dalahäst in Swedish when it represented its country at the 1939 Expo in New York, but the craft dates back to the 17th century. At that time, the inhabitants of the region carved wooden toys in cold winter nights because there was not much else to do.

The production in Nusnäs started the 15-year-old Nils Olsson with his brother in 1928, and until today you can see how the horses disappear in paint vats and then lovingly painted by hand. Right at the entrance to the workshop sits Gosta Helldal, who has been coming to the factory every weekend for ten years to carve little horses and patiently explain to visitors what he's doing. "There are 20 different sizes of the Dala horse and four colors, red, black, blue and white," he explains, red representing the houses, blue the outside door, white windows and doors and black the stable. "Actually, we started carving roosters, and we also do pigs, but the horses are the most popular." There is actually only one rule - every horse must be made of wood.

In the next room Gostas colleague already painted red colored horses with the typical patterns. "It takes me about five minutes per horse to work 60 or 70 a day," she says without looking up from work. The horse then has to dry for two to three days. It usually takes two weeks, from the carved wood piece to the perfectly painted Dala horse, regardless of size. No wonder that the popular horse is not exactly cheap, because even a 13 centimeters big costs about 25 euros. Cheaper they are from time to time at IKEA, is rumored.

Bicycle round with eye and ear treat

After a rejuvenation under the earth in the Falun mine, lots of crispbread in the stomach and the color smell of the Dala horses in the nose, it's time to sniff some Dalarna country air. On a bicycle tour on the 26 kilometer long Dalhallarundan, which starts and ends in Rättvik with its 625 meter long jetty at Lake Siljan, the seventh largest in Sweden.

I'm on a Sunday at the start and do not believe my eyes, as a long rowboat speeds over the undulating Lake Siljan, decorated with green scrub and rowed by young men in black traditional suits. As you get closer, you can also make out girls in smart dresses on board. "This is the church boat, it comes every Sunday morning from the other side of the lake over to the church", explains Lotta Backlund, who also offers guided bicycle tours around Rättvik in her agency for ecotourism Green Owl Travel . We are just in front of the picturesque village church with about 100 so-called church huts from the 17th century. These church villages with huts, stables or storage rooms were formerly used in northern and central Sweden at church visits, today, the Holzhüttchen seem like cottages, where you forgot the windows.

The feeling of having landed in a 1950s homeland movie intensifies as more and more traditional-looking men, women, and children rush in to greet the newcomers from the boat. "This is the typical Dalarna costume," says Lotta. The women wear white blouses and black skirts, front with apron, partly striped, some patterned, and the perfect outfit includes a same-colored fabric bag. "However, there are differences, depending on their background, family status and social status," explains Lotta. The men and boys are standing in their black tuxedos and hats, the beads of sweat on his forehead, but all laugh, run joyfully to the church. "The people of Dalarna take every opportunity to wear their costumes. Today there is a confirmation. "

The fact that you are in Dalarna, the swedishest of all Swedish areas, where the Swedes themselves like to spend their holidays, can be seen on the Dalhallarundan on every corner. Even on a golf course, Dala horses are scattered across the lawn. On the way to Nittsjö, I feel as though I am in Bullerby, between wooden houses in Falun red with white painted edges. In every small village perched a maypole, sometimes decorated with straw hearts, usually with the coat of arms of Dalarna, two crossed oars in blue and yellow. Every few meters there is a cardboard sign "Loppis" - flea market - where someone sells junk in front of his house. Ebay in live version in the middle of the country. For junk and ceramic lovers, you must borrow a bike with a basket, because the flea markets are followed by the Nittsjö ceramics factory from 1840. A real holiday catcher , which attracts Swedes from all parts of the country: every year there are new limited-edition elf creations for Christmas, so-called Luvnisse, that have become collector items.

With one or the other gnome on board it goes on, past lakes, where even in midsummer no one is. I suddenly understand these Sweden fanatics, who every year drive up to the red houses and tell of silence and space and freedom. Freedom that is in short supply in so many places, especially in midsummer. Not in Sweden. Not even close to Sweden's soul. It's hot, I'd like to jump into every puddle, but Lotta has other plans.

Why do you need a guide at all, if you can drive the Dalhallarundan comfortably alone? Soon the answer should come. But first there is a side trip to the namesake of the bicycle tour - to Dalhalla , a huge open-air stage in a disused limestone quarry. "Dalhalla is a mixture of words from Dalarna and Valhalla from Norse mythology," says Lotta. And why is there a stage in the 60 meter deep pit? "The opera singer Margareta Dellefors had the idea in the 90s. The limestone quarry already resembled an amphitheater, and the acoustics are fantastic. "And so the open-air stage since 1994 is open for concerts from June to September. It is said to be one of the four best outdoor arenas in the world and has seen artists like Björk, Deep Purple and the Pet Shop Boys.

Slowly, I'm hungry, wondering what Lotta has planned for lunch. She smiles mysteriously. Quite different from a sombre figure on the side of the road, who punishes everyone with big white eyes. "That's Mörksugga." The name Dark Soul fits the weird being. "An artist from Rättvik created these figures and distributed them around the area to deter children from going into the forest after dark."

Fortunately, it is not dark yet, because we squeeze our bikes past Mörksugga, deeper into the forest. The paths are no longer suitable for cycling, but that does not bother Lotta. What is she up to? Soon we are standing in front of a small wooden hut between the trees, which reminds me of the summerhouse of my Finnish girlfriend in Turku. This is the summer house of Lottas family with three beds and a tiny kitchen inside and a toilet hut in the thicket. My heart leaps with joy. While Lotta unpacks the picnic basket full of sausages, raw vegetables and cinnamon buns, I walk down to the river, which in the middle of summer only rattles off in Bach's clothes, but Lotta serves as a bathtub if she stays in the hut for a few days. I do not hear anything except the babble and humming of bees and flies. My favorite music: Silence with nature as a background choir.

"Carve a stick on which you can skewer the sausages," is Lotta's instruction, and we are already sitting on the benches around a stone vat in which coal is already burning. The fire must be limited, especially in summer, the forest fire danger is high. Hach, there is nothing better than sitting in the midst of immense Swedish forests and grilling sausages. I am sure that before the words "Carpe diem" passed over to the Roman Horace, they would have been pronounced by a Swede. When I think back to Dalarna, I first think of the hut in the forest. Of splashing and buzzing and silence. And sausages.

Midsummer in July

There is no better way to say goodbye to Dalarna than to a Midsummer celebration. There is no hurry, because while the rest of Sweden is celebrated around the 24th of June, Dalarna continues cheerfully until July. On the website of the region you can find out on which day where a celebration starts and then go and participate. If there is no forest fire danger, herring is grilled, otherwise you bring your picnic with you. Especially when Midsummer takes place in a tiny village like Mångberg not far from Lake Siljan, where only five houses are constantly inhabited and the rest are holiday homes.

It is about six o'clock when families with smaller or bigger children are dribbling, but also older people and couples. Mångberg is located on a tiny lake, where the kids bathe with the sun still high in the sky. One of them, smiling at them, is the nearly 80-year-old Sid Jansson, who carries a long horn with him, a so-called Näverlur, to show how the telephone communication functioned long before the mobile phone.

With all the others, he waits anxiously for the group of fiddlers to come over from the other side of the lake, followed by children wearing wreaths and a garland of leaves for the maypole. Everything goes very well and according to strict rules, because midsummer is a serious thing in Sweden. "The actual Midsummer Festival was celebrated on the birthday of John the Baptist on June 24," says Sid. "Even the Icelandic myths speak of this custom. And everything related to Midsummer revolves around fertility and life. "He points to the maypole, a 25-meter-long pole, which is first adorned with the transported plants and then erected in a sweat-inducing process. The pile is not just any tree trunk, but a steel pile of about 700 kilos. The maypole master gives instructions via microphone, while men in small groups balance in different positions of the pole. Millimeter by millimeter, otherwise the maypole may crash and cause mischief.

"The wreaths above are penetrated by the maypole, it's the biggest symbol of fertility ever," says Sid with shining eyes. The tree is gaining altitude, the fiddlers are still fiddling, the men are breathing. "We have a saying that midsummer night is not very long, but put seven and seventy cradles in motion." About half an hour later, the big moment has come: The maypole stands like a one, the maypole master sighs relieved into Micro, people are clapping. The party can begin. The fiddlers clamp the violins tighter under their chin and mothers and their children get ready for the first dance around the maypole, which, for the sake of simplicity, stops until the following summer.

I sit on the picnic blanket in the hesitantly setting sun, watching in fascination. Because midsummer in July, that only exists in Dalarna. A good excuse to slip into the costumes again and again. A good reason to come together and be happy and celebrate, even if the actual celebration is long gone. For in Dalarna people do not celebrate the festivals as they fall, but when they feel like it. And that should be done much more often everywhere.


This trip was supported by Visit Sweden with accommodation at Quality Hotel Dalecarlia, Tällberg. (

Recommended restaurants: In addition to the restaurant at Skedvi Bröd I particularly remembered a restaurant: Solgårdskrogen in Rättvik, also inn, operated by the Swedish chef Jonathan, who has worked in Michelin-star restaurants, and his Australian wife Genevieve. You sit with the two in the garden behind the cozy country house - of course in Falun - right next to the meadows with sheep and goats and the charcoal stove where Jonathan conjures up all the delicacies.

  1. Hans-Dieter Knebel

    the report (Falun) reminded me of the sad-beautiful narrative of Johann Peter Hebel -Unexpected Reunion.
    Greeting Hans-Dieter Knebel

  2. Sounds like an adventurous journey. I've read some of your posts and asked if you've had road trip experience.
    And do you have certain apps that make it easier for you to travel (the planning before, the organization in the meantime) or do you even have such a need?
    Best regards,
    Road Dreamer

    • Hello Roaddreamer,
      So a handy app for me is Triposo. And otherwise I like to read personal travelogues about my goals or research online, which might interest me. And I always decide a lot on the spot, by talking to locals and other travelers.
      best regards

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