Touring Stieg Larsson's Stockholm

Story & Photos by Bill Stephens

On a dark, soundless side street in the bohemian Sodermalm section of Stockholm, our Stieg Larsson tour group members began arriving.


"I've read all three Larsson novels and seen all three Swedish movies," a New York woman volunteered.


"I've just read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," I said.


"Oh, if you've only read the first book you won't get much out of this tour," she said. "That novel takes place mostly in the Swedish countryside."


Despite the lack of enrichment my tour mate warned me about, I was, at least, the first tour group member to arrive, which gave me a chance to chat with tour leader Karen, a sturdy, affable woman wearing a red scarf and warm layers. She works for the Stockholm City Museum, which since 2008 has run these Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy walking tours. The museum, she said, wanted to lead guided tours based on Stockholm writers, offering a new way to look at the city.


In 2009, about 220 often sold-out tours were given in many languages. Larsson's books have sold 46 million copies in more than 40 languages; Stieg Larsson was the first author ever to sell one million e-books for the Kindle, according to Random House. Karen said the Larsson tours have been growing more and more popular, attracting fan-tourists from around the world.


First the Germans came to Stockholm in search of Larsson. Then the French. The most recent influx is of travelers from the United States, where the Swedish movies have recently screened.


Karen told me the Larsson fans who took the tour were passionate and inquisitive. She is most frequently asked:


"Will there be a fourth Larsson novel?"


Answer: maybe. He finished a rough draft of a fourth novel before he died of a heart attack in 2005 at 50.


"How about the legal issues around Larsson's book earnings?"


Answer: Larsson's longtime domestic partner may finally get some compensation from the intestate Larsson's brother and father.


"How about the coming English-language Hollywood movie version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?


Answer: Directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig, it's scheduled for release in late December.


Larsson fans who take the tour sometimes confuse real life with the books and movies, Karen told me. For instance, one senior American couple who came to Stockholm for the tour wanted to buy a train ticket to Hedeby - a small Swedish community depicted in the books. They were disappointed to learn the place doesn't exist.


By 6 p.m. our 18 slightly shivering English-language tour group members were all assembled. An excited San Diego man said he was a big fan who had read all three Larsson novels. His travel companion hadn't read any of them, but seemed in a cheerful mood.


Ditto for an Australian couple. The woman had read all three books and was a big fan, brimming with enthusiasm. Her husband, who had the look of a martyr in the cold night air, told me: "We've got all the Larsson novels at home. But I refuse to read them. Not my taste."


Karen welcomed the group and began the tour. Across the street, she pointed out Bellmansgatan #1, the apartment building where in the novels Larsson's alter ego, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, lived, overlooking Old Town Stockholm and the water.


Cameras began flashing. Pens began making notes. Karen said Sodermalm residents don't mind these Larsson tour groups. On Saturday mornings, people who live in "Blomkvist's" apartment here wave to tour groups, she assured us.


Our second stop was panoramic Monteliusvagen viewpoint, offering the same view as from Blomkvist's apartment. Photo op.


We walked along the cliff-side promenade and onto busy Hornsgaten Street. En route we passed a walking bridge used by Blomkvist and his coinvestigator, Lisbeth Salander, and a restaurant where author Larsson ate. Hornsgaten was lined with cafes and art galleries.


We stopped outside Mellqvist Coffee Bar, where Larsson hung out in the 1990s when the investigative magazine he edited, Expo, was located upstairs. He reportedly wrote his first novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, at the Mellqvist. Karen reminded us of a scene in the book and movie where Salander jealously sees Blomkvist kiss another woman. More cameras and notes.


Walking down Gotgatan Street, we stopped outside the offices of Greenpeace. In the books, Blomkvist's Millennium magazine office is located above Greenpeace. Nearby, we stopped at the 7-Eleven store where Larsson supposedly purchased fast foods and where the fictional Salander often bought fast-food meals such as Billy's Pan Pizza. Entering into the spirit of the tour, I took a photo of a package of frozen Billy's Pan Pizza.


Larsson was an expert on right-wing extremist and neo-Nazi groups. And our next stop was in a park where he interviewed neo-Nazis. Then we paused in front of a tall apartment building where the fictional Salander bought a 21-room apartment after making a financial killing.


After 90 minutes we ended at Mosebaque Square, where Karen took more questions.


"Why did Larsson die so young?" someone asked.


Karen: "He didn't take care of his health. Poor diet. He smoked a lot. He had writing-deadline stress and death threats from neo-Nazis. He actually wrote his novels to relax."


"How do Swedes feel about Larsson portraying a negative side of Sweden?"


Karen: "Larsson's books actually put Sweden on the map. He does give a dark view of Sweden. But Sweden's actually a relatively safe place."


When people asked what other Larsson sites they could visit on their own, Karen made a few suggestions and also recommended picking up a copy of the museum's self-guided Stieg Larsson tour map.


As we all said our good-byes, I asked the skeptical Australian man if he had changed his mind about reading the Larsson novels his wife cherished.


"Maybe I will now," he said.



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