Reality check in Söderköping

Visiting the small town of Söderköping in Östergötland seemed like the perfect romantic and quiet weekend. But, boy, were we wrong.

Arriving in the town was initially unspectacular. We parked the car and walked towards the hotel. But on the streets, we noticed something different. All the people of Söderköping were wearing unusual clothes – long cloaks and capes, pointy hats with bells on, baggy linen trousers. They carried staffs and walking sticks. Some of the men had long beards and the women had shawls wrapped around their heads and shoulders. What was this? Is this small town, 2 hours south of Stockholm, stuck in time? It was like walking into a scene from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. There goes Gandalf. Oh look, it’s Dumbeldore.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that this particular weekend Söderköping was hosting a Medieval festival. As night fell over the town, torches were lit to mark the dark paths and bonfires were set ablaze. The local park was turned into a muddy arena with jousting, live music and fire dancers. The place would, however, have looked more authentic without the big ‘Sponsored by Swedbank’ sign. This arena was packed with Swedes in their costumes, many really getting into the role. Many of these people were probably what, in Swedish, is called a ‘lajvare’.

‘Lajvare’s are the Swedish equivalent to the English ‘Larpies’ – people who participate in a role-play and physically dress up and act out their character’s actions. These live-action role-playing games (LARPs)are not a new phenomenon, dating back to the late 70’s and gaining popularity through the 80’s and 90’s. LARPs range in size from small private events lasting a few hours to huge public events with thousands of players lasting for days, rather like the one in Söderköping.

Culturally, this phenomena is very intriguing. Traditionally entertainment has meant spectating but participants in a LARP cast off the role of passive observer, and take on new roles that are often outside of their daily life and contrary to their culture. But, why? What’s the attraction?

Is the daily drudge of life in Sweden so tedious that ‘larping’ is the best solution? For some, I guess.

But for me, well, I enjoyed the night in the small Medieval town of Söderköping but I was happy to climb into the BMW, switch on my Ipod and head back to the big city.

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