Olle the star gazer


Long, long ago there lived a little boy called Olle. He lived in the dirtiest, coldest, noisiest part of Stockholm’s Old Town. He shared his squalid shack with his mum and dad, grandparents and five sisters and brothers, all of them squeezed into one simple room. From inside the room, you could hear the noise of the horses hooves on the cobblestones and the bustle of people outside.

Olle was always hungry but he was also a dreamer. Whenever he didn’t have to work, he could be found standing outside gazing up at the stars.  He loved the way they blinked in the night sky and how the moon lit up the dark alley ways of the Old Town.

One cold winter night, he was outside as usual looking up at the sky when he heard a whisper of voices. Looking around, he noticed that the voices came from inside a cellar, and the door was slightly open. It was so cold outside and the yellow light from the cellar stairs seemed warm and cosy, so he decided to go in. Once inside, he walked slowly down the stairs until he came to a little room with an open fire. The ceiling was very low in this room and it was lovely and warm. By the fire place, he saw a rocking chair and a side table laden down with thick pies. He looked around cautiously. The whispers had stopped, and the room was empty. He felt the hunger in his stomach and stared at the pies. Gradually, he moved closer to them, mouth watering, and in a mad moment, he grabbed a pie and shoved it into his mouth.

The door to the room slammed shut and in the shadows behind he saw a shape. He heard the whispers beginning again and from the shadows emerged an ugly old woman.

‘Oh Child,‘ she whispered ‘Are you hungry?’

Olle nodded, scared. He could hear the noise from the street above and the crackling of the fire.

‘Take Another one then. Go on. Eat’

Olle turned to the pies and took another. He was so hungry. And he stuffed it into his mouth.

‘You like my pies?’ said the old woman

Olle nodded but he started to feel a little strange. The room starting spinning slowly and he felt a odd feeling in his body. The floor seemed to be getting closer, and the ceiling further away. His clothes felt too big for him. What was happening? Was he shrinking??

A few minutes later, Olle opened his eyes. The old woman was towering over him and laughing. Everything in the room was huge, he had shrunk to the size of a tin soldier.

Bending over, the old woman grabbed him in her hand and lifted him up to her face. He could see the milky colour of her eyes and smell the foul odour of her breath.

‘So you liked my pies! You know what’s in them?

Olle shook his head.

‘Curious little boys!’ screamed the old woman.  

Olle never made it home that day. No one really knows what happened to him. But you can still visit him if you like. Just behind the Finnish Church in the Old Town, there’s a little statue in his honour. There he sits, little Olle, and gazes up at the stars that he loved so much.

The Giant of the North’s weakness for lions

Long, long ago, when Stockholm was still a village, the people had built a big wall to protect themselves from the outside. You see Stockholm wasn’t as safe as it is today. Packs of lions, tigers and wolves roamed the countryside. And just outside the wall, there lived four one-eyed giants. The giant of the North, the giant of the South, the giant of the East and the giant of the West. These giants were brothers and of all of them, the giant of the North was the largest and the strongest and the most scary. He lived on a hill overlooking the village and watched and waited for his opportunity to attack.

Now, the people of the village couldn’t remain behind locked gates all the time. Merchants sometimes had to leave in order to trade with other towns. Builders had to leave in order to reinforce the walls and bridges from the outside. And shepherds and herdsmen had to pass through the gates in order to exercise and feed their sheep and cattle. But leaving the village was a treachorous endeavour – often people fell into the grasps of a patrolling giant and were gulped up whole.

The giant of the North didn’t care too much for people. He thought they tasted gristly and bony. His favourite food was lions. Not only were they fat and tasty but he liked the way their manes tickled his throat as he swallowed them. But lions were rare, so he had to satisfy his great hunger with sheep. Whenever the shepherds left the village, he pounced and ate as many as he could before they ran back to safety behind the wall.

The King of the village was worried about this and he announced a competition for the villagers to come up with the best idea for beating the giant of the North. Various suggestions were made but, when they tried them, none seemed to work. There were no more ideas and the King became more and more desparate.

Now, the King had a wife, Drottning Matilda. Drottning Matilda was a clever woman and she thought she might have the solution. She went to the King and asked for an audience with him.

‘How can we solve this terrible problem?’ said the King ‘the sheep are disappearing and the people are cold and starving’

‘It’s easy,’ said Drottning Matilda, ‘if he wants lions, let’s give him lions’.

The next day they set about their plan.

Anybody capable of sowing was instructed to sow sacks together and attach bushes of golden hay to one edge of the sacking. They were also told to add a long rope with a frayed knot at the other end. Then, they gathered together some sheep and draped the sacking over the top of them. The golden hay hung down to disguise the sheep’s face and the frayed rope hung from their rear ends like a long tail. Along the main street of the village, the villagers fastened two of the sheep at various intervals and they placed heavy stones under their wool. The villagers then ran to their homes and locked themselves in behind bolted doors and windows and the church bells started to ring. This was the gatekeeper’s signal to open the Northern gate. And then the villagers waited.

Up on his hill, the giant of the North was busy eating a cow when he saw the gates open, and stay open. ‘At last!’ he thought, ‘Here’s my chance!’ and he thundered down the hill and across the footbridge.

As he approached the gates, he saw that the village seemed abandoned. It was quiet and still. And then he couldn’t believe his eyes! Just inside the gates he saw two lions tied to the side of the street. As fast as he could, he pounced upon them and gobbled them up. Looking further along the road, he saw two more lions tethered by the road side and devoured the animals in two quick bites. Then incredibly he saw two more lions further along the road and ate them up as fast as he could.

And so it went on.

Slowly, the giant of the North ate himself to the end of the road and to the final two sheep disguised as lions. But he was starting to feel a bit odd. Strangely, he felt heavy, as though he’d eaten stones! But that wasn’t possible, he’d eaten lions – not stones! He looked over at the final two lions, which were tied atop a wooden platform, and the giant, mad with gluttony, moved heavily towards them. Finally his big heavy feet reached the wooden platform and his increased weight made the wooden planks bend and groan.

And then suddenly, they snapped! And the giant fell. He feel deep and far into the river rapids below. Struggling to keep his head above the water, the weight of the stones he had eaten pulled him under until eventually he could no longer struggle and was flushed lifelessly downstream and into the sea.

The people of the village rejoiced! The giant is dead!

The King, overjoyed, decided to rename the street after his wife – Drottninggatan and he commanded the village sculptor to make and place statues of lions all along the road to commemorate her cleverness.

The street is still there today, and so are the statues. And if you follow the road to the end, you’ll even see the rapids where the giant perished.

So that’s how the people of Stockholm defeated the giant of the North. But what about the giants of the East, West and South?

Well, that’s another story all together.

lions on drottninggatan

Riddusola the Gorgon and the stone statues



Long, long ago, in Stockholm there was a very grand building which stood alone on its own private island.

This grand building was the place where all the decisions were made. The King, the Prime Minister, the Mayor and the other dignitaries used to meet there to discuss the problems of their times. To get to the building, they had to take a small boat from the town and cross the choppy waters of lake Mälaren. 

Around the same time, slightly to the North of the town, there was a deep grotto and inside lived a gorgon that went by the name of Riddusola. Riddusola was a terrible, terrible gorgon. She had the head of a black goat and the slimy body of a snake. Attached to her back, she had huge wings which were covered in sharp spikes. Riddusola could travel fast over land and water, and she had a terrifying stare. With one look into her eyes, a person would be immediately turned to stone.

Now and again Riddusola would appear from her grotto and descend upon the town. She would slither down streets and across squares, she would glide through the canals and lakes and she would hunt her prey. She wasn’t so fussy. She would eat anything as long as it was alive. But what she liked best was the taste of human flesh. On regular occasions, pigs would go missing, or even children, and their dull cries would be heard from the deepest depths of the gorgon’s grotto.

Early one autumn evening, Riddusola was out in the town hunting for pray when she saw the little boat carrying passengers across to the grand buidling which stood on its own island. Quickly, she jumped into the water and eeled her way towards the boat. As she neared, she saw the boat arrive at the island and the passengers disembarked. There were some lovely, juicy fat people in that boat she thought as she ploughed closer. Suddenly a soldier looked into the water and saw the gorgon approaching. He urgently ushered the dignitaries into the building and slammed the door. But that pathetic door was nothing for a gorgon and Riddusola crashed into the building sending its occupants fleeing in all directions. Oh how she feasted that day! And those she didn’t eat had looked her in the eyes and were immediately turned to stone.

Then Riddusola had an idea. The grand building was rather comfortable she thought – the perfect place for her to live. It was close to the town and also on the edge of the lake. But how could she live here undisturbed? She knew if she was so close then the townspeople would try to kill her in her sleep. So she had another idea – she would have to terrify them!

The next morning, the townspeople of Stockholm awoke and went about their daily business. Down by the waterside, they were doing their laundry when they noticed something strange about the grand building on the ísland. They approached it and looked from the other side of the water. No! Could it be true? They witnessed a horrific sight and they ran as fast as they could back to the safety of their homes. There, on the grand building, Riddusola had made a change. Stone figures now ordaned the roof. The stone figures were facing different directions and were clearly the putrified remains of the King, the Prime Minister, the Mayor and other dignitaries,

The grand building is still there, although no longer on an island. It is surrounded by roads and is today called Riddarhuset, Thankfully, the gorgon is long gone. But if you look to the roof, you will see them. The stone remains of the people who looked Riddusola in the eyes.

Alid’s Lightening Catcher

Long, long ago on a remote southern island in Stockholm, there lived a small group of people. These people supported themselves on fishing and foraging in the woods.

And they were a nasty bunch.

Whenever they got the chance, they would steal from other villages, or they would shout abuse from the hill tops or urinate in the lake water. For years this went on until one day Thor, from his heavenly position, got tired of listening to their behaviour and profane language. Now Thor, being the God of Thunder, had resources at his fingertips. With one swift movement of his hammer, he shot a bolt of lightning down at the villagers and blew them straight off the hillside. 

But this didn’t stop the villagers. Laughing at Thor, they shook their fists and shouted abuse up into the sky. This made Thor more angry and for every time they laughed, he continued to bombard them with lightning. The years went by and with new generations, the behavior of the villagers changed. Tired of being blasted from above, they began to speak more kindly, to stop their stealing and to use appropriate methods of hygiene. But Thor was an unforgiving God and lividly continued to shoot his burning bolts down onto them. 

More time went by and the villagers realized that Thor would not cease. Instead they would have to combat his attacks. They dug a fire pit to engulf the lightning, but it did not work. They built a fountain to extinguish the lightning but this didn’t work either. They sacrificed goats and pigs. But nothing worked and Thor’s wrath continued to rain down. 

In despair, they turned to the wisest woman in the village – Ancient Alid. Alid was somewhat of a witch and the villagers were rather scared of her. But she had an idea. She told them to build a lightning catcher. So the villagers set to work. 

For years they built, until one day their masterpiece was finished. Upon the highest point of the hill, they had constructed a lightning catcher. The structure had two mighty towers reaching high up into the sky. And it worked! Every time Thor threw a lightning bolt, it was dissolved into one of the towers first and did not hit the village. The people of the village rejoiced! They were saved and slowly they could start to grow their community in the safe shadow of their construction. In honour of the wise lady, they gave the structure a name.  Hög Alid – High Alid.

You can still see it there today, high on the hilltop of Södermalm.  Today Stockholmers use it as a church but long ago it was built to protect the people from a very different god. 




Gloria and the giant egg

Long, long ago in the southern lakes of Stockholm, there lived a duck called Gloria and Gloria was a special duck indeed. Sure, she had white feathers, a yellow beek and big webbed feet. But it was something else that made her special.

Gloria was a giant duck. She was, to put it simply, huge. She was so huge that she towered above the tree-tops.

The townspeople at that time didn’t know about Gloria. She kept herself to herself far away from civilisation and deep in the forests to the south of the town. She fed off fish, but they were so small that she had to eat tons and tons of them to feel full. She was eating all of the time. And the more she ate, the more she grew.

Now it just so happened that one day a group of townspeople were riding through the forest along a wide river. As they approached the lake known as Flaten, they saw something curious on the ground – a giant webbed footprint. They looked quickly around and noticed that the footprints led deeper into the forest. Slowly, they followed the trail until they arrived at a big pile of sticks in a circular form – some kind of nest. They climbed up the outside of the nest and peeked over the top. And there in the centre of the nest they saw a big, white egg.

‘Oh my’ they thought, ‘that egg would feed the people of Stockholm for many months’
‘We have to take it back to town’ said one of the men in the group.
‘But how does one carry such a big egg to town?’ asked another

The giant egg was certainly too massive to carry. Rolling it might break it. They looked around the forest for inspiration.

‘I have an idea’ said one of the men, ‘if we can break the side of the nest, we can roll the egg down to the lake and float it on the river all the way back to Stockholm’.

What a brilliant idea! And this is exactly what they did. Soon the giant egg was bobbing along the wide river on its way to the town.

A short while later, Gloria returned from a day eating fish from another lake. When she saw her empty nest and the missing egg, she quacked inconsolably. Seeing the broken sticks on the ground she understood what had happened. Thieves! They were taking her egg to the town to eat. Angrily, she dove into the lake and swam towards Stockholm as fast as her webbed feet could paddle.

Soon in the distance she saw her egg, floating on the river. And she saw the townspeople with ropes and sticks urging it along. ‘I’ll teach them not to steal’ she quacked, and she swam towards them.

The egg might have been in water but it was still heavy. The group of men were struggling to make it move and making slow progress. Suddenly, from behind them, they heard an angry quacking. They turned around but before they knew what had hit them, Gloria had lifted the giant egg on her beak and rolled it to the bank of the river. Then, with a horrifying screech, she ate up every single man.

Gloria climbed up to the bank to her egg. The bottom of it had flattened out with the speed that it had hit the ground. It wasn’t round any more, so she couldn’t roll it. She tried to push it back into the water but it was stuck fast to the earth. Realising moving the egg was an impossible task, Gloria sat down on the grass beside the egg and hung her head in sorrow. And there she stayed for many many years, protecting her giant egg from any townspeople that might want to steal it again.

Nobody knows what happened to Gloria. She probably got very old and disappeared into the forest to die. But her egg is still there. Just to the south of Stockholm, you can see it towering above the treetops. A long time ago, the townspeople hollowed it out and used it as a shelter. Now, we use it as a place of entertainment.

We call it Globen, but we should really call it Gloria.

Eldvind and the iron steeple

Long, long ago the city of Stockholm wasn’t as big as it is today. In fact, it was comprised only of two small islands surrounded by sea on one side and a lake on the other. One of the islands, known today as Gamla Stan, where the city people lived and worked. On the other island, known as Riddarholmen, there was a monestry and a church, with a large iron steeple.

Now, the people of Gamla Stan had a problem. Every day, from the southern forests, a large dragon called Eldvind would come flying and swooping over them. He would screech and breathe fire and, if you were unlucky, he would grasp you in his mouth and swallow you up. Eldvind the dragon always circulated over Gamla Stan a few times before he landed on the steeple of the church on Riddarholmen. Then, perched up high, he would breath fire on the steeple until the iron melted. Opening his jaws, he would take a huge bite and swallow a bit of iron in a loud gulp. And then, with a screech, he would take off and fly away over the water to the southern forests.

This went on day after day, week after week.

But after a while, the people of Gamla Stan started to notice something odd. Eldvind seemed to be flying lower in the sky like he was heavier. He seemed to be slower and more tired. Could the iron he was eating be making him heavier? Yet still Eldvind would continue perch on the church, melt some iron, eat a big piece and then disappear across the water.

Time went on and soon the church steeple had hardly any iron left on it.

One day, it was in early spring, Eldvind appeared again. He flew so low that he skirted the top of the water, he couldn’t lift any higher. He landed at the bottom of the church, too heavy to climb to the roof. Blowing fire upwards, he melted the remaining iron and opened his mouth to catch the last drops as they fell to the ground.

Heavy stomached, Eldvind turned to fly back over the water. With great effort, he lifted and flew in the direction of Gamla Stan. Huffing and puffing, he tried and hard as he could to reach the forests but the iron he had eaten had made him too heavy and he sunk lower and lower until he crash- landed on his stomach in the middle of the town. The townspeople watched with amazement as the dragon tried to get to his feet and fly away, but he couldn’t.

Suddenly, a knight on horseback came riding through the town to slaughter the injured dragon. He raised his sword. But then he stopped. He watched as Eldvind’s feet turned to iron. Then his legs, his body, his tail, his wings and finally his head and jaws stiffened and became iron.

If you look over the water at Riddarholmen you can still see the church with the curious steeple there today. It looks like a skeleton, but once upon a time, it was covered in iron. Until the dragon devoured it.

And if you walk through Gamla Stan you can still see Eldvind.

Most people think that it’s a statue of St George fighting a dragon – but it’s not. It is really Elvind – the frozen dragon that terrorized the people of Stockholm long, long ago.

The legend of Huskahinni the ogre

Long, long ago in Stockholm there was an ogre called Huskahinni. Huskahinni was a friendly but rather arrogant ogre with one eye in the middle of his forehead. But Huskahinni thought, quite simply, that he was the best ogre in the whole of the land of Norden.

Huskahinni lived in the tower that stretched above the city hall. From his viewpoint, he could look out over the whole city, the waterways and the islands. Every morning, he would lean out of the tower and shout out over the city, ‘I am Huskahinni, King of the Mountain!’

Now, at that time, the land of Norden had a real King and he didn’t take at all kindly to the ogre’s claim. He called his advisors to him and aksed how to stop Huskahinni’s jeering from the top of the city hall.

‘We could shoot him’, said one advisor. The King said no.
‘We could send soldiers up and bring him down’. The King said no,no.
‘We could burn down the tower’, said another. No, said the King, no, no, no.

Finally, a fourth advisor stepped forward. Clearing his throat, he announced that the best way to silence the offensive ogre was to ridicule him into silence. To make fun of him. The King seemed interested in this idea. Yes, the best way to shut someone up is to make them feel silly.

‘Quite right,’ he said. ‘If he claims to be the king, let’s make him the king’.

The next day, the King called to him the city’s goldsmith. He ordered him to forge three large crowns out of gold.

The weeks went by, the goldsmith forged, the King waited and Huskahinni kept peering out from his tower and claiming he was the king of the mountain.

Finally, the day arrived when the three golden crowns were ready. The King arranged for the goldsmith, and the rest of the townspeople, to meet him by the city hall. When everyone was gathered the King looked up at the enormous tower, and shouted, ‘Huskahinni, Huskahinni, who are you?’. The ogre popped his head over the edge of the tower and shouted ‘I am the king of the mountain!’. ‘Well’. said the King, ‘you deserve a crown’. At this moment, the King signalled to his soldiers to catapult one of the crowns up to the top of the tower. Hitting Huskahinni in the head, the ogre yelped and fell backwards. And the townspeople laughed and laughed and laughed.

The next day, the crowd gathered again at the base of the city hall tower. And once again, the King called, ‘Huskahinni, Huskahinni, who are you?’. The ogre popped his head over the edge of the tower again and shouted ‘I am the king of the mountain!’. ‘Well’. said the King, ‘then you deserve another crown’. Once again the soldiers catapulted the second of the crowns up to the top of the tower. Hitting Huskahinni in the eye, the ogre screamed in pain and fell backwards. And the townspeople laughed and laughed and laughed.

The third day came and the King shouted for the ogre again.’Huskahinni, Huskahinni, who are you?’. ‘I am the king of the mountain!’. ‘Well’. said the King, ‘a king should have a crown’. And yet again, a golden crown was catapulted one to the top of the tower. Hitting Huskahinni in the neck, the ogre fell backwards, bleeding. And the townspeople laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed.

‘That should do it,’ thought the King, ‘that stupid ogre’.

The townspeople danced back to their homes laughing at the hilarious way in which the King had tricked the ogre. High up in the tower, Huskahinni looked down. His head and his eye were hurting and his neck was bleeding. And all alone, at the top of the city hall, he started to cry.

The next day, the townspeople went about their work as usual, laughing at the memory of what had happened to the stupid ogre the days before. Suddenly a little girl pointed to the top of the tower – ‘Look!’ she shouted. The townspeople looked up and couldn’t believe their eyes. High up at the top of the tower, there was a golden pole. And stuck to the top of the pole were the three shiny golden crowns, glistening in the sun for all to see.

Today, Huskahinni is long gone. But his crowns are still there, perched on the top of the city hall.

A reminder to us all that, once up on a time, Huskahinni was king of the mountain.

The Karlberg Serpent

Long, long ago when Stockholm was a town under development, there lived a little boy called Ossian. And Ossian was a scared little boy.

Ossian’s father worked in central Vasastaden as a labourer, helping to build new houses and buildings.

Ossian and his family lived on the rural outpost island of Kungsholmen. Between Vasastaden and the island of Kungsholmen ran a canal, which had been dug out by hand not many years previously. Over the canal stretched a rickety old bridge.

The people of Kungsholmen lived in fear of what was in the murky canal water. It was said that as soon as the canal was built a huge serpent had slipped in from the lake Mälaren. The serpent was as long and as wide as the canal itself and it would eat children trying to cross the bridge.

One dark November day, Ossian’s father had gone to work and mistakenly left his napsack containing lunch on the kitchen table. Ossian ran quickly after him through the streets with the food. Eventually he got to the edge of the canal. His father was nowhere in sight. He put a foot on the bridge as if to cross.

‘If you walk over the bridge’, bellowed a voice, ‘I will eat you alive!’

Ossian looked into the canal and saw the giant snake rising up. Terrified, he threw the napsack at the serpent and ran as fast as the wind back through the streets and home.

A few weeks later, his father forgot his napsack again. This time Ossian tiptoed quietly through the streets until he reached the bridge. Fearfully, he slowly placed a timid foot on the first wooden tread.

No sound.

He took a few extra steps. The serpent reared up infront of him. ‘You again! I will eat you if you go any further’

‘But I have to give my father his food’ stuttered Ossian

‘You will be my food’ hissed the snake as he opened his mouth wide.

Ossian dropped the bag and sprinted for his life back home.

The weeks went by and Ossian’s father didn’t forget his bag again. Until one day in January. The snow had come and the trees were laden with heavy frost. Once again, Ossian fearfully waded through the snow to the canal’s edge.

He looked into the water. But instead of a serpent, he saw ice. The water was frozen solid. On the surface of the water, he could see the distinct scales of the serpent. A patchwork of frozen scales like a honey comb filled the length and the width of the canal. The serpent was stuck. Confident that the serpent couldn’t move, Ossian ran across the bridge to the other side.

Centuries later, there are many of us who cross the canal. What we don’t realise is that the Karlberg serpent is still there. Oh, he doesn’t eat children anymore but satiates himself on rodents, birdlife, city waste and unfortunate kajakers. But in the winter, just like every year when the canal freezes, he can be seen.

You might think the scaly surface of the water is just ice patched together like a jigsaw puzzle. But no, it is the scaly skin of the Karlberg serpent.

It’s been rumoured that where the ice is thin, the occasional ice skater might just disappear, devoured by the hungry snake.

Dare you go ice skating on Karlberg canal this winter?