Stutterheim Text (c) Alexander Stutterheim

Södermalm is Stockholm’s most creative district. Visitors can get inspired by this energy: Shopping in small, independent shops during the day and in alternative bars at night.

Alexander Stutterheim sits outside one of the of the three low, one- and two-storey Falu- red wooden houses and lets the sun warm his face. It almost looks as if the 44-year-old were set in the idyllic Swedish countryside. Instead, he is located in the heart of Stockholm, in the trendy district of Södermalm. He would no longer move to Södermalm in these days but rather to the tranquil neighbourhood Kungsholmen. In Söder, as the locals call it, there are now just too many hipsters.

But you can never really tell when Alexander is kidding and when he is serious. After all, it was Alexander himself who designed a very classic, very stylish and highly sought-after, 300Euro raincoat a few years ago. And what could be more suitable for hipsters than a classic, expensive raincoat?

© Alexander StutterheimStutterheim Text (c) Alexander Stutterheim

Stockholm’s hipster symbol no. 1: the raincoat

After his grandfather died, Alexander found a 1960s raincoat in his old summer house on an island in the archipelago off the coast of Stockholm. On a rainy day back in town, looking out the window he realised: “The old coat looks much better than the Gore-Tex coats that people usually wear. “It’s so sad that you have to look bad on a rainy day,” says Alexander. “Gore-Tex just doesn’t go with my Helmut Lang suits.” Soon he went to manufacture a gently updated version of the classic raincoat, followed by an unbelievable success: Customers queued up at his front door to buy the sought-after garment. Alexander eventually gave up his job as a copywriter to devote himself entirely to his new task.

And then, Alexander tells us, his fear of the KGB grew. For he also brought out the raincoat in a rainbow variety which he baptised “Vladimir” in a moment of cockiness and in protest against Russia’s discriminatory gay politics. He intends to donate part of the proceeds to Russian LGBT organisations. Since then, he says – and one can just hope that he is kidding here – he occasionally fears the agents from the East.

With his story of creativity, activism and a little eccentricity Alexander could be a symbol for Södermalm. Although the district is not as beautiful as the enchanting Gamla Stan (Old Town) city centre with its narrow alleys and cobblestone streets, it is considered a microcosm for unusual people, unusual business ideas and unusual shops. A huge sneaker shop offers the latest sneakers, right next to them a cool furniture store sells home accessories in the retro style of the 1960s. Record shops, cafés and fashion boutiques alternate. In Pärlan’s candy shop, whose dark wood furnishings are almost reminiscent of the 1950s, you can watch the candy makers at work through huge glass windows every morning. And next door the shop ‘Grandpa’  sells clothes and furniture side by side. Young families walk through the short aisles, inspecting shirts, trousers, crockery, lamps and notebooks.

No Sexism, No Racism!

Stockholm has a reputation for being open, open-minded and tolerant. In the Café Urban Deli with its wine tavern and supermarket manager Veronica wears a t-shirt with the inscription “Lesbians, Muslims, Kurds, Gays, Jews, Africans, Asians, Swedes and many others work here – and that works really well!” On the way to the bathroom you can read on the staircase wall: “Peace, Love, No Violence, No Homophobia, No Sexism, No Racism”. That much of demonstrative claim for equality would probably not be necessary in Stockholm. The city is very gay-friendly. Clubs and bars featuring rainbow flags are everywhere, almost always frequented by gays and lesbians together with heterosexual friends. Södermalm has particular gay roots: The Side Track the oldest gay club in town is located here. And especially in 2015 there was no better place to enjoy the open-minded atmosphere of the city than in the Mariatorget in the heart of Södermalm. First, the Stockholm Pride passed here at the end of July, followed by the EuroGames, one of the largest gay and lesbian sports events in the world, attracting thousands of athletes and fans to the city – and in the evening bringing them to Söder.

© Tobias Sauer

The music and party scene has been at home in the former working-class district for years, after all. The King Kong,a cellar club that specialising in electronic music is located directly in Mariatorget. And in the building right behind the Side Track, the Bar Ginko spreads industrial charm with bare concrete walls. For Patrik Guggenberger, a 26-year-old fashion designer who grew up in the rather bourgeois and conservative neighbourhood of Östermalm, Södermalm was already an escape ten years ago: “In Södermalm you could see Robyn live in small bars before she became famous – and also could get a beer even if you were younger than 18”.

Patrik has never regretted his decision to move to Södermalm with his partner. Here, he says, he finds inspiration, mainly in the broad music scene, which tries out new things and breaks with old styles. In his own work as a fashion designer, he proceeds in a similar way, deconstructing garments and reassembling them in  surprising ways. One shoe seems to grow out of another, he cuts up bomber jackets and re-assembles them differently. “Maybe,” he says, “it’s even better to live in Söder today than it was a few years ago. The neighbourhood has become more complex. “You can find everything you need here in these days. You don’t really need to get outside.”Still Södermalm is not entirely autonomous: Patrik has to commute to his Art School every day, as it is located in Östermalm.

Stockholm’s creative centres

Creative impulses also come from other parts of the city. For example from the Thiel Gallery in Djurgården. The white building was erected by banker Ernest Thiel as a temple for art about one hundred years ago. Patrik Steorn who has recently become director of the museum wants to combine the works of art from Thiel’s time, including paintings by Edvard Munch, with installations by young artists. For the summer of 2015 he had planned an exhibition of the works of the painter Eugène Jansson. He was worshipped by Thiel and often spent time in the naval swimming pool where he found inspiration for by his numerous, extremely homoerotic male nudes. Galleries in the city centre like the Wetterling Gallery near the main railway station show contemporary art from Sweden and all over the world and surprise with politically provocative exhibitions.

Nowhere else does the creative energy surface in such small shops and businesses as in Södermalm. The goldsmith Helena Skolling who mainly designs African-inspired chains and rings cannot imagine living in any other part of the city. “Here in Södermalm,” she says, “it’s like a small town.” Friends and acquaintances stop by the shop, you go out for a coffee or meet for a glass of wine in the lively Nytorget square. Helena opened her first shop in Södermalm in 2002. In 2011, she moved to Östermalm but after only two years she was homesick – and came back. Her motto today: “Rather earn a little less and lead a happy life.” And in Stockholm, despite all the ostracised hipsters in their rainbow coats, it’s still best to do that in Söder.

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