STOCKHOLM — Mamma Mia, I nearly walked right past the newest museum in Stockholm celebrating Sweden’s top export, the pop group ABBA.
In a city rich in historic buildings that are testament to an appreciation of centuries of culture, the new ABBA Museum is likely to cause a bit of a stir, particularly among the group’s still rabid fans.
The quartet of singers broke up years ago, but there’s no escaping their music.
The museum, if you can find it, opened in early May in a relatively nondescript building adjacent to the new Melody Hotel. It’s on the island of Djurgården, the home of far more historic and traditional museums and parks.
If it weren’t for the white VW bug parked on a ramp outside and bearing the sign “The ABBA Museum” (with one B printed backwards), I might not have noticed it at all.
Then again, once I paused, it was impossible to miss the photo opportunity right in the courtyard. It’s one of those wooden displays where you can stick your head through a hole in a life-sized cutout of the group, so you can appear as one of the singers in a colorful costume.
You won’t find something like that at the Nordic Museum down the street.
ABBA — the quartet made up of Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad — is now as much a part of Swedish history as the canals, palaces and the kings of the past and present. There are probably many who think of the band members as the modern kings and queens of the nation.
Their records have sold nearly 400 million copies. The musical “Mamma Mia,” built around many of their hits, has grossed more than $500 million on Broadway alone, and the film version has taken in more than $600 million at the box office.
Even though ABBA stopped working and performing together decades ago, the love hasn’t faded, and this highly interactive museum does its best to bring it all to life. It gives fans a chance to say their own version of “Thank You For the Music.”
The museum features a recreation of the group’s recording studio and a lakefront room where one of the composers worked, and it traces the biographies of each of the four singers.
There are computers along some of the display walls where you can take a trivia quiz (and have the information stored on a computer that you can access later). There are three levels of difficulty and I quickly realized how little I know about the group and its background. I only got four out of 10 answers correct in the easy level.
A few feet down the hall, you can listen to one of the group’s songs and take the Tretow Mix Challenge, named for sound mixer Michael B. Tretow, who worked with the group for 12 years. There are control buttons for you to adjust all the bass, lead vocals, backgrounds, and other sounds. Once your time is up, the computer automatically resets it to the way Tretow arranged things in the original recording. A subtle shift apparently can make the difference between a hit and a flop.
Turn a corner, and you can make your own audio recording (also accessible online when you get home through a code on your admission ticket) and across from that alcove is a booth where you can make your own video to an ABBA tune.
There’s a small roundish room somewhere in the middle of the venue where music plays loudly, a mirror ball spins and multicolored lights sparkle. It’s a place for dancing, though there weren’t many takers during my 10 a.m. admission time.
But there were a couple of women eager for a chance to perform with ABBA, sort of. There’s a room with a stage where patrons can do their own Karaoke-like singing to one of several songs, while holograms of the ABBA members sing and dance along.
One young woman apologized for the mess she made to the innocent bystanders cheering her on.
There are lots of details within the museum that provide some perspective on the group members.
The walls with their personal histories and how they got started singing are filled with scrapbook-like photos. It’s kind of cheesy but it works.
After all that singing and music-making, the museum leads you into a round room filled with the group’s signature glittery, spandex costumes. They are kept in plexiglass cases in groupings of four (one for each of them).
On the surrounding walls are hundreds of album covers, gold records, trophies, and plaques with all sorts of musical honors.
It’s a fascinating assortment of things that will best be appreciated by fans who probably long ago wore out their ABBA LPs. (You can find replacements for some of them and many of their CDS, music books and T-shirts in the gift shop conveniently located on your way out of the building.)
But you probably also want to spend a few minutes, at least, wandering through the Swedish Music Hall of Fame, which traces its history back 100 years, with little areas for each decade. There are costumes and other memorabilia for some of the artists. There were only a few I had heard of, but I also realized there are lots of songs I hadn’t known were recorded by Swedish artists.
The ABBA Museum is located at Djurgårdsvägen 68, Stockholm, Sweden. Admission is roughly $28 for adults, $8 for children. For more information: abbathemuseum.com.
A different kind of history
While you’re in the area of Djurgården, there are several other museums to see. I didn’t have time for a visit to the Nordiska Museet, the Nordic museum that traces the history of the city and the country back more than 500 years. It opened in the late 1800s.
About two blocks away is the expansive Skansen, an open-air park and collection of museum attractions. You can wander through an old Swedish village (where you can also get some coffee and light snacks) and watch cobblers or other craftsman at work. The large park contains a zoo and an aquarium (with separate admissions) and other attractions.
I spent my remaining time visiting the Vasa Museum, or Vasamuseet in Swedish. It opened in 1990 to house a 17th-century ship that sank shortly after it set off on its maiden sailing in 1628.
But it’s not just any ship. It is considered the most fully intact ship of its age ever to be salvaged and restored. According to my tour guide, 98 percent of what is on display in the building is original.
It’s a richly detailed wooden vessel, covered in decorative wood sculptures. But its tall and narrow design apparently didn’t make it suitable for the 64 cannons demanded by the king at a time when most similar vessels only carried 10 to 12.
Even with rocks in its hull for ballast, it was top heavy and one strong gust of wind toppled the ship.
Free tours are offered throughout the day, and the multilevel building lets you stand over the ship and see onto the top level. There is a scale model with sails to provide a better perspective on what it might have looked like, and there are painted versions of the original sculptures to show visitors how colorful the ship must have been at its launch.
The museum, reportedly the most visited museum in Scandinavia, also features several areas that re-create a sense of Stockholm at the time, and what life might have been like for sailors on the ship, with close quarters.
It’s a fascinating place.
Admission is roughly $20 for adults, $15 for students and free for children up to 18 years of age. For more information: vasamuseet.se/en/