Steve, my co-conspirator in many Swedish-themed adventures, has been talking about going to the Viking village outside of Malmö for months. Months, I tell you. We had never quite found the right time, though. Either our schedules didn’t work, or the park wasn’t open, or it was suddenly pouring rain… you get my drift.
Steve's affinity for the Vikings is long-standing. Photo: Steve Marr
On Tuesday, however, the stars finally aligned for our trip to Foteviken to visit the Viking Reserve. A train, a bus, and a walk through a construction site later, we were on location and ready for some outsized old timey experiences.
Here’s the first thing I didn’t realize about the Viking Reserve: When they say “Reserve,” they mean it in the “an area of land set aside for people to live in” way, which is to say that there are real Vikings that work and live their lives there. They build their own houses out of wood and clay, weave and sew their own clothes, and cobble their own shoes.
It said as much in my Lonely Planet guidebook, but I didn’t really believe it. I can barely stand the cold of winter, and I do my best to swaddle myself in wool clothes and modern conveniences. As Steve and I wandered around, we were on the hunt for evidence of people living among the chickens, intricately constructed fences, and ominous spider webs.
Viking carvings, Viking fences, Viking weather vanes, Viking ship-sized spiderwebs. Photos: Kate Wiseman
We walked through the village for awhile, speculating about the functions of the different things we saw lying around: plants that had been carefully arranged to dry, cooking instruments, different structures throughout the property. There were runes and carved figures everywhere, and we wondered if people knew the meanings behind them or if they were just reproductions of things that had been found in history books. And in the meantime, we found some props to play with.
Steve is the philosopher Viking. I am clearly just out of my mind. Photos: Kate Wiseman and Steve Marr
After wandering around the village for about an hour, we found our proof of people living in the village in the form of two Vikings, Jessica and Peter. They were both beyond awesome.
Real life Vikings. Photos: Kate Wiseman
Talking with them was by far the best part of our trip. They told us about the work they do at the Viking reserve—they’re part of a small group of paid employees—as well as what goes on at the reserve after hours.
People who live in the community are members of a Viking Association in Sweden, and while there is no entrance exam, joining a Viking community is tantamount to enrolling in an immersive program in Viking history, culture, and traditions. The members work together on projects to improve the community, and they have even built all their own houses. Everyone has their own specialty—Jessica’s is carpentry, and Peter’s is as a blacksmith—but they end up exchanging their knowledge with each other.
At night, the Vikings come together to make food according to recipes from the time and spend time together. Some people do crafts, while others sing. Storytelling is a common source of entertainment. People come and people go, and the community is especially small during the winter months.
As the two kept talking, I couldn’t help but feel that we were having a discussion with people from another age. Even though some of the members of the Viking community at Fotoviken have day jobs and commitments in “the real world,” the world that more dedicated Vikings like Jessica and Peter live in is real: overlapping with our lives, and yet somehow separate. It’s hard to believe that people willingly choose to live on a windy bluff by the sea in Sweden, but they do, and you can hear the pleasure they take in having chosen a simple, deliberate, and yet undeniably labor-intensive lifestyle.
Although the buildings and exhibition at Foteviken were interesting, I left more impressed by the people and the spirit of the Viking Reserve than anything else. Before we went, I thought there was a strong chance that the experience would be totally kitschy, and I was both glad and surprised to be met with people who were more earnest than anything else. A little crazy, granted, but earnest in their craziness.
Viking beer! Photos: Kate Wiseman and Steve Marr
Imagine our happiness when we realized we could wrap up our successful day with a Foteviken Viking beer and a salmon pie! (Extreme happiness.) For future visitors, the beer was really sour (authentically so? who knows!) and probably not worth the money, but it had runes on the label, so it was still a satisfying purchase. Skål to the Vikings!