music

Stockholm, Sweden: ABBA The Museum

After spending most of an unusually hot summer working in an even hotter brewery (on days when we had the mash kettle heating and the pasteurisation tanks on, it got up to nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit in there (37 Celsius)), boy, was I ready for a holiday (actually, I quit my awful job so now every day’s a holiday until I find something new, which hopefully won’t take as long as it took to find that job)!  And preferably, a holiday somewhere relatively cool, because I really do not cope well with heat, which pretty much left out everything south of Scandinavia and the Baltic states. I initially quite liked the idea of Estonia and Finland, but we couldn’t find any flight deals, so Stockholm it was!  Which actually worked out perfectly, because the weather was pleasingly cool (in the shade, almost too cold without a jacket), and it meant I got to visit one of my dream destinations: ABBA The Museum!

  

You might think I’m being sarcastic, because maybe I don’t really seem like the sort of person who would love ABBA, but I genuinely do (I’m also way more into Eurovision than I should be, which is probably also ABBA’s fault). And though I knew that ABBA The Museum would be super overpriced (I mean, c’mon, you can tell from the name alone), I didn’t even care. If I was going to Stockholm, nothing was going to stop me from seeing it.

  

Based on the crowds I’d seen the night before when we walked around the Old Town, I knew July was prime tourist season, and I wanted to ensure that other tourists didn’t ruin my ABBA experience, so we got there right after it opened, even though we had to skip the free breakfast at the hotel to do so (and they had Swedish pancakes on that buffet, so it was a sacrifice, though I made up for it by eating obnoxious amounts of them the next two mornings). This was a smart move, because there were only a handful of visitors in the museum, and we didn’t have to wait for any of the activities, but by the time we left, there was already a queue to get in (it’s located on the same island as a bunch of other museums, so it attracts loads of visitors). And boy, was it ever expensive!  250 SEK, which is about 22 quid. A LOT more than I’d normally drop on a museum, but when in Stockholm…

  

Since the entire museum was in Swedish and English, we did not rent audio guides, but simply headed into the museum, which began on the floor below the admissions hall with an exhibition about Eurovision, including an array of famous costumes worn at the competition from Sweden and beyond (most notably the hideous tutu/blazer combo Celine Dion wore when she won it for Switzerland in 1988). There was also a Eurovision quiz, a chance to sing along with some Eurovision hits in front of everyone (which I was way too embarrassed to do), and some screens where you could watch videos of seemingly all the Eurovision grand final competitors, maybe since the competition started(?). I was too eager to get to the actual ABBA bit to find out how far back their Eurovision archives went, but I did stay to watch one of my favourite Eurovision contestants in recent memory – Sunstroke Project and their infamous thrusting saxophonist, representing Moldova. They originally competed in 2010 (video here), and though they didn’t come close to winning, they were such a fan favourite that they came back again this year, much to my delight!

  

After getting my fill of terrible Moldovan music, I ran down another flight of stairs into the museum proper, and it was pretty much an instant ABBA assault (as I was hoping). It opened with a giant semi-circular movie screen showing clips of all ABBA’s hits, and there were TV screens in pretty much every room blasting out more ABBA. The first gallery was really the only traditional museum room with lots of text. There was a biography for each member of ABBA before they all got together, as well as a few key ABBA artefacts, like the guitar Bjorn used when they won Eurovision in 1974 (which is what really put ABBA on the map).

  

The next room, in addition to containing a ’70s style crime against wallpaper, held the infamous ABBA phone. Supposedly, only the members of ABBA have the number, so if it ever rings and you pick it up, you will be talking to either Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny, or Frida, but somehow I highly doubt that it has ever actually rung. And if it had when I was there, I imagine it would have been a very awkward conversation, because what the hell am I going to say to ABBA anyway?

  

It was the next section where things really started to get fun. In addition to ABBA’s recording studio (either a replica, or they dismantled the whole damn thing and reassembled it, I didn’t really pay attention), it had three main interactive stations. The clever thing about this museum is that you had to keep hold of your ticket the whole time, and scan it for access to the activities, meaning everyone only got one try at everything and they couldn’t stand there hogging things all day!  Also, everything you did was recorded and loaded onto your own personal private page on the museum website, accessed by entering in your ticket number, which made for cringe-worthy viewing after we left. The first activity was simply to mix one of ABBA’s songs, and try to make it sound as good as the actual version, which was not easy.

  

Then, there were karaoke booths where you could sing along with ABBA songs to see if you had the chops to become the fifth member of ABBA (though not really, because they’re broken up). Fortunately, these were fairly private booths with a curtain that closed behind you, so I felt free to belt it out. As much as I would love to be the fifth member of ABBA (we would be called JABBA, obviously), my singing voice is terrible and I know it, so I don’t see it happening. I made up for my disappointment by going on to the next activity, which scanned my face and then “dressed” me in some of ABBA’s most famous outfits. I don’t think I can pull off Agnetha’s number, but I genuinely quite like Frida’s dress and hair on me (on the right, above). Maybe it’s time for a new hairstyle?

  

After walking past a hall of more ABBA-artefacts, we entered a rather confusing room which was dark and contained a stage. I think we were supposed to get up on the stage and dance around with ABBA holograms or something, but there was a women who worked there who was standing in the corner, ignoring us and staring at her phone, and since I didn’t really know what to do, and didn’t particularly want her watching me while I did whatever it was, we skipped it and moved on to the next section.

   

Which somewhat made up for missing the holograms (or whatever), because we got to be in an ABBA music video (we picked “Chiquitita” solely because of the creepy snowman in the background). And let me tell you, watching the video of us halfheartedly dancing around is way more cringing than listening to the karaoke, even (see above for evidence of my dancing ability, or lack thereof). Still fun though.

  

There was also an ABBA quiz, wax figures of ABBA, and some creepy ABBA puppets that came from some music video I’ve never seen before. The ABBA part of the museum concluded with a gallery of the actual costumes they wore on stage, and though many of them were remarkably ugly, I did dig the fox dress and of course the cat outfits, which were for sale in t-shirt version in the gift shop; and finally, there was a brief acknowledgement that the group had indeed broken up (and gotten divorced) long ago, though this clearly wasn’t something the museum was trying to dwell on (I guess ABBA lives forever in here).

  

The museum also contained a temporary exhibition about the musical artists that have performed at Grona Lund over the years (an amusement park that is literally next door to the museum), but as I have never been to Grona Lund (it was expensive just to get in, and then you had to pay for rides on top of it), I wasn’t terribly interested. I should also note that the museum contained the only clean public toilets that I encountered in Sweden, possibly because I was one of the first people to use them that day, but still, take advantage if you need to, because the other options on Museum Island are grim.

  

The gift shop felt more like a merch table at a concert than a museum gift shop, with prices to match, but they did have some excellent ABBA shirts, and I splurged and bought myself one of the aforementioned cat shirts (Frida’s version, simply because the yellow cat was derpier than the blue one, and thus obviously superior). So counting the shirt, I ended up spending about 50 quid here (not counting Marcus’s ticket), which is definitely a lot of money, but relative to what we paid to see some of the other museums in Stockholm, I can’t really complain too much (and at least I left with a wearable souvenir!). It might be light on content, but the interactive elements genuinely were a blast (except for the one I skipped on account of the unhelpful employee), and if you’re an ABBA fan, I think this is a must!  Non-fans can of course skip it, because you probably won’t get much out of it, though even Marcus admitted that he had fun here, just maybe not 22 quid’s worth of fun. I’m so happy I finally got to go though, and it did very much live up to expectations (including the overpriced part, but at least I was expecting it, so I wasn’t that bothered). 4/5.

 

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Berlin: The Ramones Museum

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Today’s my birthday, so I’m going to celebrate with a post on a museum that I would have loved to visit a decade ago (just to remind myself how old I’m getting, jeez!).  Back in the day, in my teens and early 20s, I was a full-fledged punk rocker.  While I’ve probably still got the attitude problem (and unfortunately, the tattoos) to show for it, I no longer rock some of the more, er, colourful looks of my past (I’ve had hair in every colour of the rainbow, including a bright red spiky do, a blue mohawk, and in the most ill-advised moment of all, blonde dreadlocks.  The memory of the dreads lives on to haunt me in my passport picture, which is sadly still valid for another three years).  I also gave up on most of the music (especially that awful D-Beat crap and anything else that was pretty much just yelling over noise), though I do retain a fondness for some of the bands with actual lyrics, including the Ramones (yes, just repeating “Sheena is a punk rocker” over and over again counts as lyrics.  At least you can sing along to that!).  This is all my way of explaining why I was excited when I found out Berlin was home to the world’s only museum devoted to the Fast Four.

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The museum was located in a bar/cafe a few streets away from our hotel, near Hackescher Markt.  You pay either 3.5 euros for admission, or 5 euros for admission plus a drink (cheap beer or fancy soda), which means that you can walk around the museum drinking a beer if you choose, in true punk style. They give you a Ramones badge as your ticket – if you manage to hang on to it you get admission for life (though I have never been able to hang onto a badge for more than a couple weeks, those stupid cheap pins always come undone and fall off).  This is less of a traditional museum and more just a collection of Ramones memorabilia, so there’s absolutely no point in visiting here unless you already know and like the Ramones (I used to read all those punk biographies back in the day, like DeeDee’s Lobotomy and Please Kill Me, so I’ve got a decent amount of Ramones trivia floating around in my cranium somewhere, even if it’s not a part of my brain I normally access).  Also, everything is in English, with absolutely no German, which is a little odd, considering the museum is in Berlin, but obviously wasn’t a problem for me.

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With the death of Tommy Ramone just a month or so ago, all of the original Ramones are now dead, and though the museum hadn’t had time to set up anything for Tommy when I visited, there were memorial sections for all the other members that contained a mix of biographical details and photo collages.  Most of the museum just consisted of hundreds of photos plastered over every available surface, with terse yet humorous captions provided by their friend/manager Danny Fields.  There was an outfit, or some clothing anyway, from each Ramone, as well as loads of albums and other random crap.

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There were also lots of lists – set lists, lists of tour stops, and lists of their catering requirements; I found the last item particularly intriguing.  Who was drinking all that fresh milk and YooHoo? (the thought of drinking milk before going on a hot stage in a leather jacket makes me feel ill).  I get why they didn’t want Soft-Baked Pepperidge Farm cookies though, those are offensively artificial (not that the traditional crunchy ones aren’t, I guess, but they taste better.  Especially Milanos, mmm).

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A back room (which was even hotter than the rest of the place, because it was in Berlin after all, why would there be air conditioning?) showed videos – it appeared to include a mix of clips from Rock n Roll High School (which is just as terrible as you’d imagine, but pretty much required viewing for any budding punk along with The Great Rock n Roll Swindle and the dreadful Suburbia), and the story of how Joey lost Linda, the love of his life, to Johnny, who married her (which caused quite a few problems within the band, as you can imagine).

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Appropriately enough, since it was in Berlin, much of the museum was devoted to their European tours (and how much they supposedly hated Europe, which I think was at least partially tongue-in-cheek).  I learned that Bono, of all people, was good friends with the band, and sent Joey gifts when he was dying from cancer (which I guess means Bono has done some non-douchey things in his life, though nothing will induce me to like U2).  The museum also contained a stage,where I guess you could either pretend to rock out, or just sit and have a read, since it was stocked with comfy chairs and magazines.

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Obviously, since it was just a shitload of photographs, and more reminiscent of a poor man’s Rock n Roll Hall of Fame than anything else (I’m from Cleveland, and I’ve only been to the real one once because it is so damn expensive, and not at all worth the money), it wasn’t the most amazing museum I’ve ever visited, but it was nice to revisit the music of the Ramones (which was playing in the museum throughout the visit, as you’d want and expect) and some of my misspent youth.  The atmosphere was pretty chill (though not literally, it was boiling in there), and it seemed like a good place to have a drink and enjoy a walk through the history of one of the most influential bands in the history of punk.  3/5, for the nostalgia factor.