Stockholm Långholmen, from prison to oasis

We walked out of Hornstull station to the bus stop, “I love this route man,” said my travel companion, “the view is amazing.”

Our bus crossed the bridge and a beautiful visage passed by me two columns of trees line the Lake Malaren and open up to a vista with the Gamla Stan and City Hall in the distance.

The bus zoomed past, too fast to enjoy the view in front of me. I had to go back there to check it out. It took a couple of months, but a free weekend presented itself. It was the middle of Autumn, the trees were in their most glorious yellow bloom. I had to make a trip down.

This is Långholmen island. It is a beautiful island in the heart of Stockholm, one of the greenest and most calming ones.

The island was populated with old couples on a stroll date, young tourist taking pictures and dogs walking their owners…

So it was surprising that this oasis of calm was once known as the site of a prison – the largest one in the city.

Langholmen Prison Hotel 1Source

The oasis did not come about until the prison was built. The island was originally rocky and barren, in the 19th century prisoners were made to dredge the mud from the the waterways around it. The barren soil became fertile soil and exotic flora thrived on the island especially after various seeds were brought in by traders and merchant ships making their way into the main island of Gamla Stan.

The Långholmen prison existed on the island until 1975 and in 1989 was reopened as a 112 room hotel. But then again, Swedish prisons aren’t really what we think they are. The Nordic region has some of the most counter-intuitive prisons around – it is for rehabilitation and not punishment. And recidivism rates are also much lower.

Contrary to feeling walled in, walking around the island gave me a hugely freeing sensation. I wasn’t locked on an island, I was roaming and cavorting with nature.

It was calming to sit and watch the boats and cars go across the bridge. Here was nature in her beauty, nonchalant in her gait as humans stream past her about their lives. She looks at their serious faces knowing that in the grand scheme of life these serious things are barely anything to bother about.

And here I was, privileged to sit with her and watch as others go about life.

 This is nature to be enjoyed, its effect more powerful than what I can write.



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