Gothenburg’s Haga district, from pariah to bohemia

As development occurs, once wasted and derelict areas get reinvigorated, that’s the best of development. Then there are times when the narrative is more infuriating – shady estates give way to the profit motive and poor districts are completely taken over to build more meccas to capitalism. Then there is the story of Haga.

Even before Avenyn was created in Gothenburg, there was Haga. It was established as a suburb in the 1700 century for the growing city that wasn’t able to hold more people. The establishment of the suburb included a legal clause that allowed the government to demolish the whole district if it needed to for various reasons (sieges, government repossession etc). The law was used sparingly (only once to build a defensive causeway linking the city to the fortress next to the suburb. As Gothenburg became a more industrial location, more and more working class individuals moved into the city and the complexion of the Haga suburb became entrenched as a working class district. As more and more workers came to the city, a housing shortage beckoned and newer housing districts had to be built. The larger district and the decline of the maritime trade industry in Gothenburg led to the decline of Haga – the population size decreased, public works were closed, the place became a shady slightly slum.

A plan was introduced in 1962 which advocated the complete demolition of the district, buildings went down. Unable to stomach the destruction, the locals organised, forming the Haga Group in 1970 which strove to preserve the heritage of the area. The organisation managed to organise pressure on the authorities and slow down demolitions and ended up helping the builders restore buildings that have been destroyed beyond repair. Those were years of confusion and debate. Even into the 1980s there was still a lot to the future of the district that had yet to be settled.

The original founding of the city as a suburb for those who could afford it gave the district its distinctively 19th century feel, the decades of confusion has resulted in a gentrified, romanticised fika and fashion location, sold on tourist brochures and websites as a must see in town (here and here too).

I have to say though that the romanticisation of the past when done well does make the experience very idyllic and relaxing, and the Haga district does it very well.

The 19th century wooden buildings, laid out in two parallel columns is pleasing on the eye. The buildings with their similar height and the wide cobble-stone pathways running between these columns are intimate and calming.

There’s also some fun to be had with the largest cinnamon bun in the land, the Haga Cinnamon Bun sold first at the Cafe Husaren and later at other cafes. It’s the size of my face!

I did not try it, but from what I read it seems that the bun is more a novelty than a delicacy. It’s much harder to make high quality food when it is large in size, ensuring the bun is fully cooked on the inside without overcooking on the outside gets more difficult the larger the buns get. Still, I’d give it a shot when I next go back to Gothenburg.

I’m a little tempted to say that this place is gentrification done right.



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