Reintroducing Ancient Vikings to the New World
By Sofie Kinnefors
The Old Norse or Viking culture still fascinates everyday citizens of the world. Many non-historical types still view these hard-sailing seafarers from the previous millennia as a pack of pirates, who dominated much of Scandinavia during the 8th to late 11th centuries.
Reputations die hard.
Much of what is remembered about the Vikings is wrapped in myth and stereotypes that for the most part portray an inaccurate reality of these North European traders, explorers and settlers. To set the record straight, Swedish Press interviewed Carina Englundh, the new CEO of Vikingaliv – a cultural and heritage museum in Stockholm.
“Our goal is for our visitors to experience what it feels like to be a Viking and to awaken their curiosity about the Viking Age,” said the new director of Vikingaliv. “Most people know what a Viking is, but few know anything about the Viking Age, including what everyday life looked like for the Vikings or what took place during their remarkable travels.”
Englundh admits many of the ancient seafarers we call Vikings were indeed fierce and earned their reputation for being skilled pirates, who often plundered their way through Europe, exploring Iceland, Greenland and even the North American continent a thousand years ago. Yet, there’s another picture of these Old Norse raiders. They were also skilled merchants, craftsmen and explorers. They were talented sailors and boat builders, who – when they found suitable land – formed colonies that eventually grew into cities.
It’s Englundh’s new job to separate myth from reality. “It is an incredibly exciting challenge to put Viking life on the map in Sweden and the world. We hope to continue awakening our visitors’ senses through vision, hearing, smell and taste so that the exhibits can be experienced as history and culture.”
As CEO since last December, she has used her degree in journalism and career background in sales/marketing and communications, to make the Viking Age real via interactive exhibits depicting Viking life during the Iron Age. Daily tours (in Swedish and English) are guided by staff members, many of whom are historians and archeologists.
“We differ from other heritage museums in Scandinavia because our welcoming staffers work hard to personalize Vikingaliv’s popular tours. That way returning guests don’t hear the same ‘ten-minute monologue’ ride after ride. Our motto at Vikingaliv is ‘togetherness’ – together we reach our goals. I thrive and feel best when our team work functions well, our employees grow and we see successful results.”
So, what qualifications do Vikingaliv and Englundh look for in a guide?
Englundh says the most importantthing besides knowledge and service is to give the visitor an experience out of the ordinary.
“Being personal, inspiring and happy are important qualities. Our guides must also be team players who look to the team and not just to the individual. Showing commitment and joy is very important!”
Vikingaliv hosted over 100,000 visitors last year, of whom about 35% were international – including lots of people from North America.
Viking Age is also rich in story-telling. Old myths are still popular in Norse literature.
“We’ve noticed that our American and Canadian visitors are particularlyinterested in Vikings in North America and the colonies. In addition, our international guests are also interested in female warriors and Nordic mythology.”
Screenings of HBO’s Vikings series have also attracted many North Americans visitors. “That’s why we’re answering a lot of questions about Viking hero Ragnar Lodbrok.”
Personally, Englundh likes tales about strong women and female warriors – so called shield-maidens. “I really enjoy hearing about characters from Norse literature, such as Sigrid Storråda and Brynhild – pagan women, who are head of the household and a strong voice in the family.”
Englundh’s favorite tour Ragn-frids Saga takes visitors on a ride through the everyday life of a Viking family.
“The whole ride is based on various sources, mainly from rune stones. Ragnfrid is based on a ‘Ragn-frid från Hyppinge,’ who has been written about on a rune stone. Sigrid is looselybased on ‘Sigrid Storråda’ and her unwillingness to marry. That’s what’s so awesome about the ride – it reflects how life of a Viking family might have looked like during the Viking Age. At the same time, the attraction became a bit more exciting when we mixed in several different characters.”
When Carina Englundh got a call from a recruiter last fall about an opportunity to take on the job as CEO at experience museum Vikingaliv, she did not hesitate. “I’ve always had a great interest in culture and was immediately curious about the assignment,” she says.
Englundh is a Stockholm native, who has also worked for The Cancer Foundation (Cancerfonden), The Swedish Postcode Lottery (Svenska Postkodlotteriet), multinational corporation JCDecaux and Taxi Stockholm. For inspiration, she continues to be curious, ask questions, read, listen and reflect.
What’s ahead for Vikingaliv?
“We plan to change the name of Vikingaliv to ‘The Viking Museum,’ a name which will be more accessible to foreign visitors.” She hinted that many of the exhibits will depict more Viking Age world travel and yes, the Vikings’ fighting tradition.
All photos courtesy of Vikingaliv.