Elias Drakenberg is telling us how the world keeps shifting but as I gaze down on Stockholm from a giddy height it is the shifting tides within myself that I battle. I’m struck with vertigo, so not feeling too good despite being securely clipped to a narrow steel walkway encircling the roofs of the criminal courts (Svea Hovrätt) and the old parliament building on the island of Riddarholmen.
I feel I might fall, which is great pity as I have a unique pigeon’s eye view of the Swedish capital even though nausea threatens to swamp the serendipity of the moment. I steady myself with some deep breathing, relax my stranglehold on the handrail and focus intensely on the ancient shingles of a nearby rooftop. All this time Elias talks further about ever-shifting Stockholm.
Much like Venice, this marvellous city is built on many islands, 14 in total, and tectonically speaking is forever, subtly, on the move. Which is why, far below us, the precinct called Slussen must soon undergo extensive reconstruction.
Slussen is a complex concrete spiral network of roads and railway bridges that connect the city centre to the neighbouring island of Sodermalm. The roads and rail tracks are built over a lock that links the Baltic Sea with Lake Malaren. Elias points to a whirlpool swirling in the water beneath the railway bridge. “See where the water disappears beneath the city,” he says.
Re-engineering Slussen is a hot topic. So much so that Abba star Benny Andersson, a passionate opponent to the proposed scheme, recently insisted on the removal of the giant Abba “welcome to our hometown” poster at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, saying he didn’t want to be an advertisement “for a city that can’t see reason.”
I take another deep breath and we continue our tour, which sees us spend about 45 minutes on the rooftops of the city court and adjacent buildings. All participants wear a helmet and full-body harness and are clipped onto a steel wire throughout the walk.
Halfway through our walk we clamber from a roof into a tower, inside which we find a cosy room with marvellous views of Lake Malaren and Slussen. Elias says the room is a welcome break, with hot chocolate provided, when it’s snowing outside. The rooftop tour runs year-round, rain or shine, only ever being cancelled when it’s simply far too cold for comfort.
The second part of our aerial adventure sees us on a roof beside the lofty spires of adjacent Riddarholmen Church. Elias points out the towers in which Swedish royalty are buried. There are fabulous views in all directions and frequently we pause as Elias explains city history and points out landmark buildings that we can see in adjacent Gamla Stan (Old Town).
The final part of the walk involves traversing the topmost ridge of the courts building with no handholds. “You’re going to feel heroic at the end,” Elias says encouragingly. In truth, provided vertigo doesn’t win, this rooftop tour is the only chance of getting such a unique perspective on the city. I flunked the bravado test but time spent above the city is (forgive the pun) a high point of my Stockholm visit.