Reflections on the ABBA Museum

Longtime ABBA music fan Kristin Lund visited the newly opened and already famed museum with high expectations and shares her honest reflections.

There’s been a lot of anticipation for the new ABBA museum in Stockholm. I’m usually the last to know about things but even I heard about its creation and imminent opening over a year ago. The ABBA museum opened on May 7, 2013 near Gröna Lund on the island of Djurgården in Stockholm. I got the chance to go in early June. The tickets (195 Kronor/$30 per person) are sold with 15 minute “slot times” designed to avoid long wait times. This means that if you buy a ticket for between 5:15 and 5:30, then you need to enter the museum during that 15 minute slot.

No Cash Accepted

The museum prides itself on not accepting cash—part of band member Björn Ulvaeus’ vision of a cashless society that he explains in a somewhat roundabout way here. If you ask me, Sweden has already arrived at an almost cashless society…people even pay for their 20 kronor ($3) sodas at 7-11 with a debit card. I don’t find the idea particularly traveler-friendly since sometimes foreigners don’t want to use their credit cards in other countries.

On the night I went, I had a pre-purchased ticket printed out but I purchased an audio tour at the ticket counter. They are available only in Swedish or English. I found this surprising because even while standing there, I heard people asking if the tour was available in German or Japanese. Later on I would understand that the audio tour consisted mostly of the band members reminiscing. I realized that it may be limited to those languages because those are the languages the band members speak.

You can’t expect Björn to reminisce in Japanese if he doesn’t speak it.

Making My Grand Entrance

I found the entrance to the museum a little strange. I went through a turnstile after a machine scanned my ticket. Then I was funneled down an unexpectedly narrow staircase and into a small lobby containing bathrooms and small lockers for holding one’s purse or small backpack. If you have a briefcase or a larger bag, the lockers aren’t going to work. Strollers have to stay outside but you can use one of the museum’s strollers.

I finally found the entrance to the actual exhibits; an unassuming door that put me into a small theater where I gathered there would be an introductory movie. Confused, I stepped through the next door and before I could reverse my steps, the door to the theater mechanically closed and I was officially uninvited to the documentary by Jonas Åkerlund about Gamleby Folkpark where ABBA played in 1975.

I forged ahead.

The exhibits are laid out in small rooms with no windows (remember, the museum is in a basement with tight spaces — something you should be aware of if you’re claustrophobic).

I turned on my audio guide (40 Kronor/$6 to rent), a nifty-looking device that I held up to my ear like a cellphone after passing it over a beacon in front of specially designated exhibits. The problem was that there were speakers that announced information about the displays when you were standing in front of them. This, combined with the crowd’s ambient noise in the small rooms, made it very hard to hear the audio guide that, as I mentioned earlier, mainly offered supplementary information via interviews with the band members.

Because of the above, I would advise against renting the audio guide.

What Level is Your Fandom?

I discovered, pretty early on my trip through the museum that I am a fan of ABBA music but not particularly of the band itself. I found I just wasn’t that interested in how Benny and Björn met or who divorced whom and when even though I love their music. Perhaps I would be more into the band’s history if I grew up in Sweden in the 1970s. I’m an adult transplant from the US. After talking to native Swedes, I discovered that the personal story of ABBA was more appealing if you grew up at a time when Sweden leaned more to the left and there was nothing else like them on radio or TV.

The museum’s exhibits wind through lots of small rooms with mannequin displays of the band’s original costumes, guitars, the helicopter from their Arrival album cover, a number of interactive exhibits where you can play at being a band member, and lots more. At the end of the museum’s winding path is a room commemorating the history of modern Swedish music including artists such as Roxette and The Cardigans.

Exiting Stage Right

To exit the museum, I had to go back up the same narrow stairs while fighting a new group coming down. They looked at me like I was in the wrong place but there was no other way to leave the museum and I found myself wondering what the fire evacuation plan could possibly be.

I was ready to part with some cash in the gift shop just because the museum is so uniquely Swedish and because it might be fun to own a little ABBA kitsch. Alas, I didn’t find a single thing I thought might be fun to own. I think they could have come up with some clever products than were on offer that night. With lyrics like “Can you hear the drums, Fernando?” and “Put on your white sombrero”, there are lots of possibilities.

All in all, I found the museum average. It feels very traitorous to my love of most things Swedish. I say “Thank you for the music!” to ABBA but that’s about all I personally need to know about the band.

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Author: Kristin Lund

Kristin Lund grew up in the Boston area, lived for 20 years in San Francisco, and now finds herself an American in Stockholm. She’s written everything from Star Wars books to magazine articles to legal briefs. She enjoys exploring the Stockholm archipelago and counts dog sledding in Sälen and beach explorations on Öland as some of her top Swedish experiences.

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