Keiller’s Park and Ramberg
My local park, just down the street, is a place of trees, rocks, wind and colour. I see it daily from my window, and in this season, daily see the colours shift and change. The sunlight and the wind, but also the seasons. Autumn is advancing.
The park surrounds our local not-quite-a-mountain that is crowned by a flagstaff with halyards that snap and slap in the wind. On flag days and high days, the flagstaff bends and sings as our blue and yellow flag flies out in the wind.
The not-quite-a-mountain is Ramberg. Berg as in mountain, Ram as in ramn or ravn, the Old Norse name for raven. Either because the berg was once a home for ravens or because it looks raven-black against the sky. Or, I suppose, both.
I go with the raven-black myself, since Ramberg can still look very black against the rising autumn sun, but I’ve never yet seen a raven there. (Though I’m told they used to be common on the southern side of the mountain and still sometimes do build nests.)
Why “not-quite-a-mountain”? Well, I know the definition of “mountain” is very subjective, but the highest point is only 87 metres above sea level. That doesn’t seem really high enough. On the other hand, there are no other peaks higher than that close by, and it’s so rocky and some parts of it are so sheer it gives the impression of being higher than it is.
Ramberg has been here a while, long enough to have a Viking name. The park, though, that’s just a hundred years old. We celebrated its birthday earlier in the month, which is when many of these photos were taken.
A hundred and two years ago the owner, James Keiller, presented Ramberg and the land around to the Gothenburg city council. His wish was for the land to be used in perpetuity as a park for the citizens of Gothenburg. It took a couple of years to get the park in order, but the grand opening was in October 1908, and that’s the anniversary we have just celebrated.
James Keiller was the son of Alexander Keiller, a Scottish immigrant to Gothenburg, who started an iron foundry here in the 1840s. By the end of the century, the foundry had grown into Götaverken, the largest of the shipyards in the city and briefly (early in the 20th century) the largest shipyard in the world.
The foundry started life on the south bank of the river, west of the old city centre, but the Keillers saw the potential in the marshy land on the opposite side of the river around Ramberg. They bought the land cheaply, drained it and built their shipyards. Later, secure in his wealth and property, James Keiller could play the role of liberal patron and donated the bits of land he couldn’t use on the rocky shoulders of the little mountain.
Ramberg has two peaks, the flagstaff peak with its wide views over city and the river out to the sea. The lower peak is called Ättestupen (roughly “the relative drop”) in the belief that it was from there the Vikings used to throw their elderly relatives. This is probably a 19th century invention. Probably. Hopefully.
Between the two peaks is the widest, flat shoulder on Ramberg where the park itself was laid. In fact, long before the Keillers appeared on the scene, housing and boat construction and the demand for firewood had denuded Ramberg of its trees. The local people’s practice of letting their cattle and sheep browse on the common land meant that no trees grew back. It wasn’t until the land was enclosed by private landlords that trees started to return.
In the 1850s another immigrant entrepreneur, Peter Dickson, gave money so a local school could buy trees to plant in the area that is now the park. After Keiller’s donation, this forested area was re-fashioned into an “English” park (though with Swedish “national romantic” elements). Most of the trees on the wild sides of Ramberg, though, the ones I admire daily from my window, they are self-seeded. Birch, beech pine and oak. As you see from these pictures, I was particularly taken by the oak trees when I went out, the day before the celebrations, to take a few pictures.
In the event, the celebrations lasted three days, and we had decent weather for at least one and a half of them.
On Friday at midday the celebrations kicked-off with speeches (among others, from David Keiller, descendant of James and Alexander), and the unveiling of a new sculpture for the park.
The sculptor calls them “The Three Graces” and they are supposed to call to mind the cranes that used to work in the harbour and the ship yards. At least a couple of the older people who were among the crowd at the unveiling prefer to think of them as workers from the shipyard, which is a fair interpretation. Personally, I think they look like giraffes.
There was a piper – bagpiper that is – (who had some problems starting and finishing his tunes) and a very serious looking drummer. A whole crowd of people from around about including kids from the local primary school who had been “doing a project” on the park and the Keillers.
The sun came out and, all in all, it was a nice day.
Celebrations continued the day after at the top of the hill
At 6 p.m. on Saturday 4th October the weather gods decided they were tired of holding back. The wind picked up and short but intense rain showers blew horizontally in our faces. There was to be a second opening ceremony. The previous midday’s affair was obviously too soft for real Gothenburgers.
So we waited, as the rain lashed us and the wind snapped the flag overhead, for Göran Johansson, to open the proceedings. The local (non-socialist) press like to describe Göran Johansson as “Gothenburg’s strong man”. As the leader of the Social Democrats on the city council, he’s run the city for years and is a canny politician.
He’s also a good public speaker (when he has a script). I’ve heard him a few times and his speech on this occasion was quite up to par. In particular he stressed the important contribution to Gothenburg made by immigrants throughout its history. (This is an important truth that at least one extreme right-wing political party are trying to fudge. The Sweden Democrats have called for Gothenburg to be “returned” to its natural 100% Swedish state. They may well get a toe-hold in the local council at the next election.)
Then Göran Johansson had to ad lib in response to some questions from the master of ceremonies, Harald Treutiger (a TV personality), and that didn’t work out quite as well. (Repetitive.)
The opening ceremony also involved Göran Johansson helping to rivet two pieces of iron together. In memory of the shipyards I think and in recognition of his own past as a metal worker. By then, it was nearly dark and a light show that had been set up on the mountain was starting up. Cold, wet and hungry, I decided the celebrations could get along without me, so I headed on home.
I missed the male voice choir of retired ship builders from Götaverken (though I think I caught some of them in my photos), I missed breakdancing by Octagon Crew, I missed Åsa Fång singing Piaf and someone else walking on fire. I missed the fireworks (well, I saw a corner of them from my window, but I’m sure they’d have been more dramatic from up on the hill.
I was happy to get indoors.
The next day it rained pretty much all the time. Coward that I am I stayed home in the warm. I did make coffee for my parents-in-law though, when they came by. They were both up on the hill for day three as they had been for days one and two. For both of them, but especially for Ulla, my mother-in-law, Keiller’s Park and Ramberg have an importance that goes beyond my mild curiosity and current pleasure. Ulla grew up in Rambergstan, the part of town closest to the west side of Ramberg, and went to primary school in Kvillestan, on the east side of the park, climbing the hill and walking through the park in both direction twice a day.
I don’t suppose any of the kids who go to Ramberg school now make the same journey. Their parents drive them, I expect. The park has a reputation for not being entirely safe. There was a murder committed here ten years ago (satanic, homophobic) and the reputation hangs over the park still.
A pity. There’s so much beauty here and so much variety.
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