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Scandinavia has undergone an upheaval in recent years. This is neither physical nor political, but cultural: caused by its writers. The detective novel boom that has occurred in the Nordic world has not just filled bookshelves, but has also raised interest in our North European neighbours. This literary and commercial effervescence was triggered by Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, published posthumously. In it, the investigator Mikael Blomkvist and his goth associate Lisbeth Salander travel through a Sweden full of bizarre occurrences and even stranger people. In a possible new future episode, they could do worse than looking into the unlikely case of the Stockholm funicular.

The railway is in perfect working order. The stations are still where the authorities left them, the gradual developments and modernizations have taken effect and the visitors to this city of 1.3 million inhabitants continue to be pleasantly surprised by its cleanliness and friendly atmosphere. The mystery is to be found along one of its railway lines. In recent years, the funicular tunnel between Liljeholmen and the Nybohov rise has had some unusual new residents. Dozens of abandoned soft toys hang from the walls, and now there is quite a community of them. It makes for a moving photo opportunity for those looking for an unusual selfie.

To find out the story behind it, we must go back to the start. Even so, all is conjecture, and nobody has all the answers. This underground world only appears in furtive photos and on websites dotted around the Web. Neither the city council nor the railway company has gone into any detail on the matter. According to AtlasObscura.com, it is not known why the first toy appeared, although it is supposed that the person who did it must have been either a worker or somebody with a careful plan, since whoever entered the tunnel would have needed to know the timetable and access points. What is known for certain is that passengers began to spot a rather battered soft toy. The train’s speed through the tunnel is slower than is usual for a local train, with the 230-metre stretch taking around two and a half minutes, so people had the opportunity to confirm the presence of the toy on successive journeys.

So far, nothing terribly out of the ordinary. It was just a little joke that, like some litter on a platform, would soon be removed. However, events took a different turn. Every so often more colourful little residents would be spotted. First a cow, then a worm, then a monkey. The herd began to attract attention, and photos turned up on social media. The authorities refused to comment. The only communication on the matter happened in 2012 when the train company stated it would remove the toys and place them in lost property. But citizen pressure soon made them stand down. So now, although any toys that fall near the rails are removed, the little community of cuddly animals has grown to around 30. Although we would need Blomkvist and Salander to say for sure.


“The toys being hung in the tunnel are ones that children have left behind. People’s reactions mean that cheerful faces can be seen decorating the Nybohov funicular,” says the above-mentioned website. Over the years, snapshots of the site have gradually begun appearing on applications like Pinterest and Instagram. Nothing like this has ever happened before anywhere on this railway network, begun in 1964, during the economic boom of the mid-20th century. At around this time the Swedish capital, the financial and political heart of a nation, half of whose inhabitants live in just three cities, was growing so much that the government introduced what was known as the Million Programme, a project to build a million new homes.

Later on, the transport network was extended, including this short stretch of railway. It rises 37 metres in less than a quarter of a kilometre. Practically the whole route passes through a concrete tunnel, and although it is funicular, the carriages are just like the city’s underground trains. For 30 Crowns (about three Euros) residents could now enjoy the luxury of public transport to and from their homes in this part of the city. Although the trains once had drivers, they are now automated. The ticket price has gone, too, and passengers ride for free. The reason for this is the city’s drive to boost public transport, reduce car use and with it the carbon dioxide emissions that are causing climate change. It is part of a wider plan being introduced over the course of several years that includes new bike parks, bike lanes in the city centre and the creation of green areas.

Perhaps this latest riddle, the mystery of the soft toys, could be considered as an unusual and anonymous contribution to a wider goal: the need to recycle what was once thrown away, to reuse objects that may still have a useful life ahead. It might also be read as a criticism of the disposable nature of our possessions. Meanwhile, we must wait until the person or persons responsible make themselves and their motives known. Perhaps the recent continuation of the Stieg Larsson saga will turn out to be an excellent opportunity for the protagonists to reveal themselves.

Photo: SgtElias – Shutterstock