Uniquely Swede Moment #4 – Come the apocalypse you’ll find me in our bike shed

A few weeks ago my friend Anna McAvoy sent me a link to an article about things to look out for in Sweden, one of which was nuclear shelters in the city centre. The location of these shelters are indicated by these signs,

Pic 1

So where do you think I spotted the first sign? That’s right, on the wall outside the entrance to our building (the pic above in fact). Believe it or not,  our block of flats double as a nuclear shelter… Or rather, the room next to the entrance does. Now to be fair the door should have been a bit of a giveaway,

Pic 2

The irony of course is that to get to the shelter you have to get through our main entrance, though I suppose in the event of a nuclear apocalypse smashing a glass panel is going to the be the least of your worries.

So let’s assume you do make it into the bunker, what do you think you’d find in there? Gas masks? Tinned food? Water filtration kits? The tools to rebuild civilisation?… How about 30 pedal bikes?

Pic 3

That’s right, if you do manage to survive the nuclear onslaught, you are going to have to rebuild society through the medium of pedal power.

This did get me thinking though, given that most motorised vehicles will have been destroyed in the blast, perhaps pedal power will be a priceless commodity? From the ashes rise Lycra cycle shorts! Sir Bradley Wiggins for President of the New World!

Anyway, to give you the history. Apparently the Swedish government started building shelters during the Second World War, but really stepped things up with the threat of nuclear attack during the Cold War. The ‘John Shelter’ built in 1955 was the world’s first fully finished atomic bomb civilian shelter, whilst the ‘Catherine rock shelters’ (1957) could provide space for 20,000 people… Both are currently used as car parks, which somewhat disrupts my plans for post apocalyptical world dominance via the medium of pedal bikes…

In the late 1970s the government changed from building large population shelters to smaller ones called ‘normal shelters’ in large urban centres (like ours). The shelters in peacetime can be used for civilian purposes, usually as a storage room … or bike shed. But the property owner is responsible for turning the shelter back into use within 48 hours should the worst happen.

Rather cool, in 1961 the city ran a mock evacuation drill called ‘Operation Stockholm’. The idea was to test the practical organization of a large scale evacuation. 30,000 (!) people took part but when chaos and standstill traffic jams failed to materialize the exercise was deemed a failure.

‘Stockholm Magazine’ apparently caught the mood when it said it resembled a “moderately long Sunday outing in glorious spring weather with good food and nice entertainment.” …  basically questioning if society would really react as it did if atomic bombs we ACTUALLY falling over Stockholm (I may not be an expert but I suspect not).

Headline on the front page of The Aftonbladet newspaper in 1961 which translates to, ‘The weather is too nice to evacuate!’

Headline on the front page of The Aftonbladet newspaper in 1961 which translates to, ‘The weather is too nice to evacuate!’

Rather worryingly, if you worry about such things, at the last count there are about 14,500 shelters of varying sizes with space for 1.7 million people in the Stockholm County area. Which means approximately 190,000 people, or 10% of the population, would not fit in the shelters available.

So there you have it. Come the end, I’ll be in my properly turned out shelter. But if you are in the unfortunate 10%, please feel free to help yourself to one of the bikes which will have been dumped out on the road and make a head start on building your every own ‘post-apocalyptic bike empire’.

If you aren’t dead of course.

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