Can you see the people near the bottom
of the magnificent Vasa Warship?
There were so many things that impressed me about Sweden but one of the most fun to experience was that a couple of the top tourist attractions in Stockholm all involve human mistakes. And the Swedes are OK with that! They not only don't hide them, they tell you the fun stories behind each one.
The most prominent human mistake on display in Sweden is the Vasa Warship Museum. A couple of hundred years ago, King Gustavas of Sweden wanted to go raise hell in Poland and had one fine warship built for himself to use invading Polish harbors. When he had it built, he spared no expense in putting all kinds of colorful, scary carvings on it intending, of course, to have Polish sailors peeing in their boots when they saw it coming. The Swedish king wanted to use it to sink every Polish ship in their harbor and block all activity.
showing how the ship was painted in
full color that
conveyed the King's might
When a strong wind hit it shortly after launch, the ship leaned enough to one side that water starting pouring into the open windows used for the cannons. It sailed all of 20 minutes before sinking, blocking the Swedish harbor, not the Polish one.
Three hundred years later, a Swedish archeologist decided that Sweden needed to bring the ship up from the depths of the mud and now the whole thing is on display. I'm not a guy, but when I entered the museum and saw this giant, gorgeous instrument of war, even I got a testosterone rush. It was 17th century shock and awe.
Scary and beautiful carvings
on the back of the ship
sans their color
Hearing about how bad math doomed the ship reminded me of Henri Petroski's wonderfully readable book about the role of failure in design called "To Engineer is Human." Doctors bury their mistakes, but poor shipbuilders, builders and engineers have to experience all of their failures publicly. VASA museum tour guides are very used to the giggles that come out of tourist mouths like mine as we contemplated how embarrassing it all must have been.
I ask you though, hasn't the Swedish bravery in showcasing their mistake given that warship a higher purpose? Kids, look what happens when you don't do your math homework!
You might also enjoy these other posts on Sweden:
A Week In Sweden
Daydreaming at Stockholm City Hall
Visiting the Nobel Museum
Visiting Sweden: If This is Socialism, Sign Me Up!
What Idea(s) Captured Your Imagination in 2010?
The Swedish Tourist Attraction that Didn't Attract Me
If It Were My Home: Comparing Sweden to the United States