Sweden's northernmost town
By Charlotte Hooij
When you open the door and you breathe in the cold arctic breeze, the hair in your nose freezes and you feel crisp air flowing through your body. Outside it is only -28 degrees, the inhabitants of Kiruna will tell you “that that’s not cold, -40 that’s cold.”
Even though Kiruna is haunted by its incredible temperatures, driving through the town's streets, you will most certainly be enchanted by its picturesque houses. They are decorated with hundreds of small red and yellow christmas lights. People are wearing at least three different layers of woolen clothes. Kiruna however, is not an ordinary town. This particular town has been established as a mining town. Situated on the edge of world's biggest and most modern underground Iron ore mine in the world. The truth is that Kiruna has to move. Literally pack up and go three kilometers east. Kiruna has to go, to prevent the town from collapsing and disappearing into the deep underground darkness of its mine.
When you find yourself walking through Kiruna you will be able to see the mine towering over the town from almost everywhere you are. This mine operated by LKAB has brought a lot of work opportunities to this remote place in Sweden. The mine is the centre of activity and will always be one of the main reasons that people move to Kiruna.
Who are the people of this town and is it that easy to simply move? Rebuilding a town is more then just moving buildings. It means moving the people, their memories, their history, their social life and most important- the place where they feel at home.
Börje, who now lives in a retirement home in Kiruna tells about his experiences working in the mine and says " I've worked with explosives, in the control room, in the visitors mine and at many other positions during my time in the mine." Even though being a miner seems for many a dangerous and literally dark job, Börje enjoyed very much working where he did. Telling that "I was never really afraid working in the mine and my time there was good. you had no thoughts about danger. You only did what they told you to do and trusted that will be safe".
Youth of Kiruna
The town like it is today will disappear and the youth of Kiruna will have to cope with this fact if they like it or not. This will however not spoil their everyday life right now. Dressed in futuristic spacesuit or superhero inspired clothes far away from the rest of the world, somewhere above the arctic circle, punk lovers gather. The younger generation of Kiruna organize concerts to bring like-minded people together.
Indigenous community of Sweden
In contradiction to the mine and its hyper modern way of working, you can also find the Sami in Kiruna, one of Sweden’s indigenous populations. Even though the Sami still live in a very traditional way and some of them still travel with the reindeer all year long. You can also find some of the sami population living a very modern way of life in Kiruna itself. The families that still travel with the reindeer mostly have a house somewhere near Kiruna so their children can still go to school and also learn about modern society.
The most important for the sami Children will always remain learning about the countless sami traditions. These traditions are passed on from parents to children and grandchildren and will be passed on for as long as possible. The Sami are fighting to make their nation, tradition and language stay alive to survive the influences of a modernizing society.
From far away places
Some tourists come from the other side of the world to experience the world famous northern lights and check that off their list of things to do. But not all who come from far away places come because of pleasure holidays. Kiruna is also a place which houses the ones that fled the war, refugees who came to Sweden. Because the immigration centers in Sweden have been deciding where every refugee will be housed, none of them knows where they will end up. The far north with is extreme conditions is one of those destinations. The climate, the people and the culture are far different then the conditions of where is home for these refugees.
Ali Reza Nazari is 15 years old and came from Afghanistan to Sweden one year ago. He now lives with a teachers of one of the local schools in Kiruna. Ali tells that, " After three months of living in Sweden one of my friends asked me why I still speak english. Now after a year, I speak Swedish very well and I can attend an ordinary Swedish school."
Explorers and expeditioners
The population of Kiruna aren't however only people who come to work in the mine, refugees or the ones who have been living here for generations. They are also explorers that come here because of the mesmerizing nature. Real wilderness, the calmness of the frozen lakes in winter, the midnight sun in summer and the mountainous landscapes just above the arctic circle are unique to this particular region.
Another reason for moving to Kiruna might be because you’re a dog sled enthusiast. You can easily get lost in the grace and silence of running with huskies. It can give some kind of freedom you can’t find anywhere else. Traveling through the white and amazingly calm landscape in the surroundings of Kiruna is for many some kind of meditation. The way the snow hasn’t been touched by anyone before you. The surroundings are dead silent. You don't hear anything but the breathing of the dogs. The wind is blowing through snow covered trees. That is what makes the dogsledding unparalleled and unique. The ones that are more professionalized in the sport, go on longer journeys, sleep in tipi’s and sleeping bags with just a fire and their dogs to keep warm at night.
The elderly are playing bingo at the retirement home, around one 'o clock in the middle of the week every week again the same game. Even though their existence today is a simple one. The older generation in Kiruna can see their city. The city they once built up being transformed and destroyed. Kiruna will never be the same again.
Kiruna is a very diverse place with a lot of different kinds of people. Everyone who came here, came here for a reason. It could be anything from mining to the love for nature and the outdoors to those who have fled the war, or simply the fact that you were born in a small village just outside of Kiruna and will represent the next generation of the sami population. Every single ordinary person in this small town has their own extraordinary story of how they started to live in this special town all the way up north.