Walkabout along Mäster Mikaels gata in the south hills of Stockholm

We start our walkabout from the Locks (Slussen) by riding the bus to Renstiernas Street and taking the stairs up to Cornelius Park. From here is the most stunning view of Old Town (Gamla Stan) and other parts of Stockholm’s attractive skyline.


Master Michael’s Street is in the eastern part of the South Hills (Södermalm) in Stockholm. It stretches from St. Catherine's Church (Katarina Kyrka) to Renstiernasgatan, via Cornelius Park at Glasswork’s Cliff (Glasbruks klippan). The origin of the neighborhood’s name, “Mäster Mikael,” has its roots with Michael Reissuer, the city executioner from 1635 to 1650; “mäster” was a common Swedish title for the executioner. Master Michael and his assistants performed executions on Galgberget (Stigberget), where they also caught stray pigs and dogs, and flayed horses.

Master Michael started his service on February 3, 1635 and his office lasted almost exactly 15 years. He worked so much during those years that he was able to acquire a house for his family near Renstiernas Street. In January 1650, Michael, who had previously been convicted of having harbored a man banished from the city, let Paul Andersson back in the city and his home. Andersson and Michael drank vodka and got into a fight. Michael retrieved a sword, and during the melee, Michael said, Andersson impaled himself on the blade. But the court did not believe him and on March 20, Michael's head fell for the blade and his life was history.

Walking east on Master Michael’s Street we see Katarina Kyrka in front of us, at Högbergsgatan 15 in eastern Södermalm, Stockholm. Named after Princess Catherine, Charles X's mother, it is the parish church of Katarina parish in the Diocese of Stockholm. It was completed the first time in 1695 but has since suffered two fires — the latest one in 1990 which caused it to close for repairs until 1995. Still one of the most beautiful churches in Stockholm, Katarina Kyrka is visible from downtown and is thus an important feature of Stockholm's skyline.

After a short visit to the church I walk back along Master Michael’s Street and inhale the very spirit that lives in this area in Stockholm. I also make some shorter visits to the neighboring streets to interesting buildings, like the small house tagged on to a larger one at Nytorgsgatan. I wonder who was in charge of city planning and building codes at the time.

The author Ludvig Nordström (1882-1942), perhaps best known for his social reporting on “Lort-Sverige” (Dirt-Sweden), settled in Södermalm between his wanderings around the country. He fell in love with the area around Katarina Kyrka, above all the green areas adjacent to Master Michael Street and among the shanty houses (kåkbebyggelsen) in the area, formerly inhabited by fishermen and craftsmen.

Facing east we see a set of old houses that tell fascinating stories about how people lived in the area. In the early 17th to 18th centuries, the area had sweeping poverty. It was plagued by icy, penetrating fog from the ocean below the south hills. The houses did not have proper stone foundations — the stones, with spaces big enough to insert a stick between the wall and window, are still intact. Then, those spaces were clogged with newspaper and rags.

This is in a large contrast to what we see among dwellers of today, with completely renovated and attractive family cottages. I get goose bumps as I wander among these old houses thinking about their history and the people who lived in them over many generations. Södermalm is blessed with significant and protected inventory of these old houses.

I continue my walk toward Renstierna Street and arrive at Cornelius Park. I look over the water again at Gröna Lund amusement park in front of me. Then I take a bus to Gamla Stan to have dinner.

By Leif Rosqvist
Editor of the newsletters of New Sweden Cultural Heritage Society and SRIO in Portland, Oregon, with thanks to his wife’s uncle, Nils-Olof Engström, for the old photos that enriched the view of the area as well as the story.

More information:
Search Master Michael’s Street, Stockholm
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