Aktiebolaget Svenska Kullagerfabriken (which translates as the Swedish Ball Bearing Manufacturing Company) is universally known as SKF. Since it was founded in 1907 it has been a major supplier of ball bearings (kullager) to the military forces of Sweden and other countries.
In World War II the components were so valuable that civilian pilots flew Mosquitos from England to Sweden to bring back ball bearings for the UK armaments programme. As a precaution, SKF built an underground factory to provide protected workshops. As Sweden remained neutral throughout the war the factory remained above ground and the mountain was instead used as an air-raid shelter (Berg 211) throughout the war.
Later, during the Cold War, it was realised that the WWII shelter would be vulnerable to nuclear attack and so a second (and larger) underground factory was built deeper within the mountain. In terms of size, the original WWII site covers around 800 square metres and the later Cold War replacement around 5,000 square metres. Lars had arranged for us to access both sites, which are now each being used for purposes that their original constructors would no doubt be mystified by.
We started with the later and larger shelter which is situated opposite the impressive headquarters building of SKF. Descending on a gradual slope about 50 metres, we entered a cross passage that was intersected by three main chambers, each measuring around 15 metres by 80 with a height of 10 metres. Since 1998 the shelter has been used as a skateboard park known as Bunkeberget (Bowl mountain) and these chambers are now chock-a-block with ramps, half-pipes, bowls, rails, ramps and stairs from the modest to the downright terrifying.
Each of the major structures has a name that wouldn’t look out of place on a cocktail list including Dark Dog, Hawaii and Blue Lagoon. As it was summer, the city’s youth were using outdoor parks but the site must be a godsend to those who want to practise their sport over the long Nordic winters. Today’s skateboards rely on ball bearings so there is at least a tangential relationship to the original purpose.
We had free rein over the site and some of our more energetic members had to experience the full depths of all the structures. Part of the park is set up for BMX bikers to develop and show off their skills. Two of the original chambers are now broken into smaller rooms but the original structure is very clear. At the far end of the complex there used to be an underground connection to the factory but this is now blocked off and the ‘stub’ of the passage is used as a workshop and store room.
Underground feast Having explored the Cold War site, it was now time to venture into the older and smaller WWII shelter. The shelter has links to the Cold War shelter that are used as emergency exits but we went back outside and re-entered on the level through the original entrance. Owned by the same company, this site has been developed into an underground event space that can be hired out for parties, weddings and club nights. The whole is dressed up extravagantly with lighting, decor, bars and stages to produce a nightclub feel that is licensed for up to 350 guests.
Branded Berg 211 (Mountain 211) after the original shelter, it is an imaginative reuse of a space that could otherwise be derelict and vandalised. Lars had managed to get us a special deal and we brought in our own food and drink for our evening meal. Not, as some wit suggested, skate and chips but a local delicacy known as Smörgåstårta (Sandwich Cake).