Community vibes at castle Svaneholm

With his liberal ideas, Rutger Macklean became one of  Swedens first space pioneers

Written by Annika Kiehn, March 2022

The term “space pioneer” first appeared in the German province of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in the mid-1990s. It addresses brave folks who dare to move into the countryside and battle a non-existent infrastructure in order to start something on their own. This term gained popularity when “ordinary people“ with no noble ancestors decided to purchase a manor and breathe new life into it through various ideas. This phenomenon is most prevalent in countries such as East Germany, Poland, and Lithuania, all of which shared a similar post-Cold War era when manors were left abandoned and in ruins. However, Sweden and Denmark are exceptions because manors in these locations were mainly kept in private hands and are thus still in respectable conditions. Castle Svaneholm, located in southern Scania between Ystad and Malmö, might be an exception because it had its own example of a space pioneer long before 1990. Rutger Macklean was its most prominent former owner. Born into a noble and wealthy family, Macklean dedicated his heart and soul to the less privileged. As an agricultural and educational reformer, his liberal ideas laid the groundwork for Sweden’s current wealth and prosperity. Macklean was a member of the political party known as the “caps,” which fought for free trade and the abolition of monopolies and prohibitions. When Sweden adopted a new constitution in 1809, it was mainly characterized by Rutger Macklean.

To him, education was the key to success. He envisioned that only when children acquired a solid basis of knowledge would they prosper, and thus the community. He opened the first public school in a nearby village, Skurup. It caused a tremendous change for ordinary workers, whose children were then required to pass exams twice a year. Macklean noble spirit and his willingness to improve other people’s lives can be seen as one of his major achievements.

His positive energy still pervades the castle Svaneholm, which is now part of a very relaxed and open-minded community.

When you visit the castle, you can see their own accomplishments. “It is a place of possibilities,“ exclaims Bertil Nilsson, chairman of the Svaneholm Castle Cooperative Society, which is part of the owner-concept of the castle. After the last owner’s death, count Augustin Ehrensvärd, in 1935, his castle was turned into a public space. However, a museum was established to preserve the castle’s history for future generations. Svaneholm is now regarded as one of Sweden’s most out-of-the-ordinary estates. It was saved thanks to what could be considered one of the first crowdfunding campaigns ever, which collected money from many shareholders for the purchase.

This has not changed to this day. At any time, anyone can become a part-owner of Svaneholm. You can buy a share of the castle for 30 Swedish Krona, which is equivalent to three euros, the same price as in 1935! Bertil Nilsson indicates that there are currently over 40 000 shareholders; however, some shareholders can have five, ten, or more shares. According to him, one person recently ordered 100 shares for 3000 Swedish Kronor.

“We are open to everyone from around the world!“

Bertil Nilsson, a former teacher of mathematics and physics, joined the board in 2015. Long before that, he took an interest in cultural affairs, such as documentary cinema, in Malmö. Prior projects taught him how to look for financial funds. With his experience, he helps find solutions for the castle’s economic future, which he calls “a very interesting task.“ “When it comes to making long-term decisions, we are free to take on possibilities and see how things develop without pressure from an owner/landlord in the background,“ he says via Zoom, sitting in the castle’s café and restaurant. Besides monetary and culinary responsibilities, a museum association also owns and takes care of the museum and its exhibitions.

“At any time, anyone can become a part-owner of Svaneholm. You can buy a share of the castle for 30 Swedish Krona, which is equivalent to three euros, the same price as in 1935!”

Bertil Nilsson

It houses a collection of over 13,000 pieces exhibited on four floors. You can learn about life at the castle in the 18th century; a diverse collection of historic textiles offers insight into the fashion trends of the castle’s former female owners. A broad range of workshops guarantees time travel experiences in a historic classroom for school children who come for regular visits to Svaneholm. Gunnel von Blixen Finecke, a member of the museum‘s creative board association of Svaneholm and a former teacher of history, has been an active volunteer since the 1980s. She does guided tours for schoolchildren. Just like Macklean, her major ambition is to infect others with the wonders of learning, in this case, the history of his achievements, as Gunni says:

“Macklean changed the system of learning. Until then, people used to learn only by heart, such as the text of the Bible. He tried to implement how important it was to aspire to knowledge.“

Education is still one of the castle’s main programs, according to Gunni:  “We are eager to preserve our cultural heritage, and we would like to involve the village communities in the area around the castle in order to exchange knowledge. We feel that they very much appreciate our initiative.“ Lately, Gunni says she has connected with regional young crafters interested in participating in the Baltic Manor festival, which is one major outcome of this EU-Project and takes place in summer. Finding synergetic alliances with the younger ones is a significant step in preserving the castle‘s future, is Gunni convinced. “We love the energy they add, but it is also of great importance for us as the current and elder generation to know that our achievements are being valued and will last.“

It is due to the commitment of so many skilled members on the castle’s boards and other volunteers from outside that castle Svaneholm holds a plethora of appealing offers for visitors. One highlight is Svaneholm by Night, a candle-lit guided tour of the castle, where you will encounter the people who lived there in the 18th and 17th centuries. At dusk, ghosts walk around telling ghost stories. Therefore, this tour guarantees to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. There’s a saying: “Too many chiefs, too little Indians“ – addressing the problems that arise when too many people operate on a single case. However, castle Svaneholm stands opposite to this cliche. “For us, it is important that everyone feels appreciated in their work and that they can find the needed expertise,“ says Bertil.

Tove Walden is an online pro who joined the board in the summer of 2021. She says, “As a child, I spent time at the castle until boredom set in. However, these days, I have come to like the place with a fresh view.“ Running her own online marketing company, she now assists in updating the website and handling social media activities.

“It is such a cool castle from the 16th century. You can feel that it has its secrets while ascending its majestic stairs.”

“Looking at it, how it is situated next to the lake, it is kind of wrapped up in a fog of magic,“ she says. Tove Walden also enjoys connecting with her homeland’s history and lending her expertise to benefit the castle. “Since this is my profession and it contributes to the castle’s upkeep, I am all in. My aim is also to get as much insight as possible so that I can prepare exhibitions myself, and I envision even more fun things coming up when we have finally overcome the coronavirus pandemic.“ 

Opening hours & prices

At castle Svaneholm you can choose from many possibilities to explore the place:

Either walk around the lake or have a brunch at the restaurant. Book a guided tour in advance or simply drop a line under

0046-0709-37 13 66 oder
The castles seasons starts around Easter.

Entrance Fees: adults 100 Krona (170 inkl. guiding)
retired: 80 Krona (150 inkl. guiding)
children under 15 years are free of charge