It’s hard to know where to begin. We’ve been away the whole summer and autumn, which means that when we returned a few weeks ago, the town was different. We were prepared, we thought, for buildings and streets removed – the start of the mine clearing the part of the town nearest to the collapsing ground. We were prepared, we thought, for the loss of some of the town’s history, and even of our own, short, personal history here. We thought we were prepared for change but we weren’t really.
In the centre of town, nearest the mine, a whole row of grand buildings gone – the old brick station building, a couple of hotels, warehouses from the turn of the last century. Then a couple of streets nearby, where old wooden houses marked a route to the first mine director’s house, now ground with no particular purpose standing idly by.
There’s no trace of violence. You feel you’ve woken from a dream. Buildings, what buildings? You must be mistaken. See, just white snow and space. All calm. It’s unsettling, to say the least. Now you see them, now you don’t.
On the edge of town, below the ski slope and beneath Kiruna’s other, older mine, there has appeared, as if by a miracle, a small hamlet of wooden houses and buildings from the early 1900s, like a film set, brought on a lorry and plonked on the snow by the main road out of town. The first director’s house now stands proudly to one side, surveying the mine and all its magnificent works. The houses around stand blinking innocently at you, determined to look settled after their journey by road from one end of town to the other.
It’s not a film set, but it is a creation, a fictional Kiruna that we are led to believe was always here. The king is dead, long live the king!But wait a minute – this isn’t where they decided Kiruna’s new town should be – that’s far away on the other side of town!
Ah yes, Kiruna’s new town centre. The town hall is almost complete, and now the clock tower from the old town hall stands next to it. Plans for other buildings – flats, shops, offices – have all come to nothing. They’ve been much discussed, and thought of, but their presence here is only as ghosts of an idea and a promise not yet fulfilled.