hidden europe 17

Mapping the skies: the Swedish island of Ven

by Nicky Gardner


The astronomer Tycho Brahe arrived on the island of Ven with a stipend from the Danish king and an artificial nose. We report from the island where Tycho lived with his pet moose.

Islands have often been reserved for special purposes. Look at the article on the islands of the Venetian lagoon elsewhere in this issue of hidden europe to find examples of islands that have been deployed to store gunpowder, lunatics or lepers. During the Second World War, the British authorities decided to reserve a small island off the west coast of Scotland, Gruinard, for chemical warfare experiments. Another Scottish island, Papa Stronsay, is the preserve of an unusual Catholic congregation message in a bottle of monks, the Transalpine Redemptorists. And in the Öresund, that strip of water that separates Sweden from Denmark, there is an island that was, for many years, reserved for astronomy.

Several times a day, even in winter, a ferry chugs out of the harbour at Landskrona on Sweden's Öresund coast and makes the half hour crossing to the island of Ven. The island (shown as Hven on some older maps) is a welcome haven of quiet in an otherwise crowded part of southern Scandinavia. The bustling centre of Copenhagen is just thirty kilometres distant.

A short boat journey, another world, and that was enough for the celebrated sixteenth-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe who established one of northern Europe's first scientific astronomical observatories on Ven.

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Making Tracks for Sweden

As winter slipped slowly into spring in 1917, Lenin passed through Berlin on his journey back to Russia from Switzerland. His onward route from Berlin took him by train to Sassnitz, then on by ferry to Trelleborg in Sweden. These days it's still possible to follow the route taken by Lenin, using the occasional direct trains from Berlin to Sweden.