Within the Grenna Kulturgård on Brahegatan is the fascinating Polarcenter, dedicated to Salomon August Andrée, the Gränna-born balloonist who led a doomed attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897. Born at Brahegatan 37, Andrée was fired by the European obsession of the day to explore and conquer unknown areas; with no real way of directing his balloon, however, his trip was destined for disaster from the start. After a flight lasting only three days, during which time it flew more than 800km in different directions, the balloon made a forced landing on ice just 470km from its departure point. The crew of three attempted to walk to civilization, but the movement of the ice floes meant they made no progress; after six weeks’ trekking, they set up camp on a floe drifting rapidly southwards. Sadly, the ice cracked and their shelter collapsed, and with it their hopes. Finally they died from the effects of cold, starvation and trichinosis, caught after they ate the raw meat of a polar bear they had managed to spear. It would be another 33 years before their frozen bodies and their equipment were discovered by a Norwegian sailing ship. They were reburied in Stockholm at a funeral attended by a crowd of forty thousand. The museum exhibition poignantly includes a diary kept by one of the crew and film taken by the team, which makes for pitiful viewing: the men are seen with the polar bear they’d hunted, and other sequences show the three hopelessly pulling their sledges across the ice sheets.
The newly renovated museum has extended its remit to cover exploration of the polar region in general, with exhibitions centring on the Arctic and Antarctic historical expeditions, using Andrée as a springboard to a wider picture.