In the Swedish capital of Stockholm, December 10 means Nobel Day. For the prizewinners this is the high point of a week of speeches, conferences and receptions. Years of hard work are rewarded with a medal from the Swedish king, followed by a gala banquet — for 1,300 people.
The Nobel Prize award ceremony takes place at the Concert Hall in Stockholm. Click on the image to take a virtual tour of the Concert Hall. Photo: www.imagebank.sweden.se / Jonas Ekströmer
When the limousines glide to a stop outside the Stockholm Concert Hall for the Nobel Prize award ceremony, it marks the beginning of a well-rehearsed ritual where every minute is planned by the Nobel Foundation, the host of the event.
The audience takes its seats and rises when the royal family arrives. Finally the stars of the day’s event, the prizewinners, appear on stage. They have rehearsed the ceremony the day before, so they know exactly how many steps they should move back after having shaken hands with the king and received their medal and diploma. They receive a generous prize amount, too. In the first several years of the 21st century, each prize totaled SEK 10 million (USD 1.47 million).
On the same day, the Peace Prize is awarded in the Norwegian capital of Oslo, in accordance with the wishes of Alfred Nobel. When he wrote his will concerning the distribution of the prizes, Norway and Sweden were linked in a union, which was dissolved in 1905.
“The penguin mountain” — men in white tie and tails
Perched above the prizewinners is "the penguin mountain” consisting of members of the academies that selected them. They are jokingly referred to as penguins because the men wear white tie and a black tailcoat, the mandatory dress code at the festivities which often drives international prizewinners crazy, since it is rare outside the Nordic countries.
Attending the Nobel party is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Photo: Pawel Flato / Pressens Bild
The stories about participants’ frantic search for white tie and tails are numerous and hilarious. Some foreign guests ask a theater in their hometown to dig up such attire from their inventory of props. Others contact the Swedish Embassy for help. One Swedish diplomat tells of discreet conversations with a famous prizewinner who wanted to have his white tie and tails tailored in Stockholm. Shoulder width? Waist measurement? Fly with buttons on the right or left?
For women attending the Nobel festivities the problems are somewhat less, but in their case formal attire always means a floor-length gown.
The Nobel festivities — the banquet of banquets
The day ends with the large Nobel Banquet at the Stockholm City Hall, which is festively decorated with torches, candles and flower arrangements. The flowers are an annual gift from the city of San Remo, Italy, where Alfred Nobel died in 1896.
Swedish Crown Princess Victoria charms Nobel laureates at the banquet in Stockholm. Photo: www.imagebank.sweden.se / Henrik Montgomery
“The Nobel Banquet is the most beautiful party I have ever attended,” says a woman who was once invited. “The gowns rustle, the jewels glisten, the champagne bubbles, and the whole City Hall is fragrant with candles, flowers and perfume. The party is not at all as rigid as I thought, but both intimate and magnificent.”
Thirteen hundred people participate in the banquet. Both their placement and the menu require meticulous planning. The kitchen relies on some of Sweden’s best chefs, who have a chance to mobilize all their experience and imagination when 1,300 guests are to be served an appetizer, main dish, dessert and exclusive wines.
A star-studded party
So who gets to attend? Only a few people are automatically included. Each prizewinner is entitled to bring along 16 guests. Sweden’s royal family always participates, and usually so do the prime minister and other members of the government. The Nobel family is always represented as well. Otherwise the guest list should reflect the cultural and scientific community in Sweden and internationally.
“In the weeks before the banquet, the festivities secretariat of the Nobel Foundation looks like General Staff headquarters during an infantry battle,” says one observer who dropped in. “Placement cards are moved around and people are switched in constant reshufflings.”
Placing the right people together at the banquet is a constant headache for the Nobel Foundation. Photo: www.imagebank.sweden.se / L Åström
Talking to the public
The prizewinners themselves do not have to think about all the thousands of minor details that arise. They are booked into the Grand Hôtel, right across the water from the Royal Palace. There, a special Nobel Desk is available to the guests, and each prizewinner also has a personal Nobel Attaché from the Swedish Foreign Ministry at his or her disposal.
The only service required of the new prizewinner in return for all this is that he or she should hold a lecture in Stockholm. In Oslo, the Peace Prize winner speaks at the actual award ceremony. In Stockholm, the Nobel lectures are held separately and are open to the public and are thus highly appreciated — for most Swedes this is the only chance to see and hear a Nobel laureate in real life.
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The author of this article, Ingmarie Froman, is a freelance journalist. She was previously a foreign correspondent in Brussels and Paris for Swedish Radio and Swedish Television.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
Translation: Victor Kayfetz
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