i recall the river was an artist

who painted dancing webs on keels

glittering like the trout on our hooks

and who played us songs in April nights

as the floes took leave



a scalpel cuts across our childhood lands

sharp as in Galileo’s lens

dissecting light from darkness 

glaring sands drank in the river’s lustre

round the rubble of our homes 


their stones cast breathless shadows

on banks whose grass once tickled 

our feet around the midsummer pole


in stygian waters sometimes a shimmer


on parched ground sometimes a threshold




the naked piers of bridges

leading towards a past uprooted 



the scattered letters of our story




Sunken Home

Text: Bernhard Schirg
Photographs: Bernhard Schirg and others
Layout: Lutz Lindemann

The past is a place where neither ship nor bridge does carry. 

Things we leave behind can lead across the stream of oblivion that widens behind us – objects or monuments that those who come behind us still make speak of what once has been. 

And yet, their ruins too will crumble and eventually cease to exist. When the rains have carried away the debris, the bare word will remain to pass on the memory, stories that float detached from worlds that once were tangible – until that one day comes when a person first may ask if they had existed at all.

Obsolete town sign in Lake Lossen (photograph not arranged). Courtesy of Kerstin Myrtennäs.

As we passed the shore, my eyes followed the drift line of greyed branches where the waters had risen that season.

“What was the name of that village“, I eventually asked?

This story originates from a mere name, a note I had taken a few years ago when hitchhiking through Härjedalen Province in the middle of Sweden.

For some kilometres, our car had followed the shoreline of a lake. Birch trees in yellow leaves lined the slopes down to the water. 

“That’s Lossen Dam,“ Olle said as a concrete wall became visible, raising his index finger from the steering wheel towards an intake tower in the lake. 

“You know, there’s a village below the lake“, he dropped after a brief pause. They drowned it when they built the dam. 

“Some days in spring you can see the remains on the shore,“ he added.


River of Light

There are stories that come at us with great vehemence. Something drew me to that of the sunken village and its demise, a story that loomed with the contours of something larger, more symbolic – an emblem for sacrifices we deemed worth making and whose price we have learned to suppress. 

The village that disappeared lay on the shores of Lossen, a lake that receives the waters of the Ljusnan River not far from the mountains towards Norway. 

Detail from a map illustrating Olof Rudbeck’s Atlantica (1679), the Ljusnan River and Lake Lossen highlighted.
Click here to explore the full map on Reaching for Atlantis.

It was a river that had been no stranger to me. 

Ljusnan featured prominently in the story of promised lands that Olof Rudbeck had connected to his home 350 years before. For him, Ljusnan had been ‘the river of light’ (sw. ljus = light)

Perfused by the warm light of the midsummer nights, he argued, its lush banks had inspired the vision of the sun-lit Elysian Fields. 

Pointing to maps and the flora, Rudbeck declared the nature at his doorsteps the key to a truth that had lain hidden in the ancient stories. The home where the blessed souls came to dwell had lain in Sweden.

#add bild darren 2x

The unsearchable Spot

The poets‘ Elysian Fields were only one among many of the mythical landscapes that Rudbeck claimed for his country. 

The volumes of his Atlantica identified the whole of Scandinavia as the legendary island of Atlantis – the home of a high civilisation of which the Greek philosopher Plato spoke, and whose fall he describes in his dialogues.

On the banks of the rivers that embraced their metropolis, a society had flourished whose laws and technology by far excelled that of early Athens. And for long, so Plato writes, the people of Atlantis enjoyed the natural wealth of the island and pleased the gods in their righteous manners. 

Yet as riches grew and their lower nature became more dominant, an innate morality and veneration of the gods yielded to greed and avarice. 

It was then that the gods held council, and decided to make Atlantis disappear from the face of the earth. 

… and in one grievous day and night the island was swallowed up by the sea and vanished, wherefore also the ocean at that spot has now become impassable and unsearchable, being blocked up by the shoal of mud which the island created as it settled down.

 After Plato, Timaios, 25D


Plato’s words came to my mind the moment the barren shore widened before me, two years after the ride had first taken me along Lossen.

Over sixty years, the lake had exposed its ground each spring, when the water levels were lowest and the snow melt from the mountains was yet to arrive.

The sun was about to set that evening I arrived, and the rocks already cast long shadows on the lake floor that oscillated in soft hills. It was mid-May, and in the shadow of their contours fields of snow still hugged the ground. 

A few streams ran between them from the nearby forestI followed one of them towards the lake, my feet leaving deep imprints in the moist sands. Further on, where the stream fanned out, the steps grew firmer. Rainless weeks had begun to draw cracks into the dried up mud between the deltas.

All around me, stumps stuck out from rocks and dusty ground, the remains of trees that sixty floods had barked, reminding that all this once had been forest.


Among the rocks and the dead wood, concrete shafts were sticking out like triangular ears, cocked for the past that made these lands.

On muddy steps I slid down into one of the openings. At the bottom, several inches of ice covered the ground, remains of the lake that flood the bunker system every spring. 

On the crystal mirror shone images turquoise brittle and rusty flakes, the patina of metal doors that once kept access to this underworld. 

Behind them, a mere shimmer from a ventilation shaft illuminated the brittle remains of bunk beds. 

In case of war, men would have held out in the ground to protect the bridge over the Ljusnan River.

Back on the surface, I could feel the clear evening sky sucking away the warmth still stored the stony ground. A light wind grazed the shore, and from the rocks emerged the sound of trickling sand. 

From the bunkers I drew closer to the water until I could hear the waves of Ljusnan that the winds drove against the shore. For a while, I watched its unhurried flow and the clouds of dust that seemed to hover in it, weightlessly.

It had been here, shortly before the waters of Ljusnan widened into Lake Lossen, where travellers once crossed over the river. From my vantage point, I looked out for the piers of the bridge that once led over. 

There, on the other side, the small village of Valmåsen and an inn once lay, awaiting those on their path to Norway. 

That was until 1962 – the year that changed everything.

#add bild: ramberg und ljusnan


The bridge over the Ljusnan, 1958. Photograph by Ljusnans vattenregleringsföretag, Sveg (courtesy of Kerstin Myrtennäs).

frozen-atlantis_handschrift_01A_weiss_atl (1)

the forests fell before the flood

and from the trees they built no ark

they moved their homes instead


the kiln of barren banks 

has chapped the mud

sand drifts into the cracks

like chalk sticks maimed to dust


the stumps hold on to barren land

and with each wave

the river gnaws away 

crumbs of earth from bony roots


the stiffened fingers of a severed hand

still clutching at the void


the last connection to what is lost

frozen-atlantis_handschrift_03_weiss (1)

@Lutz: scrolling an Intro-Effekt anpassen: letztes Griechisches zitat kommt hoch, bleibt dann fixiert am Ende in Mitte von Bild, erst dann scrollt man Zitat+Bild gemeinsam hoch

weisser balken erscheint am unteren rand beim hochscrollen

The sunken Village

In 1958, construction works had begun on the south-eastern end of Lake Lossen. Four years later, the dam started operating. 

When the snow melt arrived in spring 1962, the lake shore rose by 27 meters. It was the year that the village known as Valmåsen ceased to exist.

Two centuries earlier, the first couple had arrived on these shores and made their home. Until the 1950s, a dozen more had followed. 

View over Valmåsen. Aquarell by Björn Berg, 1945.
A few decades before becoming an illustrator for Astrid Lindgrem, the artist spend many of his summers in the Härjedalen region.
Courtesy of Kerstin Myrtennäs.

#add bild links.

Black-and-white photographs show the people who made a living on these lands. Men with faces flayed by the seasons, who left with their axes for the forests along the river. Rafters with hooks in their hand, dancing effortlessly over the carpets of timber they moved downstream. 

The families lived off the lands and the forest around their homes. In early spring, when the ice floes had broken and left for their journey down the river, they paddled out with their seines again. When the ice returned in autumn, they bored through the ice with coiled drillsFishing around Lossen, many agreed, was the best in the region. 

During the darker seasons, the shimmer of kerosene lamps then reflected in the snow around their wooden houses. Behind the square window panes, women stitched and men repaired shoes. 

And so the nights passed by, until those weeks when the light returned; those days in early spring when the floes started travelling down the river, those nights when those of lighter sleep woke to the sound of cracking ice that echoed from the woods and began to wonder:

Was it starting again? 

frozen-atlantis_Utsikt-frn-Ramberget-mot-Valm†sen-ca-1925-Foto-Georg-Gransson-Valm_sen-och-Ljusnedal frozen-atlantis_IMG_4817

Left: View towards Valmåsen from Ramberget. Photograph from 1925 by Georg Göransson, Valmåsen and Ljusnedal. Courtesy of Karin Myrtennäs.

Preparing for the flood

The judicial decision to carry out the damming at Lake Lossen was made in 1958. Here and elsewhere in Sweden, recurrent narratives justified massive interventions in nature and communities. 

Sacrifices like these in scarcely populated regions could mean a huge benefit for the rest of the country, one of them went. Promises of new jobs further helped convince local communities. 

All in all, the expected biological and social damage seemed calculable and politically accepted. The same year, the National Board of Antiquities began documenting historic sites that were bound to disappear under the water. At Valmåsen, one of the villagers was designated to collect the memory of what now was doomed. 

As completion of the dam drew nearer, roads had to be replanned and houses to be removed from the shore. Before the first flooding, all trees around the lake were cut down. Submerged for most time of the year, the rotting forests would fill the air with a pungent stench, and dislodged stems could cause a threat for the dam’s infrastructure.

24.450 Swedish Crowns

Floaters and fishers and many more lost their livelihood when the dam began operating. In winter, the water collected in earlier months was gradually released. Through a tunnel, it was led to an underground power station to produce electricity.

The construction of the dam broke with a general rule of law valid in Scandinavia since Viking times. According to this rule, the ways of fish have to be kept viable. Many species rely on travelling upstream to spawn and require rapids to thrive. These fish quickly died out, together with species such as the the freshwater pearl mussel whose larvae live on the gills of salmonids.

Lossen was the most upstream in a series of dams that all blocked the free flow of the Ljusnan River. In spring, instead of breaking off and travelling downstream as ice floes in spring, the water now oozed down the exit channels as as suffocating slush of ice crystals. 

In the dammed-up lake, nutrients from the newly flooded shores washed into the water. After an unsustainable spike, the fish population in the lake dropped rapidly. The shores that constantly changed between parching sun and being flooded turned barren. In consequence, fish such as perch (abborre) and pike (gädda) that need ground cover at specific depths to spawn disappeared. 

Those damaged by the anticipated changes in fish population had to be compensated.  24.540 Swedish Crowns was the price tag attached to this loss. It was the market value of the estimated amount of fish in the lake, compensated according to the contemporary prices of fish meat. 

To those deemed eligible, a tiny fraction of that sum arrived as mail check. 

Resetting A Lake

In the wake of the fish death, it was decided to make Lake Lossen home to a population of charr (röding), a species appreciated by sports fishers. Yet maintaining this population in Lossen necessitated massive interventions elsewhere.

The waters dammed at Lake Lossen fed to a power station some kilometres away at Langå. Two other lakes, Övre Särvsjön and Grundsjön, fed into the same station. In these two lakes, whitefish (sik) was endemic. 

Once the tunnel system connected all three lakes, it was apparent that whitefish would eventually wander into Lake Lossen. Being a more effective plankton absorber, this would have spelled out the end of the charr population in Lossen. 

In consequence, it was decided to release Rotenone into Övre Särvsjön, a nerve poison that slows down the breathing of fish. Soon after, a silver belt of dead fish, hundreds of meters broad, floated against the dam walls. Leaking out into other waters, the toxin yielded similar effects in contributaries to Ljusnan.

This ecocide was the largest application of Rotenone ever seen in Europe.

Aerial view on Valmåsen, May 2022.

The Last Link

Diagram of the Ljusnan bridge. Attachment no. 1 in „Rapport från skjutning“, published with kind permission of Krigsarkivet Stockholm.

In Vienna, when the old Danube bridge crashed down at dawn, an eyewitness who had wanted to cross said the bridge had flattened out like an old man going to sleep.

Werner Herzog, On Walking in Ice (p. 32).


@Lutz: Test: Zitat kombinieren mit Brückenplan?

Buildings can die different deaths. How a society disposes of what has lost its function speaks of their time and values. 

In 1963, the snow hadn’t melted yet when a squadron of J29 fighter planes took off from Frösö Airbase. Departing westwards, the planes approached the snow-covered Fjäll. 

After some fifteen minutes of flight, the planes took a left turn. In flights of two, they followed the contour that the Ljusnan had drawn on the winter canvas. 

Further ahead, the frozen expanse of Lake Lossen opened up.


Decomissioned J29 „Tunna“ near ÖSD Airport.

The concrete bridge over Ljusnan (ca. 1937) in winter, with rests of the older wooden bridge from 1887 below. Photograph by Bengt Eskilsson (courtesy of Kerstin Myrtennäs).


That morning in April, a radio bus had been stationed on the southern shore, not far from the town of Tännäs. Through their binoculars, officers watched the fighters descending towards the Ljusnan bridge. Further on, hundreds of people had gathered to witness the impending spectacle

In the 1960s, Sweden boasted the fourth largest air force in the world. When the flooding of Lossen was executed in 1962, the military had requested permission to practice target shooting on the Ljusnan bridge. 

With new roads leading around the lake, the structure had lost its function. For the Air Force, however the obsolete bridge proved of great interest. The Ljusnan bridge opened up an opportunity to train with life ammunition. Firing armour piercing rockets, the military wanted to explore the effects this type of ammunition had on a solid structure, half of which was still covered in ice at the end of April.


Cutting the Bond

On 26 April, eighty shots were fired on the Ljusnan bridge, each of them individually aimed. Some of the pilots were veterans that had served among Sweden’s UN troops in the Congo conflict.

From the radio bus, officers meticulously protocolled the angle and effect of each shot. On the shore, the crowd watched the detonations. 

After the last explosions had rung out, the squadron leaders flew an extra round over the masses, the roars of their planes mixing with the cheers of the crowd. 



Rocket exploding on the Ljusnan bridge. Photograph no. 1 in „Rapport från skjutning”.

The Ljusnan bridge right after the collapse. (b) marks the hit in the arch that led to the collapse. Photographs no. 3 and 4 in „Rapport från skjutning“.

As the noise faded out, the officers headed out onto the lake. On site, they assessed the damage the bridge had taken. Others headed towards the forests, a local journalist related – to examine if any reindeer had been hit by shrapnel in the wider blast radius. 

As last fighter jet returned to base that day, the bridge was still standing. The day after, the planes returned. This time, the pilots fired series of rockets. 

The first salvo exploded on the bow of the bridge. Three seconds later, half of the pathway collapsed into the riverbed. The series that followed hit what by then was already a destroyed bridge. 

Later that day, the officers set out later one last time to protocol the damage. The salvos lay well yet didn’t pulverize the remains“, their report soberly concluded. 


“One of the ‚barrels‘ [nickname for the J29 planes, B.S.] dives and fires its rocket against the bridge, figuratively speaking over the heads of hundreds of interested spectators.“
Quote in translation and photograph from the article “F4-tunnarna anföll bron”, p. 1.


The local newspapers reported on the bombing at Lossen as a curiosity. One of the reports featured a black-and white photograph. 

The picture shows one of the fighters attacking the bridge, roaring above the head of spectators who had gathered on the shore. 

Among the spectators that day were students from Tännäs. The children at the nearby school had gotten a day off to witness the ’spectacle‘. 

He had been one of them, Olle later told me in the car. He had been too young to remember any details, he added. 

Among the same children who watched the rockets explode that day may have been those whose families who were forced to leave their houses in the village behind. 

The spring before, That day in April, the Air Force destroyed what had been a bridge to a place that had ceased to exist the year before. 

The spring before the planes came, the snow melt had made the lake rise above the ground walls of what had been their homes. When it returned that year, its waters rose over the remains of the bridge.


For conversations and material I have to thank Kerstin Myrtennäs, Jan Salomonsson, and Åsa Evertsdotter.  


Notes and References

My account of the history of Lake Lossen and the effects of the damming largely relies on Emil Salomonsson, Valmåsen. Lossens reglering och överdämningen av Valmåsen, redigerad och uppdaterad av barnbarnen Jan Salomonsson, Anders Svensson och Kerstin Myrtennäs, Hållnäs : 2014.

The documentation commissioned before the damming resulted in the book Lossen. Liv och arbete vid en Härjedalssjö, edd. Harald Hvarfner et al., Lund 1961.

For a deeper history of the Lossen bunkers see the account by Steven Hellan on Militärhistoria Z (last accessed 05 May 2023).

The account of the bombardment of the Ljusnan bridge builds on the article “FN: F4-tunnorna anföll bron” in: Östersunds-Posten, 26 April 1963, p. 1 and p. 4, and the report filed as „Rapport från skjutning av gamla landsvägsbron vid Valmåsen 25-26/4 1963“. Stockholm, Krigsarkivet, Jämtlands flygflottilj, Stabsavdelningen, hemliga arkivet, F1:10.

Parts of the destroyed Lossen Bridge have been turned into a veterans‘ monument at Sveg, Härjedalen, inaugurated 29 May 2022.

@Lutz: das Luftbild sollte nicht wiederkommen am ende