A new and major factor is the oil money that has made Norway one of the richest lands in the world. The wise government has put a very big share of the income into a trust fund for future generations. But even they had no idea that so much money would stream into their coffers. In fact, one government official felt so rich after this latest oil crisis that he suggested that 18,000 crowns be put into account for all citizens for travel and partying! But it is the nature and history we wish to describe.
Along the west coast of Norway there are more than 30,000 islands. The Gulf Stream bathes these islands in warm water from the Caribbean and keeps the harbors open year around all the way to Nordkapp. It is up to 100 km wide and carries with it fish, nutrients and birds that follow the fish. It also makes the air 20 degrees warmer than other places at this same latitude, like Alaska or Greenland. The average temperature on a sunny day at noon is about 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
Outside of Bergen are many of the bigger islands. The fishing is good, connections to the city are excellent, and the population is relatively large. The oil money has paid for many a bridge to replace the old ferries that were the main connection for man and beast between islands. Some of these are quite elegant.
Further north of Bergen a few hardy souls live higher up the wooded steep slopes. They are admired by the rest of the population as "Real Norwegians”. King Harald and Queen Sonja spent a few nights at one of the secluded sites to celebrate their anniversary. How did they get there? These houses have a challenging walk to get to the sea from which most of their food must come, since there is little pasturage. It is told that one woman who lived in such a precarious place waited until her 10th and last child was born to get them all baptized since she had to take them all by boat to the church. But she did live to be over 100 years old.
It was also told that another family had to have a ladder over 2 big rocks to get to their home. This ladder disappeared when the tax assessor came.
As the boat follows the coast, a bend may open up to an inlet with a small fishing "noest” or boathouse and maybe the cabin that the owner lives in when he uses the boathouse is just close by, a part of a settlement with several houses or even the house further up (quite far up) the side of the island where there is a flat space for a barn and maybe a small pasture. Then suddenly there is an industrial complex. One product that was exported was potting soil, taken from the wetlands which had been there for centuries.
As we travel north the vegetation on the islands decreases, the tree line sinks slowly. So do the houses. Over the steep terrain is likely to flow a swift moving stream from the melted snow that catapults into the ocean. It may be a human source of drinking water .. or not.
Geiranger Fjord is in the treed part of Norway. It is a narrow and steep fjord. The passage of the boat is dramatic! It seemed at times that the sides of the fjord were within fingertip reach and the boat barely passed under the bridge. Such breathtaking beauty is rare to find in the world.
Further north on the islands above Trondheim, the houses--if there is any at all -- are mostly at the base of the islands and a granite mass lies above them.
The last days of the journey northward offered nature in its purest form: blue sky, gray rock, water and snow. I couldn’t help comparing this scene with the village pond I saw a few years ago in GuangDong, a province in China. There was a pissoir over the water. The water itself was so brown that you could see nothing. But then I noticed black rings, about ½ to an inch in diameter, slightly below the surface everywhere you looked. I finally figured out it was the mouths of the fish who were trying to breathe.
"Yup, "I thought, "Slice up the rocks for streets, pavement, and even counter tops. Raise fish in that clear water. A perfect solution for the rest of the polluted world.”
And indeed they do use the granite and have fish farms... But labor is so expensive in Norway that the granite is not used in counter tops but rather only for larger projects like blocks for parks. Something has to change before the rest of the world will be able to enjoy that Norwegian natural abundance in their own homes.
Norway does have a number of fish farms in the sea here in the northern part. There is a law that all farms must be moved every 1.5 years so that no pollution is allowed to build up.
When there was a suggestion to drill for oil outside Lofoten, Kristen Hallvorsen, the speaker for the left leaning Socialist party, said, "No! Norway is best known for its fish, the quality of the fish, caught in the cold and very clean waters that are the hallmark of Norway. (Picture is of Lofoten.)
At the most northern point of the trip is Honningsvaag, a fishing village taken over by the Germans in World War II.
A bus picked us up and we drove on to Nordkapp.
This promontory of rock was called the "Norwegian Nose” by the Russians and in 1553 it was noted by an Englishman looking for China. Into the rock a series of rooms has been drilled at least 3 stories deep and on one level there was a theater with a wide screen on which we saw the history of the area. Outside it snowed while we were there, blowing coldly about those who gazed out over the fjords [Picture is Snow in May at Nordkapp]
One stop beyond at the Russian border was of course the turning point. We learned there that Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia are a consortium created for the purpose of quietly bringing democracy into the Russian lives.
The stopover in Trondhjem was a definite highlight of the trip. The sophistication of the soapstone cathedral and the Ringve museum of musical instruments were far and above what one would expect in this remote corner of Norway.
The cathedral was built to honor St Olaf Tryggvason. Olaf was a king who lost his life in the battle at Sikklestad. His casket came up out of the ground two times which signified he was made of more than mortal material. The first church, named in honor of him, was built of wood and later burned. By then Olaf had attained such prominence that only a Gothic cathedral was appropriate. It is truly magnificent!
The well-to-do widow Viktoria collected most of the instruments that now are displayed in the museum at Ringve, 10 minutes from Trondheim.George Sandes, the mistress of Chopin and a friend of Viktoria donated the original of Chopin’s death mask, a plaster of his long-fingered hand, and pictures.
In one room were instruments from the time of Beethoven and in another organs of different sizes and strength of sound. Harps too of different sizes and shapes with the strings in various positions filled another room. And another room contained experimental instruments. One of them was a combination piano and violin where the piano-like keys functioned as fingers on the strings and the bow was used by the right hand.
Our guide, a musical student herself, could play many of the strange instruments and sing as well. She couldn’t play the 8-stringed Hardanger fiddle but she did sing a typical Hardanger melody. She traced out the development of the hammer of the piano and the bellows of the organ. Finally we were left alone to wander in the barn among the climate controlled display of a great number of instruments, all unique, each with its own history.
In Bodo, a town of 42,000, was a cathedral that seem to have been created as a reaction to the cathedral. It is simple, with a plaster exterior and a bell tower. But it had a marvelous sense of dignity, as does the Scandinavian style in general. I do have to tell you this unique story.
Not from away from the simple cathedral was a modern work of art, a statue by Arnold Haukeland. The work was first offered to Bergen but refused. Bodo accepted the artwork eagerly, according to our guide, and two years later the artist came to visit. He saw that the work was upside down. This was rectified and, according to our guide, the people of the town appreciated it even more.
Norway in World War II
There were 2 more or less private museums with items and information about WWII, one in Hammerfest and one in Lofoten. The websites are www.museumsnett.no/gjenreisningsmuseet.com and www.museums-of-lofoten.no. They are under construction and hopefully will give some information soon.
There does not seem to be any more than a small pamphlet from Gjenreisningsmuseet to tell the story about the German scorch earth policy that forced the people above Tromso south and then destroyed 9/10 of the buildings in that area, approximately 1/3 of Norway.
An episode may explain this: while I was looking around in the gift shop in one of the museums, an elderly English lady said, "I know all about this. I was born in 1919.” "Then I will sit beside you on the boat and hear many stories,” I said. "No,” she said, "I don’t talk about it. It is too painful.” And she hurried off.
The people were forced to travel south and live with relatives or in camps. No hotels like Katrina victims got! War is a different thing. So was the Depression. I have heard so many times that the Depression was a happy time here in the States. Everyone helped each other and no one had more than the others. WWII in Norway probably had some of that but it is also certain the fear casts its grim shadow over the lives of the Norwegians. And there are those who suffered in prisons or were killed. It must have enhanced the suffering to know that 12,000 Danes and 6,000 Norwegians served in Hitler’s army.
Hitler believed that the Allies would attack through northern Norway. This belief was strengthened when the British bombed the German navy in Lofoten in 1941. Hitler stationed many men in northern Norway (360,000 in May of 1945). To bring and sustain the troops, he ordered war prisoners to work on roads and even a railroad which he called the Polar Railroad. He also paid local residents to help.
But then in 1944, after 3 major German battleships were sunk, the order was given to evacuate. And the residences were burned all the way south to Tromso. Of 80,000 houses, only 10,000 remained.
The museum in Hammerfest answered a few questions. What piqued my curiosity was the rebuilding. I gleaned some hints there. For example a group of 500 men in one summer replaced the communication network, attaching poles to burnt stubs and making provisions for all the places that were thought worthy of future building. But who built the roads? Who rebuilt the houses?
From Lofoten we learn that barracks were transported north to be used as places to leave until the buildings were rebuilt. They were not insulated but better than nothing. Food was also scarce. Animals were fed black seaweed, fish remains and birch twigs.
It stated in the pamphlet that the compensation money and insurance went to the rebuilding but many had to start from scratch. It seems the last reparation to buildings was done in 1959. Yet Norway is the only country to pay off its war debt to the US. The American–Scandinavian Foundation was created with some of that money.
Importance of laws, Haakenshalle, Bergen.
From the beginning of North European written history we find a strong emphasis among the Scandinavians for written laws as the basis of society as opposed to the authority of a single man. When the Vikings conquered Dublin, they had with them a set of laws. That so impressed the Englishmen that the English word "law” comes from the Scandinavian word (loeg, lag).
There were many sets of territorial laws and laws for the towns, copies of which still exist. The laws were quite far-reaching. Some of the earliest laws contained a form of insurance protection. If a man’s barn burned down and animals were destroyed, equally well-off members of the territory were required to give the victim a number of animals as well as rebuild the barn. Same happened a second time, if the barn again burned .But if it burned a third time, the man was on his own.
A new set of each was created under Magnus Lageboete in the 1270’s. Town laws decided what professions were allowed in the town, where they were to be practiced and who was to (or was certified to) practice them. Procedures for prevention of fires (and fines if the tasks done and equipment used did not meet the law), what should happen if a body were found on the streets, how late one could go about at night, and how wide streets and bridges should be. To own a house was also to live in it in Bergen but not in other towns.
In Haakonshalle in Bergen (a castle-like residence where the governing council met, dated from the 13th century, reconstructed after being largely destroyed by an explosion in World War II ) there is a permanent exhibition about the medieval laws. Most of the display has an English translation.
Haakenshalle is on the street that was built as an extension of the wharf where the merchants plied their trade in the medieval times. Artists use the buildings as showrooms as well as workrooms. There is also a museum there which is a reconstruction of the residence and store of a merchant in the Medieval Ages.
At the end section and along the opposite side of the wharf is the fish (and vegetable) market where now also items for the tourist can be had. Larger and more modern stores surround the wharf. The hillsides are covered with houses served by cobblestone streets.
It is so enjoyable to walk around in Bergen. So much history! A wonderful aquarium with many penguins and fish.
On the near islands there are still buildings made from the omnipresent rock that have stood with no added support for centuries witnessing to the energy and efficiency of the people in using whatever was at hand.
With so much history and unique character, it is evident why Bergen has long regarded itself as much the capitol of Norway as is Oslo. "Velkommen hit!”
(Picture is of the best lamb sausage maker one can imagine.)