I wasn’t expecting a great deal I have to say from the Haugesand Museum in Norway but it was something to do for an hour or so and I walked back and went inside the rather grey and boxy utilitarian building. It wasn’t very busy and an attractive young museum attendant greeted me in Norwegian which meant nothing to me of course so I just said that I would like to visit the museum. ‘You speak English’ she asked, ‘I am English’ I replied and she gave me a quizzical look that asked what I was doing there in mid January so I felt obliged to offer an explanation about cheap flight opportunities and never been to Norway before etc. and she seemed genuinely pleased to see me and in perfect English explained about the museum and suggested that I might find it nice to return in the summer.
After paying the 3 kroner entrance fee I went to the first room that had old photographs of Haugesund and little models of the town showing its development over the last hundred years or so and I wondered just how long I could make this last because I wasn’t sure what to expect to find in a Norwegian provincial museum.
Famous Norwegians perhaps? The country is of course well known for its explorers, Leif Eiriksson, the Viking who was the first European to discover the New World in 1001 (not Christopher Columbus, five hundred years later), Roald Amundsen, the polar explorer who beat Captain Scot to the South Pole in December 1911 and Thor Heyerdahl who set out on many risky ocean voyages in traditional sailing craft just to prove that it could have been done. In the arts there is the painter Edvard Munch, the writer Henrik Ibsen and the musician Edvard Grieg.
Johan Vaaler invented the paper clip and secured his patent rights in Germany in 1899. He was granted an American patent in 1901 with the description: ‘It consists of forming same of a spring material, such as a piece of wire, that is bent to a rectangular, triangular, or otherwise shaped hoop, the end parts of which wire piece form members or tongues lying side by side in contrary directions.’
The cheese-slicer is also a Norwegian invention. The story goes like this: in 1927 Thor Bjørklund had his lunch break in his carpenter-workshop at Lillehammer. He was pleased when he discovered four slices of bread with gouda-cheese but it was a hot day and the heat had caused his cheese to melt. He didn’t have an appetite for it all so he tried to divide the slices of cheese so that he didn´t have to eat it all. At first he tried the knife and that didn´t work and then (allegedly) he tried the saw. That didn´t work either so he found his plane that he had been using recently to slice some wood and it worked perfectly well. It was a bit difficult and clumsy to use however and he decided to make a smaller version. Neighbours and friends loved his cheese slicer, so he had to make one for them too and eventually he took out a patent on his invention.
There was no mention of any of these people but in the second room there was an impressive story of local farming through the ages, display cabinets with old tools, agricultural implements and old farm photographs. Because Norway with eighty-three thousand kilometres of coast (including fjords and islands) is a seafaring nation there were a couple of rooms about ships and shipping both old and new and the final room had recreations of the interior rooms of traditional Norwegian houses.
Interestingly there was nothing in the museum about the war because in Norway this remains a sensitive subject. The country was invaded on 9th April 1940 and occupied by Nazi-Germany and, like elsewhere in Europe, some people suffered as a result of the occupation. Women who had relationships with German soldiers were persecuted after the war. Even the children who were born and had a German father (lebensborn), were subsequently discriminated against. Norwegians who co-operated with Nazi-Germany were called “quislings” which is equal to “traitor of the Norwegian nation“, named after Vidkun Quisling. Quisling served as Minister-President of the collaborationist Norwegian government, after being appointed by the German authorities. After the war he was tried for high treason and executed by firing squad. Today in Norway and other parts of the world, quisling remains a synonym for traitor.
As it turned out I wasn’t disappointed by the museum at all and a spent an interesting hour looking around the exhibits and I might go back in the summer.