Tag Archives: Haugesund

A Life in a Year – 9th April, Haugesund Museum and Famous Norwegians

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 Johan Vaaler, Paper Clip, 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. 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.

A Life in a Year – 28th March, Plunder, Rape, Pillage and the Vikings

On 28th March 845 ths Vikings  sacked the city of Paris. In January 2010 I visited the very spot that they probably set off from on their marauding mission.

It was another depressing morning, the city crippled under the weight of a leaden grey sky, as we set out in a northerly direction along the black granite coast towards Huagesund’s most famous visitor attraction, the Haroldshaugen Norges Riksmonument a couple of kilometres outside of the city.  We joined a handful of local people in brightly coloured ‘North Face’ kagools and hiking boots who were wandering along the coast line cinder path stopping occasionally for no apparent reason to stop and stare out into the grey nothingness of the North Sea.

We found the monument and it struck me as a bit strange for an Anglo-Saxon to be visiting a monument that commemorates the Viking Age and a starting off point for longships full of heathen bullies on their way across the North Sea to rape and pillage a part of England where I now live.

The Vikings were Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe and the North Atlantic from the late 8th to the mid 11th century.  These Norsemen used their famous longships to travel as far east as Russia, and as far west as Newfoundland, and as far south as modern Spain in a period known as the Viking Age.

The Viking Warrior

 Whilst we tend to retain the school boy image of them it actually becomes increasingly evident that Viking society was quite complex and popular conceptions of them are often in conflict with the truth that emerges from archaeology and modern research.  A romanticized picture of Vikings as noble savages began to take root in the eighteenth century, and this developed and became widely propagated for over a hundred years.  The traditional view of the Vikings as violent brutes and intrepid adventurers are part true, part fable but no one can be absolutely sure of the accurate ratio and popular representations of these men in horned helmets remain for now highly clichéd.

Haraldshaugen was erected during the millennial celebration of Norway’s unification into one kingdom under the rule of King Harald I and was unveiled on July 18th 1872 by Crown Prince Oscar to commemorate the one thousand year anniversary of the Battle of Hafrsfjord. Truthfully I found it a bit disappointing I have to say, a seventeen metre high granite main obelisk surrounded by a memorial stones next to an empty car park, a closed visitor centre and an empty vending machine but I’m sure I am being unfair because places such as these are not really meant to be visited in January.

We walked back along the same route and into the suburbs of the city which felt a bit like a deciduous tree coping with winter; existing, hibernating, waiting, watching for the first signs of spring.  The people with pale complexions, weary streets, grass burned brown by frost and houses battered and besieged and firmly closed to the outside world, a city beaten to the edge of submission by winter and still only part way through.

Viking Longboat Reyjkavik Iceland