Part Five: 3rd Port of Call, Bergen, Vestland, Norway
When we left Stavanger around 22hrs or 10 PM, there was still quite a bit of daylight left. I got used to these twilight hours very quickly and miss them now.
Trade and warfare ruled the world as far back as recorded history allows us to know. Skythians, Mongolians, Phoenicians, Visigoth or Vikings, all these belligerent peoples had one thing in common, they traded. Be that salt, oil, gold, ivory, amber, or slaves, all of it was moved over great distances for the enrichment of the traders and the enjoyment of the consumers.
During the Middle Ages one trading organisation excelled in the North, the Düdesche Hanse, an association of northern German guilds and merchant marines that united to protect the precious goods in the bellies of their ships against privateers. From modest beginnings, the Hanseatic League, as it styled itself eventually, developed a trading monopoly that included some 200 towns. From Lübeck to Krakow, from Reval (Tallinn) to Novgorod, they all belonged to the Hanseatic League. And Bergen was one of the league’s major ports.
According to nordic tradition, Bergen was founded in 1070 CE by King Olaf III Haraldsson aka Olav Kyrre, Olaf the Peaceful. As a teenager, Olaf witnessed the battle of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire on September 25, 1066, in which his father, King Harald III Sigurdsson aka Harald Hardrada, Harald the hard ruler, died on the battlefield. The Stamford Bridge winner, the last crowned Anglo-Saxon English king, Harold II Godwinson, died himself a scant three weeks later in the battle of Hastings. Maybe those events had a strong influence on the young king of Norway?
Within the next 200 years the buildings on the eastern pier of Bergen’s Vågen harbour were taken over by merchants of the Hanseatic League. They established their Kontoren, their trade offices and warehouses there and stored Norwegian stockfish next to European cereals, not to forget brandy wine from Cognac. Gradually the pier became known as Tyskebryggen, the German’s wharf. The UNESCO buildings along the wharf we see today, are copies of copies of copies of the original wooden structures. Several of the listed buildings in Hansakvarteret, the Hanse quarter between the wharf and what is now Øvregaten, Upper street, burned down more than once. That’s how it goes in towns with wooden houses tightly stacked along narrow alleys!
I’ve heard quite a bit about Bergen from my parents who enjoyed to visit the city. We had decided to follow in their footsteps and explore the town on our own, rather than join a Silversea excursion. The Silver Whisper docked conveniently just a few blocks from the Hanse quarter and the town centre, bringing most sights within an easy walking distance.
Yes, true, however … I found out pretty immediately that I couldn’t walk any distances. Not even a few hundred meters. At the point when I realised our envisioned walking tour wasn’t going to happen, we happened to be right at a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus stop below Bergenhus Festning, the fortress. Fate? Norse Goddesses interfering? Who knows, but the bus certainly made it possible for us to see quite a bit of Bergen after all, even if it wasn’t necessarily what we would have chosen to see. We bought the tickets, boarded a bus and rode it for just one stop. Et voilà:
We gently strolled along the historical wharf and did a little souvenir shopping (a “Bergen” fridge magnet and nordic-themed paper napkins) before hopping (figuratively) on the next bus.
We asked the bus driver where one would find the best fish for lunch and he recommended the fish market on the western pier of Vågen harbour.
The chalk boards on the sidewalk advertise the Fish-of-the-Week, fresh pollock filets for $14.- the kilo, and the Summer Special, which is apparently fresh Turbot. That’s all I could read😁
May I introduce you to the amazing array of fish available at Fjellskål’s? From left to right we have: Fjellørret/Mountain trout [Brown trout, Salmo trutta alpinus, wild caught*] Ørret/Trout [Rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, farmed*], Lysing/Whiting, Breiflabb/Monkfish, Piggvar/Turbot, Villaks/wild Salmon [skinless loin cut for $194/Kg!!!], Kveite/Halibut, Glassvar/Megrim Sole, Rødspette/Plaice, Laks/farm-raised Salmon [comparatively inexpensive at $44/Kg for a loin cut], more piggvar, Uer/Haddock; not shown here are Torsk/Cod and Ulv/Wolf fish or seawolf. We had lunch at the Fjellskål Restaurant, right behind the market overlooking the harbour. Barry had seawolf, I had smocked herring, paired with a nice cold Pilsner – delicious! [* just guessing, comparing size & fat content]
After lunch, another bus took us through several different neighbourhoods of central Bergen. A number of buildings we passed along the way stand out in my memory. First of all Grieghallen, the concert hall named after the celebrated Bergen-born composer Edvard Hagerup Grieg 1843 – 1907.
The Danish architect Knud Munk won the design competition for the concert hall in the mid-60s, but is took a dozen more years to actually complete the building against much opposition, controversy, and payroll shortfalls. Our bus driver told us that the soundproofing of the building is so outstanding, that one could have a simultaneous performance by the symphony orchestra and a rock concert on a stage next door without any interference. Along those lines, one has to note that the most iconic recordings of revered Norwegian Black Metal bands, e.g. Mayhem and Enslaved, happened at Grieghallen, both in the mid-nineties and recently. I on the other hand, prefer the music of Grieg’s cousin, the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.
The yellow building shown along the left edge of the photo above, is actually a tiny corner of a vast building housing the Griegakademiet Institutt Musikk, a conservatory that offers advanced courses up to a PhD level in a variety of specialties in conjunction with Bergen University and other Norwegian music academies.
Naturally, Domkirke, the Cathedral is one of the most recognised buildings in Bergen. Next to it we saw the ever expanding campus of the Bergen Katedralskole, a now secular middle school with 800+ pupils that was founded in 1153 CE by cleric Nicholas Breakspear, who would go on to be elected Pope Adrianus IV.
Another institution we happened to come across was the Salvation Army Bergen 1st Corp, not an especially attractive edifice, in my opinion.
Of greater architectural interest to me was the duplex of Bergens Privatbank and Bergen’s former Stock Exchange, both built in the mid-19th century. The bank is now the posh department store Høyer, while the Stock Exchange was transformed a few years ago into the equally exclusive Boutique Hotel Bergen Børs.
Huddled against the greyish granite wall of the store, just to the right of the entrance and not visible here, is the sculpture “Mennesket” meaning human being. It is a bronze sculpture depicting a homeless man. It was created by Arne Mæland in 1999 as a response to the hype surrounding the turn of the millennium. For many, he said, the celebrations reinforce their feelings of being uteliggeren, outliers. When the Church City Mission charity was given the sculpture in 2006, they paired it with the (modified) closing line from a Bjørn Eidsvåg song saying ingen e bare det du ser, nobody is just what you see.
Bergen has a number of architectural examples of the so-called National Romantic Style aka Nordic Art Nouveau which can not deny a tendency toward the somber, especially in its public buildings. Prime examples would be Bergen Stasjon, the main railway station and Bergen Offentlige Bibliotek, the public library next door to the station.
Jens Kielland was the scion of a highly influential family of artists and politicians. He received a cosmopolitan education and worked internationally, he would therefore most certainly have been intimately familiar with the different Art Nouveau expressions across continental Europe as well as Russia. By sheer coincidence I noticed a glorious modernism-style Art Nouveau apartment building as we passed it by bus. I just barely caught a small corner of it on camera, but the image was distinctive enough that I found the building in Google street view and then identified it as det hvite hus, the white house by Jens Kielland. I’m tenacious that way!
Kielland, by the way, also designed the Bergen residence of the Royal Family, called Gamlehaugen, det norske kongehus, which translates roughly to The Old Pile, the nordic king’s house.
Adjacent to the university quarters we encountered a sprawling technology centre, composed of both industrial and academic facilities for marine and aquaculture research and development. In the Bergen High Technology Centre businesses like the ILAB Industrial Aquatic Laboratory and the Marineholmen RASLab join the Sars International Centre for Marine Molecular Biology of the University Bergen and associated facilities. The High Tech Centre is rounded out by VilVite, an interactive science centre for kids.
Eventually we circled back toward Vågen harbour, thus seeing the former Stock Exchange one more time from a different perspective.
As we drove toward the ship along Øvregaten above Hansakvarteret, we saw yet more tourists descending on the historic neighbourhood and a whole line of buses waiting for their return. The people of Bergen must enjoy the peace and quiet during the winter season when we’ve all finally left …
Last stop, the Silver Whisper.
After dinner we shared a nightcap in the Panorama lounge. The Whisper Trio played to a largely empty salon because there was a performance in the Show lounge going on.
Tomorrow we’ll wake up in Skjolden.