Like so many cities in the world, Oslo has had a history of name changes. The original name was Oslo until it burnt to the ground in the 1600s then it was renamed Christiana after the king at the time, King Christian IV. A couple of hundred years later it changed to Kristiana and finally, in 1925, retook it’s original name of Oslo.
Although my slightly different research says that the name Tigerstaden originated from an author who referred to the city as Tigerstaden (City of Tigers) because he felt it was a cold and dangerous place. Then in recent years, the rise in the number of homeless and beggars has put a slight twist on the spelling to Tiggerstaden (City of Beggars). Totally the other way round to what Jon had read. We did see a lot of beggars on street corners but got the feeling that they were working in unison and pooling the contributions. Even in the middle of October the streets were cold and draughty. We did see a few shelters/hostels for the homeless but there are always those who feel that the streets are safer. Whatever it is called now we were ready to JWalk the city and armed with a city map headed off.
The Orange Scarves of Oslo
Fairly on into our walk we started to notice the amount of orange knitted scarves draped on benches, tied to lampposts and adorning the city’s statues. What was this all about? There was a label on each scarf which of course we couldn’t read but I promised myself I would find out more.
Eventually I did find out more and it is an annual event by The Church City Mission. Around this time of year 1600 scarves are knitted by volunteers and distributed around ten cities in Norway. The label reads “To: One that freezes. From: The Church City Mission” and they are intended as a caring and inclusive gift as winter approaches for those in need on a cold day. Interestingly it is only in Oslo that they are left on prominent statues. Apart from the practical usefulness of this scheme, it does make the statues look somewhat more appealing.
From the 1600s For over 300 years this area of Oslo was an illegal and undesirable suburb of the city. Narrow streets where where sewage was dumped in the harbour which was also the source of water for the settlement. In a bid to improve the area in 1931 the foundations were laid for the City Hall and the area was totally redeveloped. Few people live in that area now as it is mostly business and restaurants. The most popular being the fish market and restaurants where fish freshly caught in the Oslo fjords is served daily.
In the summer season lots of boats take tourists out into the harbour and beyond but as we were at the end of the season only one solitary old sailing ship was loading up with passengers for their 2 hour trip around the harbour. They were well wrapped up against the cold but looked frozen perched on little benches on the deck of the ship. It was going to be a long 2 hours for some of those land lubbers.
At the end of one of the jetties or piers there was an even older looking sailing ship called S/V Legend. It had a board displaying it’s history and me, being me, had to read every word and what a legend it was…..
The Ship Legends Are Made Of
S/V Legend was built in Holland in 1915 and was a sailing trader and fishing vessel. During WWI she went missing in the English Channel and was found abandoned in 1925 in Africa on the Congo River by a Dutch fisherman. How did she get so far south? The fisherman brought her back to Holland, had her first engine fitted and she operated mostly as a cargo vessel in the North Sea. During WWII she was involved in running arms for the Norwegian Resistance until, guess what? Yes, she went missing again.
There was no sign of her from 1944 until 1947 when she reappeared in Newfoundland, Canada but no trace of the crew or where she had been for three years has ever been discovered. Returned once again to Holland she carries on operating as a cargo ship for another 8 years before being sold to Norway. Another 40 year was spent transporting cargo and fishing along the Norwegian coast and regular trips to Iceland and Greenland. In 1995 her trading days came to an end and she is converted back to a sailing ship and now takes tourists on trips around the harbour and can be hired for events. What a story? I wonder if it is all true or just to lure in the bookings.
Nobel Peace Centre
Bordering the Aker Brygge stands the Nobel Peace Center. The building is a former railway station and houses exhibitions about the history of the Nobel Peace Prize and gives guided tours. It is currently undergoing renovation so we were unable to go in but it in some ways is a very understated building which I suppose reflects the personality of the majority of winners of the prize.
We walked right through the Aker Brygge to a small garden full of weird sculptures before heading back to towards the city. There wasn’t much signage to explain each piece but we had fun guessing what they were.
This medieval castle built high above the harbour as a fortified royal residence has also been used as a military base, a prison, mausoleum and now houses a variety of museums. In it’s long history it has never been overrun or besieged but it was handed over without combat in 1940 to the Germans during WWII. During German occupancy, execution of members of the Norwegian Resistance were executed here.
Once liberated in 1945 the tables turned and the lives of both Germans and Norwegians found guilty of war crimes ended on this site. Today His Majesty the King’s Guard is responsible for guarding the buildings and they were to be seen in their flamboyant hats but only seemed to be armed with rifles. Maybe the flamboyant hats hide some sort of secret weapon.
We decided the Resistance Museum may be worth a look so paid the 60 KR each (about £6) and toured the two floors of exhibits. It was a really good museum and it was evident how strongly the Norwegian’s felt about support from the British during WWII. From transporting the King, his family and diplomats on HMS Devonshire into exile in the UK in 1940 to avoid capture by the invading Germans to providing training for the members of the Norwegian Resistance, the list goes on and on. The transition from what was a neutral country to an occupied one was told from both a personal and national perspective. Most of the exhibits had both an English and Norwegian description and we spent a good couple of hours working our way around.
Armed Forces Museum
We hadn’t quite had information overload so we followed the signs to the free Armed Forces Museum. There were dioramas, military vehicles, uniforms and exhibits on both past conflicts and peace keeping duties of the Norwegian armed services. For us it was not quite as interesting as the Resistance Museum but worth a look.
After an hour or so we had got to information saturation point and it was time to get some fresh air and stretch the legs a little. What is so great about Oslo is that most things are within walking distance and the transition for the newer Akker Brygge to the historic Akershus Fortress on opposite sides of the harbour ensures there is something for everyone. There were plenty of museums we didn’t get to see but we were on countdown for a rather special train journey which sounded like something out of a Robert Ludlum novel, “The Bergen Line“.
17/10 – 18/10/2018