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The traveler: An expected journey This time it's the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden & Norway before England again for several weeks and on to Croatia.

Bergen: Home of the Hanseatic League

NORWAY | Sunday, 21 October 2018 | Views [104]

Bergen at sunset after the rain.

Bergen at sunset after the rain.

As my train pulled into Bergen I realized my phone, which I was relying on for a map to where I was staying, was dangerously low on battery. I started off, and before long, though not without ascending one of Bergen’s steep hills, realized that I was going the wrong direction. Finally headed in the right direction I wound my way from one steep narrow road to cobble lane after another. The “streets” to my airbnb were little more than pedestrian ways, though increasingly beautiful. Finally I arrived on the doorstep very hot from the climb and with a miraculous 2% battery left on my phone. 

As I settled in I met the other 3 visitors at the airbnb apart from myself: a Scottish man, and a Dutch couple also currently living in Edinburgh, who were in Bergen for a job interview. Always a reminder of just how closely connected all of Europe is!

Over a late evening snack and cup of tea the Scottish man and I talked about our sight seeing ideas for the coming day. Following Rick Steves’ advice I bought a ticket for a guided tour stoping at the 3 Hanseatic League museums, which could not have been more worth it.

I started the grey morning off with a walk to the old fortress just a few minutes away from where I was staying (the benefit of my trek the previous day with my suitcase). The fortress itself was only vaguely interesting. With the historical commentary from Rick Steves it gained a bit more color. The most memorable item I would never have noticed is an ivy covered, square, concrete bunker, which was built during the Nazi occupation in WW ll. To go along with this relic is the story of the ship in the harbor just on the other side of the road, which “accidentally” explored in 1944. There seems to be little question in most peoples’ minds that it was an accident.

If you can find the rather hidden steps at the north entrance to the grounds you are rewarded for the steep climb with an amazing view from the crown of the fortress over most of Bergen.

As the predicted rain for the day began to fall the Scot from the airbnb joined me at the Bryggens Museum for the Hanseatic tour in the Bryggen quarter. It began on the ground floor around the uncovered, charred remains of several of the old Hanseatic buildings. Before this was discovered the locals following WW ll were petitioning to tear down the rest of the Hanseatic buildings because of their German connection. Very fortunately this changed their mind!  

The Hanseatic League was an organization of German traders primarily in the the 16th and 17th centuries who created a link between the fisherman of the north and the markets of Europe. Twice each year the Norwegian fisherman brought down their boat loads of air dried stock fish to the Hanseatic trading ports, such as Bergen. Only a photo can begin to give you an idea of just how many thousands of fish this involved!

The most interesting items in the first museum were described to us as “early text messages”. They were inscribed in wood; usually just a few words, a sentence, or even a picture. The image of tossing your little splinter of wood with a message to your friend during class is very easy to imagine!

The Hanseatic traders initially came to Bergen as young boys to apprentice. Slowly they moved through the ranks until they were finally able to move back to current day Germany to manage their trading business and to marry. The penalty of marrying or having an illegitimate child while in Bergen was to provide a barrel of beer to the other men in the house. One boy wrote in his diary that he wished another man would be caught so they could enjoy another round of beer.

Each “house” was like a temporary family comprised of several apprentices and a couple more experienced superiors. One “family” would occupy one of the long buildings with offices and dormitories, as well as a communal building at the back where they would cook, relax and eat.

Like so many early cities Bergen had a history of burning every generation (or so). In an effort to prevent this fires, candles, and anything heat related was completely banned from the offices and dormitories. Walking through the small, creaky, imperfectly angled rooms of the Hanseatic Museum it was all too easy to imagine just how cold it would’ve been during the winter. The cupboard beds in the dormitory are small by any standard. Imagine what a surprise it was then to learn that 2 boys slept  (or rather sat up) in each bed to assist with warmth! The large communal rooms of the 2nd museum (somewhere in between the 2 mentioned above) with a warm fire must have been ever so welcoming!

Following the tour my traveling companion and I went back to revisit parts of the museums we hadn’t taken in on the tour, as well as the shops, which now take up residence in most of the old Hanseatic buildings that have survived the lick of flame since the early 1700s. 

Our first try for lunch was a restaurant my neighbor had recommended to me and famously told me “you can’t miss it!”. Well of course it was hard to find (or rather recognize as the right one without knowing the name). In the end I think we found it, but unfortunately it was only open for dinner. So we headed toward the seafood market which the Scot had spotted earlier as the rain really began to come down. We stopped at one stand offering a choice of seafood with a side of salads for a reasonable price. They said we could also choose different seafoods for the same plate. When it came to paying though we both had to correct some misunderstandings in what we wanted, and still ended up paying rather more than we expected. If you’re visiting it would definitely be worth going over every detail clearly (even too clearly!) before you order. However the platters served us both as our main meals for the second half of the day. The topic of conversation for lunch was all the good in the world we don’t hear about in the news. The Scot recommended a book called “Factfulness” comparing the numbers of all the heart breaking things we hear about these days with the numbers and percentages of generations gone by that we’ve forgotten about, and forgotten how much things have improved.

As the Scot went back to the airbnb I headed back to the museum to read more about Stock fish. I dreaded leaving as by that time it was pouring full force outside, but finally made a dash for the visitor information center. Just below it I found a lovely indoor food court, which was blissfully dry. Rather than have another meal I opted for dessert in the form of an ice-cream cone, which, at that slow time, also came with a conversation with the server who was a Nepali student in Bergen working on his master’s degree. As I recall he said the course work was in English, but if he wanted to stay in the country after school he’d have to become fluent in Norwegian. No easy feat I’m sure!

By early evening the rain had dried up, though the Nepali man pointed out that that was part of experiencing the real Bergen! Taking the lead of the Scotsman I decided to head out on my own stroll around the neighborhood rather than pack, and discovered why my neighbors love it so much: the cats. Some of the felines definitely have homes, but don’t say no to some extra attention from passersby!

With many more memories to take with me I started off to the airport early the next morning while the streets were still quiet and the daylight was just beginning.

The next 7 weeks would find me at my friend’s lovely cottage in the Cotswolds of England. However in an effort to keep up with myself those highlights will have to wait for another time. In the mean time I am going to endeavor to post the daily highlights (or at least every couple days) from my next and final 2 weeks in Croatia!

Tags: bergen, bryggen, bryggens museum, hanseatic league, hanseatic museum, seafood market


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