Category Archives: Norway

Nobel Museum

The Noble Museum is a small museum on the ground floor of the beautiful 18th century former stock exchange building in the heart of Stockholm old town. The rest of the building is used by the Swedish Academy that awards the Nobel Prize in Literature. A Nobel Centre will be built on the Blasieholmen peninsula, at Nybroviken, an inlet of the Baltic Sea in the heart of Stockholm, next to the National Museum. The Nobel Centre is still a few years away. The Nobel Museum will probably have room to expand in the new location.

The Exchange (Börsen) currently housing the Nobel Museum

The museum has a section dedicated to the life of Alfred Nobel, a section for the growing collection of artefacts donated by various Nobel laureates and a section for the Nobel Prize ceremony at Stockholm Town Hall. Then there is a display area for information on all Nobel Prize Laureates and an area for exhibitions.

Nobel Museum
Nobel Museum – 2017 Nobel Laureates in Physics, Chemistry and Physiology or Medicine
Nobel Museum – 2017 Nobel Laureates in Literature, Peace and Economics Science

When little Puffles and Honey visited, the exhibition was Literary Rebellion – Images of Nobel Prize Laureates in Literature by Kim Manresa and Xavi Ayén.

Nobel Museum

In Literary Rebellion, twelve Nobel Laureates in Literature are depicted in the Spanish photographer Kim Manresa’s gripping and beautiful images. The authors have in different ways used their writing as a way to question, create change and make resistance. Through their literature, they have in different ways worked to create and maintain spaces for the free word.

The Nobel Laureates in Literature whose authorships were highlighted in the exhibition are: Svetlana Alexievich (2015), Dario Fo (1997), Nadine Gordimer (1991), Imre Kertész (2002), Doris Lessing (2007), Toni Morrison (1993), Herta Müller (2009), Orhan Pamuk (2006), Kenzaburo Oe (1994), José Saramago (1998), Wole Soyinka (1986) and Wisława Szymborska (1996).

Toni Morrison (b. 1931)
Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993
José Saramago (1922-2010)
Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998
Doris Lessing (1919-2013)
Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007
Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012)
Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996

Winning a Nobel Prize is considered one of the world’s greatest honours. The laureates for Literature have caused quite a stir at times.

The Swedish Academy’s selection of British writer Kazuo Ishiguro as its 2017 literature laureate was well-received, but this has not always been the case.

The Academy’s decision to bestow its distinguished literary award — and the accompanying $1.1 million (€937,000) prize — to Bob Dylan in 2016 unleashed a storm of criticism, with many arguing the American musician and songwriter did not deserve an award that was typically bestowed on novelists, dramatists, and writers of non-fiction. Dylan’s reluctant acknowledgement of the award and his decision to be absent at the official award ceremony only added fuel to the fire.

Other individual recipients have led to outcry and insults, such as Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2010 literature laureate who was said to focus more on politics than prose. And Russian dissident author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s decision not to attend his 1970 Stockholm prize ceremony due to fear of Soviet repression escalated to the point that he said the Swedes’ conditions for acceptance were “an insult to the Nobel Prize itself”.

In addition, the Academy itself has been accused of Eurocentrism and gender biases. Critics of the literature award, in particular, argue it is highly subjective.

Based on the will of philanthropist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, the award should go to “the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Yet there is no unanimous consensus on what constitutes this “ideal”.

Giant of American letters John Steinbeck beat the British authors Robert Graves and Lawrence Durrell to win the Nobel prize for literature in 1962, but he was not a popular choice. The names of 66 authors were put forward for the prize that year, with the shortlist consisting of Steinbeck, Graves, Durrell, French dramatist Jean Anouilh and Danish author Karen Blixen (author of Out of Africa, rendered herself ineligible by dying that September).

Although Steinbeck was praised by the committee “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception” when his win was announced, the declassified documents show he was actually chosen as the best of a bad lot. “There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Nobel prize and the prize committee is in an unenviable situation,” wrote committee member Henry Olsson. How about not awarding a prize then?!?

The choice was heavily criticised, and described as “one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes” in one Swedish newspaper. The New York Times asked why the Nobel committee gave the award to an author whose “limited talent is, in his best books, watered down by tenth-rate philosophising”, adding; “we think it interesting that the laurel was not awarded to a writer … whose significance, influence and sheer body of work had already made a more profound impression on the literature of our age”. Steinbeck himself, when asked if he deserved the Nobel, replied: “Frankly, no.”

Moving on… to the display on Alfred Nobel.

Nobel Museum

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm on October 21, 1833. His father Immanuel Nobel was an engineer and inventor who built bridges and buildings in Stockholm. In connection with his construction work Immanuel Nobel also experimented with different techniques for blasting rocks.

Alfred’s mother, born Andriette Ahlsell, came from a wealthy family. Due to misfortunes in his construction work caused by the loss of some barges of building material, Immanuel Nobel was forced into bankruptcy the same year Alfred Nobel was born. In 1837 Immanuel Nobel left Stockholm and his family to start a new career in Finland and in Russia. To support the family, Andriette Nobel started a grocery store which provided a modest income. Meanwhile Immanuel Nobel was successful in his new enterprise in St. Petersburg. He started a mechanical workshop which provided equipment for the Russian army and he also convinced the Tsar and his generals that naval mines could be used to block enemy naval ships from threatening the city.

The naval mines designed by Immanuel Nobel were simple devices consisting of submerged wooden casks filled with gunpowder. Anchored below the surface of the Gulf of Finland, they effectively deterred the British Royal Navy from moving into firing range of St. Petersburg during the Crimean war (1853-1856). Immanuel Nobel was also a pioneer in arms manufacture and in designing steam engines.

Successful in his industrial and business ventures, Immanuel Nobel was able, in 1842, to bring his family to St. Petersburg. There, his sons were given a first class education by private teachers. The training included natural sciences, languages and literature. By the age of 17, Alfred Nobel was fluent in Swedish, Russian, French, English and German. His primary interests were in English literature and poetry as well as in chemistry and physics. Alfred’s father, who wanted his sons to join his enterprise as engineers, disliked Alfred’s interest in poetry and found his son rather introverted. In order to widen Alfred’s horizons his father sent him abroad for further training in chemical engineering. During a two-year period, Alfred Nobel visited Sweden, Germany, France and the United States.

In Paris, the city he came to like best, he worked in the private laboratory of Professor T. J. Pelouze, a famous chemist. There he met the young Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero who, three years earlier, had invented nitroglycerine, a highly explosive liquid. Nitroglycerine was produced by mixing glycerine with sulphuric and nitric acid. It was considered too dangerous to be of any practical use. Although its explosive power greatly exceeded that of gunpowder, the liquid would explode in a very unpredictable manner if subjected to heat and pressure. Alfred Nobel became very interested in nitroglycerine and how it could be put to practical use in construction work. He also realized that the safety problems had to be solved and a method had to be developed for the controlled detonation of nitroglycerine. In the United States he visited John Ericsson, the Swedish-American engineer who had developed the screw propeller for ships.

In 1852 Alfred Nobel was asked to come back and work in the family enterprise which was booming because of its deliveries to the Russian army. Together with his father he performed experiments to develop nitroglycerine as a commercially and technically useful explosive. As the war ended and conditions changed, Immanuel Nobel was again forced into bankruptcy. Immanuel and two of his sons, Alfred and Emil, left St. Petersburg together and returned to Stockholm. His other two sons, Robert and Ludvig, remained in St. Petersburg. With some difficulties they managed to salvage the family enterprise and then went on to develop the oil industry in the southern part of the Russian empire. They were very successful and became some of the wealthiest persons of their time.

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896)

After his return to Sweden in 1863, Alfred Nobel concentrated on developing nitroglycerine as an explosive. Several explosions, including one (1864) in which his brother Emil and several other persons were killed, convinced the authorities that nitroglycerine production was exceedingly dangerous. They forbade further experimentation with nitroglycerine within the Stockholm city limits and Alfred Nobel had to move his experimentation to a barge anchored on Lake Mälaren. Alfred was not discouraged and in 1864 he was able to start mass production of nitroglycerine. To make the handling of nitroglycerine safer Alfred Nobel experimented with different additives. He soon found that mixing nitroglycerine with kieselguhr would turn the liquid into a paste which could be shaped into rods of a size and form suitable for insertion into drilling holes. In 1867 he patented this material under the name of dynamite. To be able to detonate the dynamite rods he also invented a detonator (blasting cap) which could be ignited by lighting a fuse. These inventions were made at the same time as the diamond drilling crown and the pneumatic drill came into general use. Together these inventions drastically reduced the cost of blasting rock, drilling tunnels, building canals and many other forms of construction work.

The market for dynamite and detonating caps grew very rapidly and Alfred Nobel also proved himself to be a very skilful entrepreneur and businessman. By 1865 his factory in Krümmel near Hamburg, Germany, was exporting nitroglycerine explosives to other countries in Europe, America and Australia. Over the years he founded factories and laboratories in some 90 different places in more than 20 countries.

Nobel Museum – map showing location of Alfred Nobel’s factories

Although he lived in Paris much of his life, he was constantly traveling. Victor Hugo at one time described him as “Europe’s richest vagabond”. When he was not traveling or engaging in business activities Nobel himself worked intensively in his various laboratories, first in Stockholm and later in Hamburg (Germany), Ardeer (Scotland), Paris and Sevran (France), Karlskoga (Sweden) and San Remo (Italy). He focused on the development of explosives technology as well as other chemical inventions, including such materials as synthetic rubber and leather, artificial silk, etc. By the time of his death in 1896 he had 355 patents.

Alfred Nobel’s laboratory in Bofors, Sweden

Intensive work and travel did not leave much time for a private life. At the age of 43 he was feeling like an old man. At this time he advertised in a newspaper “Wealthy, highly-educated elderly gentleman seeks lady of mature age, versed in languages, as secretary and supervisor of household.” The most qualified applicant turned out to be an Austrian woman, Countess Bertha Kinsky. After working a very short time for Nobel she decided to return to Austria to marry Count Arthur von Suttner. In spite of this, Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner remained friends and kept writing letters to each other for decades. Over the years Bertha von Suttner became increasingly critical of the arms race. She wrote a famous book, Lay Down Your Arms and became a prominent figure in the peace movement. No doubt this influenced Alfred Nobel when he wrote his final will which was to include a Prize for persons or organizations who promoted peace. Several years after the death of Alfred Nobel, the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) decided to award the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize to Bertha von Suttner.

Bertha von Suttner

When Alfred Nobel died in 1896, he bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to create five annual prizes honouring ingenuity. He wrote his will in Swedish a year before his death while he lived in Paris, and the portion dealing with the prizes was one long paragraph. It named the groups to make the awards: the Karolinska Institute (medicine), the Swedish Academy of Sciences (chemistry and physics), the Swedish Academy (literature) and the Norwegian Parliament (peace). Nobel named these institutions without consulting them first! And the prize money was to come from a non-existent foundation that his executors had to create posthumously! He bequeathed his fortune to this foundation, that would then provide the funds to the various institutions.

Nobel said in his will that he wanted to reward those “who during the preceding year shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” in five categories. The economics prize was created later, after an endowment from the Swedish central bank (Sveriges Riksbank) in 1968 “in memory of Alfred Nobel”. The Economic Sciences prize has been awarded every year since 1969.

The Nobel prizes almost never came to be, largely because of the unsophisticated way Nobel drew up his will. It was flawed and legally deficient because he lived in many places and never established a legal residence. Nobel resided for many years in France, made intermittent visits to a home in Sweden and amassed assets in many countries before dying of a stroke at his villa in Italy.

To secret Nobel’s French assets to the Swedish consulate in Paris before claims might be made on them there, the will’s principal executor literally sat on Nobel’s millions as he rode a horse-drawn cab through Paris. “I sat with a revolver at the ready in case of a direct attack or a prearranged collision with another vehicle, a trick not unusual among thieves in Paris at the time,” the executor, Ragnar Sohlman, wrote in The Legacy of Alfred Nobel, which was published in English in 1983.

Ragnar Sohlman

Large philanthropic gifts to science were rare in Nobel’s day. Moreover, establishing annual international prizes in any field was novel. And controversial. News of Nobel’s plan sent shock waves through Sweden with the intensity of a dynamite blast.

Bitter members of Nobel’s largely disinherited family fought the will in court. Scorn was heaped on Nobel’s gift, the equivalent of $9.5 million and one of the largest fortunes of his time, by the king of Sweden, Oscar II, newspapers, political leaders and other Swedes.

Nobel’s earnings came from his 355 patents and factories in many countries. Swedish leaders vehemently opposed dispersing a Swedish fortune to the rest of the world. Among their reasons: it was immoral, particularly at a time when many Swedes were impoverished.

King Oscar II changed his mind after the Nobel Foundation was established in 1900, in part because he thought publicity about the prizes might benefit Sweden. He was too ill to attend the first ceremony in 1901. Starting in 1902, Oscar II and his royal successors have handed the prizes to the laureates on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.

Alfred Nobel never explained his choice of prize categories. Chemistry and physics seem obvious choices because he was a trained chemical engineer.

The medical prize appears to reflect his heritage and interests. A 17th century ancestor, Olof Rudbeck the Elder, a professor of medicine at Uppsala University, was a discoverer of the human lymphatic system. With other researchers, Nobel discussed experiments in blood transfusions. While alive, he gave generously for research at the Karolinska Institute and at Ivan Pavlov’s laboratory in Russia.

Nobel often relieved his depression by writing fiction, drama and poetry, which probably explains his interest in the literature prize.

The reason for the peace prize is less clear. Many say it was to compensate for developing destructive forces. But his explosives, except for ballistite, were not used in any war during his lifetime.

Swedes were astonished that Nobel prepared his will unaided and without consulting the executors of his estate and the institutions that he entrusted to make the awards.

Ragnar Sohlman had to persuade the Swedish institutions to overcome many objections before agreeing to administer the prizes. The new demand was costly and added to the workload of academicians whose salaries were meagre. No blueprint existed to guide the prize juries. Those “who during the preceding year shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” was a rather non-specific and subjective directive. Sweden had produced leading scientists, but insecurity existed about whether a small group of scientists in a small country could effectively judge claims for the discoveries made worldwide.

If any institution that Nobel named in his will rejected his charge, there probably would be no prizes. But by 1900, Mr. Sohlman had gained their cooperation.

The Karolinska Institute decided to primarily reward fundamental biomedical research, not clinical research. That action is credited for linking medicine to the emerging wave of laboratory science illustrated, for example, by Louis Pasteur, a chemist and bacteriologist. Pasteur, who died the year Nobel wrote his will, was ineligible for a prize because the Nobels are not awarded posthumously.

There were many competitors for the first awards, which went to well-recognized scientists: a German, Emil von Behring, for developing a diphtheria immunization; a German, Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen, in physics for the discovery of X-rays; and a Dutchman, Jacobus H. van’t Hoff, for discovering the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions.

No more than three individuals can win in any science category. The system to choose Nobel medical prize laureates is costly. About $700,000 is spent for the research into the medical prize, now worth about $1.4 million.

The winners are announced in October, over consecutive days. But the nomination process for the next year’s prizes begins a month earlier. The Karolinska Institute asks 3,000 scientists and administrators to nominate by January 31 researchers who they believe have made the most prize-worthy discovery for consideration in that year’s competition.

The first prizes were awarded in 1901, five years after the death of Alfred Nobel. One hundred years later, the Nobel Museum was opened, as a fascinating homage to geniuses and their pathways to their Nobel Prize.

That took a while to read about… 🙂

Nobel Museum

And it’s time for lunch! At Bistro Nobel, located in the same building. We want this table!

Nobel Museum Café

Being on the short side 🙂 little bears easily found the chair signed by Barry Marshall.

Nobel Museum Café

In 2005, Barry J. Marshall and J. Robin Warren were named joint winners of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of “the bacterium Helicobacter pylori and its role in gastritis and peptic ulcer disease”. Professor Marshall is based at UWA and The Marshall Centre was founded in 2007 to celebrate the award of the Nobel Prize.

Love this photo from the Marshall Centre!

Merry Christmas from the Marshall Centre!
15 December 2017

In the artefacts collection, we found the item donated by Professor Marshall, the sample jar that he used to drink the bacterium Helicobacter pylori in a broth solution. He contracted an infection, thereby proving that the bacterium causes gastric ulcers.

Nobel Museum

Next time you stop for a coffee or a meal at Bistro Nobel don’t forget to turn your chair upside down and see if it has been signed by one of the Nobel Laureates.

Nobel Museum Café

There is a more formal guest book for the laureates 🙂

Nobel Prize guest book for 2017, signed by all Laureates

Suitably fed, little Puffles and Honey went to explore Stockholm City Hall where great Nobel banquet is held.

Nobel Museum

Stockholm City Hall, with its spire featuring the golden Three Crowns, is one of the most famous silhouettes in Stockholm. It is one of the country’s leading examples of national romanticism in architecture. Designed by the architect Ragnar Östberg, the City Hall is built from eight million bricks. The 106-meter tall tower has the three crowns, which is the Swedish national coat of arms, at its apex. Behind the magnificent facades are offices and session halls for politicians and officials, as well as splendid assembly rooms and unique works of art. Stockholm’s municipal council meets in Rådssalen, the Council Chamber.

Stockholm City Hall

After dinner in Blå Hallen, the Blue Hall, Nobel Prize laureates, royalty and guests dance in Gyllene Salen, the Golden Hall, with its 18 million gold mosaic tiles.

The Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall
The Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall
The staircase to the Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall

Nobel laureates walk down the stairs to join the great Nobel banquet held in their honour. If they have stage fright 🙂 a star has been provided on the wall to help them focus!

The Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall

The Blue Hall, with its straight walls and arcades, incorporates elements of a representative courtyard. But, not so blue! For a long time the architect, Ragnar Östberg, wanted to paint the brick walls in the Blue Hall blue, but he changed his mind when he saw how beautiful the red brick was. Although the hall remained red, he kept the name “Blå Hallen” (Blue Hall) because it was already in general use among Stockholmers. The Nobel Banquet takes place here in the City Hall’s largest ceremonial hall on 10 December every year. The actual prize award ceremony takes place at the Stockholm Concert Hall. The Blue Hall also houses one of the largest pipe organs in Scandinavia, with 10,000 pipes and 135 stops.

Organ keyboard
The Blue Room (Blå Hallen)
Stockholm City Hall
The Golden Room (Gyllene Salen)
Stockholm City Hall

The walls of the Golden Hall are decorated with mosaics created by Einar Forseth, depicting the history of Sweden from the 9th century to the 1920s. The images consist of more than 18 million mosaic pieces made of glass and gold. The Queen of Lake Mälaren, that is, Stockholm in human form, sits on a throne and beside her there are figures and buildings from the rest of the world. The balls after the Nobel Banquet always take place in the Golden Hall.

The Queen of Lake Mälaren mosaic
The Golden Room
Stockholm City Hall
The Golden Room
Stockholm City Hall
The Golden Room
Stockholm City Hall

The City Hall of Stockholm can only be visited with a guided tour. Little bears went walkabout 🙂

The Council Chamber is where the 101 members of Stockholm Municipal Council meet. The meetings are open to visitors, who are welcome to sit on one side of the gallery. On the opposite side there is a gallery for journalists. The painted opening in the beamed ceiling is designed to resemble a Viking longhouse.

Council Chamber
Stockholm City Hall
Council Chamber
Stockholm City Hall
Beamed ceiling in the Council Chamber
Stockholm City Hall

The walls in the Oval Room are covered in tapestries which were woven at the end of the 17th century in Beauvais, France. On Saturdays civil weddings take place here.

The Oval Room
Stockholm City Hall
The Oval Room
Stockholm City Hall
The Oval Room
Stockholm City Hall

From the Prince’s Gallery you can see the view over Lake Mälaren and Stockholm’s shores. On the other side of the room you can see the same motif in a painting by Prince Eugen. The black pillars are made of diabase rock. By the windows facing the water there are reliefs featuring male and female characters from Norse and classical mythology.

The Prince’s Gallery
Stockholm City Hall
Mural in the Prince’s Gallery
Stockholm City Hall

That was fun!

The Three Crown (Tre Kronor) Symbol

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943) was born in the south-coast town of Mandal in Norway. For centuries, his ancestors had lived as farmers in a nearby valley, but his father became a master carpenter with his own furniture workshop. He was a devout follower of the Protestant Pietistic movement and the artist’s childhood was spent in a strictly religious atmosphere.

Vigeland’s artistic talents were first revealed in his drawing and woodcarving and at the age of fifteen his father took him to Oslo to apprentice him to a master. On the death of his father only two years later, Vigeland was compelled to return to Mandal and relinquish all hopes of becoming a sculptor. Helping his mother to support his family took most of his time, but every free moment was spent in reading and drawing. his favourite literature was Homer and the ancient Greek dramas, but he also read about and studied a great deal of anatomy and art, particularly the sculptures of the Danish neo-Classicist, Bertel Thorvaldsen.

In 1888 Vigeland was again back in the capital, this time taking with him a bundle of sketches for statues, groups and reliefs, their motifs mostly deriving from Greek mythology and the Bible. It proved impossible to earn a living as a woodcarver and after a period of severe hardship, he finally decided to contact the sculptor Brynjulf Bergslien. Impressed by Vigeland’s drawings, Bergslien took him into his studio and gave him his first practical training. Some months later, Vigeland was able to exhibit his first sculpture at the State Exhibition of Art in 1889. For a short period he attended the School of Design.

Vigeland’s talent was soon recognised and he received several grants that enabled him to travel. He never attended an art academy but worked and studied on his own. He spent 1891 in Copenhagen where he was allowed to work on his own sculptures in the studio of Vilhelm Bissen. In 1893 he was in Paris where he remained for six months. The work of August Rodin, seen by Vigeland on visits to the artist’s studio, made a perceptible impact: inspiration from the Gates of Hell can be seen in Vigeland’s relief “Hell”, the magnum opus of his early years.

Gustav Vigeland: Hell, 1897, bronze relief. National Oslo Museum
Resurrection, 1900 – plaster, incomplete

Rodin’s intimate treatment of the relationship between man and woman was also influential in Vigeland’s lifelong development of his theme.

Man with woman in his lap, 1905 – plaster
One of Vigeland’s most beloved subjects and one which he modelled repeatedly.
Mother and child, 1909 – marble

A long-standing wish to visit Italy became reality in 1895. On his way to Florence he spent a few months in Berlin, mixing there with an international Symbolist circle. Among these was the Polish author S. Prszybyszewski who wrote the first monograph on Gustav Vigeland, entitled “auf den Wegen der Seele” (“The Path of the Soul”), in which he considers Vigeland as opponent of Realism in art. In Italy, to which he returned again in 1896, he devoted himself to art studies of Antiquity and Renaissance. “Every day I realise that sculpture must be stricter”, he wrote home, revealing ideals of a more monumental sculpture, different from the modern Rodinesque style. Many years were to pass, however, before such ideals found an outlet in his own sculptures.

The grants came to an end and in order to make a living, Vigeland took on commissions for the restoration work of the medieval cathedral in Trondheim from 1897-1902. Among his works here are the sculptures for the choir and gargoyles for the towers. Inspired by fantasy sculptures from the Middle Ages, he took up the motif of Man in combat with dragons and lizards which, according to Christian tradition, are symbols of evil and hostile powers. This theme was to reappear in several later sculptures.

No hostile dragons here!

Vigeland modelled more than 100 portrait busts of prominent Norwegians, contemporary or from the recent past. The most striking feature is not always the likeness to the person portrayed, although Vigeland took particular care of its resemblance. He sought the immediately expressive and characteristic in his models. At the same time, the modelling gave him the opportunity to study man, for free; the costs for professional models were high.

He modelled the first busts in 1892, at the age of 23, and the last was made in 1941. He worked with busts in two distinct periods separated by a pause between 1908 and 1915. The busts reflect his change of style from a naturalistic rendering, via an impressionistic expression to an almost abstract, stylistic form.

The busts were in general modelled on Vigeland’s own initiative and he was seldom paid. The early family and friend portraits gave him the opportunity to experiment. From 1901 to 1905 he wanted to portray a number of well-known people. Several of his late busts are symbols of his gratitude to friends.

Bust of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, 1901

Vigeland also designed the statue of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson standing in front of Den Nationale Scene in Bergen.

Bust of Edvard Grieg, 1903
Bust of Henrik Ibsen, 1903
Bust of Fridtjof Nansen, 1903

His most remarkable creation as a sculptor, however, is the wealth of statuary in Vigeland Park.

The Municipality of Oslo was to show Vigeland exceptional generosity, not only in connection with the park. In 1921 an agreement was drawn up in which Vigeland was to be provided with a new and spacious studio. In return, Vigeland would bequeath to the city all works of art in his possession as well as all original models of future sculptures. Vigeland lived and worked in the palatial building from 1924 until his death in 1943. In 1947 the studio was opened to the public as a museum of his works – some 1,600 sculptures, 12,000 drawings and 420 woodcuts. The present Vigeland Museum also serves as the mausoleum of the artist; the urn containing his ashes is placed in the building’s tower. Vigeland was appointed Officer of the Order of St. Olav in 1901, and received the Grand Cross of the Order in 1929.

Sculpture of Camilla Collett, 1909
Henrik Ibsen on sarcophagus, 1906
Sculpture of Henrik Wergeland, 1907
Gustav Vigeland, self-portrait, 1942
Room 8 contains all of the original full-size plaster models for the bronze fountain in the Vigeland Park. The central group with the six giants supporting the large basin are surrounded by twenty “fountain tree groups” and 60 reliefs
Fountain tree group
Model of the bronze fountain and the fountain tree groups in Vigeland Park

By far the most interesting sculpture 🙂

Lekande björnar, 1915 – plaster
Detail of Lekande björnar, 1915 – plaster

Unfortunately, Lekande björnar (presumably playful bears) was purchased by Marabouparken in 1939 and therefore is in Sweden. The group was originally made as part of a fountain.

Lekande björnar (1915), by Gustav Vigeland
Marabouparken, Sundbyberg, Sweden

Vigeland Park, which has partially become an integrated part of the older Frogner Park, covers an area of 80 acres. It functions both as a sculpture park and a public park, open all year round.

The park contains 214 sculptures with more than 758 figures, all modelled in full size by Gustav Vigeland without the assistance of pupils or other artists. He also designed the architectural setting and the layout of the grounds with their expansive loans and long, straight avenues bordered by maple trees.

Vigeland Park map

The park in winter…

Even the statues are cold 🙂

The main entrance consists of five large gates and two smaller pedestrian gates in wrought iron. Railings curve outwards on each side and are terminated by two small gatehouses. The final designs for the wrought-iron gates were made in 1926 and exhibited in 1927 together with some details executed in iron.

Main entrance

From the entrance gates, paths skirt either side of a spacious lawn leading up to the Bridge which is 100 metres long and 15 metres wide. On the granite parapets stand 58 single figures or groups in bronze (1926-33). The sculptures on the Bridge potray people of widely different ages. Many characteristic representations of children are noticeable. Dominant motifs among the groups are the relationship between man and woman and between adults and children. The representation of mother and child has a long and popular tradition in art. A more unusual theme is the father and child relationship, which is the subject of several sculptures.

The Bridge

Beyond the Bridge, the path continues through a rose garden to the Fountain, the earliest sculpture unit in the park. In the centre of the basin six giants hold the large saucer-shaped vessel aloft and (in summer!) from it a curtain of water spills down around them.

The Fountain

The twenty tree groups on the surrounding parapet symbolise “the tree of life”. The tree groups represent a romantic expression of Man’s relationship to nature. They also form the setting for life’s evolving stages, evolving from childhood and adolescence through adulthood to old age and death.

Fountain tree group

The theme of the different ages of life and life as part of an eternal cycle are repeated in the frieze of sixty bronze reliefs on the parapet.

The Fountain

The ground around the Fountain is paved with mosaics in black and white granite and not visible in winter!

Labyrinth

From the Fountain the path continues upwards to the highest point in the sculpture park. The Monolith plateau is reached by ascending three terraces.

View of the Fountain and the park from a terrace
Monolith plateau

As in the Fountain, the principal theme of the Monolith plateau is the circle of life. The monolith consists of 121 figures and was modelled by Vigeland in the years 1924-25. It has been named the Monolith because it was carved out of a single block of stone. Vigeland carved the Monolith on site and he finished it just before he died.

Gustav Vigeland, self-portrait, 1942

Little bears have been keeping warm in the cafe near the main entrance 🙂

J.T. Rogers’ Oslo

While the shows we went to in northern Europe had the venue as the primary focus (Musiikkitalo, Harpa, Oslo Operahuset and DR Koncerthuset), the shows we went to in London were about the performance.

Since Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen is one of our favourite plays, J.T. Rogers’s Oslo became an interesting option for a night out. It was our last night in London and the last night of a six week trip and the thought of skipping the play and getting a bit more sleep briefly came to mind. Luckily, it quickly left the mind!

Harold Pinter Theatre
Harold Pinter Theatre
Harold Pinter Theatre

Oslo tells the true story of how one young Norwegian couple – Terje Rød-Larsen, played by Toby Stephens, and Mona Juul, played by Lydia Leonard – planned and orchestrated top-secret, high-level meetings between the State of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which culminated in the signing of the historic 1993 Oslo Accords.

Lydia Leonard as Mona Juul and Toby Stephens as Terje Rød-Larsen

This gripping play by J.T. Rogers, directed by Bartlett Sher, was awarded ‘Best Play’ at the 2017 Tony Awards and was winner of every ‘Best Play’ award on Broadway in 2017 including those given by New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, Obie and Lucille Lortel Awards.

J.T. Rogers has lots of experience at dramatising foreign affairs, all his major plays deal with the subject: The Overwhelming (2006) dramatises the Rwandan genocide and Blood and Gifts (2010) explores the wars in Afghanistan. He has also written plays set in Spain, Germany and now Norway.

Oslo is the story of a peace process; it is almost wall to wall men in suits. But the events it elucidates are riveting. As is the dramatisation of the events for the play by Rogers. Improbably, the secret talks that led to the 1993 Oslo accords, the first agreement ever struck between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (remember the PLO?) and the state of Israel, were organised not through official channels but by a Norwegian academic and his diplomat wife. The negotiators were served waffles in a remote Norwegian house 🙂 The US was not told of the encounters. Yet later that year Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin were shaking hands on the lawn of the White House. There were sobs of joyful surprise from witnesses as agreement was reached.

Sitting anonymously among the thousands of global dignitaries who had flocked to Washington to witness this historic event was Terje Rød-Larsen, the cultivated, softly spoken Norwegian diplomat who, with his wife Mona Juul, made it all possible by enabling the rival delegations to meet in secret to thrash out their differences.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres signing the peace agreement in September 1993 (Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat pictured behind) CREDIT: AP

The sobs provoked by watching this now are bitter: by the end of the decade the accord was in tatters.

Rogers’s play is not verbatim theatre but a reimagining. With fierce individual confrontations and high-powered comic eruptions. Rogers has fashioned an unexpected thriller out of the brave and inspired Palestinian and Israeli negotiators who came together to put aside decades of hostility and make peace.

Philip Arditti as Uri Savir is a chameleon Israeli negotiator who swivels from seductor to boa constrictor with a shimmy of his snake hips. He does provocative take-offs, not only of Henry Kissinger but also (jacket backwards over the head) Arafat.

Peter Polycarpou’s depiction of Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian finance minister sent by Arafat to make peace, admirably captures the conflicting emotions of enduring the pain of exile while seeking to wreak terrible vengeance on the Israeli occupiers.

Both of them have daughters called Maya.

Peter Polycarpou as Ahmed Qurie and Philip Arditti as Uri Savir

At one Broadway performance, the entire 1,000-seat theatre was booked for the United Nations. They didn’t react to Philip Arditti’s Uri Savir impersonation of Arafat as an effeminate narcissist and a man whose vanity knew no bounds. Rogers suspects, they all either knew him or were terrified of being seen laughing at him. Even 13 years after Arafat’s death!

Bartlett Sher’s incisive production makes debate look like action. Which is part of Rogers’s point: in a peace process, talking is a deed – and may replace an act of war. Against the odds, the evening is truly theatrical – because it is essentially a backstage story. It makes most “news” look like mere window dressing.

The task facing the rival delegates when they first meet was a daunting one. For the Israelis, if the fact became known that they were talking to the PLO, the government would most likely fall. For the Palestinians, it would mean an assassin’s bullet.

Many of the players portrayed are no longer around to reflect on Rogers’s version of events. Rogers interviewed Terje Rød-Larsen at length, but spoke to only a few of the other participants: “I stalked the characters, through memoirs and TV interviews. But the lines on stage are all mine; there’s no verbatim. My rule, though, was that no one expresses views that they didn’t hold.”

Someone he apparently didn’t speak to was Yossi Beilin, who was a member of the Israeli delegation to the talks, and is disturbed that the playwright never contacted him even though Beilin’s character has a substantial role in the production. “No one bothered to call me, other than to tell me that there is such a play, and that if I’m ever in New York they’d be happy to invite me,” Beilin said. “I assume that the play has no connection to reality, but they tell me that it’s actually successful. it’s not clear to me why the playwright didn’t speak to those [involved] who are still alive.”

Joel Singer, who was the Israeli delegation’s legal adviser to the Oslo talks has seen the play on Broadway. “There’s very little resemblance to what you see on stage and what actually happened in Oslo. Even though they claim that the play is based on extensive research, there’s almost no link between what you see on stage and what really happened.”

Singer, along with other Israelis who’ve seen the play, found the Palestinian representatives were presented in an authentic manner, but didn’t find the Israeli representatives believable. Interesting cultural bias. Singer said, “All the Israeli representatives looked like cartoon characters, like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. The Israeli characters are all distorted. It bothered me personally that they were using the names of people I know and attributing characteristics to them that they don’t have.”

None of the players were presented as their real-life versions. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if they had, a three-hour play about politics, even the politics of a peace process, would have been far too boring. The real Terje Rød-Larsen is a quiet and patient man, who never seemed to be entirely comfortable with the rough-house atmosphere of the Middle East region, where disputes were often more likely to be resolved through rocks and rubber bullets than rational persuasion.

Uri Savir, who was deputed by Peres to run the Israeli side of the negotiations, was an urbane multi-linguist of an academic disposition, softly spoken and thoughtful when discussing regional issues.

Ahmed Qurei is reported to be a man of great personal charm, tolerant and good-humoured, which no doubt contributed to his appeal as a negotiator. His easy-going style has won him friendships over the years with his Israeli counterparts.

Yitzhak Rabin, the great Israeli warrior-turned-politician who agreed to make peace with Arafat, a man most Israelis, as one Israeli character in the play remarks, saw as being akin to “Hitler in his bunker”, was murdered by a Jewish extremist in November 1995 in revenge for signing the deal.

The mysterious circumstances surrounding Arafat’s death in a Paris hospital in November 2004 remains a source of controversy among his PLO loyalists, many of whom believe he was poisoned by Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.

By the time Shimon Peres, the Nobel Prize-winning prime minister of Israel who helped resolve many of the more intangible issues, died more peacefully aged 93 in 2016, he had become one of the most accomplished statesmen of our age.

For all the quips and light-hearted banter, and occasionally over the top characters, Oslo is, at heart, a deeply emotional drama. When the Israelis finally strike a deal with the Palestinians during a telephone call to Arafat’s headquarters in Tunis, they think they can hear music playing in the background. In fact it is the battle-hardened veterans of the PLO sobbing at the prospect of being allowed to return to their homeland.

Ultimately, the play is an implicit tragedy about the failure of both sides to build a lasting peace on the basis of the painful concessions made during the Oslo negotiations. “Between our peoples lies a vast ocean,” says Ahmed Qurei, the finance minister for the PLO, in the play, just before the negotiations start. Twenty-five years on, that ocean seems as vast as ever.

Oslo Operahuset

Craig Dykers, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen
Oslo Opera House, Oslo, Norway (Scale model, 1:200)
2000-2008

Even if opera is not your thing, and you have little interest in the finer points of auditorium acoustics, Oslo Opera House is a unmissable building. Here is a public building – “a social democratic monument,” say its designers – that captures something of the spirit of Norway’s snow-smothered mountains and icebergs, with its white marble and clear glass exterior.

This vast complex, home to Norway’s national opera and ballet companies, has quickly become a new national symbol, much as Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House did for Australia decades ago. Envisioned by Snøhetta as a glass and marble “wave wall” where the city meets the ocean, the site was designed as a large white wedge that slopes down into the water. The slanted roof has been transformed into a large public plaza closely connected to the surrounding fjord. Available for around-the-clock use, the roof is a new type of city park in which distinctions between architectural and landscape design, music and dance are productively blurred.

Oslo Opera House

In winter, the roof is covered with snow, and, while it is not exactly encouraged, young people will be tempted to snowboard down it. The roof, along with the aluminium-clad fly tower, is very much the dominant feature. In fact, from the water side, the roof is the building.

View from the roof
Oslo Opera House

This vast undulating plane, or sequence of planes, comprising 36,000 individually cut slabs of Carrara marble, slopes down from the heights of the fly tower, covers the auditorium and ends up, very deliberately, under water.

The choice of Italian over Norwegian stone caused considerable controversy, but detailed testing concluded that the visual and technical quality of the Italian marble was superior to – as well as half the price of – local stone. Norwegian sensitivities were allayed somewhat by the placement of local granite at the water’s edge; the green stone mimics the colour of the water. The marble started to turn yellow because of the cold climate, but scientists have developed a way of drying the marble to retain its whiteness.

In freezing weather, the building really does look like a man-made iceberg. In fact, it is firmly anchored, and protected from errant ships by a new sea barrier, solidly built and designed to last at least 300 years.

When the opera house was commissioned in 2000, it fulfilled a century-old wish for Oslo to house the Norwegian National Opera. The National Opera & Ballet was established in 1957 and housed at the Folketeatret Theatre, but the institution had to share the space with others. The National Opera’s first director was the internationally renowned soprano Kirsten Flagstad, who paid for the employment of extra singers and musicians out of her own pocket. The square that houses the modern opera house is named after her, and she is honoured today with the statue that you see as you approach the entrance to the building.

Kirsten Flagstad

The glass façade, 15 meters high in places, rises out of the marble canopied exterior, allowing natural light into the foyer by day and foyer light to illuminate the canopy by night. The main entrance – a crevasse-like slit in the white marble façade – leads into a happily meandering, informal lobby wrapped around the auditorium. Timber ramps, with superbly crafted detailing made by traditional Norwegian boat builders, lead up from cloakrooms clad in hexagonal screens by the artist Olafur Eliasson, and extraordinarily beautiful lavatories (really), to bars and lobbies, and finally to the hush of the auditorium.

Oslo Opera House foyer
Oslo Opera House
Hexagonal screens by Olafur Eliasson
Oslo Opera House
Hexagonal screens by Olafur Eliasson
Oslo Opera House

The large and light lobby is open 24 hours a day and features cafés with beautiful views of the fjord, while large windows make it possible to sneak a peek at the workshops and costume department from outside the building.

Oslo Opera House cafe

Beyond the undulating oak wall lies the three main performance halls. The largest hall, the Main Hall, poses as the heart of the building. Being in the interior of the main hall can be compared to being inside of a large wooden instrument.

Main Hall at Oslo Opera House

The Main Hall is a classic horseshoe theatre built for opera and ballet, inspired by the Semperoper in Dresden. It has a capacity for approximately 1400 visitors divided between stalls, perterre and three balconies. Unfortunately, some of the seats have limited visibility, a trade-off for a floor plan inspired by classical architecture. The orange-red fabric of the seats was specially designed as a counterpoint to the dark oak walls of the hall. Text display screens are built into the seat backs so that the audience can individually choose to read the libretto in a number of languages. The dark colour of the walls (the oak was treated with ammonia) is particularly suited to the theatre space and the oak gives a rich, warm and intimate feel to the space.

Main Hall at Oslo Opera House

The acoustics of the main hall were supervised by the Arup agency. The sound has incredible depth, notably thanks to a particularly sonorous orchestra pit, typical of the Scandinavian conception of opera houses. The reverberation period is 1.7 seconds, a period halfway between opera houses and symphonic halls.

The interior design of the Main Hall was determined by technical and acoustic requirements: a short distance between the audience and the performers, good sight lines and excellent acoustics. The seats are designed to absorb as little sound as possible. The specially designed walls of the Main Hall assist the acoustics by spreading the sound evenly around the auditorium, while the curved fronts of the three balcony levels serve to diffuse the sound. Reverberation time is fine tuned using drapes along the rear walls and control rooms for sound and light are located to the back of the hall.

Main Hall at Oslo Opera House

The orchestra pit is highly flexible and can be adjusted in height and area. The stage is shaped like a horseshoe to achieve the best acoustics possible while the 35 meter high stage tower allows for complex technical stage work. Sixteen elevators run up and down, tilting and rotating to move and construct landscapes within the stage. On each side of the stage are mobile towers which allow for adjustments in the proscenium width for ballet or opera without damaging the acoustics of the hall. Underneath the stage is a ventilation system that maintains the humidity of the hall and the frontal areas of the stage, providing extra humidification for the singers and instruments as needed.

The 23 x 11 meter stage curtain dominates the main auditorium and gives the illusion of being made from crumpled metal foil. It is actually a tapestry called Metafoil by American artist Pae White, which was woven in Belgium by projecting photographs of crumpled foil onto a computerised loom.

The requirement for a long reverberation time resulted in a room with a large volume. In this case the volume is increased by the use of a technical gallery which cantilevers out over the walls below, giving the hall a T shaped section. The main structure of the stone clad roof above is included in the volume of the hall rather than being hidden behind a false ceiling.

Above the audience, on the ceiling of the Main Hall is Norway’s largest chandelier. The moon-like light, crafted of hand cast glass bars, is illuminated by 800 LED lights shining through 5,800 hand-cast crystals. The chandelier, which is suspended inside an oval reflector, also acts as an acoustic reflector: inside it, the clusters of crystals increase in size towards the stage. This configuration allows more sound to pass through, contributing to reverberation throughout the auditorium.

Chandelier in the Main House at Oslo Opera House

Little Puffles and Honey attended a performance of Wozzeck in the Main Hall. Not the most cheerful of operas, but it provided an opportunity for photos 🙂

Cast of Wozzeck at Oslo Opera House
Main Hall at Oslo Opera House
Main Hall at Oslo Opera House
Main Hall at Oslo Opera House

The complex also has two smaller venues and little Puffles and Honey went in search for the second hall hoping for a more fun experience!

Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House
Second hall behind the wave wall at Oslo Opera House

The second hall has space to hold up to 55 musicians, and the flexible seating for 400 can be adapted from traditional rows to an in-the-round configuration. The other performance space, the Studio, can be used as a rehearsal room or as a performance space for an audience of 200 patrons.

The action in the second hall looks more promising! There is a Christmas tree and a cute horse on stage 🙂

Jingle Horse!

Jingle Horse! was a Christmas show made up of a collage of well-known stories with a new twist, sometimes funny, sometimes less so. It was in English, evidently some humour cannot be translated. The best part of the show was Puffles and Honey sneaking on stage and meeting the star of the show, Jingle Horse himself! 🙂

Oslo Opera House – Stage 2
Big hug from Jingle Horse

Norway’s oil revenue has allowed it to invest in culture. The Oslo Opera, inaugurated in 2008, cost some €500 million and change. The payoff was immediate. This is the only opera house in the world to have won the prestigious Mies van der Rohe Award for contemporary architecture from the European Union (Harpa in Reykjavik is a Concert Hall and Conference Centre). The jury found Oslo Opera to be an example of the power of architecture to recuperate urban territory and transform it into public spaces of great quality.

On the Concert Hall Trail

The in-depth stories about each concert hall will come later, but little Puffles and Honey want to give a preview of their beary exciting musical adventures now 🙂

Northern Europe is the location of no less than four cultural venues with crystal-clear acoustics and breathtaking architecture. Little bears, of course, checked out all the locations for themselves 🙂

First Harpa in Reykjavik. The venue is unusually defined by its facade. It’s a powerful statement created by fusing the creative visions of Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects and internationally acclaimed artist, Olafur Eliasson. The sparkling glazed fenestrations transform the public areas, which are now often seen as being almost as important as the performing spaces themselves.

Harpa
Harpa

It is probably no coincidence that although Eliasson is Danish, his parents are Icelandic, allowing the citizens of Iceland to have at least part ownership in this world-class success at a difficult time in their history.

Harpa
Harpa

Seen from the foyer, the halls form a mountain-like massif that similar to basalt rock on the coast forms a stark contrast to the expressive and open facade. At the core of the rock, the largest hall of the building, the main concert hall, reveals its interior as a red-hot centre of force.

Harpa main auditorium

Little bears attended Kristján Jóhannsson’s annual Christmas concert, a festive program also including Dísella Lárusdóttir, Ólafur Kjartan Sigurðarson and Margrét Eiríksdóttir performing opera favorites and classic christmas songs with the Reykjavík Opera Choir and Kópavogur Men’s Choir, accompanied by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bjarni Frímann Bjarnason.

Harpa

Little bears attended another two shows at Harpa, Arvo Pärt and Mozart and How to Become Icelandic in 60 minutes, a hilarious comedy that taught them how to say Eyjafjallajökull!

Harpa
Elevenses at Harpa

Next on the list was Musiikkitalo in Helsinki.

Musiikkitalo

Musiikkitalo deliberately reveals its treasures only after one actually enters the building. In the lobby huge panoramic windows look into the dark stained concert hall. Not only does the rather understated building have an auditorium with 1700 seats and five smaller halls – there are also three saunas!

Musiikkitalo
Elevenses at Musiikkitalo – the cakes were very good, the salmon quiche is best never mentioned again!

Musiikkitalo was the least fun place to visit.

Musiikkitalo main auditorium

The stairs and stand of the auditorium are dazzling; the asymmetrical seats remind one of jammed rafts. The big hall resonates richly, but at the same time transparently; acoustics guru Yasuhisa Toyota was involved in the planning process from the start and did a great job here, where it is all about communication and not worship.

Musiikkitalo – Sibelius concert as part of the Finland 100 celebrations

Wozzeck at Oslo Opera House was also not fun. Not the most cheerful of operas! Just between us, we can say we were present at Wozzeck but not that we have really seen Wozzeck.

Oslo Opera House

The location, Oslo’s Bjørvika neighbourhood, was chosen because it was in need of urban renewal. The building had a subsidiary role in spearheading dockland redevelopment. Snøhetta opted for a roofline that rose from up from the waterline and the structure has been likened both to an iceberg and a stealth bomber that crashed into Oslofjord. The edges of the building can be used as a diving platform where they meet the water, and visitors can also walk up its sloping walls to the very top to admire the view. Passers-by often find themselves wandering into this fun structure without realising they have entered a concert hall.

In common with Harpa at present, the Oslo Opera House is surrounded by construction sites as the area continues to be renewed.

Oslo Opera House

Wondering around the opera house was a bit more fun 🙂

Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House

The Oslo Opera House has proved a remarkably successful building, although the general view remains that there is a lot of bloom to the sound and that the overall building is more visually stunning than its auditorium.

Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House
Oslo Opera House

Little bears found Stage 2 where Jingle Horse! was playing, a Christmas collage of well-known stories with a new twist, sometimes funny, sometimes less so. The show was in English, none of the stories escaped parody and not much was off-limits! Not even Mary Mother of God or the refugee crisis.

One of the reviews said the ensemble acting was so strong that it could carry any kind of text you could imagine. That was certainly true!

Jingle Horse!
Jingle Horse!

But the main character was very cute indeed! And an excellent actor 🙂

Jingle Horse!
Jingle Horse

And yet at the end, everybody left the stage and left him all alone…

Jingle Horse!

Little Puffles and Honey went to the rescue… 🙂

Oslo Opera House – Stage 2
Big hug from Jingle Horse

Danish Broadcasting’s new concert hall in Copenhagen, DR Koncerthuset, is sultry, curvaceous and clothed in aromatic reds and oranges. It is also spatially deceptive.

DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset
DR Koncerthuset

The performance of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Fabio Luisi was outstanding. It received a standing ovation and rightly so.

DR Koncerthuset

The Verdict on the Northern Lights Locations

Many moons ago, we selected a number of locations for the best chance of seeing the northern lights.

We have now visited all the locations and we have selected our favourite location for the northern lights: Tromsø. And not just because we were very lucky indeed to see the northern lights three nights in a row. As we have now discovered, there is a fundamental difference between the northern lights tours in Tromsø and the ones in Iceland, Sweden and Finland.

Given a clear and dark sky, suitable solar activity and a bit of luck, you can see the northern lights in each of these locations. You can choose to sit there and wait for the lights to come to you (it does happen!), or you can go find them! You might need a bit of help from the locals to find them.

The lights came to us both in Tromsø and in Abisko. It was playtime with little bears 🙂

Aurora display at Lyngen Lodge west of Tromsø
Aurora display at STF Abisko Touriststation

The tours from Tromsø essentially come under the category of chasing the northern lights, which means that the tour operators have a single focus, finding a location to see the lights. They will drive 150-200km if that is what it takes to find a spot with a clear sky and aurora activity. I did find it odd that in the small print of the tour from Tromsø with AuroraPhotoGuide it said to bring my passport, but now I know that they will go all the way to Finland if that is what it takes!

By comparison, the tours from Abisko, Sweden, and Rovaniemi and Levi, Finland, have a set location, and seeing the northern lights would be a nice experience while they are filling in the time with other activities. At least in Abisko we had a photography focus and took some interesting photos.

During the first “northern lights tour” in Rovaniemi I got quite cranky. I could imagine Geir (the aurora guide from Tromsø) saying, “did you come here to see the aurora or did you come here to cook sausages?” And worse, there were children everywhere! Needless to say, we didn’t see the northern lights. The cloud cover was thick and covered the sky as far as the eye could see. At the end of the night, the tour guide made so many cheesy comments about the failure of the tour that if I rolled my eyes any harder, they would have got stuck permanently backwards!

All the tours were pre-booked and paid for, so sausages or not, I went on a second tour in Rovaniemi the following night. There was an improvement, no children in sight! I mean, late nights, cold nights and children. What could possibly go wrong? The sky was perfectly clear but the aurora did not show up at that location. And we had to survive -25C while waiting for it! It took so long to cook the sausage that I gave up and ate it half cold!

I also scheduled two “northern lights night tours” in Levi, but cancelled the tour on the first night. It was cloudy with no chance of a clear sky, -25C was the maximum temperature that day!!! so I abandoned the tour, which was essentially snowshoeing. I went out on the second night for the experience of driving the snow mobile. I didn’t think we had any chance of seeing the lights, but I took my camera and tripod just in case. The snow mobile experience was a lot of fun, but we didn’t see any lights.

As for Iceland, we joined a tour called Northern Lights Escape. Yeah, right! Zero effort was made towards the northern lights aspect. Adding the ‘northern lights’ to the names of the tours has become a nifty marketing ploy. And if you get really lucky and see the lights, they will happily take the credit.

There are plenty of fun activities in all these places, but if you want to maximise your chances of seeing the northern lights, and getting some good photographs of them, you need to look for a tour like the ones in Tromsø where the focus is only the northern lights and nothing else. And stay off boats. They are not suitable for photographing the northern lights. If the ‘northern lights’ tour includes snow shoes, snow mobiles, huskies, reindeer or some other similar thing, then the focus is on the snow shoes, snow mobiles, etc. etc., and not on the northern lights. But a warning, a real northern lights night tour can take 6-7 hours to 2am. With no toilet break! Remember, you are not at an established location. Like Geir would say, did you come to see the northern lights or did you come to sleep?

Aurora display near Tromsø

Good luck!

Lunch at Schrøder

Little bears are the perfect travellers. They never get sick or tired, and they always adapt others to their world 🙂 And they are ever so considerate keeping me company when I get sick, instead of just going out on their own… Until it comes to their elevenses that is!

Today they went out to Restaurant Schrøder.

Lurking in the less-than-trendy St Hanshaugen district, Restaurant Schrøder is way off the tourist trail but the eatery boasts a devoted local following drawn to its traditional Norwegian menu and, in particular, its cod and mackerel dishes (when in season). Grey lino, red-check tablecloths and huge sepia paintings of old Oslo give the place a stuck-in-the-1950s feel and, in Norwegian terms, the prices are, too.

Named after Hans Schrøder who ran the place in 1925, it seems like little has changed since then. Is is one of the few ‘brown’ restaurants left in Oslo (brown as in old-fashioned, dark wood paneling, smoke-stained walls).

And if you’re lucky, the diner at the next table might be crime writer Jo Nesbø, who likes the place so much he’s also made it the favourite hangout of his fictional detective, Harry Hole. If you are luckier still, the diners at the next table are little Puffles and Honey 🙂

Varm Juletallerken (serveres med ribbe, julepølser, medisterkaker, rødkål, saus og kokte poteter)
Riskrem (rice pudding)
(serveres med rødsaus og krem)

To keep the prices back in the 1950s, the wine list includes a lot of Jacobs Creek from Australia! Only one of the reds is available by the glass.

In Oslo, Jo Nesbø is a household name.

Jo Nesbø has written eleven successful novels about the reckless Oslo police detective Harry Hole, a nonconformist with a mercurial mind. For years, Nesbø turned down bids to option his books for the movies. Then he agreed to sell the rights for the bestseller The Snowman to Working Title. And Martin Scorsese has stuffed up the movie version. Little Puffles and Honey have refused to see the movie following the abysmal reviews, so they still hold on to their version of Harry Hole in their mind.

In between working as a crime novelist, Jo Nesbø works as the lead singer in one of Norway’s most popular pop rock bands, Di Derre. He has a degree in economics, he worked as a successful stockbroker, a journalist and, early on, a star professional soccer player in Norway’s premier league (he blew out his knee at 19).