July 23, 2015
Bergen, Another City I Could Live In
We enjoyed an easy drive into Bergen after a sketchy breakfast. I was not ready for what the Chinese visitors left. I am not into pickled beets and cucumbers for breakfast. It was OK because they left some bread and not very good muesli. The road included an amazing number of tunnels. I quickly concluded that the highway was built to make it possible to reach Bergen without a boat.
Tom, our faithful GPS navigated to the hotel. We quickly checked in and headed for the meeting point for the Bergen walking tour. We needed to walk through the fish market which felt like a tame Fisherman’s Wharf. It was full of tourists. During the summer, Bergen frequently has 8 cruise ships tied up out of sight from the historic harbor. We quickly bailed out of the TI with the crowds and found our own way.
The tour started at a museum that was built over an archeological site that uncovered some of the old buildings that stretch back to the 13th Century. The famous harbor front warehouses and offices of the Hanseatic League have been preserved in a fragile sort of way. Most of the buildings have been rebuilt over the centuries. They are largely stuffed with tourist oriented shops but that is OK since they are well maintained.
The Hanseatic League was started in Germany and spread around the Baltic and the British Isles. We had visited Lubeck, the HQ, earlier in the trip. Bergen was a branch location that traded grain and beer for dried cod that was caught in the north of Norway in the Lotoften Islands. My great-grandfather Martin Arntsen probably was part of this industry. The fishermen would use hand lines to catch the cod that would be dried and shipped to Bergen. From Bergen, the cod would be sent all over Europe.
The other Bergen connection for the family was my grandmother Augusta Benson. She left for America from Bergen in 1915. Bergen was probably also the place where my family sailed to and from during their family visits to Norway in the 1920s and 1930s.
I was actually surprised to see that the place was so peaceful and tranquil despite the frenetic tourist traffic. McDonalds was operating out of a building that looked 100 years old. There were streets of small shops and houses that were adjacent to modern offices and department stores. It all seemed to work.
A walk by the opera house included statues of the composer Greig with a seagull on this head. He was at least comforted by the elegant music platform. The violinist Ole Bull continues to entertain atop a fountain. Ibsen’s scowl assures that no pigeon will attempt to roost.