Bergen Day 3

Monday morning in Bergen

We had arrived in Bergen City after lunch on Friday afternoon after catching the train from the asirport. We looked at our online maps and decided that our hotel was within walking distance for us and our bags. A kind teenage passer-bye gave us more accurate directions so when we left the Railway Station, we turned right at Olav Kyrres Gate and this took us down towards the Harbour and from here it was almost straight walking to our hotel door. On the way we passed a large public Square called Torgallmenningen and I couldn’t help but notice a large public memorial that looked covered in seafaring images, some of them clearly Viking. I was vetoed in stopping to examine this monument so I added it to my early morning walk on our third and last day in Bergen.

It was indeed a Sailor’s monument, designed over the years 1939-45 by the sculptor, Dyre Vaa and it was unveiled in 1950. “It comprises an artistic timeline of the city’s relationship with seafaring via exclusively male bronze statues, 12 in total. Together they afford a sculptural idealisation of the history of Bergen’s (and Norway’s?) maritime adventures and exploration, trading and commerce, through a millennium.” (Courtesy: Howardwilliamsblog)

The reference in the above quote to “exclusively male” and “sculptured idealisation” indicate that the author has a number of issues with the message of the monument about Bergen’s past relationship with seafaring, a debate I am happy to leave with the Norwegians. I did find the large and complex monument quite interesting and the sculptural work involved very impressive. Above can be seen two sides of the monument, the image on the left illustrating the Viking Era. It portrays a possible encounter between Leif Ericson and his Viking colleagues when they presumably met some of the natives North America over a 1000 years ago.

I enjoyed my slow inspection of the Sailors’ Monument and despite recognising that it was developed in a different era from that of the 21st century, I enjoyed the critical tone taken by Professor Williams in his conclusion to his analysis of the sculptor’s approach to Bergen history…This is a striking, nearly male-exclusive seaward-facing memorial for an urban settlement and a region which has long relied on maritime connections throughout its history. … I also note the omission of the later Middle Ages, and the striking perpetuation of the Viking era as a masculine, hierarchical and martial origin myth for Norway. (Prof. Howard M.R Williams)

My next early morning destination was the city end of the octagonal lake that we had visited on our walk the previous day, Lille Lungegandsvann. Again, I had recalled the view down this direction after we had left the Bergen train station and I decided it looked a promising place for photos. After walking up half of Torgallmenningen, I turned left down Starvhusgaten and this led me to the parkland at the city end of the lake; Festplassen. This area of parkland is graced by an octagonal gazebo surrounded by gorgeous flower beds. In the background (above left) is one of the many Art Galleries in this area of Bergen, the West Norway Museum of Decorative Art. Further northward from the Gazebo there is a statue of one of Norway’s musical heroes, Edvard Grieg. Despite mainly a diet of American Rock and roll music as a young adult, for some odd reason an LP of Grieg’s wonderful music appeared in my record collection; his “Hall of the Mountain King” was a great favourite. Having a love for this tune probably spoilt my appreciation of all the plaster trolls I encountered as we travelled Norway! I wasn’t to know at this point of the walk I would encounter another statue up the hill of another of Norway’s literary heroes, Henrik Ibsen. Greig had written the incidental music for this famous Norwegian’s play, ‘Peer Gynt’. The music is almost as famous as the play.

Crossing the road and heading west, I arrived at the start of Ole Bulls plass which is a street that goes all the way up the hill to meet the grounds that surround, Bergen’s major playhouse, ‘The National Stage’. It is a broad street at its starting point and has a long park that runs down its centre, separating the traffic lanes of the street. Just over the road from Festplassen, there is a grove of trees that surrounds an impressive statue of Ole Bull (1810-1880), the Norwegian virtuoso violinist and composer…he was considered in his day on a level with the Italian Nicolo Paganini (1782-1840), the most celebrated violin virtuoso of his time. The statue in this park was created by Stefan Sinding and unveiled in 1901. It fell down in 1997 but was repaired and reinstalled in 1998.

A little further up this park in the centre of Ole Bull Plass is another statue (right, above) called the ‘Lying Poet”. It was created by Hans Jacob Myer and installed here in 1958. The model for the sculpture was the painter Laurie Grundt (1923-2020).

The street of Ole Bull Plass is clearly considered by the local commune as a significant cultural precinct for the city so over the years they have supported this idea by ensuring that the walk up the hill is one where the visitor can move from one art installation to another. The photo on the left above shows the scene that greeted me as I crossed the road to the entrance to the grounds around ‘Den National Scene’. The memorial statue of Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) is the first thing that confronts the visitor, not the National Theatre in the background. The startled eyes of the figure make it almost a caricature, the figure presumably offended by some poor acting in one of Ibsen’s plays. I first studied Ibsen’s plays at Uni many years ago so meeting him again in his native Norway was like encountering a friend unmet for fifty years.

The grounds of the “National Stage’ had plenty more sculptures for me to inspect but perhaps the best one was the staue celebrating both comedy and tragedy on the top façade of the theatre (image above right).

By the time I had finished my inspection of the grounds of the theatre, I realised it was time for breakfast back at the hotel, an event not to be missed. My morning walk had returned me to the top of the hill above the harbour so it was a quick walk back to breakfast after a very enjoyable early stroll around the centre of Bergen.

APPENDIX 1…Some highlights of Bergen Street Art



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