Norway – Sternly picturesque old fortress (Bergenhus)

The Floifjeld, from whose steep side we got our first outlook over Bergen (Position 48), is off at our right, at the other side of the harbor. You remember that when we were up on the Floifjeld we looked down over this peninsula part of the town and noticed this very building with the arcaded lower story, the many-windowed upper stories and the gable in the roof.

That tall, square building on the opposite side of the harbor, its peaked roof indistinct against the mountain background, is the same one which we saw from the fish market and from the quay beside the old German warehouses. At the left we see the quaint King’s Hall, recently restored after years of neglect; for some time it had been used as a grain storehouse. Both buildings were originally included in the walls of Bergen’s little citadel—Bergenlcus; the fort proper is a bit too far to the west (left) for us to see from here. Both the Tower and the Hall were built during the thirteenth century, after the time of the civil wars when Bergen saw the hottest fighting yet they have had some experience of warfare—there are to-day still sticking in the walls of the tower some cannon-balls fired in by British frigates outside the harbor in an effort to frighten the townspeople into giving up some Dutch vessels that had taken refuge here. But Norwegians are not easily frightened.

The King’s Hall looks from here somewhat like a church, but its purpose was social and ceremonial, not religious. There is a huge fireplace inside, and at one end a throne for the old monarch (Haakon Haakonson), who annexed Greenland and Iceland, including in his realm not only all Norway, but also the Orkney and Shetland Islands, the Faroes, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. In that hall he used to give great banquets where ale was quaffed by brawny Norsemen with unlimited thirst. There, too, hard-fighting warriors sat around the fire, listening to the rhythmic chant of story-tellers recounting old tales of heroes, giants and gods.

The hard-drinking practised in those old times has at this distance a certain picturesque aspect, but Norway has come to feel that it is out of place in this twentieth century. Two or three generations ago drunkenness was appallingly common—so common in fact, that it threatened to eat out the vigor of the people, reducing their physique and seriously retarding the prosperity of the kingdom. To-day the situation is immensely improved. Partly through the steadily rising social standards of average people, and partly as the result of wise legislation pertaining to the liquor traffic, the evil is now abated to a great extent—indeed the present average consumption of alcohol in Norway is only about one-third as much as in Great Britain, one-fourth as much as in Germany, one-fifth as much as in Belgium and France. Here in Bergen, for instance, retail sales of intoxicating liquors can be made only in a certain limited number of shops licensed by popular vote. The persons making the sales are on fixed salaries, and so have no personal interest in pushing sales beyond their normal volume. All books and accounts are audited by municipal and State examiners. The owners or stock-holders in the business can retain only 5 per cent. of the profits, the remaining profits being divided in certain fixed proportions between the municipality of Bergen, the amt (county or province) and the State—such income being used for the maintenance of jails and hospitals and for public improvements of general utility. For example, that fine road up the steep side of the Floifjeld (we had one brief glimpse of it when we were looking over the town from Position 48), was built in part, if not wholly, with funds derived from liquor sales down here in the town. Municipal ordinances forbid sales of intoxicants under any circumstances between 10 P. M. and 8 A. M.; on Sundays and church holidays ; and after 1 P. M. on days preceding Sundays and holidays.

On the other hand, increasing efforts are made to provide decent, wholesome recreation to take the place of hard drinking. Bergen supports an excellent public library ; the municipality appropriates a small sum every year toward the support of the theatre ; band concerts are given in summer in a pretty public park; the school children are being led to take an intelligent interest in the museums of natural history and north-ern antiquities. Boating, skiing, skating, sledging, and all such out-of-door sports, are heartily encouraged by prize competitions. Old Norway certainly holds the key to her difficult social problem, and the solution is being steadily worked out.

This open space where we are now is Holbergs Almenning or Holberg’s Common (almenning means ground belonging to all men alike). It is named in honor of a Bergen man, Ludvig Holberg, who was in the eighteenth century one of the most popular authors in Europe. He was born in Bergen and spent some of his early years here, but lived most of his life in Copenhagen, where he became a professor. He traveled a good deal for those days, and became an exceedingly wise and witty student of human nature. His comedies and verse are still popular, especially in Scandinavia and Germany ; anybody who has access to a large public library can find English translations of parts of his works in Howitt’s Literature and Romance of Northern Europe. One of the comedies, The Man Without a Minute, is a deliciously funny picture of a fussy, over-important person, whose mind works helter-skelter, who fancies himself desperately busy over important concerns, and who really accomplishes nothing at all. He and his absurdities are as well known to readers of Danish as Bob Acres in Sheridan’s Rivals is to readers of English.

One of the most celebrated of all Norway’s valleys and fjords lies northeast of Bergen. The general map of southern Norway (Map 2) shows the Sognefjord opening among innumerable ragged islands just above 61° latitude, and reaching crookedly in, far in east-ward, with many arms and inlets. It is, in fact, more than one hundred miles that the sea does reach up through deep clefts of the broken land. Find Bergen once more on this map, so as to have in mind the relative situation of that town and the southeastern inlets of the Sognefjord. The red oblong set off on the map, northeast of Bergen, tells us that section of country will he found mapped by itself on a larger scale. We find the special map (Eastern Sognefjord district) marked Map 7.

Travelers going overland from Bergen to the inner valleys of the Sognefjord usually cover the first seventy miles of the journey by using the railway already mentioned. At the eastern terminus, Vossevangen, stolkjaerres are hired, and the excursion is continued with horse and post-boy as before. The country around Vossevangen is exceptionally good farming land, and the hotels and hoarding-houses are very popular in summer, both with Norwegians from Bergen and Christiania and with foreign visitors. Six or seven miles beyond the village our road passes an unusually fine waterfall ; if we pause there for a moment we shall find it not at all a lonely place—there will be companions a-plenty. Our standpoint is marked with a red 53 near the lower margin of Map 7.