Donnerstag, 24. September 2015

No pain, no gain - hiking through "Aua"-Landsdalen

Hiking the classic Aurlandsdalen trail in Western Norway was more beautiful, but also more painful than expected, First, i was lucky with the weather: after a week of heavy rain in Oslo and other parts of the country (including the Hardangervidda Plateau, where the trailhead in Finse is located) the weather brightened up just in time for the weekend. On Friday afternoon I walked around sunny Youngstorget in Oslo, and bought some last supplies in the pedestrian zone of Torgsgata: a new headlamp, some trekking food, oil for waterproofing my leather boots, and a good hiking map of the region at the DNT office..

In the evening, after I had packed my backpack, I found out there was no metro early on Saturday morning that would bring me to Oslo Central Station in time to catch my 6.25 train to Finse. So my hike started earlier than expected: i had to leave my apartment at 5.20 a.m., walk 40 minutes to Majorstuen, and take the first train (6:07 according to the Ruter brochure) to Oslo Sentral. However, when i got to Majorstuen at 6 it turned out the first train wouldn't come until 6.27, so i had to hop into a taxi around the corner and tell the driver to quickly take me to the train station.I figured that for a trip that is usually just 3 metro stops and about 5 minutes away I couldn't pay a fortune. I was wrong though. It is Norway after all, and while the Somalian taxi driver would go on lamenting about the high prices in Norway during our short drive, he still charged me 200 Kroner for it himself. However ironic this was, I was just happy to catch my train - which in the end left with 20 minutes delay.

The Oslo-Bergen railway line is known as one of the most scenic train rides out there, and indeed it was lovely seeing countless lakes and rivers pass by while the train was climbing up towards the Hardangervidda plateau. I noticed that the rivers were carrying a lot of water and thought about friends who had recently had a great time kayaking around Voss. It turned out that the girl beside me, a young Norwegian student, was a paddler herself, but this time she went to Voss not to tame the whitewater rapids, but to learn how to fly - like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 1, at VossVind Indoor Skydiving. Norwegians sure are an adventurous bunch! The price was Norwegian, too: around 900 Kroner for 5 minutes of flying, if I remember correctly. Considering that i had paid 200 Kroner for a 5-minute taxi ride, maybe the price acutally wasn't all that bad, though.

Day 1: Finse to Geiterygghytta (15 km)

I got off in Finse, at exactly 1.222 meters above sea level and 11.30 am. The only hotel there is rather fittingly called Finse 1222, and that's where I went to seek shelter and "gear up", since it was cool, windy & raining outside. This didn't surprise me, the weather forecast had predicted rain between 12 and 6 pm on Day 1. This was exactly the timeframe I spent hiking and indeed drizzle, sleet or even snow were constant companions that first day. However, I was in good spirits and enjoying the start to this multiday-trek, my first since hiking the Hoh River Trail with yoga buddy Aaron in Olympic National Park in 2011. The hike started uphill with an ascent to Klemsbu (around 1.500 m elevation, a popular dayhike from Finse), passing a glacier and several snowfields in the process. 

It then mellowed out through a cool landscape that reminded me of the description of George R.R. Martin's "Riverlands" in the Game of Thrones books. 

Because of the weather I hardly took any breaks and all in all it took me around 5 1/2 hours, exactly the time that had been suggested on the map. I intended to do the whole trip camping in the wilderness, and since I had to comply with the regulations of allemannsretten, which requires you to camp at least 150 metres away (and preferably out of sight) of any buildings, I decided to pitch my tent about 300 m from a DNT cabin called Geiterygghytta, on the other side of an adjacent lake. While doing that it started raining heavier, so as soon as the tent stood erect I quickly retreated inside, changed into dry clothes, had a hot miso soup, a can of sardines and tea for dessert before retreating into my sleeping bag at 8pm already. My tent (Salewa Micra Base II, 3.5 kilograms) may be a bit heavy for solo trekking but on days like this it really is worth carrying the extra weight. It is incredibly useful to have a sheltered space where you can leave your dirty shoes, wet gear, and where you can sit and cook, not having to take everything inside your "bedroom"!

Early to bed, early to rise, i woke up at 6am and had breakfast just as the sun was rising outside my tent. I had instant coffee and a delicious strawberry rice pudding while listening to Wilco's Jeff Tweedy sing "maybe the sun will shine today..." - definitely one of the best moments of my trip, and it looked as if Jeff was right on the money in his lyrics!

Day 2: Geiterygghytta to Østerbø (20 km)

Beautiful as this photo may be, day 2 was a bitch. I had been somewhat prepared for it - mainly because I intended to go all the way to Østerbø instead of stopping at Steinbergdalen (some prefer to split this up in 2 days) but also because i had been warned by a "whistleblower" from the US ;) Kelcey & Jim, a couple from Seattle, had done the exact same hike about a week earlier and posted some fine pictures on Instagram, which is how I got in touch with them. Kelcey was so nice to send me a detailed report of their trip, and the underlying message was: it's not as easy as it's described in the guidebooksWell, I had found out about Aurlandsdalen in my Lonely Planet travel guidebook, and that had very little description of the route itself - but I knew that anything Lonely Planet bills as a "classic trek" would be a little more than just a sunday walk. I had chosen my previous multiday backpacking trips (Grand Canyon, Saguaro & Olympic National Parks) on Lonely Planet recommendation so I kind of knew what I was in for. Still, Kelcey was right in that the second day was tough, especially if you decided to do both segements in one day. The map description of 3 + 3 hours didn't really do it justice (I needed more like 4 and 5 hours, hiking from 10 am to 8 pm) but it was also 2 quite different walks in character, so doing it in 2 days rather than 1 made a lot of sense to me in hindsight. The first part, Geiterygghytta to Steinbergdalen, lead through a beautiful desolate plateau-like landscape with countless stream crossings, whereas the second part (Steinbergdalen to Østerbø) was basically just one long traverse under a cliff. But that cliff had received a lot of water lately, and all that runoff had trickled down - in fact was still trickling down - into the trail... add a few hikers treading through with heavy backpacks and what you get is a good ol' mudpit! 

At times this felt like I was preparing for Vancouver Island's notorious Shipwreck Trail - on top of that, my right shoe's Vibram sole was coming off, and the shoe was not waterproof anymore, as I quickly found out in the mud. Also, my right knee, which had started to bother me a little aroun noon on downhill sections, was now getting worse and even hurting when walking uphill (and yes, there was plenty of uphill walking here as well, despite it being a traverse). I tried to remain positive, singing spoof versions of "My boots are made for walking" to myself (where I would somewhat rephrase the lyrics), but it was truly challenging. All the other hikers i had encountered thus far (1 Norwegian couple, 2 Norwegian girls, 4 Norwegian ladies - clearly there are more females on the trails here!) were already ahead of me, so I didn't even have company to bitch about the trail with. Early on I met a lady with a walky-talky, and thought she was working for DNT, but she was just herding sheep up here and looking for a few lost specimen. Poor lady - at least I had chosen to be up here! After several gruelling and increasingly painful hours I finally limped into Østerbø, my socks soaked in mud (both shoes were coming apart now!) and headed right onto the deserted campground of Østerbø Fjellstove, a small but cozy mini mountain resort. I didn't even register until the next morning, because i was so full of mud and worn out that i didn't want to enter the main building. Plus, it would only have made me feel bad about having to camp in a tent - walking past the cabin and seeing the other hikers go about their candlelight dinners behind the windows was already enough salt in my wounds. But hey, Camping is in-tents! 

After putting up my tent on the campground (which I had all for myself) I went to the nearby bathrooms, which were super cosy and had floor heating. I secretly hid my muddy hiking boots & socks in a corner under the sink, to help them dry over night. There was a coin shower that required you to feed it 10 Kroner coins - "until the desired time shows on the display". Well, I only had one 10-Kroner coin, and this being Norway I mentally prepared myself for a very short shower! I even wetted my hair in the sink and applied shampoo beforehand, so I'd have enought time for the rest of my body once the coin dropped. But sometimes Norway surprises you, and that coin shower in Østerbø sure did: after I dropped the coin, the shower started running and the number 13 appeared on the display. Traumatized by the taxi ride i mentioned earlier, I was sure that these couldn't be minutes though - this had to be some arbitrary number or shorter time unit. I tentatively started washing myself, always peering at the display to see when it would switch to "12" so I'd get a feeling for how much time I had for my shower. Astonishingly, it took a full minute, meaning that I really got a 13-minute shower for just 10 Kroner! Now that was value for money, let alone in Norway... happy as a pig in mud, I enjoyed every minute of it, most of the time just letting the hot water run over my trapezius muscles that were pretty sore from carrying a 20-kilo backpack for the past 2 days. After the shower, i felt wonderful and topped it off with Kung Pao Rice with Chicken and a quarter litre of red wine in my tent. I had carried more than half a litre of quality Austrian red with me and now it paid off! Not only did it crown my dinner, but it also made me forget the tough day and put me to sleep quickly, my dilated blood vessels quickly heating things up in my sleeping bag. I slept like a stone from 11 pm to 8.30 am the next day. 

Day 3: Østerbø to Sinjarheim (13 km)

When i got out to go to the bathroom at 9 am the next morning, the few others hikers i mentioned earlier were already gone or just getting on their way. This was somewhat discouraging, and so was my knee, which already hurt a little when I was walking over the campground. I decided that maybe it was the smarter thing to give up and take a bus to Aurland, so I asked the lady in charge about buses - but there were none, and this being the end of the season she also didn't know anyone else who could take me down the valley. The only option was to call a taxi to Aurland for 750 Kroner but it would have hurt to pay all the money that I saved myself by camping just for yet another taxi ride, and missing out on the most beautiful part of the hike, because on day 3 the trail would finally lead into the actual Aurlandsdalen valley. The past 2 days had just been the build-up, so to speak, Day 3 was supposed to be the climax! My knee at least seemed a little better than the night before, so i decided to give i a try, though I had serious doubts if it was a wise thing to do. But the lady had pointed out that there was one option to exit the valley, about 2 hours into the hike. so I decided that if i wasn't feeling well after the first two hours, i would take that exit and try hitchhiking. 

After breaking up camp it was exactly 12 o' clock noon when I finally got on the way. At first it was an even trail, which was good news for my knee, and it was less muddy here than the day before, which was good news for my mental state as well. At first the trail wound around Østerbø's lake and another, beautifully cobalt blue lake to Nesbø, one of a few old farmsteads of the Aurlandsdalen, which are now privately owned but restored with public funding, because of their historical importance. After all, this was one of the first routes connecting Eastern and Western Norway. It was also the most scenic part of the hike, and even came with T-shirt weather, because compared to the windswept plateaus i had hiked before, there was little exposure to the elements down here in the protected valley. It was a whole different ecosystem down here, with ferns, buttterflies & mushrooms that I enjoyed capturing with my camera's macro function.

The trail led into the valley and followed a river called Aurlandselvi which about 25 kilometres later would empty itself into Aurlandsfjorden. Despite some pain, I felt like I could carry on and passed the "early exit" the lady had pointed out to me.

However, going was slow, and as the pain in my knee started flaring up again, I had to restrict most of the workload to my left leg and use my trekking poles as crutches. What would I have done without trekking poles and gaiters! The poles helped me carry on and the gaiters kept the sole to my right shoe, otherwise I would've been flip-flopping around for a long time already! Due to my slow pace and late start I knew I couldn't do the entire 19 kilometres on that day, so my goal was to at least get to Sinjarheimen or Almen - two more abandoned farmsteads nestled into the valley's right ravine that, at least on the map, looked like they would offer enough plain-level space to pitch a tent. I could already spot Sinjarheimen from kilometres away and decided this would by my final destination for the night. When i got there at 7pm, i was surprised to see that there were people there - 1 bald head already looking at me from afar, and one stripped butt, just as I was coming up close! It turned out that those 2 guys, Michael and Finn-Christian, master carpenter and assistent (kind of) were up there to restore the historic cabins. And as they saw me limping up towards them, they quickly offered me a spare bed in one of the cabins.

And so my luck turned that day and i had the opportunity to not only sleep in a place brimming with history, but also enjoy the company of those 2 interesting and nice fellows. To thank them for their hospitality, I offered my remaining Austrian red wine, and they had some tasty salami and cheese from local produce of which I tried a few morsels. It was great to be in company and forget about my bad knee for a while and talk to some locals. They had interesting backgrounds and as we rambled on, we covered all kinds of meaningful topics, from Norwegian painters to country's demographics, from religion and buddhism to the human mind, from Norwegian women (joggebuksen was a new word I learned here...) to women or relationships in general. After a while we realized it was actually freezing cold, so we retreated to our different rooms. Given how small the place was, it seemed hard to believe that these historic cabins used to shelter 20 people in their heyday, but there was certainly enough space for 3 grown men - although even the shortest one of them (yours truly) had to lie slightly diagonally to fit inside the bed! People were short one or two centuries ago, even in Norway! 

Day 4: Sinjarheim to Vasbygdi (6km)

The other advantage of not having to sleep in a tent that night was that I could start early the next day. Just packing your backpack takes way less time than breaking up camp. Finn-Christian (the "assistant") helped me down the first steep 2 kilometres of the trail, even carrying my backpack for me. I then assured him that i could do the remaining 4 k alone, so he could get back to work with Michael. However, my knee hurt from the beginning on Day 4, and wasn't of much use at all anymore! On every uphill part I only used my left leg only (like an older person who has to take one step at a time on a staircase) and on every downhill part I had to heavily rely on my trekking poles so it became much more arm and upper body work than anything else. It took me a good 2 1/2 hours for those measly six (mostly downhill) kilometres on Day 4. I only encountered 2 American girls from the Pacific Northwest, on their way up for a dayhike. I thought of Michael who had already jokingly remarked  "lotta girls up here today!" the night before, referring to the mostly female hikers that had been on the trail before i arrived. Well, here were 2 more - and pretty ones, too! ;)

When I finally made it into Vasbygdi i found out there were no weekday buses anymore (season over), but after some unsuccessful knocks on doors i found a young couple whom i asked to call a taxi for me. Turned out the Aurland Taxi was just one cab for the entire region that day and it was booked 'til 5pm... but the tall guy, who had been silent up to that point, suddenly just offered to take me to Flåm by car. I thought this was quintessentially Norwegian because up to that point I wasn't sure what to make of him - whether he was annoyed that I kept him from work or that his girlfriend had to make that phone call, was hard to tell. But Stian turned out to be a real gentle giant, hailing from Tustna, one of the many remote islands on the Western coast of Norway, 3 hours from Kristiansund. He told me that his girlfriend had inherited an old farm in Vasbygdi and that they wanted to fix it up together, to grow some special kind of cattle breed. For now, it was a side business (he was still working in his main job in construction as well) but he was hoping they could turn it into more, and I wish him luck! He drove me to Flåm, a tourist hub just a few kilometres away from quiet Aurland, where he had also worked on a tourist boat the previous season.

Flam is a small village of approximately 500 inhabitants, but receives over 500.000 tourists annually. Unsurprisingly, this must cause a certain resentment or at least weariness among the local population. Stian said he was looking forward for the season to be over, and after he dropped me at the pier I immediately understood what he meant. A huge cruise ship was blocking most of the view, but still tourists left an right were taking pictures of the fjord...or what was left of it to see. The cruise ship market has been the most profitable business in tourism in recent years. despite facing some criticism, not least since the Costa Concordia disaster. Stian also had a shocking true-crime story of a quarreling Italian couple, where the husband possibly threw his wife off the cruise ship last year in Flåm. At first thought of as a suicide attempt, doubts were raised after the woman awoke from the coma - she couldn't remember whether she jumped or got tossed of their balcony, but claimed she never wanted to commit suicide. A murder case has been opened and now the Italian carabinieri will have to deal with it. Finally some fodder for the Italian tabloids, now that the Amanda Knox case has been settled! ;)

Anyway, it was weird to return from such a beautiful and quiet place like Aurlandsdalen, and be confronted with so many people in one spot, After seeing so much beauty and experiencing true solitude in the last 4 days, I couldn't really be bothered with lumbering along to take photos with all the others, so I just dulled my hurting knee with a microbrew porter at the local Aegir Brewery, and got to know Aida, a nice young lady from St. Petersburg who worked as a volunteer on the pier, assisting the cruise ship tourists with their land excursions. She was really friendly and trustingly gave me her iPad (guess she saw that I wasn't capable of running off with the thing anyway) so I could get in touch with my dear ones and let them know that I was ok... except for my knee... and my hiking boots, which were ready to be trashed! For a few days after the hike my knee felt like it might have to be trashed as well, I was already suspecting some more serious cartilage or meniscus damage, but after about a week of limping around in Oslo as well the symptoms gradually wore off... and meanwhile I also bought some new boots, so there will be more multiday hikes for me! I haven't decided where yet (the Dolomites next spring are high on my wishlist) but vi skal se...

Donnerstag, 17. September 2015

Jeg skal gå på tur i helga!

In my last posting I gave you a virtual tour through the most remarkable drawings of Norwegian landscapes & scenery. Now it's time to see the real thing! After i received the rest of my camping equipment last weekend (thanks to my parents & girlfriend, who made effective use of their free onboard luggage capacities) it is finally time to hit the trail and head out into the wilderness!

Norway has vast possibilities when it comes to hiking, but since the summer season is rather short in the mountaineous areas, my range of options was fairly limited - at least of those regions which I had familiarized myself with and taken into consideration. The peaks of popular Jotunheimen NP or Rondane NP can already be snowy and cold in late September (given their latitude and elevation) and what the vast Hardangervidda Plateau between Oslo and Bergen lacks in high summits, it more than makes up with treacherous snowstorms and sudden winter outbursts as early as September (2 Scottish cross country skiers died in one of those snowstorms not so long ago). But since weekend trips or dayhikes into the surrounding Nordmarka are still an option in October or maybe even November, I wanted something a little more remote in September. 

Thereore, after consulting my trusted Lonely Planet guidebook and the website of the Norwegian Trekking Association DNT (Den Norske Turistforening), i opted for a 50 km hike from Finse (a stop on the Oslo-Bergen railway line) to Vasbygdi, also known as the classic Aurlandsdalen trek. It is described as a very scenic and historic walk, since it runs along an old traditional hiking trail that connected the East and West of Norway for centuries, and passes by numerous abandoned farms en route through the lush and green valley of Aurlandsdalen. It is also mostly downhill (except for the beginning) and can easily be done in 3-4 days (which is the time window I had at my disposal) covering roughly 50 kilometres of walking distance. It also has the added bonus of ending at scenic Aurlandsfjorden, and seeing a fjord during my 4 months here (preferrably not in winter) was a must.

Originally I had chosen the trip for me and my Austrian friend and fellow hiker Simone, but after she had to cancel due to a conflicting event (she had tickets for the "All Blacks" Kiwi rugby team in London on the same weekend) I decided to do the trip by myself and forego the luxuries of a DNT mountain hut, instead taking my camping gear with me and making use of the quintessential Scandinavian privilege called "allemansretten" ( "every man's right"), which basically allows you to camp anywhere in the countryside, as long as you keep 100m distance to the next house.

I seem to be quite lucky with the weather, because after a week full of rain and grey skies, the weather is predicted to lighten up on Saturday. A welcome change, because this is what the railway station in Finse (the trailhead of my hike) looked like on Wednesday afternoon: 

Even though i've made up my mind to head out under any given conditions, and would actually enjoy putting my hiking gear to the test (after it didn't rain as much as a drop when I hiked through the Hoh rainforest of Olympic NP in the United States back in 2011) I still think that nicer weather would probably make for a better experience... and certainly better pictures, so keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned!

Mittwoch, 16. September 2015

In the gallery!

Vergangenes Wochenende waren meine Eltern und meine Freundin zu Besuch, und nachdem wir am Freitag im Rahmen der "Kulturnatt Oslo" (eine Art Tag, oder besser gesagt Nacht der offenen Tür zahlreicher Kultureinrichtungen der Stadt) alle 326 Stufen bis aufs Dach des Rathauses geklettert waren, und am Samstag eine (mehr als gewollt) abenteuerliche Fahrradtour durch die Nordmarka unernommen hatten, beschlossen wir es am Sonntag ruhiger anzugehen und uns 2 Museen anzusehen - die Nationalgallerie (Nasjonalgalleriet) und das Museum für zeitgenössische Kunst und Design (Kunstindustrimuseet). Letzteres unterhielt gerade eine Ausstellung über Vinyl Cover Art (also Kunst auf Schallplattenhüllen) die mich interessierte, aber das Highlight des Tages war zweifelsohne die Hauptausstellung der Nationalgallerie! Sie trägt den Namen "The Dance of Life" und enthält eine chronologische Sammlung von Kunstwerken von der Antike bis 1950, mit einem Schwerpunkt auf norwegischer Malerei nach 1800. Diese Ausstellung (die umfangreichste Kunstsammlung Norwegens und eine der größten ihrer Art in Skandinavien) darf - wenn man sich auch nur ein bißchen für Malerei interessiert -  bei einem Besuch in Oslo keinesfalls fehlen! Norwegen ist bekannt für atemberaubende Naturlandschaften, und die Gemälde in der Nationalgallerie legen davon ein eindrucksvolles Zeugnis ab. Hier im folgenden ein paar Highlights die mir besonders im Gedächtnis geblieben sind; die Anmerkungen & Ausführungen dazu beruhen leider nicht auf meinen Kenntnissen der Malerei (obwohl Manfred Mänling, mein Deutschprofessor zu HAK-Zeiten, gute Arbeit geleistet hat), sondern teils aus der Wikipedia, teils aus Informationen des Audioguides, welchen ich im Museum für 50 Kronen in Anspruch genommen habe

Johan Christian Dahl (1788 - 1857) gilt als Vater der norwegischen Landschaftsmalerei und wichtigster norwegischer Vertreter der Romantik. Geboren in Bergen als Sohn eines Fährmannes und Fischers, studierte er (mangels einer Kunstakademie in Norwegen) in Kopenhagen und lebte & wirkte anschliessend in Dresden. Er war ein enger Freund von Caspar David Friedrich und der erste norwegische Maler der international Bekanntheit erlangte - und damit nicht nur ein Vorbild für viele andere nach ihm. Das in der Nationalgallerie ausgestellte und oberhalb abgebildete Ölgemälde "Ansicht auf Stalheim" beeindruckt durch seine Größe (knapp zwei mal zweieinhalb Meter!) und Detailverliebtheit, auch wenn es ihm laut Wikipedia "an vollendeter Technik mangelte"... ;)

Ebenfalls ein sehr großes Bild fand sich direkt im Stiegenaufgang zur Gallerie und war somit das erste Bild das wir sahen: Es stammt aus dem Jahr 1893, wurde von Christian Krohg (1852 - 1925) gemalt, und heißt "Leif Eriksson bei der Entdeckung Amerikas". Krohg hatte übrigens auch einen Sohn (Per Krohg, 1889 - 1965) der sich ebenfalls erfolgreich der Malerei zuwandte und für das große Wandgemälde im Sitzungssaal des UN Sicherheitsrates in New York verantwortlich zeichnet!

Eher für seine Innenansichten und seinem aufmerksamen Blick fürs Detail (links "Sjakkspilleren" aus dem Jahr 1868) bekannt war der dem Naturalismus zugeordnete Gustav Wentzel (1859 - 1927), der aus derselben Generation wie Krog Senior stammte. Sein Gemälde "Snekkersverksted", das wir in der Nationalgallerie bewundern konnten und welches einen Tischler bei der täglichen Arbeit zeigt, war den Verantwortlichen der Kunstausstellung Christiania (dem damaligen Oslo) sprichwörtlich zu ungehobelt, und die Weigerung es auszustellen führte zu einem lang andauernden Disput mit dem Kunst-Establishment und einer jährlichen, von Künstlern selbst organisierten Ausstellung (Høstuttillingen - "Herbstausstellung"). 1908 wurde er jedoch zum Ritter geschlagen, also dürften seine Gemälde letztlich doch öffentliche Anerkennung erfahren haben...

Ebenfalls zu den Naturalisten gezählt wird Erik Werenskiold (1855 - 1938), der durch Porträts (u.a. von Henrik Ibsen), Illustrationen & Zeichungen zu Volksmärchen (die Verschmelzung von Wirklichkeit und Phantasie in seinem Stil war dafür besonders geeignet), sowie seinen realistischen Darstellungen von norwegischen Bauern in landschaftlicher Umgebung Bekanntheit erlangte. Ein solches Bild ist auch das folgende, welches aufgrund der gelungenen Darstellung des hellen Tageslichts bemerkenswert ist und als Klassiker der norwegischen Malerei gilt:

"Das Begräbnis" (1885), Erik Werenskiold

Ein Künstler der mich besonders beeindruckte war Peder Balke (1804 - 1887), dessen dramatische Landschaftsbilder sich durch eine reduzierte Farbpalette und einen charakteristischen Pinselstrich auszeichnen. Er wuchs in ländlichen Verhältnissen in Ostnorwegen auf - die Bauern seiner Umgebung förderten den jungen Maler (im Gegenzug verzierte er ihre Höfe), und ermöglichten ihm dadurch eine höhere Ausbildung. So konnte er in Stockholm studieren und war später auch ein Schüler des eingangs erwähnten J.C. Dahl. In jungen Jahren unternahm er ausgedehnte Wanderungen in Norwegen, bei denen er Skizzen anfertigte aus denen später einige seiner bekanntesten Gemälde enstehen sollten, die er zum Teil an den norwegischen und französischen Adel verkaufen konnte. Das daraus entstandene Vermögen nutzte er im höheren Alter auch zu sozialen Zwecken: so wie er in seiner Jugend gefördert wurde, vergab er nun seinerseits Darlehen an junge Künstler, erwarb mehrere Parzellen im Umland von Oslo (im heutigen Stadtteil Frogner gelegen) und gründete "Balkeby" - eine Siedlung die bessere Lebensbedingungen in Stadtnähe für Arbeiter bieten sollte.

"Fire on the Norwegian Coast", Peder Balke

Durch deutlich kräftigere Farben, und einen Hang zum Mystischen zeichnen sich dagegen die Bilder von Harald Sohlberg (1869 - 1935) aus, welcher der Neoromantik zugeordnet wird. Er war das achte von 11 Kindern eines Pelzhändlers und hatte früh den Wunsch Künstler zu werden, sein Vater bestand jedoch zunächst auf einer handwerklichen Ausbildung, welche er als Dekorationsmaler absolvierte. Erst auf Anraten eines Freundes der Familie studierte er ab 1899 an der Königlichen Zeichenschule in Christiania, später auch in Kopenhagen sowie ein Jahr in Weimar. Die Berglandschaft des Rondane-Nationalparks war für ihn stete Inspirationsquelle und Motiv, zu seinen bekanntesten Gemälden zählen aber auch die Strassenszenen in Røros (wohin er ab 1902 übersiedelte), von denen er gleich mehrere unterschiedliche anfertigte (eine davon ziert künftig auch in Magnetform meinen Kühlschrank...) ;)

"Winternacht in Rodane" (Harald Sohlberg)

"Nach dem Schneesturm - Lillegaten in Røros" (Harald Sohlberg)

Gegen Ende der Austellung ging es in die Moderne und da war neben einigen Werken von Picasso natürlich auch Edvard Munch (1863 - 1944) prominent vertreten, ihm war ein ganzer Raum mit einigen seiner bekanntesten Gemälde gewidmet, und "Der Schrei" (welches mich schon zu Schulzeiten fasziniert hat) zog dabei natürlich den grössten Teil der Besucher an, inklusive unvermeidlicher Grimassen- bzw. Schrei-Selfies (ein älterer Herr unternahm mehrere Anläufe, das angsterfüllte Gesicht möglichst originalgetreu hinzubekommen, was sehr amüsant aber auch an der Grenze zum Fremdschämen war). Nach so vielen tollen Bildern war der Munch-Raum nochmal Draufgabe, zeigte er doch gerade im Kontrast mit den anderen Künstlern seinen unverkennbaren Stil. 

"Girls on a Bridge" (Edvard Munch)

Die "Madonna" und die "Mädchen auf der Brücke" gefielen mir besonders gut, aber am Ende war der Raum für mich nur sowas wie der Hinweis auf ein Sequel in einem Film - ich denke ich werde irgendwann dem Munch-Museum in Grünerløkka einen Besuch abstatten müssen, um mich ein bisserl eingehender mit dem Mann und seiner Malerei zu beschäftigen... in jedem Fall kann ich einen Besuch in der Nationalgallerie jedem Oslo-Besucher nur wärmstens ans Herz legen - und am Sonntag ist auch für alle freier Eintritt! :)

Montag, 7. September 2015

Norwegian Country

I've been meaning to write about this for a while now: the ways in which Norway often reminds me of the United States, or more precisely the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Whether it's red brick buildings piercing cloudy silver-grey skies, the lush green of trees & lawns due to high amounts of precipitation, or just the way they pack & sell their bread here, and the types of products and  brands you find on supermarket shelves (I've never seen "Hellman's Mayonnaise" being sold anywhere in Austria)... not to mention the amount of flannel shirts or lumbersexual hipster beards that you see on the streets, which I'd say is neither coincidental nor the result of a globalized trend - geographically speaking, these two regions have a lot in common and thrived on the same industries in the past (fishing, lumber, railroads). And many a Northwesterner in the US might actually be of Norwegian descent - after all, 750.000 Norwegians escaped hardship in their own country to resettle in the US and Canada between 1825 and 1925.  

Even though the two countries may have drifted worlds apart in other areas (America merely claims to be egalitarian, while Norway really seems to live it; and the Norwegian model of a welfare state is still despised by many Americans, even though their president seems to like the idea), you can't help but notice the many similarities they still share, and sometimes this can border on the bizarre - such as Norwegians' knack for country music. Just check out the picture on the left to see what musical gem i found rummaging through a second-hand record collection in an antiquity store on Storgata yesterday! ;)

Last Thursday I also attended a "Vin & Vinyl" event at the Norwegian Students Association's headquarters (a building better known as "Chateau Neuf") where members of the Norwegian band The Northern Belle were lounging around in comfy leather sofas, sipping on Italian red wine, and spinning their favourite vinyl records to a small, but loyal audience. The band, who apparently combines Americana with Nordic Folk elements, played songs from country legends such as Gram Parsons, Townes van Zandt, Steve Earle, or Loretta Lynn. In between tracks, lead singer Stine Andreassen would entertain the listeners with personal stories (none of which I understood, due to my poor Norwegian) and pass around the album sleeves, some of which I knew all too well from my own record collection. The whole event felt a little bit nerdy - but then again, I'm somewhat of a music geek with a soft spot for country myself, so i guess that's why I feel right at home here. Hell, I even wore my flannel shirt that night! ;)