Dan and I spent some time in the southeast of Norway, around the little town of Grimstad. It's a lovely village built into the hills and right on the coast. The tangle of streets and old houses are fun to get lost in, and with the sun staying low in the sky during the winter there is always a nice soft light to shoot in. As you can imagine I had a good time there with my camera.
I got to experience some beautiful snowfalls while in the area, and went on hikes with my camera both during and after. Winter, and especially snow, has always been one of my favorite things, so I relished the chance to be in such a gorgeous winter landscape.
During my time in Grimstad I got to know a Norwegian couple, Eva and Per Christian and their kids, who were living on their family farm in a house built by their ancestors in the 1840s. The house was something like a living time capsule, with many layers added throughout the years. All the little details were amazing. From the original door, now resting inside as decoration, to the old salt box in the kitchen that was still used everyday. It was like getting two windows into Norway, one past and one present.
Finally we made our way to Norway, where I planned to spend the following 2 months and Dan just one month. As a sort of introduction to Norway we started in the capital of Oslo.
It was the end of January, and beautifully cold and white. There was a bit of ice though, and we had to tread carefully at times. That didn't stop us from walking all over the city. The first night there we visited the famous Oslo Opera House, right on the harbor. It's a beautiful modern building, with large glass windows on ground level and white stone on top. The roof is open to the public to explore, and I loved seeing people's shadows thrown against the clean lines of the structure. Inside the lobby we found some crazy modern walls in a diamond pattern, lit from behind, which I enjoyed taking a few photos of Dan in front of.
The next day we stood in line to get a spot in one of the free tours available of the Norwegian Parliament, the Storting. It's a unique building made of yellow brick with a beautiful interior. There are so many ornate details, on all the doors, covering the ceiling, everywhere you look. Our tour guide was also hilarious and told us great stories.
We learned about why coats are not permitted in the building, (we had to leave ours in a secure entrance room.) The general public are allowed into a viewing area during parliament debates. During one of these debates a group of protesters let loose a group of pigeons, having smuggled them in in their coats. Most of the birds were captured, but one perched on the chandelier in the middle of the chamber and stubbornly refused to move. It was decided that the bird would have to be gotten rid of by shooting it, which they did. Only the bird didn't fall off the chandelier. Not wanted to delay the debate any longer they pressed on, the dead bird suspended above them, which proceeded to drip blood. Everyone tried to ignore this, until it dripped right onto a member of parliament. The debate was canceled for the day, and coats were banned from the building.
We saw the lego model of the Storting, and the little group of lego protesters standing in front of it, complete with signs. As it turns out, no one knows who put the little protesters there, they just appeared one morning. No one has claimed to have done it, and in a wonderful move, the government has decided to let them stay. There are often protests in front of the actual building which can be easily heard in the parliament chambers and it seems like a good overall representation.
There was a real protest going on in front of the Storting when we exited. It was another protest in support of the Kurdish people. I took a few photos and then we moved on. We walked through Frogner Park, which contains hundreds of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Some were fascinating, some were strange, but overall the park was really lovely.
The last thing we did in Oslo was visit museums. We went and saw the Viking Ship Museum which contains three burial ships. I was thrilled to learn that one of the ships was used for the burial of a woman, who would obviously have had an important standing within her community to warrant such a commemoration. The intricate detailing done on all the wooden artifacts found at these archeological sights are amazing and I couldn't stop gazing at them. We also visited the Historical Museum which contained, among other things, more Viking era artifacts.
After that great into to Norway we set off to explore more of the country. Stay tuned for both more blog posts and photo essay stories about the people and places I met along the way.
Inside the Storting
While in Frankfurt, Dan and I took a day trip to Heidelberg. Our bus left at 6 in the morning, and that proved to be a really rather early start to our day. We got the front seat on the second floor of the double-decker, and I thought I would watch the countryside go by. Instead I definitely fell asleep. Regardless, we made it to the town of Heidelberg. We walked through the modern section and into the old town. It is a gorgeous town, and I loved finding all the hidden little details, and seeing the statues perched on building corners.
At the far end of town is a steep hill, and perched on top of it is Heidelberg Castle. It is mostly in ruins after different waves of destruction, including lightning strikes and the 30 Years War. It is free to walk the large grounds and gardens, which are beautiful and offer stunning views of the town and river below. For an entrance fee you can visit the inner courtyard and take a tour of what structures still stand or have been rebuilt. Our tour guide was very passionate, and I enjoyed learning about the castle and it's history. One of its occupiers, Frederick V, accepted the crown of Bohemia from the Protestants, against the will of the Holy Roman Empire and thus started the 30 Years War. All in all, the city and castle made a great day trip from Frankfurt, and we were back just in time for dinner.
After our quick stop in Hannover to visit Julian, Dan and I were off to Frankfurt to visit his friend Tim. Yes, that's right, the second German Tim of the trip. Dan was thrilled to get to visit with his friend from a dance intensive they both attended a few years ago. We got an evening tour of the city from Tim and his boyfriend Sydney, and we had a really fun time talking and socializing.
At one point during our walk we came across a protest of Germany supplying tanks to Turkey used against Kurdish fighters. I of course immediately took off to the center of the crowd, to the mild concern of everyone else. It had been a couple months since I had been around any protests, and I really missed documenting them. That wasn't our intent for the evening so I had to move on fairly quickly.
The two evenings we spent in Frankfurt were lovely. What I enjoyed most was our dinner the second night. I got a potato dumpling ball, stuffed with pork, on top of cabbage with gravy. It was delicious. To accompany it we had the traditional Frankfurt apple wine, Apfelwein, which was tart and refreshing. I would happily have either again.
In 2008 my family hosted an exchange student from Germany named Julian. Flash forward to the present and he now lives outside of Hannover. While I was in Germany I had to stop by to see him, and it gave me the chance to see the city for a day.
Hannover was extensively bombed during WWII, and the effects of that are still very present. The first evidence of the destruction was found a block from our hostel. A church that had been hit has been left in ruins as a memorial. Without a roof it opens to the heavens, vines crawl up the walls and sculptures stand guard. It was powerful and haunting to walk through.
We continued through the fairly modern city, eventually making our way to Old Town. It's a lovely collection of old German buildings along winding streets. These too are a hidden reminder of the destruction of the war. While these are all original structures, they are not in their original locations. The few buildings across the city that were left after the war were all relocated into one neighborhood to create what is now known as Old Town. It was strange and fascinating to think of that as I wandered the streets.
The last thing we saw before heading to dinner with Julian was the Holocaust Memorial, dedicated to the about 6,800 Jews of Hannover that were sent to the ghetto and then on to concentration camps. It was a stark square sculpture with an empty center, engraved with names of local victims.
We ended the night on a much lighter note, hanging out with Julian, eating schnitzel and drinking beer. It was great to see Julian and catch up. The next day we were on the move again, this time to Frankfurt.
While in Berlin, Dan and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit Wittenberg, the location of the start of the Reformation, which was just 45 minutes away by train. Dan had grown up Lutheran so he was very excited to get to visit the house where Luther lived and the church where he allegedly nailed his 95 Theses. As a history lover I was thrilled to personally see this piece of history.
The house museum was really well done. Much of the structure has been restored to reflect what the layout would have been during Luther's lifetime, and his study has been restored to showcase extensive wall paintings that date from the end of his life. The exhibit that runs throughout the house gives you a thorough history of Luther's entire life and context of the time. There are manuscripts, paintings, books, furniture and other artifacts, all excellently contextualized. If you get the chance to visit I highly recommend it.
As night fell we walked through the sleepy little town. It was Sunday night and nothing was open, but the atmosphere was still beautiful. At the opposite end of town is the church where custom holds that Luther nailed his theses. The original structure that Luther would have seen during the 1500s was partially burned down during the Seven Years' War in 1760. So the original wooden door that could possibly have been where the nailing happened no longer exists. However the church is beautiful and imposing at the end of the main street.
I have always been fascinated with street art. I love how it is so connected to the urban experience, how it can be used to give commentary on society, how it can beautify a neighborhood, and how it is art for the masses. Street art is an important modern form of expression, not to be overlooked or underestimated.
Berlin is packed with street art. Everything from tags, stencils, paper, stickers, and murals, some for the beauty, some for laughs, many for making social and political commentary. They layer on top of one another, creating a rich texture, something greater than the sum of it's parts. There is street art everywhere in Berlin, but the neighborhood of Kreuzberg where I first stayed has a high concentration. I really enjoyed exploring it's streets and taking in the art.
The East Side Gallery, a stretch of still intact Berlin Wall, is the longest open-air gallery in the world. There are over 100 paintings by artists who originally painted them just after the fall of the wall, and they comment on the political climate at the time. There have been additions by others, continuing to connect and comment on current world problems. It's a fascinating piece of history and current culture.
East Side Gallery
Elsewhere in Berlin
kaitlin k walsh
Adventurer armed with a camera.