Cities / Towns Visited: 40
Countries Visited: 13
Steps Taken Today: 22,046
Steps Taken Around the World: 1,479,604
Another sunlit night ended, and we rose to have a quick breakfast and take our usual calf torturing trek down the mountain for another day of adventure. Keeping in the theme of yesterday’s Bryggen visit, we found ourselves back there once more, but today we would be visiting the Hanseatic Museum. As I explained in my last blog, the Hanseatic were a group of German merchants, some of whom some lived and worked in the Bryggen area from the 1360 for almost 400 years. They also had communities in Russia and the UK, but their main port was in Lubeck, Germany.
Popping into the main museum we bought our tickets, and finding out that there was a free tour in English available at midday we booked ourselves in for it, took our dual ticket, and headed for the second site run by the curators; Schotstuene. This site is one of the old cookhouses which stood at the end of each pair of rows of wooden houses which make up the historic old quarter of town. Arriving and walking upstairs, we were delivered into one of the old dining rooms which warmed and fed the merchants, and their apprentices and journeymen, throughout the year, especially in the long winters. They were forbidden from having fire in their houses due to the risk of another devastating fire, which had occurred several times during the towns history, however as a result this meant that during the perpetual night of winter they were forced to live in darkness and cold within their walls. I cannot imagine these dining halls smelt particularly appealing in their heyday though, as the ports main export was dried stock fish from northern Norway, as well as cod liver oil, which was also used as the fuel for their oil lamps. In this dim, fishy light these men made their fortunes, and these boys learnt their trade in the hope that they too could make theirs. Considering that this was one of the only lucrative apprenticeships offered to lower class boys, it was a rare chance for them to claw their way up a class level or two.
Reading the information boards throughout the dinning halls, it was interesting to learn that each merchant often had six to eight apprentices, all of whom were German and who started when they were only 13 years old. There was a chalkboard on the wall on which disobedient apprentices names were marked down, and beside it sat a stick with a pointed finger on the end to single them out, because stupidly it was considered rude to point at people, but if you use a stick to do it it’s fine. The apprentices were then punished for their misdoings often by whipping, or if they have the money they could pay their way out of punishment (although I find this to be a rather counter-productive obedience method as it simply teaches them that money allows you the freedom to mistreat people).
From here we headed downstairs and out into the old cookhouse. Aside from stone floors and iron cauldrons, the majority of the room and equipment (including the special kitchen clogs they had to wear), were made entire out of wood. As a chef it was almost amusing to see, especially considering the fact that the only wood you really see in kitchens now are wooden spoons, and the occasional timber serving board. I can only imagine the vigilance with which you would have to tend to the open fire which ran in a row down the centre of the room, as any stray ember could set the entire district alight.
Having a little time to spare we meandered next door to have a look at the exterior of the old church beside the cookhouse. It was one of the only building to have survived the fires of the town, due obviously to the fact that it was one of the only stone building to grace the landscape. With its higgledy piggledy of graves in its yard there was something quaint and endearing about this long-standing house of God.
Eventually it was time to wander back to the main museum for our tour, and arriving, we were greeted by our enthusiastic guide. Heading on through the 300 year old house you could feel the history of it all, with its original old floorboards creaking under our every step. As we progressed the guide explained everything you would ever want to know about these German residents. She explained just how important and lucrative the dried fish industry was back in the day when there was no refrigeration, and when a large number of the population were practising Catholics who needed access to seafood during lent. It was amusing to see a number of dried king cod (thought to be good luck by the Norwegian fishermen due to the bulbous growth on their heads which was thought to be their crown, although it is simply just a random genetic anomaly which affects only a small number of the fish) hanging from the ceiling, as they were given as a gesture of good will between the fishermen and their merchants.
It was fascinating to discover that they lived as a separate community with their own laws, and kept themselves segregated from the native population. In a somewhat unsurprising mindset, they did not want to mix bloodlines with the Norwegians, mainly due to the fact that they did not wish their properties and holdings to fall out of their possession on their death. This was forced by the forbidding of the Hanseatic from marrying or otherwise being involved with those outside the community. This of course was never entirely effective, and a number of Germans fell in love with or messed around with the local women. This became glaringly obviously when we were shown a secret staircase in the house which ran from the merchant’s office, up to his private bedroom on the top floor. Obviously at least one merchant was making putting the handsy attic in Hanseatic if you get my drift. It was also interesting to see how they dealt with the cold in their unheated and uninsulated homes, with the merchant having a private bed, which consisted of a small mattress in what was essentially a close able wooden cupboard against an inner wall of the property which helped keep the body heat in the small space. The journeyman (second in command, in case you’re wondering), had a similar bed in the room next door, which he shared with the apprentices who slept in even smaller compartments, two to a bed. Although it looks like a terribly squished situation, I’m sure in the bitter cold, the combined body warmth would have been more than welcome.
Our tour came to an end and we took some time to go back through the rooms and really appreciate the lives of these merchants, before we headed once more to the waterside market to source some lunch. Now deciding that it was only apt to have seafood after the morning’s education, we settled into a spot at one of the fishmarket’s restaurants and ordered a seafood platter. Although it was expensive (as Scandinavia is want to be), the plate came out piled high with lobster, king crab, scampi, shrimp, and mussels. It was all delicious, but it did remind me why I often avoid ordering seafood at restaurant; it’s just so hard for it to stay hot by the time you get around to eating it, and let’s be honest lukewarm seafood just isn’t that good.
Full and content we headed off in the searing afternoon sunlight to our afternoon destination. After an arduous hour of walking we finally dragged ourselves up to the base of the Ulricken cable car. Ulricken is Bergen’s largest mountain, and with our tickets in hand we were whisked up effortlessly to the top station. After basking in the stunning view, and resting a moment to recover from our trek, in the cool alpine breeze, we decided having already made it this far, it was only just of us to hike to the summit. We carefully made our way along the rocky path, pausing briefly at a small lake which reflected the surroundings in its almost perfectly mirrored surface, and took a moment to simply breathe in the fresh air and watch the dainty wildflowers sway in the wind. Picking our way up the mountain like the world’s least graceful mountain goats we eventually made it to the apex, and sat in our sense of accomplishment beside the small Norwegian flag that marked the site. We stopped a good while, watch the world go by and enjoying being able to just rest for a moment and truly appreciate where we were; on a mountaintop with the sun high in the sky, despite the fact it was 5pm, on the other side of the world. A surreal and satisfying thought.
The time came to descend back to reality and we made the short trip down the cable car, then the tiresome and hot walk across to or home on the next mountain. A quick dinner, a much needed shower, and the realisation there was no way we were going to be able to make it down the slope in time to attend our airbnb host’s piano recital (he is studying music at university) which he was nice enough to invite us to (plus I’m not sure our legs would have been able to handle another uphill walk that day), we found ourselves collapsing into bed before too long.
I though about the German merchant’s apprentices in my half sleep, and I found it hard to imagine being sent so far from home at such a tender young age. As difficult as it must have been for their parents to bid farewell to their children, and give them into the care and protection of merchants hundreds of miles away over the ocean, it is heartening to know they were doing it in the hope that their sons might grow to become successful merchants. The hope of all good parents that their offspring be more successful than them; that they have better opportunities and a better life. For those who were simply the orphaned children of the workhouse, who were lucky enough to claim a spot, it must have been exciting to know that despite the hardships of their employment there was a hope that they could one day make something of themselves, and with any luck they could one day have a lucrative and profitable trading business in a community of traders who’s name was known across the continent. An opportunity to write a true rags to riches story.