Sunday commenced with a conversation about Norse mythology and a decision to go and see some Viking ships. We took the number 30 bus from Nationaltheatret towards Bygdøy, jumping off at Vikingskipene.
There is located a museum, Vikingskipshuset, that contains three Viking burial ships that were uncovered from different burial mounds between 1867 and 1903. There is the Oseberg ship, the Gokstad ship and the Tune ship. The three ships were built between 820AD and 900AD, and standing in their presence was awe-inspiring. They were all initially built as sea-faring vessels, which were later decommisioned and drawn out of the water to serve as burial ships for the important folks whose remains were placed inside, along with a number of different things that they would need to see them through in the afterlife.
My photos are complete gash, so you’d be better off Googling the ships quite frankly.
These ships SAILED. They actually sailed the seas around Norway, and quite possibly abroad. My brain took off and ran with that. Did one of these ships carry Viking warriors across the North Sea to the shores of England?
The hulls of the ships were shallow and broad, with graceful sweeping curves that drew my eye across them, and immediately had me imagining the prows slicing their way through turbulent waters. The bulk of the ships was imposing and majestic, and utterly beautiful. The detail and the intricacy imparted the sense that these weren’t just functional vehicles for transporting people and goods from one place to another. These ships were statements. Each boat gave me the feeling that it was designed and built by craftsmen with love in their hearts for what they were creating.
The museum had little staircases built into the corners of each room that allowed you to look at the ships from an elevated position.
They had cases at one end of the museum that contained the remains of the people who had been found in the boats, and a list of all of the things that had been buried with them. One case contained the bones of two tiny women who were discovered in the Oseberg ship, and the other case was for the warrior who was buried in the Gokstad ship. He was somewhere between 181-183cm (that’s between 5’11” and 6′, to those of us who count properly). His legs had been hacked and cut in his final battle, and the sheer amount of horses and dogs and spare boats and shields buried with him were testament to his regard. The two women were buried with similar riches, and my brain was completely caught up with filling in the gaps about who these three people were, what they looked like, what roles they played in the world around them…
In another section of the museum there were loads of glass cases which contained the things that had been found inside the ships alongside the people. There were scraps of silk cloth, tools, weapons, game pieces, sledges, a wagon, and lots of carved animal heads. I think it’s fair to say that I was besotted.
The detail and the craftsmanship that went into each and every piece was astonishing. Granted, when it came to the animal heads, I am not sure that the person carving them had actually seen the creature that was being represented, but that’s beside the point.
I left the Vikingskipshuset with a head full of wonder, and a heart full of wanting to run around being a Viking. That was very soon to be brought crashing down around me.
Since we were already there, we also visited Holocaustsenteret, The Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Norway. It was brutal, and mindblowing. It was an exhibition about the Nazi party in Norway, the persecution of Norwegian Jews and other minorities, and the gradual proliferation of exclusion and hatred. I had no idea before I went in there the part that Norway played in the holocaust, but I most certainly will never forget about it.
While you might not think it to look at me, and while I choose to ignore it a lot of the time, I have quite a decent amount of empathy, and I feel things that really have nothing to do with me very deeply. This exhibition was incredibly grueling for me and it will stay with me for a very long time. The writing and information was 99% in Norwegian, and while I can read basic sentences and get the jist of what is being talked about, I mostly couldn’t understand the text. That is something I am quite grateful for, because I was only just holding it together over the pictures.
The whole of the way around the exhibition, my heart felt too big for my chest, and grief and frustration were clawing at my throat. I kept finding myself standing there, staring into the sepia tinted eyes of men and women who knew their fate, and could do nothing about it. Men and women who had been judged as less than human, by men with no fucking authority beyond that which they claimed.
Propaganda is an astonishing tool. It was unbelievable looking at the hate-filled, arse-backwards leaflets and pictures that were drip-fed into the population to sow the seeds of disgust, mistrust and superiority. You think that the police in the States are bad for racial profiling? Not even close. There were written guidelines, pictures and measurements for people’s facial features, to establish which were the ‘correct’ characteristics. It was exactly the same way the American Kennel Club issued guidelines about different breeds of dog in a book I had as a child. They had charts indicating the threat levels posed by different groups of people, and how much damage these people could inflict on decent society.
It was genuinely chilling. There were texts and studies and papers outlining the calm and reasoned arguments for why Jews were evil. Madness and mania masqueraded as science and fact. It was truly dark, and it was so frustrating being there and knowing that people honestly believed this shit. Some people kept saying a thing until they had said it so often that it came to be accepted amongst others as the truth. Many people died, many people committed atrocious acts, and all in the name of something that was never real. A fabrication. A lie. IT WAS NEVER REAL.
What finally broke me was the room with the names, and the dates of birth and death of all of the Norwegian Jews who were killed.
Do you want to know the thing that struck me the most about the whole thing? Although all these events happened in the past, they aren’t History. This propagation of hatred and dehumanisation and victimisation and humiliation and murder is still happening now, every day.
I left what I now know to be the old home of Norwegian collaborator and Nazi-leader, Vidkun Quisling, feeling raw, wrung out, frustrated and impotent.
I would highly recommend that anyone who can, go.