Norway - In the great market place of busy Bergen
( Originally Published 1907 )
Direction—We are facing north towards the steep wall of the Floifjeld, from which we had just been looking off. Surroundings—The harbor is just at our left. The peninsula district of the town, over which we have been looking, lies off over our left shoulder i.e., partially behind us. Directly behind us and at the right are the newer sections of the town.
There are nearly seventy thousand people in Bergen ; it is next to Christiania in point of population, so we need not be surprised to find a large throng attending the semi-weekly market.
A pretty sight, isn't it, with this gay display of flowers? Bergen people love them and have money to buy them ; the mild climate and the frequent rains are good for the gardens, and dozens of industrious gardeners get both pleasure and profit out of flower-raising. The glazed cases are like those we saw at Christiania for cut flowers.
A few rods ahead at the edge of the harbor, other vendors are disposing of fish of all sorts. Vegetables, small fruits and the usual miscellaneous stock of a large country market can also be found here, but fish and flowers seem to be the most conspicuously in demand here in Bergen. A good many people here have comfortable fortunes ; mill-owners, ship-owners, shipbuilders, importers and commission merchants make up a prosperous moneyed class, and similar prosperity has existed for several generations, so that there are people here who were born to comfortable living and who have always had opportunities for culture. The result is that Bergen has an unusually large number of highly educated people. The public schools are admirable. Boys and girls attend school without any fees until they are fourteen—the payment of a modest fee in the public high school gives them about the same training that they would receive in an American high school and prepares them, if desired, for either the university or one of the large technical schools. There is a fine public library here ; a good art museum, a museum of natural history with summer classes for school teachers; a museum of archaeology, and another devoted especially to fisheries ; there are industrial and trade schools for both boys and girls ; a theatre where good plays and concerts are given—altogether Bergen is distinctly "up-to-date," as the American phrase puts it. Ole Bull, the world-famous violinist, was a Bergen boy. Grieg, the famous musical composer, was born in Bergen and still lives here; Ibsen and Bjornson, the celebrated litterateurs, have both lived here. Nansen, the Arctic explorer, was for a time curator of the Bergen Museum. It is a fine old town, and its children, native and adopted, do it credit !
Most of the older buildings here in Bergen are of wood, but the tendency now (distinctly shaped by new ordinances) is to build in less inflammable masonry. Fire has always been a fearful scourge in this land of wooden building construction.
Those electric lights are an incalculable advantage in a place like this, counterbalancing the depressing effect of the long winter evenings. When, even in clear weather, the sun stays below the horizon eighteen hours at a stretch—and it does that here in December—the enlivening effect of such lights is something to be thankful for. Of course, the town streets had for years been lighted after a fashion, but the new method has special effectiveness and charm.
A few foreign tourists are mingling to-day with the crowd of townsfolk and country people before us, but most of the faces we see are thoroughly Norwegian. Many of the people speak one or two foreign languages at least well enough to serve ordinary practical purposes; English, French and German are taught in the schools here and by private tutors. Very little peasant picturesqueness is to be seen nowadays in the way of costume. The Bergen folks themselves dress just as they might in Copenhagen or Berlin or Chicago, and many of the farmers' wives and daughters follow their lead as far as scantier purses will permit.
Let us move a few rods forward, from where we stand now, then, stationing ourselves at the second-story window of a building alongside the market, look across towards what has been at our left. The new position is marked 50 on the city map. Observe that the red lines extending from it reach away off down the harbor.