( Originally Published 1881 )
The Port of Bergen.—Foundation of the City.—A Rainy Place. The Fish-market: —A Vision of Feminine Beauty.—An Interesting Industrial School.—The Cathedral.—Confirmation.—Change Days for Servants.—Lively Appearance of Strandgaden.—Bergen Hospitality.
EARLY one morning, as September was drawing to its close, I approached the old city of Bergen. It was a beautiful autumn day, with not a breath of air stirring, and a thick smoky atmosphere hung over the shores. Passing the jetty and its bright-painted light-house, the port seemed like a large canal crowded with vessels. We steamed slowly through the ship-ping and the forest of masts : the quaint-looking warehouses, with their sharp-pointed and red-tiled roofs, were dimly seen in the distance, looking still more fantastic through the hazy
atmosphere. Moving through the maze of small craft loaded with firewood, logs, fish, hay, etc., and amidst the din of a busy port, we cast anchor, and were soon surrounded by small boats, whose occupants were eager to carry the passengers on shore for a few skillings.
Bergen, as seen from the sea, is very picturesquely situated. On the left there is a high range of bleak, gray hills, upon the declivity of which a part of the city is built in the form of an amphitheatre; the port is narrow, forming a sort of canal, and on each side are the warehouses : many of those- on the left, built by the Hanseatic League, are striking types of the architecture of that period. A high ridge, crowned by the castle of Bergenhuus, separates a part of the town from another narrow bay. The port in the spring of the year is very animated, when several hundreds of small craft return from the fisheries. Great quantities of dry cod, cod-jiver oil, and several hundred thousand barrels of pickled herring, are exported yearly. The town seems to be nestled in a hollow. A small lake, a few hundred feet above the sea, and some miles distant, furnishes the city with water.
Bergen, lat. 60° 24', is in size the second town in Norway —Christiania being the first—and has a population of nearly 38,000 souls; it was founded, in the year 1069 or 1070, by King Olaf Kyrre.
The town,with its neighborhood, is said to be the most rainy spot on the coast of Norway--which is saying a great deal, but it is well deserved. The amount of rain falling is great—the average number of rainy days in the year being 134, and of snowy days twenty-six, and the fall of rain and snow melted amounts to about seventy-two inches annually. The climate is very mild; the mean temperature during January is a little above the freezing-point; in February, a fraction of a degree below; in March, 34° above; in April, about 45°; in May, 48°; in June, 55°; in July, 58°; in August, 57°; in September, 53°; in October, 45°; in November, 37°; in December, 36°. In July the mercury rises to 85°. The number of foggy days is about forty. The mean temperature of the year is 43°, one of the highest on the peninsula of Scandinavia.
The city is a very lively and thrifty place, and, although some of its streets are narrow and crowded, it is full of interest to the visitor.
Fish market-day is one of the sights not to be missed. In the morning about one hundred and fifty fishing-boats were packed closely together along the quay. Many were selling their cargoes from their boats, others had kept the fish alive either in tanks or in buckets. There were boats filled with sprats (small herring), called here brisling, but the largest trade was in codfish ; there were halibuts weighing 150 pounds, and often more, and this fish was cut in. slices for sale; flounders and haddock were plentiful, and very cheap—the poor people living chiefly on fish.
The fishermen in their boats, with either wife or daughter, were offering their fish for sale, looking with eager eyes for customers, who come to buy the cheapest they can, especially if the fish are plentiful. It was most amusing to see the women bending over the railing, looking into the boats at the fish ; such as wore short dresses—and there were many—showed their limbs in-a way that delighted those who passed by, and who were lovers of fine muscular development, and of well-shaped, pretty ankles. Servant-maids and country people jostled each other. Many returned home loaded with fish—mother and son carrying a big load between them, or a strong man bending under one larger than himself. The crowd was a very jolly one, and the peasant men and women, in queer costumes, were walking merrily among the Bergen folk.
One of the pleasantest sights which strikes the stranger in Scandinavia is to see the number of children going to school, and Bergen is no exception. The whole juvenile population turns out every morning. On rainy days the girls wear water-proof cloaks. The younger scholars have a little knapsack on the shoulder for their books, thus throwing the chest for-ward, and making them walk more erect. The oldest school-building, founded in 1738, is of stone. Instruction there is free, and the boys, although belonging to the poorer class, are tidy and well-behaved. In another part of the town is a large and more modern school, for the free instruction of boys, having a gymnasium, in which they are required to practise athletic and military exercises as a part of the course of study. The upper part of the building is used for boys' and girls' classes. The school hours are from nine to twelve, and from three to five. In several classes both sexes are taught together, and each scholar has a separate desk. I remarked with pleasure that there were several lady teachers. In one of the rooms, where boys only were taught, one, with a beautiful voice, led the singing at the request of the superintendent. They sung, for about twenty minutes, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish ballads.
One of the most valuable institutions is the free industrial school, where poor girls are taught the arts of female industry. It is an establishment of which Bergen may well be proud, and which every city ought to possess. The building is old-fashioned, and in the crowded part of the town. I entered a large room where the principal, an elderly lady of benignant countenance, received me with great courtesy. Upon a large table lay bouquets of flowers, which gave a cheerful appearance to the place, and were intended to impart to the scholars a taste for the beautiful. Scattered among the flowers were pieces of fine work, which the girls had made for different persons, and for which they were to receive pay. The ages of the scholars ranged from seven to sixteen years. All were working together in groups or classes, according to their proficiency--making dresses and shirts, hemming, stitching, knitting, mending, and darning—under the care of faithful and competent teachers. It was a most interesting sight, for these poor girls were learning how to be useful. There was some wonderful skill in the darning of table-cloths, the work being so neatly done that one could hardly distinguish the place which had been mended. The young children had simpler work in a room of their own, where were sewing-classes under instruction daily. This school had over five hundred pupils, the hours being from nine to twelve, and from two to five. Three hours were given to study, and three to lessons in the use of the needle, etc. The girls would here receive a fair rudimentary education, and at the same time were learning how to take care of themselves and of their families. Great and deserved credit is given by the good people of Bergen to. the superintendent and the teachers for the fine management of this practical school.
Before leaving the building the principal presented me with two pair of thick knitted woollen stockings, made by some of the girls, as a souvenir. I wanted to pay for them, but payment was refused, and I could only' offer my thanks for the courtesy. Perhaps the good lady may learn that in the fol-lowing year these stockings helped to keep my feet warm in my Lapland shoes, when I was crossing the country in the depth of winter, over the mountainous tracts between the Gulf of Bothnia and North Cape.
In the cathedral school, where boys are prepared for the University of Christiania, the institution is partly under the supervision of the rector, who at that time was a member of the Storthing, and had a library containing valuable books.
The Domkirke (cathedral) is a queer old building, the arrangements of the interior being unlike those of any church I had seen. On the right, looking towards the altar, it is divided into boxes containing seats, reminding one of a theatre. After service the principal aisle was filled with girls and boys, who were to undergo examination for the rite of confirmation. The ceremony began by an address from the pastor, after which, in the presence of the parents and relatives, question after question was asked of each one by the Domprovst (dean) from the Bible and the catechism. Hours were passed in this manner, until the children became weary, and their looks became vacant. The unnecessarily long ceremony concluded by the dean pronouncing a blessing on each one separately, and saying, "The Lord bless, thee and keep thee. The Lord make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." On the following Sunday, after confirmation, the children were to partake of the communion.
On Sunday afternoon, immediately after service, the military band plays in the square for about half an hour, during which time the élite of Bergen promenade, and listen to the strains of music. Among the throng are ladies dressed in the latest Parisian fashion, fishermen in their Sunday costumes, and bonder from the province of Bergen in their peasant garb. One often notices in the crowd persons with dark hair, whose appearance contrasts strongly with that of the majority of the people.
One of the customs of the country is to engage servants for six months at a time, and then renew their engagements, if agreeable to both parties. This takes place on the 14th of April and October. These two days are called Flyttedager, moving (change days). I was surprised to see great animation in the town. In the evening the Strandgaden presented a most lively appearance—for it is the custom on Flyttedag for all the girls engaged in domestic service to leave their old places at two o'clock in the afternoon, and go to their new homes at nine or ten in the evening. They all put on their best attire and walk in the Strandgaden, where their beaux and friends come to meet them. The Strandgaden corresponds to Broadway, the Boulevards, or Regent Street, and is densely crowded from seven to ten or eleven o'clock, after which it is deserted. In Sweden the dates for renewal are the 24th of April and October, and the servants have the three following days for themselves, which often causes great embarrassment to the ladies, who have then to do the best they can.
The geographical position of Bergen, between the Sogne, the Hardanger, and other fjords and fishing districts, gives to it great commercial importance. From it, twice a week, steamers sail for the most distant parts of these great arms of the sea.
The city is well provided with charitable and benevolent institutions, hospitals, and a home for the aged and infirm. The people are sociable, kind, and hospitable. I have a very agree-able recollection of my repeated visits to this town. Its scientific men were always ready to give me information. I received from the museum a present, which I value highly—a drinking-horn of very ancient date. A visit to that institution is interesting. Antiquities found in tumuli, and the old arms, coins, drinking-horns, carved furniture, etc., etc., are well worth seeing.
There is no town in Norway which tourists can en joy more than that of Bergen for a couple of days; the drives and walks are beautiful ; the novelty of the scene, the different costumes of the peasants, the surrounding country, all contribute to make the time pass pleasantly; but for a longer stay Christiania is preferable.