Thursday, October 2, 2014

Bergen, Norway

There's great pleasure to be gained from entering a city or town by sea.

Norway - approaching Bergen

This was a particular pleasure in Bergen, and very appropriate. Bergen seems very isolated - located in the south-east corner of Norway and separated from other towns and cities both by distance and difficult terrain.

Norway - Bergen

But for the many centuries when sea-going was the major means of travel, Bergen was in constant contact with other maritime cities in Northern Europe. The old port of Bergen, Bryggen, is a reminder of these centuries of trade and international commerce.

Norway - Bergen Bryggen waterfront
Norway - Bergen 18thC wooden houses Bryggen

The old Harbour-front and the area behind are a UNESCO World Heritage site, and even though the densely built area now house cafes, craft shops and restaurants, you can still imagine a time when it was filled with the bustle of a busy trading port. The Hanseatic Museum is also situated in one of the old trade houses in the Bryggen area. The museum recreates interiors from the 18th and 19th centuries. The Hanseatic League, which promoted and safeguarded trade in Northern Europe had one of their foreign Offices at Bryggen in Bergen from the mid fourteenth to the mid eighteenth century. The Hanseatic merchants traded mainly with stockfish from Northern Norway and grain from the Baltic countries. Only German merchants were allowed to live at Bryggen during the period of the Hanseatic Office. These Hanseatic merchants were unmarried and had to live in celibacy as long as they lived in the area. The Hanseatic Museum shows what one of these trade houses might have been like in the last years of the German Office at Bryggen.

Norway - Bergen Hanseatic Museum 2
Norway - Bergen Hanseatic Museum 3

I'm always interested in this kind of small museum where you can glimpse the everyday lives of people who helped shape the way of life of those who now live in this community.

The cruise knitting group of which I was part visited the Oleana knitwear factory which is most attractively situated on a fjord just outside of Bergen. I was unaware of this knitwear brand before this visit, but subsequently on my travels I noticed people wearing the distinctive jumpers and cardigans in different cities around the world. Oleana was founded in 1992 with the aim of preserving Norway's proud textile tradition and employing people who work with textiles. I think it's as interesting for its business model as it is for products. Oleana has had only one designer, Solveig Hisdal, since its inception and her aesthetic has clearly been a central part of the company's success. But probably even more important has been the company's insistence on creating quality products. They invest in the most modern and most efficient machinery and in the best quality yarns that are sourced from many countries and spun to Oleana's specifications in Italy. All the manufacture of the fabrics and garments is then undertaken in Oleana's factory.

Norway - Oleana knitting machine
Norway - Oleana yarns and fabrics

The company and its directors (who include the founders of the company and now a second generation from the families) choose staff carefully - we were told that one of the most important qualities they recruit for is a sense of humour - and then provide good pay, training and conditions. The production is meticulous with all garments being individually finished with great care and attention.

Norway - Oleana linking machine

As an inevitable outcome of all this care for quality, the beautiful jumpers and cardigans are very expensive, but apparently last forever.

And what did I buy? Even though there were shops where yarns were easily available, and rack upon rack of jumpers and cardigans in recognisably Nordic designs, I bought very little. Clearly I hadn't yet assimilated the idea that yarn purchasing was a necessary part of travel! I bought only two skeins of local Peer Gynt worsted weight yarn which I needed for my class on 'Mittens of the North Atlantic'.

Peer Gynt yarn


M-H said...

I love Oleana designs! So envious.

Brendaknits said...

Thank again Lyn for another great traveloque. what a great cruise you had.

Rose Red said...

I love those sort of museums too. I do wonder if the rooms would have been quite as spotless since they were (apparently) men living there without women, but perhaps they were a neat bunch back then.

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