Forested hills surrounding a compact city center make Oslo nearly pot-shaped. In Norwegian, this appearance is referred to as “Oslogryta”, the Oslo pot, which occasionally causes climatic extremes like boiling summers and frosty winters.
The strong word Oslogryta not only covers meteorology but is also applied in a more slighting sense, by people in other parts of Norway. They often imply that the capital insatiably accumulates workplaces, culture, education and government functions, as if Oslo was a pot flowing over with resources, always in focus and fueled by a stream of gas and oil money.
Sporting a population of 4.5 million, Norway is a small country. Oslo’s share is 545,000, Greater Oslo’s about the double. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, Oslo was in 2008 the most expensive city in the world. To escape the local price level, the residents of Oslo frequently take a minicruise to Copenhagen, Denmark. I myself do exactly the opposite, which means I have now seven hours to study the form and contents of Oslogryta.
The popular ferry connection between the two capitals is in Denmark nicknamed The Oslo Boat, in Norway The Danish Boat. They are slowly moving palaces of gastronomy and entertainment, leaving either capital at 1700 hours and dropping you at 0915 in the other. With Oslo as destination, there is no reason to sleep the morning away, for Oslogryta has an opening that welcomes you very early: the 100 km (62.1 miles) long Oslo Fjord.
The first views of Oslogryta await me at Akershus Fortress dating back to 1300, a daring venture on green ramparts without fences. A teasing sun, reflected from the harbor’s quiet surface, tries to blind me. The clouds soon remedy that, and Oslo starts unfolding itself; the peninsula of Bygdoy with beaches and famous museums like Kon-Tiki and the Viking Ship Museum. The red brick building resembling a nuclear power plant, at the head of the fjord, is actually the City Hall, whose artistic interior is exposed globally in the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
More inviting is Aker Brygge opposite, once a shipyard, today a trendy residence and entertainment district made up of pavement cafes and restaurants, facing a small-boat marina and backed by spectacular architecture, not forgetting the view toward the Fortress – where I seem to have taken root, surrounded by cobbled alleys and grand buildings. Akershus Castle, the gem of the Fortress, will tonight be candle-lit and resound with ghost stories.
Statues and Roses
Heading for the Frogner district in a blue tram, I discover that the bottom of Oslogryta is not completely flat but gently sloping down to the sea. One of its finest ingredients is the Vigeland Sculpture Park, a collection of 212 sculptures symmetrically arranged by Gustav Vigeland himself; along a bridge to a men-held fountain that could be an imitation of Oslogryta. Steps lead up to Monolitten, a human tower of 121 entangled bodies struggling to reach the still clouded sky. An angry little boy hiding on the bridge, Sinnataggen, radiates anger with every gram of his bronze body.
A stimulating scent of roses is produced by 14,000 bushes, refreshing the tourists and the locals who jog, stroll, sunbathe, play tennis or football and go swimming in the outdoor Frogner Pool. An exhibition at Frogner is still talked about although it took place in 1914, 100 years after the Norwegian Constitution was born at Eidsvoll, ending four centuries of Danish domination.
The emphasis of the Frogner Exhibition was Norway’s transition from an agricultural to an industrial society, but all sectors representing the modern Norway were present, including art and culture. The overall pride from then is hard to find nowadays. Norway appears a country of discontent and protest, at this point ready to vote the populist Progress Party into government offices.
The T-railroad, part of it a subway, takes me downtown to the central and lively National Theatre Station. A good-humored policeman – surrounded by tourists asking the way – decides to communicate only with his hands and arms to speed things up. “Studenterlunden!” says one, and the policeman’s arms fly up and forward, forming a frame to imitate the narrow park in front of us. “Stortinget!” Up and forward again, indicating that the Parliament is right beyond Studenterlunden. The harbor is down on the right, we learn, while Karl Johan Street, the parade avenue of Oslo, is over to the left.
“Grand Cafe!” Apparently on Karl Johan. “And Henrik Ibsen?” Pointing to the Theatre in front of us, the policeman lets two fingers trip to the other side of it. “Royal Palace!” Elegantly, his arms move up and bend to point over his shoulders. “Munch Museum!” Left hand down into the metro, then four stops forward. Teasingly, he reveals a place we forgot: one hand descends from high up, gathers speed and takes off, above some bowl outlined by the other hand. “Holmenkollen Ski Jump!” Good guess, and the place to go if you want an overall view of Oslogryta.
Day of Reflection
The nearby statue of Queen Maud, the present King’s grandmother, offers the perfect angle for a photo of the Royal Palace, cream-colored and discreet yellow. Freshly trimmed sand on the Palace Square welcomes a military band and marching Royal Guard soldiers. Karl Johan Street, where they came from, is bordered with flags and bathed in sunshine. Bands and soldiers of the other services soon follow, apparently instructed to form rows on either side of the Avenue between the Palace and the Parliament. It must be Stortinget’s opening day!
Norwegians,still true patriots, are on waving terms with the Royal Family, at least on May 17th, Constitution Day, when they cheerfully parade up Karl Johan to the royal balcony. In a few minutes, King Harald and Queen Sonja shall leave for Stortinget in an open car, right after the endless line of shining black cars each dropping off an ambassador. The King need not rush through his speech – he knows the people outside will wait patiently for him, determined to see the spectacle from end to end. The quiet atmosphere suggests that this is also a day of reflection.
Even Grand Cafe is adorned with Royal Guards. Henrik Ibsen, poet and playwright, had his regular table here. I imagine him suddenly appearing in the doorway to make an announcement: “I am Henrik Ibsen, the father of modern drama!” Finding his way back home would be easy, as the route has been decorated with quotations from his works, made in stainless steel and engraved in the pavement to mark a recent Ibsen year; one 100 years after his death.
One hour later, the rain starts, almost tropical. Karl Johan is flooded; the water rising so quickly that the entire Oslogryta seems threatened. Firemen pump it away, though. Soaked flags are all what’s left of a day where Oslo delivered entertainment for the whole country, via TV. For awhile, Oslo is everybody’s pride, and nobody utters the word Oslogryta, except perhaps the man giving the weather forecast.