Bergen: The Gateway to Norway's Fabulous Fjords

Bergen // (c) 2011 Wikipedia/Espt123

dpa, Berlin, June 21, 2011
By Horst Heinz Grimm

BERGEN, Norway -- Bergen is one of the rainiest cities in Europe.

The Norwegian city, located north of the 60th parallel, presents itself as the gateway to the fjords. These in turn offer such an awesome natural show that visitors are willing to accept the gray skies and the many rain showers.

From spring to autumn, cruise ships arrive almost daily in the harbour which since the Middle Ages has given Bergen its significance.

The old wharf, called "bryggen," has been a World Cultural Heritage Site since 1979.

Along the quayside stand the wooden houses with their colourful facades, a place where German merchants of the Hanseatic League carried out their business for four centuries starting in 1360. Behind the buildings lies a labyrinth of narrow alleyways.

A small museum portrays the conditions in which merchants back then lived and worked in their quarters.

"Bryggen is a vivid example of Hanseatic architecture," says Sivert Mundal from Oslo, who studied history at the local university.

Bergen has a university? someone asks. The Norwegian laughs, "We have four universities with well over 20,000 students."

From the bryggen it is only a few hundred metres to the Bergenhus fortress at the entry to the harbour. During World War II -- when Norway was occupied by the German Wehrmacht -- the fortress with its early-Gothic Hakonshall and Rosenkrantz Tower was badly damaged. But it has been rebuilt and is partially reopened to visitors.

With the famous cathedral of the German city of Speyer as their model, the German Hanseatic merchants built the St. Mary's Church. In 1150 the St. Olav Cathedral was built.

"The church of Fantoft outside the city is worth seeing, but it is a reproduction," Mundal says, while his companion, Kristina Gulbrandsen, advises the visitor, just as the sun is breaking through the clouds, "in any case don't miss the panoramic view of the city."

The lookout point Foyen is 320 metres up and can comfortably be reached using the centrally-located cable car. Two students, Sivert and Kristina, spontaneously decide to join in. Its easy to get to know people in Norway.

Bergen has an important position in the transportation system of the Scandinavian country.

It is the port of departure for the postal ships operating throughout the entire year along the "hurtigruten" (express routes) on Norway's western coastline. The ships also carry passengers and supplies to the ports in the region.

Railroad fans such as Kurt Glaser of Vienna have reached the gateway to the fjords by train. Several trains run by Bergen railway operate daily between the capital Oslo and the port city in western Norway.

"The route is along a uniquely beautiful landscape, going through countless tunnels and a mountain terrain, some of which is above the tree line," the Austrian says enthusiastically. "The train needs a good seven hours to cover the 526 kilometres."

In the railway coaches, one meets travellers in outdoor clothing and carrying heavy backpacks.

"The entire area is really best-suited for hiking tours," Katja Sager, who is heading for the picturesque Aurland fjord, says.

To get there, she must switch trains at Myrdal, boarding the "Flamsbana" train taking her to the town of Flam. The Flamsbana must overcome 860 metres of altitude on the way to the coastline and so is considered to be one of the world's steepest normal-gauge railroad routes.