Travels & Traditions: Trondheim, Norway - #106

Norway is a modern, progressive and highly industrialized nation.  But many of the forces that drive today’s Norway go back to the ancient Vikings who lived here a thousand years ago.  The Vikings controlled much of Europe for centuries.  At one time Dublin, Paris and Kiev were Viking cities.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  And I believe that the same forces that shaped the Viking period, the long winters, the short summers, the love of technology, and the desire to explore, are the same forces that are shaping Norwegian culture today.

So I’ve come to the city of Trondheim, on the west coast of Norway, to see what’s going on.  The city sits just below the Arctic Circle and was founded in the year 997, at the height of the Viking period.

I’ll show you how the ancient Viking need to go exploring in search of food has led the Norwegians into outer space to grow strawberries!  It’s no accident that the NASA spacecraft that explored Mars was named Viking... We’ll visit the site of a miracle that turned a Viking warrior into the patron saint of Norway.  At the Trondheim Folkmuseum we’ll tour an 800-year-old Christian church that evolved from a Viking house of worship... and take a look at the technique for making flatbread.  We’ll also find out what’s good to eat here.  So join me, Burt Wolf, with TRAVELS AND TRADITIONS in Trondheim, Norway.

The earliest Vikings lived here in Norway peacefully for thousands of years.  But by the late 700s there were more Vikings than the land could support.  Only three percent of Norway can be used for farming.  The winters are long.  The summers are short.  The Vikings needed food and they decided to get it by raiding.  Their attacks were devastating.  Their intention was to gain a reputation for brutality.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  And the bad press was a good thing.  When a village heard that the Vikings were coming for a visit, they would pay them off to go away.  When a Viking warrior got ready for battle, he would put on a bearskin shirt and work himself up into a frenzy.  The bearskin shirt was known as a berserkir, and working himself up into a frenzy was known as going berserk.  From the late 700s until about 1050 the Vikings and their berserk behavior dominated much of European history.

They controlled large parts of England and Ireland.  They were all over Scandinavia, Russia, and the Mediterranean.  In the middle of the 800s they took Paris.  The part of France that is called Normandy gets its name because it belonged to the Vikings, the North men.

Historians officially mark the end of the Viking period as the year 1030.  That was the year of the Battle of Stiklestad, which took place on these fields.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Olaf Haraldson was one of the more powerful kings of the time but he wanted to be the most powerful king.  He also had a second agenda.  He had converted from paganism to Christianity and he was spreading the faith.  Unfortunately, he was spreading it with his sword, which made him extremely unpopular with the local chieftains.  When he marched into this valley with his army of 3,000 men, he was greeted by the locals who had 7,000 men.  Olaf never had a chance.

Olaf lost the battle and his life, but in the end, he won the war.  His son Magnus was able to unite the tribes and become the ruler of all of Norway.

After the battle, King Olaf’s body was taken away from the fields of Stiklestad and buried near Trondheim.  Soon stories of miracles began to circulate.  They centered around the area where Olaf was buried.  So one year after Olaf’s death his body was dug up in the presence of Norway’s most prominent people.  The legend says that he was as handsome as the day he was buried and his beard and hair had continued to grow... a miracle!  Olaf was canonized and became St. Olaf, “The Eternal King of Norway.”

Today the seat of his followers is Trondheim Cathedral.  Olaf had been buried right here, at the exact spot where the high altar now stands.  And the legend says that a holy spring came up from the earth at that very point.  Pilgrims came from all over to venerate Olaf and to drink the holy water of the spring.

TOVE SOREIDE:  And they started to build the church about forty years after Olaf’s death, and it took about 250 years to complete it.  The best kept part of the cathedral today is the octagon -- the place where the high altar is standing.  And the octagon has eight walls and was built around the shrine, standing in the middle with Olaf in it.  And the number eight symbolizes eternity because Olaf was Norway’s eternal king, and he was Norway’s most important martyr.

This is the famous baroque organ which was built in Germany by an organ builder called Johann Joaquin Wagner in Brandenburg in 1740, and it has recently been restored and now organists from all over the world come to Trondheim and they make records and they give concerts, and the sound is exactly as in Bach’s own time.

Today, this is the national shrine of Norway.  This is also the coronation church of our country, and all Norwegians feel that this is the most sacred place in our country.

The cathedral of Trondheim is at the center of Norway’s religious history, but it is also part of Norway’s gastronomic saga.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In 1531, a Danish officer sent a bottle of flavored liquor here.  He sent it to the Archbishop with a note saying it would cure any internal illness.  Herbs were the medicine of the time and alcohol was used to extract their medicinal properties.  The Archbishop was so pleased with the results that he became the founder of the distillery business in Norway.

The church recommended that farmers start growing potatoes which were very nutritious.  The farmers soon realized that they could distill alcohol from those potatoes.  The potato became known as the “Nordic grape” and the liquor became known as Aquavit -- “the water of life.”

Today Aquavit is the national spirit of Norway and it is produced by a government-owned monopoly.  It’s made with a potato mash and flavored with ten different herbs, with caraway seeds delivering the dominant flavor.  Then, Norwegian Aquavits are aged in old sherry casks.  But what makes the most famous Norwegian Aquavit brand famous is what happens to those casks.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  In 1805, a woman by the name of Lysholm invested her money in a trading ship which she sent off to the East Indies.  Included in the cargo were a couple of casks of Aquavit.  Nobody’s quite sure why, but the Aquavit remained unsold and, in fact, came back here to Trondheim.  When they tasted it, it tasted better than when they sent it off.  Maybe it was the rolling of the deck.  Maybe it was the fact that it went through a number of different climates.  They don’t know.  But they know the flavor had improved.  And today, the company takes its Aquavit and ships it in sherry casks as deck cargo on ships that go from Norway to Australia and then back to Norway.  The brand is called Linie; it means “the line,” and it’s a reference to the fact that the Aquavit crossed the equator, the line of the equator, twice before it was ready for sale.

And every bottle carries the details of its voyage on the back side of its label.  This particular bottle went on a ship called the Tampa.  It left Norway on May 15, 1997 and returned on September 29, later that year.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Traditionally, Aquavit is served with beer and food.  Eat the food, drink the beer, and take the Aquavit as a chaser.  For medicinal reasons, of course.

Now that I am suitably fortified for the Norwegian winter I can further explore the city of Trondheim, which is easily done on foot.  As major cities go it has a small population, only 140,000, but it is an amazing center of history and culture.

This bridge was built in 1681 and is still in constant use.  The city is set deep inside the Trondheim fjord that runs out to the Atlantic Ocean.  A fjord is a body of water that cuts into the land from the sea.  The wooden warehouses along the waterfront are reminders of what this city looked like in the 1700s when it was in the business of exporting fish and lumber.

In the center of the city there are three wooden mansions that were built in the late 1700s.  Each was constructed by a widow as part of an unofficial competition to see who could build the most magnificent house with the money that they had inherited from their late husbands.  And it was not a friendly competition, either.  Sounds like the competition between the Viking goddesses.  This one is called Stiftsgarden and it turned out to be the largest wooden mansion in Scandinavia.  At present it is the official summer residence of Norway’s Royal Family.

On the western edge of the city is the open-air Folkmuseum.  It has a collection of over sixty buildings that are representative of different periods in the history of Norway.  Tours are given by guides like Gyda Hoffman.  She’s going to show us what’s called a stave church.  This one was built in the year 1170.

GYDA HOFFMAN:  And as you can see it’s only wood, except from the foundation here; it’s only rocks with no mortar in between to let the air flow freely, and that prevents the wood from rotting.  And thus, these churches have kept well and we can still find them around many places in Norway.  No metal was used.  Only wooden pegs.  The only metal that we find is on the door -- the hinges and the lock, made of iron.  In the inside there is only two rooms: the nave and the chancel.  And it’s a very dark room, there are no windows and no benches to sit on.  It was common that people would stand or kneel when they came to church.  We’re now in the holy chancel in this church.  This is where the priests would perform the communion and the mass in Latin.  You see the narrow passage or the narrow opening here from the nave into the chancel, symbolizing the narrow path into the kingdom of God.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The Folkmuseum is also a good place to take a look at an ancient Norwegian tradition called rosemaling.  The Vikings were great wood carvers and that was the basis for most of the furniture made in the rural areas.  But by the 16 and 1700s, more sophisticated churchmen and nobles were coming north with furniture that had been painted.

Peasants began to copy the paintings on their simple carved furniture.  The result was rosemaling, which means “rose painting,” though the designs include much more than roses.  Chests, beds, chairs, tables, kitchen equipment -- everything got painted.  It brightened up the simple surroundings and it gave the artistic talents of an isolated valley a way to express themselves.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  There was very little mobility in these societies.  A peasant’s gifted child was still a peasant’s child and there was virtually no chance for him or her to join the European art world.  Rosemaling gave them an opportunity to express their creativity within the village.  And within the village they were greatly appreciated.  Today, their work still is.  A good example of antique rosemaling will command some of the highest prices in the Norwegian art market.

One of the areas at Trondheim’s Folkmuseum is made up of a farm complex the way a farm looked during the 16 and 1700s.  The small building in the center was the cookhouse.  It was built away from the main building as a precaution against setting the main house on fire.  It was the building where bread was baked, using an ancient technique that came from the Vikings.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  As the Vikings traveled around they kept an eye out for any new technology they could bring home.  One of the things they saw was the water-powered mill.  Clearly an improvement over the little hand mills they had been using.  The large mill allowed them to grind large amounts of flour and to do it quickly.  And that changed the way they made bread.  Instead of making little moist breads that only stayed fresh for a couple of hours, they would grind huge amounts of flour and make enough bread to last them through the year.  It was a bread that would last through the winter and stay fresh, and that allowed them to bring it on their boats.  It became extremely popular, and today it is the national bread of Norway.

The dough is made from rye flour and water.  It’s rolled out as thinly as possible... transferred to a griddle in the fireplace... and cooked on both sides.  You would be hard-pressed to find many homes in Norway that still make their own crisp bread, but in its store-bought form it is found in almost every home and restaurant.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The company that makes the bread is called Kavli.  And the man who developed the original company also developed the original commercial machine for baking crisp bread.  His name was Nils Halvorsen.  His mother was a widow who supported her family by moving from farm to farm and baking crisp bread for the farmers.  It was a back-breaking job.  Nils was working in a paper mill and as he looked at the rollers that turned out paper, he figured that they could be modified to turn out flatbread.  In 1919, he developed the first machine that would do the job and won a prize.  It’s a perfect example of the ancient Viking love of good food and technology.

They’re made without artificial additives.  They’re high in protein, high in complex carbohydrates, high in fiber, and low in fat.  They make the classic Crispy Thin, plus one that’s flavored with garlic and another with onion -- two foods that were part of the Viking diet.  They’re used with dips, they’re the base for snacks, usually covered with cheese or smoked salmon, and alongside soups and stews.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  During the early years of this century the crisp bread began being distributed in the United States and Canada -- and for a good reason.  There are 4 million Norwegians in Norway.  There are 5 million Norwegians in North America.

But man does not live by bread alone.  So what’s good to eat in Trondheim?  The Vikings who settled here were great fish eaters, and Trondheim is still a good town for a fish lover.  As a matter of fact, all of Norway is into fish.  The nation has a very large fishing industry and exports some of the finest fish in the world.

Norway does its traditional fishing in the rich grounds of the Arctic Ocean.  The waters are cold and clean.  But Norway also pioneered Atlantic salmon farming.  They offer salmon fresh, frozen, smoked, and cut up into convenient shapes.  Norwegian fishermen are always trying to make life easier for the cooks.  They also have a big catch of cod which feeds primarily on krill that gives them a sweet mild flavor and a firm white flesh.  And Norwegians are very serious about their haddock.

 Harold Osa is an acquaintance of mine from Oslo and the Executive Chef at the Continental Hotel.  He came up to Trondheim to have dinner with me and decided to prepare one dish with each of those fishes.

He made a baked Norwegian Salmon with a basil crust and ratatouille... a Norwegian Cod baked in a pesto crust with a smoked tomato relish... and finally, roasted Norwegian Haddock on a Caesar salad.

If you visit Trondheim, I’m not sure that Harold will come up to cook for you, but I can tell you that I had a number of excellent meals at a Trondheim fish restaurant on the waterfront.  It’s in a two-hundred-year-old wharf building and it’s called the Havfruen.  The interior is nautical but nice.  They have a seasonal menu but they also prepare a menu of the day, which gives the chefs a regular opportunity to demonstrate their creativity.

Today they made an appetizer of shrimp that were lightly breaded and sautéed and served with three mayonnaise-based sauces -- a garlic, a mango and a chili.  The main course was monkfish with two sauces, one sauce made from beets and the other from snap peas.  Dessert was a simple but very tasty apple tart with sherbet and one sauce with a licorice flavor.

Just down the road is the restaurant Bryggen.  Bryggen is considered the finest classical restaurant in Trondheim.  The room is decorated in colors that are associated with Norwegian farm communities.  Bryggen wants to give their guests the feeling that are eating in a romantic country house.  The chef, Trond Kolstad, takes the traditional foods of Norway and prepares them with a French accent.  Dinner started with an appetizer of marinated Norwegian salmon called Gravlox.  The main course was grilled scallops on a bed of pasta.  Dessert was a chocolate surprise.

The Bryggen Restaurant is just at the edge of Trondheim’s Bekklander district.  It’s the old part of town and it is charming.  Old buildings.  Small shops.  And lots of good places to eat.  One of the most enjoyable is called the Kafe Gåsa, which means “the goose.”  I asked the manager, Calle Fegth and his cook Ingabricked to make lunch for our crew.  They work in a kitchen that is small and much more like a home kitchen than a restaurant.  And they cook the traditional foods that you would find in a Norwegian home.  They came up with a few recipes that use the national cheese, which is called Jarlsberg.  It’s a semi-soft, part-skim milk cheese with holes like Swiss cheese, but it is milder and it has a nuttier flavor.  Jarlsberg makes their classic, but you can also get a hickory-smoked version and a Lite from which they have removed more than half the fat.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA): It’s named after Count Gustave Wilhelm Jarlsberg on whose estate this cheese was first made.  A cheese like this is very much in keeping with the gastronomic objectives of the Vikings.  It is a simple and easy way to preserve the important nutrients in fresh milk.  Preserved foods were very important to the Vikings.  They kept them alive during the winter and they fed them during the long voyages that brought them throughout Europe and eventually to North America.

One of the other foods that brought the Vikings to North America was the codfish, which they followed to Nova Scotia.  Fitting that Ingabricked combine Jarlsberg and cod in one dish.  He also made a lasagna using the hickory-smoked Jarlsberg.  The third dish could be any Norwegian fish.  The cheese comes as triangles of baked Jarlsberg that are used as a garnish.  Ingabricked is truly devoted to his national foods.

It is the high quality of the farm products in Norway that make foods like these taste so good.  But farm life here is difficult.

The farmers of Norway work farther north than any other farmers in the world and their climate is harsh.  The growing season lasts only ninety days.  For thousands of years Norway has been short of food and concerned with feeding its own population.  But things are changing.  The Norwegians are working on new sources of international agricultural income.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The final result, however, may turn out to be not just international but inter-planetary.  Following their ancient Viking tradition of exploring foreign lands for food, researchers here at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are trying to figure out how to grow food in outer space.

Professor Tor-Henning Iversen has been working with the European space industry and NASA in the hope of getting a farm onto the International Space Station, which is planned for the year 2003.

PROFESSOR TOR-HENNING IVERSEN:  We are dealing with a lot of problems which we don’t normally observe on the Earth, on the ground.  We have a lack of space in space, and at the same time they may experience a lack of water as well.  So therefore we have to close the water and the plants in a very hermetically-sealed system where we have control over the water and the plants get the water.  Because the problem will be the same for the plant on the ground and in space:  they need water.

We are trying to solve some of the problems in space by cultivating strawberries, as you can see here.  This is the room where we’re stressing the plants before we bring them out into space, so that they can experience what they can expect in space.  When we get small strawberries like this, the plants do not behave normally.  And we also have problems with the pollination, as you can see over here.  If the pollination is not perfect, then they behave like this.  And we expect, when we come out with plants on the station, space station, that we will observe similar effects as we do here.  But we can also obtain perfect plants and perfect strawberries in here.  So perhaps you should try this one.

BURT WOLF:  What makes you think this is a good one?

PROFESSOR IVERSEN:  It’s not a good one.

BURT WOLF:  Oh.  Okay...

PROFESSOR IVERSEN:  But you can try that one first.  It’s fresh.

BURT WOLF:  That’s not bad, you know.

PROFESSOR IVERSEN:  “Not bad.”  Well, we want more than “not bad.”


When this system is in place on the space station, it will produce fifty times the amount of strawberries as an equal-sized patch on Earth... and that’s a lot of shortcake.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  So it looks pretty much like the forces that shaped the Viking tradition, the need for exploration, the love of advanced technology, the long winters, the short summers, and a general appreciation for good things to eat and drink are still very much part of the Norwegian tradition.  And speaking of tradition, I hope you will join us next time on TRAVELS & TRADITIONS.  I’m Burt Wolf.