6,700 Surnames

For our brief overnight in Amsterdam after the cruise we choose the Quinton Zoo Hotel which as its name implies is close to the Artis Zoo. In other times the area had been the Jewish Quarters. A migration of Portuguese Sephardic Jews after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula had contributed to the growth of Amsterdam as a trading centre. It was to remain the centre of Jewish life and culture until the Nazi Occupation during the Second World War.

The Hollandsche Schouwburg was first a theatre, then a prison and deportation centre for Dutch Jews, and now stands as a memorial to those who were taken from their homes never to return.

As we looked out our window I remarked to Laurent that the building across the street looked very much like a theatre, as indeed it was. But a theatre with a sad history. Built in 1891 the Hollandsche Schouwburg (Dutch Theatre) was one of the more popular theatres in Amsterdam however with the Occupation because of it’s location the name was changed to Joodsche Schouwburg (Jewish Theatre). It did not serve that function for long and in 1942 it became a prison and deportation centre as Jews were rounded up and sent first to Westerbork or the Vught transit camps, and from there to the camps at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen or Sobibor. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 80,000 men, women and children were sent from here to almost certain death.

Along the sidewalks on the Plantage Middenlaan, the main street in what is now known as the Jewish Cultural Quarter, brass “stones” bear the names of people deported from the Old Quarter and sent to the extermination camps. The word “vermoord” means “murdered”. These two were in front of the Nationaal Holocaust Museum.

After the war it sat derelict and in 1962 all but the facade of the theatre was demolished. The space became a memorial garden, chapel and a Wall of Remembrance to the victims of the Nazi Occupation. The Wall does not list individual names but simply the 6,700 surnames of families that were deported and murdered.

The Wall of Remembrance behind the facade of the Hollandsche Schouwburg incised with the 6,700 family names of the 140,000 Dutch Jews deported to extermination camps during the Nazi Occupation.

October 12 is Old Farmers Day – now, now Steve don’t take it personally.

Norse Legends

As Laurent mentioned in his post on our stop in Ålesund we took an excursion to the Viking islands of Giske and Godøy via the ingenious system of three undersea tunnels that were constructed in the late 1980s to give unrestricted access to their various communities.

Statue of Rollo, Duke of Normandy in Ålesund given by the city of Rouen.
Photo by Delusion23

They are referred to as the “Viking” islands as traces of early settlements have been discovered throughout the small archipelago. Burial mounds and graves of significant size have been found on Giske, Godøy, and Vigra. It is believed that Gange-Rolv or Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy, was from the Islands. His descendent William was to become King of England in 1066 and was the founder of the Plantagenet line. A monument of Rollo stands in Ålesund, a gift from the city of Rouen in 1911 on the 1000 anniversary of the founding of the region of Normandy. Despite challenges from Danes and Germans who also claim Rollo that statue is good enough proof for most Norwegians.

From the island of Giske looking towards the Norwegian Sea – some of the most dramatic skies I’ve ever seen. This was the tail end of Hurricane Dorian.

Our main destination on Giske was the 12th century stone church that serves to this day as the centre of worship for the Island. Unlike many early churches it was constructed of white marble. As there are no marble quarries anywhere in the region the provenance of the stone is a mystery. Only small traces of the marble are visable though the chalk that covers the walls today.

It served as the private family chapel of the noble Giske family but fell into disuse during the time of the Protestant Reformation. In 1750 Hans Holtermann, a wealthy businessman, bought the estate and with Hans Strøm, clergyman and scientist (?) began a restoration of the derelict building.

Certainly this house of worship fell,
Forgotten by the whole world,
A Holtermann received it,
A princely owner and guardian,
And raised thee to thy former might.
And the king approved of the work.
Now, oh Church, saved,
May you sing God’s praises.

Epitaph by Hans Strøm (1726-1797) on the restoration of Giske Kyrkje in 1756.

We were not able to see the interior of the church which was a great disappointment. When it was restored in the late 1700s Jakob Sørensøn Giskegaard (1734–1827), a local woodcarver created an unique reredos, pulpit and organ loft. The photo below was taken circa 1910 and a left click will take you to a series of pictures that reveal what we missed.

Photographer unknown circa 1910 – National Archives of Norway

Both of my faithful readers will tell you that I am a taphophile – graveyards and cemeteries to me mean the stories of people and places revealed. Incised on stone and iron names and dates tell us that for a time someone lived, loved, laughed on and then left this earth. One of our group mentioned to the guide that Giske seemed to be a common name on the memorials. He explained that it wasn’t the family name but an indication of where they were born and indeed a few of the stones bore the names of other communities in the region.


Fashions change even for grave markers – it appears that during the mid-19th century these white marble medallions were popular.


The stone wall around the churchyard was an astounding piece of masonry as was one of the outbuildings. The structures must have been at least five feet thick and obviously built to withstand the winds that come off the North Atlantic.


Here are a view shots from the tour bus window as we travelled from Ålesund to Giske and Godøya. We can only imagine how beautiful the landscapes – fields, small fishing communities, and forest stands – would look in the sunshine. But you have to admit those skies are pretty dramatic.

October 8th is Touch Tag Day – you’re IT!

But Is It Art?

The designers/conceptors of the Neuwe Statendam leaned heavily on the world of music for much of their inspiration. Many decks were named after composers: Mozart, Gershwin, Beethoven, Schubert etc. And much of the art work followed a musical theme.

And they followed through with what was called the Music Walk on the Plaza Deck. Three very distinctive rooms devoted to four types of music: classical, classic rock and roll, blues, and 20th century pop.

Lincoln Centre Presents shared the space with B. B. King’s Blues Club. The starburst chandeliers were reminiscent of the Austrian crystal at the Metropolitan Opera House during the chamber recitals but dimmed when the smoky atmosphere (and it was atmosphere only – smoking is allowed in one small area outdoors aft) when the Blues band took over.

The Rolling Stone Rock Room was opposite the Billboard Onboard – a duelling piano bar. Shows and rooms were arranged so that there was no overlap or conflict.

For the first time on any cruise we saw all the entertainment lounges full of people and in the blues and rock and roll venues people were up and dancing! It was difficult most evenings to get a seat and more often than not we stood in the entrance way for a song or two and then moved on to the next entertainment. A very successful innovation by Holland America.

And yes Mitchell I agree – it IS art!

September 28th is Ask A Stupid Question Day. Well I think I’ve got that covered with today’s title!

Norse Legends

Christianity first surfaced in Norway around 1050 CE. Raids on England, Ireland and the Frankish countries had brought Vikings into contact with the religion as early as 900 but attempts at proselytizing met with resistance from the old religions. Conversions began in earnest in the 11th century when missionaries from England and the Frankish countries arrived at the behest of Saint Olaf, the monarch at the time. His canonization a year after his death in 1030 led to a widespread acceptance of the tenets of Christianity. Norway was to remain a Catholic country until 1593. In that year King Christian III declared Denmark and Norway, its vassal, Evangelical Lutheran states.

A stone cross from Tjora, Sola, Rogaland in South West Norway. It is believe it was erected during the first days of Christianity in Norway before churches were built.

Most of the early churches built in Norway, and other areas of Northern Europe, were built of wood and known as Stave churches. The name derives from the old Norse word stafr, the word for the pine posts that are the main structural support. The posts used came from ore-pine, the heartwood of old forest pines that had been left standing but with all their branches removed so that the resin would bleed upward and into the heartwood. It made the timber waterproof and less susceptible to rot and decay. It obviously worked as many Stave churches from the 12th and 13th century survive to this day.

It’s believed that there were close to 2000 Stave churches built in Norway during the Medieval period. Today there are 28 churches dating from between 1150 and 1350. Our visit was to Fantoft, a church from 1150 with a convoluted history involving a move from it’s original location, a fire by Black Metal protesters, and a six year reconstruction.

In 1879 the good people of Fortun had outgrown their small Stave church which dated back to 1150 CE. A new stone edifice was built and there was talk of demolishing the old building and reusing some its timber for other projects. However Fredrik Gade, a well-known businessman and politician of the time, wanted the church preserved so he bought it and had it moved piece by piece to his farm at Fana just outside Bergen. As the crow flies it’s about 228 km but on the roads as they would have been in 1883 it was probably a longer distance.

A charred beam from the 1150 church which was destroyed by fire in 1992.

The construction used in Stave churches meant that it could be taken apart and then put back together again much like a jigsaw puzzle. Gade had alterations made to the building to incorporate features found on other Stave churches. In June 1992 the church was destroyed by fire. At first it was believed a lightening strike had started the blaze but a series of fires followed at Stave churches in Bergen and Oslo.

In 1994 Varg Vikernes, a musician closely linked with the Black Metal movement, was found guilty of burning down four churches. It was widely considered that he had also set fire to Fantoft.

Reconstruction was begun almost immediately after the fire and completed in 1997. The timber came from 350-400 year old pine trees from forests in Kaupanger near to Fortun. At an altitude of 400m (1300 ft) growth is a slow process and the forestry operation is dedicated to old growth production.

Though the church appears to be large from the outside, the interior is small and, given the service practices of the Evangelical Lutheran faith, simple. The crucifix survived the fire and was restored. There are no nails in a traditional Stave church; tongue and grove joints, dowel pins and know-how based on ship building that had been used by the early Norse created buildings that were to last for centuries.

Though the interior is plain the bench ends of the pews are elaborately carved and much like the dragons’ heads on the roof line, bear traces of the “old ways”. In the 12th century it was thought best to bring something from the Norse superstitions into the church, just in case! The chancel is small and central to worship is the lectern for reading and preaching. The original baptismal font had been taken to be used as a pig trough when the church was no longer being used in Fortun .

By the middle of the 19th century, leprosy was a serious public health problem in Norway. Lepers were not allowed to enter the church but could none the less hear the sermons and readings standing outside listening through what was called “the Lepers’ window”. It was also common for pregnant women or women who had just delivered babies to be excluded from the congregation as unclean* but they were allowed to receive a “blessing” at the window.

The Old Norwegian Homily Book, written around 1200, includes the Stave Church homily to be read at the consecration of a church or on the anniversary of that event. The homily compares the church building to Christianity itself: The choir is a picture of the blessed in heaven, while the nave represents Christians on earth. … The four corner posts (staves) of a church are the four evangelists, as the wisdom they hold is the strongest supports of the Christian faith. Whither you believe in the Christian religion or not it is a miracle that those four corner posts have been the support of so many buildings for over eight centuries and up to our own time.

*This “custom” is/was prevalent in all three Abrahamic religions right up to today. I recall that the Anglican Book of Common Prayer had a service for “The Churching of Women After Childbirth”.

September 24th is Punctuation Day – can you name the 14 punctuation marks commonly used in English?

True Norse Legends … contd

Last year when I was researching Edvard Grieg for the online programme notes for our Symphony I had no idea I would be visiting the home that he and Nina had built outside Bergen. I’m not all that big on cruise ship tours but a visit to Troldhaugen was a given. We were fortunate that our tour wa led by that rarest of creatures – a well-versed and well-spoken guide. A brief tour of Bergen – which made us want to see more of this beautiful city – was followed by a visit to a stunning example of a Stave Church and finally a stop at Grieg’s home and a short piano concert in the small but acoustically perfect hall on the grounds.

Grieg was not quite five feet tall. He suffered from a collapsed lung and deformity of his thoracic spine and often assumed the pose shown here to hide the deformity.

Troldhaugen, designed by Grieg’s cousin Schak Bull, derives its name from two Norwegian words Trold (troll) and Haugr (hill). Grieg was just under five feet tall and his wife Nina was several inches smaller – this led to the local ragamuffins referring to them as the “trolls of Troldhaugen”. The Griegs lived there from its completion in 1885 until the composer’s death in 1907. After his death Nina moved to Copenhagen but her ashes were brought back and interned in the mountainside crypt with her husband’s.

There was a small matching building a few feet from the house, as a joke I said that it must be the outhouse. Turns out that it was!

Grieg often said that Troldhaugen was his finest opus!

Unusually for the time the interior walls were left as bare planed logs which gave an added warmth to the rooms. It was difficult to take pictures as there were two tours groups during our visit. The house is filled with mementos of visitors, awards and family. Pride of place is given to the Steinway that was somehow smuggled into the house as a surprise birthday present in June 1892. It was custom built to allow for Grieg’s small stature.

The Troldsalen or Concert Hall is ingeniously sunk into the landscape and the turf roof renders it almost invisible as your cross the wooden bridge to the house. The hall seats 200 people and has a remarkable acoustic. More remarkable is the view of the Composer’s hut and Lake Nordås through the panoramic window at the back of the . And I know the word “magical” can be over-used but there was something “magical” about listening to pianist Rune Alver perform a selection of Grieg’s works in that setting.

A sign directed us to go down a series of stone stairs and paths to Grieg’s tomb and we joined a few people heading down the slope to the water’s edge. But we couldn’t see any tomb and pretty much gave up finding it. However on the climb back I glanced up and there in the rock was the site were Edvard and Nina’s ashes are interred. One evening when Grieg and his best friend Frants Beyer were out fishing on the lake, the last rays of the sunset hit that spot of rock. “There I would like to rest forever” said Grieg. Schak Bull designed the crypt in the rock with Edvard and Nina’s names carved in Runic characters.

And here is Rune Alver performing one of the pieces he played at our little concert.

September 21 is National Clean Up Day – so I suggest we all take this to heart and clean up our acts!