Norway’s roads less traveled: Go to Hell—but only temporarily

Photos: Lars Røed Hansen / Wikimedia
The station at Hell is unremarkable, but for the name.

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

In this continuing series, we ask ordinary travelers about their favorite lesser-known corners of Norway.

The author of this article is Tim Christenson, a Norwegian American who lives in the Washington, D.C., metro area.

When you mention towns in Norway, the first one that comes to my mind is Hell. It’s a village of some 1,440 souls in the southern part of Nord-Trøndelag county, near the Trondheim airport.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
There are a few variants on postcards from Hell, including this one showing a violently red sunrise or sunset. Oddly, none of the postcards of Hell say “Wish you were here.”

Like many tourists who pass through Hell, I bought a postcard from Hell showing a wintry scene. I sent it to my old Lutheran pastor back in the USA:

“Dear Pastor,

Since I was in Norway, I decided to go to Hell. As you can see, Hell does freeze over. It was a much nicer place than you led me to think it would be. If you don’t believe me, you can go to Hell!”

The church secretary loved it, and the pastor forgave me.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
Postcard fiction written by Editor Emily C. Skaftun after her trip to Norway (but alas, not to Hell).

I was not, of course, the first English speaker to employ such witticisms. In fact, Hell has developed itself into something of a minor tourist attraction for people who want to go to Hell—but only temporarily for a bit of fun. The train station’s sign has become a popular site for selfies. Hell has even accommodated visiting photographers by changing the spelling on its “Goods Handling” freight warehouse from the contemporary Norwegian spelling Godsekspedisjon to the Old Norse spelling Gods-expedition.

In Norwegian, Hell has a very different meaning. It’s true that, according to Norse mythology, Loki’s daughter Hel presides over the place of the dead, so “go to Hel” does mean to die. The town’s name, however, comes from a different and more prosaic root: The Old Norse word hellir means “overhang,” a reference to the cliffs just outside of town.

Many folks, however, are unwilling to let that etymological fact stand in the way of a good story. The town was where the British punk rock band The Boys recorded its third album, To Hell with The Boys.

Even the locals occasionally trade on their town’s celebrity. The town sponsors a September blues music festival every year called “Blues in Hell.” And when lovely local Mona Gundt won the Miss Norway pageant in 1990, she went to the Miss Universe pageant advertising herself as “The Beauty Queen from Hell”—and was chosen Miss Universe. She even managed to parlay that success into a role as Ensign Graham in the 1991 season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

It’s a small town, but there are those who love it. And even if you wouldn’t want to stay there, perhaps you should—as I told my pastor—go to Hell.

A good spot to take “Hellfies”

Photo: Geir Wennberg / NRK
The new “HELL” sign being lowered onto the hillside by a helicopter.

Staff Compilation
The Norwegian American

As if the signage at Hell’s famous railway station wasn’t enough, Rune Sagen, a denizen of the area, has added a nine-meter high marker. Reminiscent of the Hollywood sign in California (though Sagen denies that was his inspiration), the giant letters were installed on a nearby hillside just last October.

“We’re trying to make something out of this place called Hell,” Sagen told NRK. “It means something a little different in Norwegian and English, and it’s fun to mark that. I hope the tourists coming here will get a little more to do here now.”

Photo: Geir Wennberg / NRK
A marker on Hellbrua tells tourists where to stand to take the best “hellfie” with the sign in the background.

To go with the aluminum letters, a marker on the E6 bridge underneath the sign shows people where to stand to take the best “hellfie” with the sign in the background.

Sagen had the idea for the sign over 20 years ago. But it was only recently that he took the idea to Facebook, where it took off. He raised 40,000 NOK (almost $5,000 USD) from around 1,000 people.

The Hell experience just got a little more intense.

To read all 10 of the previous articles in this series, visit www.norwegianamerican.com/?s=roads+less+traveled.

Tim Christenson has worked on Capitol Hill, in the Pentagon, and at American embassies in Austria, Fiji, and Norway.

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.

This article originally appeared in the June 2, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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