The Nobel Prize: A peaceful visit to Oslo

Most of us will never win a Nobel Peace Prize, but we can all follow in winners’ footsteps

Photo: Johannes Granseth /  Nobel Peace Center The Nobel Field, an exhibit in the Nobel Peace Center with information on all the Prize’s winners.

Photo: Johannes Granseth /
Nobel Peace Center
The Nobel Field, an exhibit in the Nobel Peace Center with information on all the Prize’s winners.

Emily C. Skaftun
The Norwegian American

Humbled. Awed. Undeserving. This is how I imagine the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize must feel when they arrive in Oslo to star treatment and acclaim. After all, the world’s greatest warriors for peace are often also the most humble, and the ones who know better than anyone how much work is left to be done.

While most of Alfred Nobel’s legacy is doled out by the Swedes, the Peace Prize has always been in the hands of “a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting,” as stated in Nobel’s will. Why he chose Norway for this is a matter for speculation, but at the time of his death, Norway and Sweden were still in union, so it’s possible he may have set it up that way out of a sense of fairness. He may also have been aware of the Norwegian Storting’s interest in peacefully solving international disputes, even at that time.

Whatever the reason, Norway is justifiably proud of the legacy it has created in the Peace Prize.

Each December Oslo celebrates that legacy and the year’s winner with three days of events, including an award ceremony attended by Their Majesties the King and Queen of Norway, the Government, Storting representatives, and an invited audience. The ceremony and following banquet are always held on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death, and though the guest list for those events is strictly controlled, the Nobel Peace Center hosts a free live stream of the ceremony for all who wish to attend. Later in the day there is also a torchlight parade from Oslo’s train station to the Grand Hotel, where the winners are usually housed.

The following day, the Nobel Peace Prize Concert is held at Telenor Arena. This year’s event is hosted by Conan O’Brien, and will include Sting and Halsey, along with international musical sensations Juanes, a Colombian musician whose debut solo album won three Latin Grammy Awards; Swedish pop duo Icona Pop; Highasakite, a Norwegian indie pop and rock band that has won a number of Norwegian prizes; and for the concert’s young talent act, Marcus & Martinus, 14-year-old twins who are taking Norwegian music by storm.

Tickets to the concert run between 430 and 1245 NOK (about $50 to $150), and if you can’t make it there, “a free 360° Virtual Reality livestream of the concert will be available, providing unique and exclusive immersive experiences streamed live from the event. Additionally, 360° post-event and exclusive highlight videos will be available for on-demand viewing throughout the weekend. This exclusive footage will be broadcasted on the Nobel Peace Prize Concert’s #PeaceIsLoud 360° VR app and HTML Player powered exclusively by Digital Domain, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize Concert website, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube channels.” Check nobelpeaceprizeconcert.com on December 11 for more info.

Photo: Johannes Granseth /  Nobel Peace Center The Nobel Peace Center, built in 2005, is a welcome addition to Aker Brygge on Oslo’s harbor.

Photo: Johannes Granseth /
Nobel Peace Center
The Nobel Peace Center, built in 2005, is a welcome addition to Aker Brygge on Oslo’s harbor.

On December 12, the Nobel Peace Center unveils their newest exhibit, “Hope Over Fear,” which will showcase Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, this year’s laureate. Danish photographer Mads Nissen traveled to Colombia to take photographs for the exhibition, focusing on Santos but also on other parties working toward an end to the country’s civil war and those affected by it—he therefore visited a FARC camp, a cocaine laboratory, the presidential palace, and the back streets of Bogotá. The exhibit will run until November 26, 2017.

While at the Peace Center, be sure to check out the other exhibits. In addition to The Nobel Field, which contains information on all the Prize’s winners, there are currently exhibits on Syria and on German journalist, editor, and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky, who warned the world about German remilitarization in breach of the Treaty of Versailles before WWII.

On a visit this summer, I somehow managed not to find the Syrian exhibit, but I did thoroughly explore the Ossietzky one, which is an impressive reflection on the importance of a free press and the incredible courage it sometimes requires to utilize it. Ossietzky was convicted of treason and eventually died from tuberculosis after having been tortured in a German prison camp. The award was a controversial one, given for 1935 but not announced until the following year.

You may not always feel like shouting for joy at the Nobel Peace Center, but you may find yourself deeply emotionally affected nonetheless.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun A fish-eye view of one side of the entryway to the impressive Nobel suite in the Grand Hotel, where Peace Prize winners often stay.

Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
A fish-eye view of one side of the entryway to the impressive Nobel suite in the Grand Hotel, where Peace Prize winners often stay.

I also found myself deeply affected by the Grand Hotel, where I was put up during my stay by Visit Oslo. In fact, I ended up staying in the Nobel suite, the same set of rooms that most Nobel Peace Prize winners stay in while they are in Oslo. Obama didn’t sleep there, I was told, but he did hold meetings in the first room of the suite, which contains an impressive desk and a conference table.

One enters this suite through a hallway lined with portraits of some of the larger-than-life figures who have stayed there.

To me, a humble newspaper editor more accustomed to traveling on a budget, it was all very intimidating. It’s hard not to compare yourself to those others when you’re face to portrait with them. “You won’t sleep tonight,” Kirsti Svenning of Visit Oslo remarked offhand to me, because I’d be thinking about those who’d slept there. I did sleep (I was exhausted), but the thought got to me.

I thought of Malala Yousafzai, the most recent laureate whose face I could summon to mind. Did she sleep in this room? Perhaps not, as she shared the prize that year with Kailash Satyarthi, and presumably they had separate rooms. But perhaps! I wondered what she thought of the soft bed and the fancy room.

In the morning, taking my shower, I thought of her again—and just then the water temperature spiked and I yelped and jumped away. The Grand Hotel in Oslo is a phenomenal place to stay, with a lovely breakfast and a long history, and many other things to recommend it, but one thing it doesn’t have is great temperature control in the water. My shower oscillated between scalding and almost too cool, and it did it consistently. I thought of Malala getting surprised as I had by a change in temperature, and it helped.

No matter how impressive the person, we all have some things in common.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 2, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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