A little nisse’s big adventure in San Francisco
Norwegian American Weekly
In 1889, a young nisse named Nils Anders Wik entered into a foolish contest with a cabinet maker, and spent 125 years as furniture. It’s been almost a year since he broke free, in which time he’s been looking for his long-lost siblings. “So far I’ve spoken with a troll in the Mindekirken basement in Minnesota, searched Høstfest, asked the Norwegian Ambassador for help, and even traveled to Iceland to attend Elf School, and none of these have gotten me any closer to my family,” he told us.
So when Wik ran into a green-capped fellow on the streets of Ballard he was shocked. “It was like looking into a green mirror,” he said. The little guy was lost and disoriented, and couldn’t even tell Nils Anders his name, so Wik brought the newcomer back to Norwegian American Weekly headquarters.
“One thing was clear,” Wik said. “The green fella needed a vacation.”
Luckily, our friend Marilyn Berg Cooper had some months ago invited Nils Anders to visit her in California. “He’d never been to San Francisco before,” she said. Berg Cooper thought Nils Anders might find some relatives there.
So just as the Pacific Northwest was starting to get chilly, the pair of nisser packed up their bags and headed south to California.
It turned out that Nils Anders and his travel buddy were up for quite an adventure! To welcome them to the Golden State, Berg Cooper organized a tea—aka cupcake feast—for the nisser with some of her own little friends.
“We felt right at home!” said Nils Anders. “It was great to meet more folks like us. I especially liked hearing all of their travel stories—these guys have been to Wisconsin, Sweden, and even Morocco! I wonder where my quest will take me.”
Feeling at ease among his new group of friends, the green-capped nisse finally opened up and shared a bit about himself. “Olaf Lars Engebretsen is his name, it turns out.” Berg Cooper told us. “He and Nils Anders think they might be cousins—they do look very much alike!”
“We discovered that we come from neighboring farms in the old country. If we’ve got it all right, then his mother is my father’s sister! How exciting!” exclaimed Nils Anders.
Eager to find out more about his heritage, Nils Anders joined Berg Cooper on an adventure-filled San Francisco excursion. They saw Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge and explored Chinatown, where the nisse attempted to use chopsticks and loaded up on souvenirs for his friends back home. At the Fisherman’s Wharf, Nils Anders immediately spotted the Musée Mécanique—he was pretty excited to see more folks his size!
One evening, Nils Anders and Berg Cooper were just walking along when suddenly the nisse heard the sound of an accordion and exclaimed, “My family! They must be in there!” Berg Cooper didn’t have any time to explain that it was a German restaurant, Schroeder’s, before Nils Anders went waltzing in. It turned out it was the last night of Oktoberfest though, so they decided to stay and enjoy the festivities.
“The beer was spectacular, but what I really loved was the butter!” he said.
To get around the city, they traveled on the BART and the iconic cable car in true San Francisco fashion. “He loved riding the cable car,” said Berg Cooper.
“I’ve seen the cars and buses of Ballard, but I’ve never seen anything like this!” he said. “We did have to wait for a long time, but it was well worth it. We even got to meet some tourists from Germany and Russia as we waited. Nobody from Norway though.”
On the hunt for Norwegians, Berg Cooper took Nils Anders to Sjømannskirken. Here they met some tall Swedish students, but they didn’t have any ideas for the nisse.
“I was disappointed that the Swedes couldn’t help me on my mission, but at least I got to enjoy some delicious hjertevafler! They tasted awfully familiar—I must have nibbled on some crumbs under the table as a young nisse back home.”
It was about time for Nils Anders to make the trek back to Seattle, so Berg Cooper made him a big bowl of rice pudding to share with Olaf Lars.
“Olaf Lars decided to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area, so Nils Anders always has a place to stay if he comes to visit again. We are having to buy rather more rice pudding than usual, though,” admitted Berg Cooper.
“I’m sure going to miss him, especially now that we might be cousins,” said Nils Anders. “But I had such an incredible time exploring San Francisco with Marilyn and now I’m ready for my next adventure!”
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 13, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.