Oslo Midtsommer magic
Traditions, old and new, come alive at Hvervenbukta
Every year, huge Midtsommer bonfires (Sankthansbål) are lit all across Norway. A popular Oslo destination is Hvervenbukta, an idyllic recreational area just a few minutes from the city center. Huge chestnut, willow, beech, and pine trees make the hiking trails and bike path an oasis of green. Here you find a small café and other houses that once belonged to a mansion with a spectacular view over the Oslo Fjord.
June 23, 2019: Sunrise at 3:54 a.m.
The sun is at its highest. It is St. Hans, also called Jonsokdag, traditionally a pagan celebration, later taken over by the church as a celebration to commemorate St. John the Baptist. Sankthans, jonsok, or jónsvaka (Old Norse term), which means “wake night for Jon” (an abbreviation for John), are all words used for this day. Now the day is called Midtsommer and is a midsummer feast.
The smoke from a dozen disposable grills fills the air as we arrive. Hvervenbukta is called Oslo’s cultural meeting place. More than 100 nationalities, from nearby Holmia and Hauketo, come here on St. Hans. The Polish club in Norway, “Polonia,” has for many years organized St. Hans concerts and exhibitions.
Even during the coronavirus crisis, parking lots are crowded on weekends. Norwegians are moving about outdoors, as if fresh air will solve all their problems, even the COVID-19 situation. Already in May, some people were swimming in the Oslo Fjord, and many lit small fires and barbecued. As the weather gets drier, open fires are restricted from April 15 to Sept. 15, when disposable charcoal grills take over.
At Hvervenbukta, one finds the old dwellings, Dølastua and the Strand Pavilion. The houses once belonged to the mansion there, and they are all that remain of the estate buildings. The 150-year-old white mansion, Ljansgodset, went up in flames on a January evening in 1913. Everything became the fire’s prey, including the rococo hall with oak flooring, murals, and chandeliers.
But today, one can sit by the window of the idyllic white-painted pavilion and imagine what it was like back then. The view is much the same today as it is in old paintings with women holding small lace umbrellas. In the background, ships are anchored up in the harbor.
Maren Juel lived in the mansion from 1771. She had no children but married several times and managed the huge estate of Ljan and the surrounding area of Aker, Nesodden, and Østfold. She belonged to the higher echelons of the upper class, the patrician families of Elieson, Collett, and Anker. But in 1799, she sold the estate to a relative, and Lars Ingier took over.
11:26 a.m.: High tide
Some seagulls fight over breadcrumbs make a lot of noise, while children roast marshmallows over a glowing fire and wait for the big bonfire. The Holmenkollen Ski Jump is visible above the city. Some kayak paddlers are on their way out to enjoy a day on the fjord, along with a duck family, a total of 24 flippers.
Now children are lining up for ice cream at the rococo pavilion on a hot day.
The old farmhouse is home to artisans like Galleri Stylo and Anne på landet. Anne Gravingen and her husband, Bendik Romstad, run the café Anne på landet in the red 18th-century gardener’s house.
“It is a good combination for us: a beach cafeteria, a food truck, and the pavilion,” says Anne.
The couple also runs a café in the famous park, Frognerparken, as well as Hønse-Lovisas hus (Hen Lovisa’s House) in Oslo, also a place of historical interest.
Outside, people are sitting in the sun watching the swans. Anne has just finished making a lemon meringue pie, and there are bottles of juice made from berries that Anne and her family picked in a nearby forest, Svartskog (Black forest).
The faithful Citroën food truck has been with the couple since they launched one of the country’s first operations of that sort.
“It used to be a school bus,” says Bendik, who made sure it got approved, not only for vehicle safety standards but also by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, Mattilsynet.
Time stands still
The smoke from the disposable charcoal grills searches for direction from the wind. A dog is fed a few raw mussels. It obviously has a stomach for such delicacies. Iranian men are sitting in the shade with a hookah. Some girls swim fully clothed, while others keep their bikini bottoms on.
A couple of blond girls make sure the buzz from wasps and the sound of splashes are replaced with youthful gossip.
If you walk the hill up to Dølastua, artisans are ready, proudly displaying the results of their work. Their wares include pottery, paintings, jewelry, textiles, glass, and furniture.
10:27 p.m.: Flood tide
The fire is sparkling and crackling but still unable to steal attention away from the sun’s last remaining rays. Families and friends enjoy grilled sausages. Moms and dads sit down with cold beers in the pavilion garden, while the heat from the sun slowly replaces the heat from the bonfire.
The sun finally sets at 10:44 p.m., and the Norwegian summer evening is perfect—as long as it does not start raining or snowing.
In 2020, the ruins of the mansion will be rebuilt. Olso’s residents are expected to return to celebrate their Midtsommer feast but with restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus. They will be taking precautions as they welcome back the summer sunshine.
This article originally appeared in the June 12, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.