Armchair travel education in U.S. immigration

A museum in Brooklyn Square in Vanse, Norway, offers a unique experience

The apartment at the museum at Brooklyn Square in Vanse, Norway, is reminiscent of a Brooklyn, N.Y., home from the the 1960s and 1970s.

MONA ANITA K. OLSEN
University of Stavanger

I once had the opportunity to visit Santorini, Greece, after exploring Athens with a dear friend from Randolph Middle School (RMS), Elizabeth Claps, or simply Liz. I was reminded of this memory recently when visiting a new museum that opened in Brooklyn Square as part of Trunken AS, a local department store in Vanse, Norway, specializing in American products.

Liz was assigned to me as my Smile Partner at RMS when I was a recent addition to the school in the sixth grade. My family had just moved from Tokyo to Randolph, N.J., because of my father’s job in the oil business. The Smile Partner Program was set up to help new students acclimate.

I had moved a lot by that point, so acclimation was not foreign to me, but this program was different. From my vantage, the best part about the Smile Partner Program was the smiles it brought and encouraged. Anyone who has met Liz knows her smile can fill a room—warm, engaging, and welcoming.

I was reminded of this smile memory from middle school when I sat down with Christina Helene Lyngsvåg Breisnes at the museum in Vanse in August. If you have ever met Christina, she is an energetic, engaging, creative, and passionate entrepreneur with a zest for business. She also has a smile that will welcome you across the Atlantic.

I was also reminded of the memory of exploring Santorini and finding an amazing bookstore called Atlantis Books, which introduced me the importance of armchair travel and how staycations can be a mechanism for education.

Over the years, many have offered to buy this funky retro American couch in autumn colors on display at the museum, but it is not for sale.

I could not help but be reminded of armchair travel as Christina sat down with me and shared stories on a very distinctive, retro couch in the museum’s apartment. Over the years, this couch had been on display at Trunken, and many have offered to buy the sofa, to which Christina responded, was “not for sale as this piece is ‘priceless.’”

In reflecting on my own memories in connection with our interview, I realized that Christina and I were armchair traveling in Brooklyn Square in Vanse to the United States through memories in the museum.

Travel takes on a different meaning after our pandemic experiences, no matter what part of the world we find ourselves in. While travel is picking up, and trips to the United States from Norway continue to increase, there is something beautiful about being able to experience and be educated about an important facet of American history, which many Norwegians can connect to in some way—immigration to America—within Norway in English.

If you have ever been to Vanse in Norway, it is often called the American Lista. With “Street Meets” on Wednesday nights for car lovers in the summer to an American Festival in June each year, a reverence for the United States can be found. Across from Larsen’s Bakery and next to Eighth Avenue (a bar and future diner) is Trunken, and attached to Trunken is the museum.

Trunken AS is a department store that opened on Thanksgiving in 2004. It has continued to grow, and it has had an impact on  the community by bringing an increasing number of American products to the area and also encouraging visits to the United States in specialty tours that Trunken operates from Norway.

Trunken is decorated with tremendous memorabilia from the United States; people have donated memories from their experiences and travels in the United States to Christina and her team. Christina noted, “It is an honor to be the benefactor of people’s important memories and heirlooms from America.”

In 2019, an opportunity presented itself for the owners of Trunken to purchase part of the building connected to Trunken. This space had been sitting vacant for around 18 years at that point. The three owners, Christina Breisnes, Liv Lyngsvåg, and Rune Skjol­dal, decided to purchase the space.

With the department store hitting its space limit on what it could store and showcase given the expanding product variety, the new space would allow the creation of a museum to not only showcase memorabilia from the United States that had been curated since the store opened but also educate visitors on immigration to the United States from Norway.

For the past three years, Christina and her team have worked to fully develop the museum. Thankful to all those who donated items for display and also the bank and Farsund Kommune for their support, the museum opened to the public during the American Festival weekend in June 2022.

In the conference room, a custom bar designed with pennies is the perfect place to display a small replica of an American school bus.

It is currently open on Sundays, and the most updated schedule and times can be found on the Facebook page for Trunken Department Store at facebook.com/Trunken-Department-Store-70006767644. The entrance fee is NOK 50 for adults and NOK 25 for children ages 5 to 17. Children younger than 5 enter for free.

As Christina reflected, the museum honors those who took on new chances to explore a new beginning in America and the journeys that many of them took back to the United States.

To enter the museum, you go up a stairway with a large mural from Brooklyn. Upon entering the main museum, you have an opportunity to see an apartment similar to once you would have found in Brooklyn in the ’60s and ’70s. Complete with bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, and bathroom, the space is filled with clothes, jewelry, furniture, instruments, books, and home décor from the United States.

You can find books that were used to educate Norwegians on what it would be like to move to the United States and also creative accents, such as a custom bar designed with pennies in a conference room.

To Christina, this museum serves much more than an a monetary or space goal. In fact, Christina has her own story about going to the United States when she was younger and will never forget the impact that it had on her journey. This museum creation is truly a personal project to showcase and capture the memories and journeys of many in the community and across Norway who journeyed to the United States in search of opportunity.

While most of the memories displayed are positive memories, there are also reminders that not everyone made it to the United States and back to Norway.

The museum aims to encourage conversation about the history of the area and engage everyone who visits in a way that is meaningful to them. Whether that someone went to America on a voyage after World War II or was a grandchild remembering a visit to a brownstone in New York or a child reflecting on their most recent trip to Florida, the museum facilitates the discussion.

In the upcoming months, the aim is to continue to keep the museum open to the public and also look into having events in the conference space.

Reunions for tour groups that have gone to the United States with Trunken are being considered as potential art exchanges, maybe even with galleries in Brooklyn.

A highlight of the fall season is Thanksgiving at Trunken. Expect the museum to be updated accordingly to experience a taste of Thanksgiving in Norway.

All photos by Mona Anita K. Olsen

This article originally appeared in the September 2, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Mona Anita K. Olsen

Mona Anita K. Olsen is an associate professor at the Norwegian Hotel School at the University of Stavanger in Norway and now lives in Farsund. She is also the founder of Innovation Barn AS, leading the efforts to launch Yogibana in Norway. Yogibana is an artistic wellness concept fueled by the weaving of yoga and ikebana (Japanese style floral design) together in 12 steps.

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