As you can see, I have no photo(s) from my travels through the Norwegian province of Telemark. This is because I have until now been using the camera on my phone, and now that my contract with T-Mobile in London has ended, the phone is locked, until I receive the pin number with which to unlock it so I can put a new sim card in it. I paid T-Mobile for this pin back in June, and despite phone calls, emails and a hand-written letter, they still haven’t given it to me. So no phone, no camera. If you are in the UK or wherever else T-Mobile “operate”, don’t make my mistake of becoming one of their customers! This is the worst “customer service” I have ever experienced. Let their logo stand here as an anti-advertisement for their “services”.
To those of you who think I should have bought a digital camera, I say: it’s all very well for you to say that, you with your fancy bicycle and your American gold watch, but I kneel here in Norway with no income!
Anyway, a thousand words tells a picture; I can describe Telemark for you.
Telemark is a part of Norway famous for farms, folklore, and folk arts. You will find beautiful tree-covered mountains, either reflected in glassy lakes, or overlooking green valleys of wooden farmhouses. Settlements are often in dales, so there are many place names ending in -dal, such as Heddal, Flatdal, Hjartdal and so on. Oh, and Blather readers will know one particular Telemark lake: Seljord! I stayed the night not far from there, at a farm in Natadal, where I was initiated into local superstitions involving trolls, fairies and ghosts. I shall repeat nothing of these tales here, as I was warned in advance by the farmer that he would be telling his guests much history, but “some” lies.
Apart from the traditional culture, there are two great historical sites in Telemark that are worth a visit: the Norsk Industriarbeidermuseum in Rjukan, and the old silver mines in Kongsberg. Together they provide you with a pair of contrasting Second World War stories.
At the Norsk Industriarbeidermuseum in Rjukan, you can learn about not only hydro-electricity but the “Heroes of Telemark”. Before the war, Rjukan was the only place in the world where heavy water was being produced. When the Germans invaded Norway in 1940, they took control of Rjukan and its heavy water. The Allies feared that the Nazis would use the heavy water to research and create an atomic weapon, so the British parachuted in Norwegian exiles in 1942 and ’43, to sabotage the project. These were brave Nordmenn: some of these men even had to spend the winter of 1942/3 living wild in the snow! Eventually heavy water production was successfully sabotaged. Then, in February 1944 the Germans attempted to move the remaining stocks of heavy water to Germany. The Norwegian saboteurs bombed the ferry that was carrying the heavy water away from Rjukan across lake Tinnsjø. This was a regular ferry service, and the saboteurs knew there would be Norwegian civilians on board, but they were urged to go through with the mission by their handlers in London. Fourteen civilians were killed. The irony emerged after the end of the war, when it was learned that the Nazis had actually ceased all atomic research in 1942.
The trip down the Kongsberg mines is quite an experience. Centuries of tunnelling for silver has left behind a whole series of deep and complex tunnels. These have been disused since 1958 because of the drop in the value of silver, so tourism is now the more precious stone (using those levels that have not been flooded). First there is a fifteen-minute ride through a mountain within a loud, rattling and cramped wagon; it’s like being encased in a tin box and then thrown down a well. Did I say down? The wagon actually goes up, into the heart of the mountain. When you emerge inside the freezing cold mine, you get a hard-hat and a tour. The most intriguing place in this the “King’s Mine” is the “banquet hall”, where there is a bar and sometimes jazz bands play. This cavern had no practical use during the mining days; in fact it was created using dynamite, as a place to store Norway’s national art treasures and books during the war. A great hidey-hole for the Nordmenn, but the Germans not only knew about it, they had caverns of their own! Norwegians and Germans agreed to keep each other’s troves safe, regardless of the outcome of the war. They helped each other stash the gear, and they helped each other when the time came to take it out again.