- It was in those days I wandered around in Christiania, starving. That weird town no man ever leaves without getting scars... (Knut Hamsun: Hunger).
Oslo is the capital of Norway, labeled with many nicknames, and featuring prominently in many Norwegian novels and movies. Hamsun was just one of many artists who grew to resent his life there. But first, a little history:
The inner fjord
The Oslo area has been populated for 10.000 years, approximately since the end of the last ice age. Hunters and gatherers, and later bronze age farmers, lived their lives and left traces of it around the city, and gradually, farm lands evolved into communities. The oldest areas were cultivated through the iron ages, and Norse pagan sites were abundant.
starting points for a city
At the outlet of the river Alna under the hills of Eikaberg, Danish and later Norwegian kings chose to develop a center for trade and commerce. In this area it is speculated that a farm called Oslo already existed, and around this farm, a commercial town and a harbour grew in the late tenth century. At the beginning of the eleventh century, a town was growing on the beach (fifty years earlier than predicted. This led to Oslo having a millenial in 2000, while the town marked a 900 years jubilee in 1950. Nice work if you can get it).
Making Oslo a port of some significance
During the middle ages, the city grew, and with Christianity emerging, the town got more than one significant church. The king also put up shop in the area, but the town was no capital at this point. During this time, the town was the residency of the king`s son, who was titled duke. This duke, Hakon, had some ideas of his own, and erected a castle in the area. Thus, Oslo became a capital.
The medieval town was, of course, built of wood, and the walls were painted with tar. During the centuries that followed, Oslo burned to the ground a number of times. When the power of Norway declined, and the kings ruled from Denmark, the city declined as well. The medieval churches began to collapse, especially after the year of reformation (1536). In the late medieval era, the kings were more into strengthening the Akershus castle, and were not above taking material from the old churches and monasteries. Reformation also took power from the church, and Oslo became a backwater town. Danish king Christian IV had plans for a new city, built in stone, and when the medieval town burned in august 1624, he ordered that the city was to be rebuilt behind the castle, across the bay. Thus, the "old town" ended up outside the new city, which was renamed Christiania, while the area of Osloe kept the old name. For 300 years.
The new town of Christiania remained provincial, and grew rather slowly for 200 years. Even in the 1800s, it was labeled "the small town with four streets". It still was a centre of commerce, though. Nothing essentially happened there until the Norwegian Constituent Assembly, for convenience, decided to keep the town as a capital of Norway. The Norwegian university had recently (1813) been located to the town, and gradually, the city expanded.
At the end of the 1800s, the city had grown to an industrial, thriving capital, with strong growth from workers coming to town, many factories, and a great social split. This was the town of Henrik Ibsen and Knut Hamsun. Oslo had a theatre, a palace, a parliament. Gradually the face of the town changed. The end of the "Christiania" era came in 1924, when the town renamed itself, having pushed its borders to include the "old town". From now on, Oslo was the official name.
20th century Oslo
The city went from industrial to post-industrial over the course of the last century. The city grew with the power of the central government, and more land was added to the municipality after 1947. The social differences did not disappear, however, and the problems are still there to be found. Because of the Oil Age, Oslo has grown even more, and pressures on the greater Oslo area, a dense strip of populated land all around the Oslo fjord.
Oslo became, for conveniency, divided into administrational parts, all governed by their own small council. The traditional areas are as follows: the inner city, the inner west, the outer west, the inner east, the outer east, the garden suburbs, and the south. And then of course, there is the marches, all four of them, with clearly stated boundaries not to be messed with. If ANY local politician even suggests tampering with the marches, he will feel the power of popular resentment.
The inner city is, almost to a T, identical with the old Christiania area. To the east, the border for this town was the river, and to the east of the river, we find the inner east. Boundaries for the inner city vary, but usually you leave it when you pass the government buildings to the north of it. Today, only a few people actually live here, this being the area of commerce, night life, trading and such. Be sure that everyone goes to this part of town come weekend, to get drunk, dance or have a good time. The main street, Carl Johan street, the royal palace, the parliamental building and the old castle of Akershus, all there.
This area is the area of Beatles. Read the book and walk the streets. It developed behind the royal palace, being an area of well to do people, going all the way up to the Frogner park, and Majorstua. The Norwegian broadcasting company is sited at the end of it, and so is the University of Oslo. The "inner west" is known to be somewhat posh, and the people living there are usually well off. Some exceptions may be noted, hipsters and students. No surprise, as the University is not far off.
May be divided in two parts: The area of Holmenkollen, and the area of Bygdøy. People living out here, are usually rich. Sometimes blatantly so. The further west you get... With two exceptions: Ullern, noted as somewhat "vulgar" by others in the vicinity, and the suburban area of Hovseter, which sticks out because this actually looks and feels like an eastern part of town, dug up and placed there.
The area east of the Akerselva river. From the beginning, this was a poor part of town, and many lived here under poor conditions. As the wealth in Norway grew, some areas, usually the more rustic wooden buildings, were bough up by intellectuals, and renovated. Other parts, like Tøyen and Grønland, were populated with immigrants, the new working class. Thus, Grønland is often renamed "little Pakistan" because of high density of people of asian descent.
Outer east: The old farmlands which were put under Oslo jurisdiction were built anew as suburbs in The '60s. Many working class families moved there from abroad. Later, migrants followed suit. The area of Groruddalen is a mix of blocks, flats and older houses, and there is a sense of tension in the area, and even a local independence unit. People here wish to govern themselves, and argues that the city council is almost 10 kilometers away - and never visit.
Like the outer east, the southern parts of Oslo are pretty far away from the centre. People in this area are often than not of migrant descent, and the area was the last to be urbanized. It is an outskirt, and people have to take the train to get into town. Or a crammy bus. The flats are cheap, and the population is a mix of traditional working class elements, and migrants. They usually get along.
The Garden suburbs are to be found in a circle around the inner parts of Oslo. The area is named like this because of the many gardens, usually filled with apple trees. Some of them were built by well-to-do people, other areas were built for workers. These areas are under pressure, because of city development, and investors who recognize the value of real estate to build more flats on. Not that people living in the area actually like this. Tensions are brewing because of this fact.
Oslo has a lot of woodlands, both near the city centre, and around it. Oslo inhabitants are pretty fond of, and rather proud of, their woods, and go to great lenghts to protect them. The marches, especially to the north, are quite wide, and is a popular area for walks, skiing and touring. But, because of city development, the bounds are threatened. And that is, as noted, Serious Business for ANYONE living in the city.
- Knut Hamsun marked out the city in his first novel, Hunger from 1890.
- Henrik Wergeland died there, and wrote a number of poems and articles concerning the ups and downs of the town in his lifetime.
- Beatles features Oslo as the main setting for the novel.
- Call of Cthulhu has the main character travelling to Oslo to find the sailor Gustaf Johansen, who lives in a small house "under the Egeberg". Lovecraft also gave a description of the town as it was in 1925.
It is difficult to find any Norwegian author who hasn`t written something concerning this city.
Tropes connected to Oslo:
- Crapsack World: Many, MANY examples in literature boils the city down to this. Beatles is extremely harsh, but Hunger written by Knut Hamsun is a good runner-up. Poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson detested the mentality he found there, calling the whole shebang a "city of tigers" (who ate its citizens). Later, Andre Bjerke (another poet) subverted this by writing a poem on the subject of "why do all those poets actually seem to hate this town?"
- Damned by Faint Praise: Arguably. Because of the intense pulling of interests in Norway between Oslo as an appointed centre and other areas, Oslo is a continual victim. As people in the capital can describe certain western places as "small and not central at the bottom of western fjords", be sure that people in the western parts say the same about Oslo. Often crossing over in I Shall Taunt You territory. Both Ways. Norwegians have a ...complicated view of their capital.
- Even today, youths from other parts of Norway may refer to Oslo as "the dump".
- Egopolis: A straight example for 300 years, because of king Christian IV, who moved the city, and renamed it after himself: Christiania.
- Social Climber: Oslo, being the smallest of the Scandinavian capitals, does its best to cope, and the recent expansionism is actually invoked to get the city up to speed with the others.