The news out of Norway has been so heartbreaking, it causes one to recall just how special the place is. Below are some more notes from walking the city of Oslo in the summer of 2004. In these, I walked to Bygdøy, in search of the home of Quisling. The arrest of Breivik reminded me of this walk, with its echoes of Norway’s experience with reactionary politics under Quisling and Terboven. It also reminded me of the plot of Jo Nesbø’s Rørstrupe, about an unregenerate Norwegian Nazi who fought alongside the Germans against the Russians on the Eastern Front. He survives the war and in the year 2000 plots an assassination to avenge the wrongs he believes he has suffered since his return to Norway.
Notes on walking the city of Oslo, part two
On a walking circumnavigation of the island-turned-peninsula named Bygdøy, I searched several streets for the notorious estate of the Second World War Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling. It was the morning after I’d witnessed the disturbing movie Hamsun, with Max Von Sydow’s Knut Hamsun enduring much of the war in domestic exile, and in increasingly oblivious efforts to convince the weak Quisling to spare Norwegian lives condemned by Nazi governor Terboven. Someone had mentioned that Quisling’s house had recently been offered for sale. Given its association with the synonym for national treachery, there were no offers. The government had stepped in, apparently, and purchased the property for development as a Holocaust museum.
It was hot that day—in the end it was a very hot summer–and I missed the street and became lost. I was about to give up when I saw a man on a side street, standing near a gate house. He was opening a locked section of a chain link fence. I asked him, in rudimentary Norwegian, if he knew of Quisling’s house. He pointed up beyond some trees. The gate house where we now stood opened there. Could I see the house itself? I had an idea to write a poem about Quisling and wanted a photograph of the doorknob of his house. I thought this might illustrate what I had envisioned as the entrance into evil.
The man, who, as it happened, was a workman on the museum project, refused. He seemed a bit perplexed that some foreigner wanted to take a picture of Quisling’s house. Perhaps I was some kind of neo-Nazi come to worship. Even as I asked him, I could sense I had trespassed on a subject that, even after all this time, was still very close to the surface of Norwegian memory.
The man tried to rid himself of his discomfort by explaining how Quisling had not lived here for more than a few years. When I remained standing next to him he reached for another thought. In his short time in residence, the man said, Quisling had evicted several long-time residents from their homes and incorporated these properties into his estate. I nodded, but did not go away. It seemed clear that the locals cared little for a new ‘attraction’ that would bring gas-fuming tour buses–or would-be poet/pedestrians–down these narrow manicured lanes, in search of a poisonous memory of the Nazi infiltration into Norse life.
Perhaps because of my obvious struggles to communicate a difficult request in his native language, or perhaps in search of one final reason to rid himself of me, the man pointed to the gate house itself. This, he said, was the only structure actually built during the Quisling years. It housed the hand-picked soldiers Quisling deployed to guard his estate. These young men presented Quisling’s romantic image of a modern Norwegian Viking state. The word Quisling gave to these men was a medieval Norse term for bodyguards of the King.
The man spoke this word twice, before he saw my obvious non-comprehension, and kneeled to trace it the dirt in front of the gatehouse. Then he wrote in my notebook: Hird. This four-letter word is almost absurdly complicated to pronounce for beginners in Norwegian language, each letter requiring its own distinct sound. As a term for his Norwegian storm trooper guards, Quisling had dragged it back into modern usage, at this very gate.
I thanked the man. He, though a bit more well-disposed toward me now, nevertheless took my thanks as a sign to hurry through the gate and lock it quickly. Leaving me outside, he strode uphill to Quisling’s estate, still hidden behind the trees. I never did see it. Instead, I took photographs of the gatehouse, until a local resident with his child began to stare at me with either curiosity or contempt. It was still a raw nerve, and I retreated accordingly.