Lufthansa Highlights Oslo: Let there be light
It is peaceful in Oslo. The Friday afternoon traffic has slowed to a trickle and the stores on Karl Johans Gate, the main shopping street, are closing. But at Deli de Luca on the corner, young people are stocking up for the evening hours with sandwiches, pastries and sushi. Nobody leaves without coffee because the night ahead will be long. Very long.
In mid-June, just before the summer solstice, an enchanted glow hangs over Oslo. The light is intoxicating. The sky is a deep gray-blue canopy until far into the evening and only late at night does it turn red. A swathe of silver streaks the horizon even at the darkest hour. And when the moon’s yellow silk reflection bobs on the warm waters of Oslo Fjord, happiness is just about complete for the people here.
Tonight, Marit Sehl is heading for Grünerløkka district in the eastern part of Oslo. The mezzo-soprano from Filtvet, a small town south of the Norwegian capital, studied opera in Sydney and was engaged by the famous opera house. After spending some time in Hamburg, Germany, Marit returned to Oslo a couple of years ago. “I missed it too much,” she explains. Oslo is very small, she concedes, and you can walk across town in half an hour. “But when I wander through Grünerløkka, it feels just as international as Sydney or Hamburg,” she adds.
Grünerløkka’s colorful mix of immigrants and bohemians has turned the former workers’ district into one of the city’s most exciting areas.During the day, young fashion designers display their creations in trendy boutiques, while in the evening, punk rockers and businesspeople sit amiably side by side at concerts, enjoying a beer. It’s this relaxed attitude to life, an affinity with nature and the very pronounced seasons that Marit likes so much about Oslo.
Marit Sehl’s experience of living there corresponds with hard fact: Norway topped the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI) seven times in the past decade. The index takes into account a country’s gross national product and the life expectancy and education levels of the people living there. So you could even say it’s official: Norway is one of the world’s most attractive places to live.
Oslo is a distillation of all that Norway has to offer. After shaking off a reputation of a bastion of dullness and traditionalism, the 1,000-year-old city now represents the epitome of urban renewal. Construction cranes rotate slowly wherever you look. Old port facilities are being converted into up-scale living quarters and modern architectural treasures are joining the traditional white wooden villas in the Holmenkollen hills and the elegant turn-of-the-last century commercial buildings downtown.
The heart and soul of the new Oslo is the former shipbuilding district, Aker Brygge. Tourists and Osloans flock here to visit the shops, theaters, galleries, restaurants and cafés, or to drink coffee and simply enjoy uteliv – a word meaning “life outside” and “nightlife” that perfectly sums up the season – in front of a backdrop of historical shipyard facades across from the town hall.
Young people are particularly drawn to the cultural diversity and laid-back Scandinavian atmosphere. Thanks to state-sponsored study grants and one of the lowest unemployment rates in Europe they can afford to live here even though Oslo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Apart from a couple of good deals, like the Oslo Pass, that is, that allows you to ride all the trains and buses and get into many museums for free. The city’s midsummer magic is naturally free, as well.
Oslo’s Royal Park is also worth a visit. “To me, it’s like having my own garden,” says Marit Sehl. When Norway’s King Harold V turned 70, Marit Sehl was less than five meters away. Not because she was one of the few selected to shake his hand but because all Norwegians can get close to their king – as long as they’re in the park during the festivities.
Despite all the urban development taking place, Oslo still has lots of open spaces. Some 550,000 people inhabit roughly one third of a 453-square-kilometer area consisting mainly of forests, meadows and water. In the summer, people swim or sail on the fjord or hike the Holmenkollen hills. The famous ski-jump is only about a 30-minute ride on the blue-and-red train from the center of town. Few other cities have both bathing beaches and a ski resort so close at hand.
Oslo has an opera house now, too. Designed by the renowned Norwegian architects’ office Snøhetta, it lies like a floating iceberg in the harbor in Bjørvika district. Already, it’s a top Norwegian architectural and cultural attraction, but only its repertoire will tell whether it becomes a cultural beacon for the Scandinavian world. Marit Sehl is certain of one thing: “Some day I would very much like to perform there.”