Visitors to Bergen cannot miss out on the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site and Old Town section of the city: the Bryggen. This is a truly unique landmark that is purely Norwegian in style and structure. But it also has a shared history with German traders and fishermen. The Bergen Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene lays out this history with excellent detail, covering a date range that extends all the way back from the Medieval era up to the modern moment. The museum allows you the chance to not only learn about Bergen’s salty past, but also provide you with the opportunity to walk in and through one of the famous wooden buildings that have dominated the harborside for hundreds of years. Walk back in time and visit a Norway long gone with the Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene.
Norway’s historic Bryggen area
The historic Bryggen area is iconic to the city and is worth a visit to Bergen in itself. Like a proverbial phoenix, Bergen itself has been built up, burned down, and risen from the ashes (several times over), and this is where it all began. Although the region had been populated for potentially thousands of years, it wouldn’t begin to thrive until about 1360, when the German Hanseatic League (a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns) rode into town and dominated the fishing industry that was so central to the survival of the townspeople. As one of the Hanseatic epicenters, Bergen became interconnected with numerous other European cities, bringing money, goods, and culture into the region. Unfortunately for Bergen, the traditional household was made of wood, and thus quite susceptible to fire.
The city burned to the ground several times over the years, leaving only a handful of these famous Norwegian wooden buildings left standing. This is the history that the Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene covers, not only giving you insights into how the Hanseatic League came to dominate the region, but the opportunity to witness how the German tradesmen lived their lives and earned a living throughout the years.
The Hanseatic Museum
The museum itself is located in Finnegården, one of the last remaining wooden buildings from the Hanseatic days (dating back to 1702), and provides an authentic perspective into the days of old, especially how German traders lived and conducted business over the years. Entrance is approximately 10 USD, but also grants you access to the Schøtstuene part of the museum (more on that later). The museum itself allows you to wander through one of the oldest wooden buildings left in the world. Each room is filled with artefacts and exhibits that explain, in very precise detail, the stockfish industry and the German Hanseatic League’s role in expanding European trade routes.
The wood moans and creaks with history
By far, the biggest pleasure that the museum has to offer is being able to walk around the inside of one of these ancient wooden buildings. The architecture shows its age and moans with age along with every step you take. Hanseatic traders lived and worked in these buildings, so they do represent the lives of upper-crust Germans, and not the average Norwegian laborers’ (unfortunately, much of their history has dissipated along with the smoke of the fires that have devastated the city over the years). The rooms depict living quarters for traders and guests, office spaces, dining areas, and meeting rooms all decorated in accordance with the way things might have been three hundred years ago. But the museum also includes an excellent display on the fishing industry and storage facilities that had not changed much since the Middle Ages. Their lives were an odd mixture of luxury and basic survival, with each room being dark, damp, and cold.
Speaking of the cold, fire was banned in the wooden buildings (it seems like a negligent candle-lighter appeared every fifty years or so and managed to burn the city down anyway), so rooms were drafty, meals were eaten cold, and darkness creeps into every corner. For this reason, the German traders built the Schøtstuene a couple of blocks from the center of town (less than a five-minute walk from the Hanseatic Museum), so fires could be lit for warm food, lighthearted revelry, and business transactions where one could actually see the documents they were signing.
The Schøtstuene is only open on Saturdays, but admittance is included with your Hanseatic Museum ticket, so make sure you visit these on the weekend, that way you can experience the whole thing.
Ancient beer halls - what's not to like?
The Schøtstuene is where the Hanseatic League came to party. Imagine a beer hall full of German traders, drinking steins of lager, getting rowdy right after a blockbuster deal is signed between two parties who will probably not see one another for another twelve months. That’s why this building exists. You get to walk around the two beer halls (two!), pretending you’re right there with the League itself, and walk through one of the only fire-allowed kitchens in all of ancient Bergen. There aren’t nearly as many interesting artefacts in this building as there are in the Hanseatic museum, but it is definitely a treat to walk through a bygone era, wondering what life might have been like for Hanseatic traders (and those Norwegian laborers who don’t have a museum all to themselves!).
Enjoy walking through a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site
Norway has some of the most fascinating museum and archeological treasures in all of Europe. The Bergen Hanseatic Museum and Schøtstuene doesn’t have the same draw and appeal as, say, a Viking Ship Museum (in Oslo), but it does provide you with opportunities that the others rarely can deliver on. You get to walk around the inside of a UNESCO World Heritage site! This is an amazing opportunity that should not be passed up. Both parts of the museum provide visitors the once-in-a-lifetime chance to walk through the residences and offices of one of Medieval Europe’s most powerful trading leagues, and wonder what things may have been like in Bergen’s past, before centuries of fires wiped much of this history out.
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