As a German expat living in Bergen, Christian reflects on his ancestral connection to this Norwegian city and its history in relation to the Hanseatic League.
Coming from a small town close to Hamburg in northern Germany I had heard of the Hanseatic League but was unaware of the influence they had had over northern Europe and the Baltic. Now, as an expat in Bergen, I have had the chance to learn more about the Hanseatic league and their impact on the city of Bergen.
The Hanseatic League, was a formation of German merchants from the middle ages who created a trading organization that dominated trade in Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea. The league originated from the German city of Lübeck and eventually expanded all the way to London in the west, Novgorod in the east and Bergen in the north.
At it’s peak the Hanseatic league included up to 170 cities and 4 trade posts (Kontor). Bergen was one of the trade posts, which saw between 1000 to 2000 Germans living in the city at the time. The merchants area, located in Bryggen, was separated by a gate to the rest of the city and even included a church (St. Mary’s) which was bought by the German merchants.
The German merchants were attracted to Norway due to their abundant supply of Stockfish (or Torfisk as it is called in Norwegian). The Norwegians developed a method of preserving codfish without using salt, but by drying the fish on racks and allowing the cold, dry Norwegian air to preserve it naturally. The stockfish were brought down from Lofoten to Bergen, where the German Merchants then delivered the fish to the rest of Europe. Stockfish in the middles ages was the equivalent to oil today; it was an important commodity.
Visiting Bergen today, the remnants of the Hanseatic league still remain as you walk through the old wooden alleys and buildings of the historical Bryggen area. Also located in Bryggen is the famous Hanseatic Museum. The museum is one of the oldest wooden buildings still standing in Bergen, dating back to the 18th century, and it gives you a glimpse of what life was like for the German traders who lived and worked here.
Walking through the museum is like travelling back in time, as the smell of wood, dried fish and minimal lighting blend together to create a unique and engaging experience. You can explore the museum on your own, or take a guided tour which is provided in the summer months and are worth taking. We were lucky to have a friendly and informative tour guide who showed us around, describing what life was really like for the German merchants who lived and worked here at the time.
Learn more about the Hanseatic League and how stockfish played a significant role in Norway’s economy for more than three centuries by visiting the Hanseatic Museum along with the other two museums, ‘The Norwegian Fisheries Museum’ and ‘Schotstuene’.
And after a day of exploring Bergen, why not end the day right by grabbing yourself a ‘Hansa’ beer (a local beer)- yet again another reminder of the legacy left behind by the Hanseatic period.
We would like to thank the team at the Hanseatic Museum in Bergen for their hospitality during our visit.
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