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Arland Fiske: City Hall in Oslo, Norway, special place to visit

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Oslo has so many places of beauty and interest. When I’ve walked along Karl Johansgate (pronounced Johans-GAH-tah), the street that leads from the palace to the parliament building, a good and strange feeling comes over me. It’s where the Syttende Mai (May 17) parade takes place each year. The pride of the city, however, is the “Radhus,” or City Hall, about three blocks south, across the highway from the harbor.

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The City Hall was opened on May 15, 1950, when Oslo celebrated its 900th anniversary. Thousands of tourists from all over the world come each year to gaze at its lofty ceilings and to admire its famous artwork.

The twin tower structure is built of red brick and stands where a permanent circus stood in past days. Once there were a lot of tumble-down houses lining the harbor, but today it is a spectacle of beauty. It is a credit to a former mayor, Hieronimus Heyerdahl, that the improvement project got under way. The work was approved in 1917 and a contest was held throughout Norway for ideas on designing it.

Architects were commissioned in 1920, but it took until Sep. 4, 1931, before the foundation was laid. Many obstacles stood in the way. Norway had been an independent country only since 1905 and the world economy was in trouble. World War II brought everything to a halt. The building now houses the municipal offices and many of the nation’s art treasures. The sculptures and paintings are worth taking time to see. They are massive and overwhelming.

King Harald Hardrade (d. 1030), who once led the Varangian Guard in Constantinople, protects one wall of the Radhus. The courtyard is flanked with scenes of the Old Norse Eddas (mythology).

The Main Hall is the showpiece of Oslo. The south wall shows Henrik Sorensen’s mural of the nation at work and play. It’s a panorama of Norwegian life. On the east wall is the Occupation Frieze, showing the struggle for freedom from 1940-1945. Other scenes depict the Labor Movement and the Commerce and Industry of the City.

I especially liked the Corner Room with Edvard Munch’s painting of “Life.” Munch was an internationally recognized artist whose work shows deep emotion, often on the darker side.

In the Festival Gallery, there are scenes from the different regions of Norway. It’s hard to imagine how much variation there is in Norway’s scenery and climate. In one respect, however, there is total agreement. This is found in the painting of His Majesty King Haakon VII in the Banquet Hall. Haakon VII was king from 1905 to 1958 and was the symbol of Norway’s freedom during World War II.

The City Council Chamber is designed in a semi-round with lightly stained modernistic furniture surrounded by orange-red wood paneled walls. Behind the chairman’s desk is a huge tapestry with more scenes of Norwegian life. Most impressive of all is the decorated tree that stands in the City Hall during the Christmas season.

The City Hall is a must for every visitor to Oslo to see. It’s more than an office building. It embodies the spirit of freedom held dear by Norwegians everywhere. Don’t miss it if you visit Oslo.

Next week: A.M. Andersen — pathfinder for Dana College.

ARLAND FISKE, a retired Lutheran minister who lives in Moorhead, is the author of 10 books on Scandinavian themes, including 2012’s “Sermons in Psalms.”

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