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1950s in Norway weren’t so nifty

MUSEUM GUIDE: Norway’s capital is packed with museums, and they’re often popping up in the news. We’re following that news, and focusing every week this spring on a specific museum worthy of a visit.

THIS WEEK: The outdoor Norsk Folkemuseum is best known for its old timber houses and displays of rural culture and treasures from earlier centuries, but a new exhibit shows what life in Norway was like not all that long ago. It offers a realistic look at the 1950s, and how hard things still were.

Opening day of the new exhibit on life in Norway during the 1950s, at the Norwegian Folkemuseum on Bygdøy in Oslo. PHOTO: Norsk Folkemuseum/Anne-Lise Reinsfelt

The 1950s in Norway were far from the big, fancy Oldsmobiles, rock ‘n’ roll and chocolate milk shakes found in the US at the time. Norway was still emerging from five years of German occupation, many basic commodities were still still rationed and there were few new washing machines or other appliances in Norwegian homes.

The homes themselves were hard to come by: A severe housing shortage in Oslo, for example, forced many couples to delay their marriages, and others to share accommodation. In rural areas, outdoor toilets were common and few homes had running water or modern bathrooms.

New apartments being built in Oslo in the 1950s, when horses and carts were still being used. PHOTO: Norsk Folkemuseum/Dagbladet

All this is the subject of the exhibit Drøm og Virkelighet (Dream and Reality), which is giving Norwegians a reminder that today’s oil-fueled affluence is something new and, perhaps, not to be taken for granted. 

The idea, according to museum officials, is to portray how Norwegians may nostalgically think they remember the 1950s, and how it really was.

On a typical Sunday evening, for example, speed skating star Knut “Kupper’n” Johannesen would finish his training for the day, put on a jacket and tie and maybe even the hat he’d received as a confirmation gift. He’d head for Fiven, according to an account in newspaper Aftenposten, which was a café of sorts downtown aimed at young people in their late teens or early 20s. It cost NOK 5 to come in and no alcohol was served, but for two hours Kupper’n and others could dance swing and maybe even listen to some jazz music. Then they’d be told to leave, because the same locale was used for an older clientele and some alcohol was served. Kupper’n might get a cup of coffee and piece of cake.

That was the week’s entertainment in an Oslo that had few restaurants or nightspots and where even stars like Kupper’n only earned around NOK 45 a week, NOK 20 of which he gave to his parents in return for still living at home. It was all a far cry from the indulgence enjoyed by many Norwegian teenagers today, who some feel are “spoiled and lazy.”

The exhibit opened last week, while all the other traditional Folke Museum displays are in place as well. The open-air museum contains more than 150 houses moved to the museum from all over Norway, along with the Gol stave church from the 1200s. There’s also a renovated apartment building moved from downtown Oslo, featuring flats depicting how people lived at the turn of the last century, before the war, how a Pakistani family decorated their home after the first big immigration wave in the 1970s and how a student lived in a small hybel (studio apartment). Special programs are held on the weekends.

The Norsk Folkemuseum (The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History) (external link)
Open: Every day 10am-6pm, until September  14. From Sept 15, Monday-Friday 11am-3pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-4pm. Take the #30 bus heading west to Bygdøy, and get off at “Folkemuseum.”
Admission: Adults NOK 100, NOK 25 for children, students and seniors NOK 75.


The Viking Ship Museum

Summertime at The Munch Museum

The Natural History Museum – Botanical Gardens

The National Museum – Architecture

The Kon-Tiki Museum

The Maritime Museum

Oscarsborg Fortress

The Polar Ship Fram Museum

“Be a tourist in your own town”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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