On a normal Friday afternoon, downtown Oslo is a lively place, full of folks winding down. The bars are full and the restaurants busy. It’s a happy, energetic city, fueled by weekend expectations and 12-dollar beers.
But in the hours after the deadly fist of terrorism struck my hometown, the sights and sounds of Oslo were very different. There was no laughter and no clinking of glasses. There was no rush-hour traffic as the police had sealed off a large area around the blast site. All those familiar sounds had given way to an eerie silence, broken only by the the occasional ambulance siren and the subdued voices of shell-shocked locals trading information and rumors, standing around in huddled groups in the drizzle, or talking to someone on the phone.
The smell was different, too. The scents of an unusually lush summer had been overpowered by the stench of terrorism; a lingering mix of dust and explosives.
I work half-a-mile east of the government complex and live a mile west of it, usually a brisk, 35 minute walk which takes me right past those halls of power. But getting home turned out to be more complicated this particular Friday evening. Police cars and sometimes-confused officers blocked every street into the area, while hastily mounted police ribbon seemed to be blocking every intersection within it. But no one stopped pedestrians crossing those cordons in both directions; the cops themselves seemed unable to tell people how to get home.
Some buses and tramlines seemed to be operating, but I decided not to take one, as mass transit systems are known to attract bombers. Using the underground did not seem appealing either. So I decided to walk all around downtown, joining many others, small-talking about the shocking news while helicopters hovered over our heads.
Making a very long detour along the perimeter, I eventually made my way to the park surrounding the Royal Palace, only to find it sealed off, too, by heavily armed soldiers, wearing bullet-proof gear and helmets. I then tried another detour up the street of Hegdehaugsveien, which is lined with bars on both sides. On normal nights, it’s party central. Now it lay empty in the thickening twilight. Suddenly two military vehicles come roaring down the hill, racing past me on their way to the city centre.
And by now, the first chilling tweets were in, telling of the massacre unfolding at the Labour Party’s summer camp.
Never had I seen such scenes on the streets of my city. Never had I seen such horror in my country. Nor has Norway, fortunately, seen death and destruction on this scale since World War II.
I was born long after that. But to my generation, this is the stuff our parents told us about.
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