Just to clarify, Norway isn’t actually home to the inspiration for the Martin Scorsese film, though the island Oscarsborg festning lies on certainly felt like it when Sara and I visited. To get to the fortress you have to take a ferry from Drøbak, also home to Santa’s Post Office! Sara and I navigated the bus system like the pros we are (in other words, we managed to use Google to the best of our abilities) and, after a 45-minute ride outside of the city, arrived in Drøbak. Unfortunately it was a bit foggy and rainy, because there were quite a few views along the route I imagine would be spectacular in clearer weather. Even so, it was nice to get out of the centre of Oslo for a bit.
Since we visited Norway during their tourism off-season there weren’t many people around the town itself. After a confusing walk to the information centre and finding a very rudimentary map in English we managed to make our way back to town. The town itself has a fairly rich history; you can read up on some of it from Drøbak’s website. I would love to return in the summer when more shops and beach areas are open, but it was cool to wander about as some of the only people around. We found Julehuset, or the Christmas House, and Santa’s Post Office. A few unsettling dolls aside, the buildings were quite charming. My dad, brother, and I have a tradition of finding Christmas ornaments that represent something from that year for one another, so I managed to find theirs quite early this year!
After exploring the town centre a bit more we made our way to the ferry terminal. Full disclosure: this bit was tough to find. The map from the information point wasn’t labeled with any street names so we wound up taking a road way uphill nearly out of town and fumbling our way back to the waterfront. If you can, ask a local (or 5) for directions. After we made it we managed to buy our tickets-I recommend cash as the machine was particular about cards-and boarded the ferry. Here’s where things got a bit creepy.
Oscarsborg Fortress, or Oscarsborg festning, was built in the mid-1800s as a way for the small Norwegian military to better protect their capital. It’s most well-known for sinking the Nazi Germany ship Blücher on 9 April 1940, giving the king time to escape the city before he could be captured. The delay also gave the city time to get most of their gold stores out of Oslo and out of the German’s reach. The Blücher‘s wreckage still lies at the bottom of the Oslofjord. Of course the Germans still managed to grasp hold of Oslo and the fortress, but the destruction of Blücher kept the Germans from gaining even more control than they had. Five years after the invasion, on 12 May 1945 (pretty great month and date if you ask me), the fortress was regained by Captain Thorleif Unneberg and has been a mainstay of Norway’s military history ever since. In 2014 it became a protected site, and the island Oscarsborg festning resides on is also home to a resort and hotel.
The fortress holds a museum detailing its history, particularly the events of April 1940, which is open 10-4 most days. Sara and I arrived just a bit after 3 but figured it might be closed since it was the off-season, but we weren’t prepared for the entire island to be abandoned. Seriously, one other woman was on the ferry to the island and we never saw her again. After overcoming our awe at having the amazing chance to photograph the fortress and island without fighting crowds, we became a bit unsettled. Why was nobody on the island? In the hotel? On the ships tethered to the pier? The most frightening bit was when we were halfway through a tunnel, designed to be narrow and low so as to force enemy troops into marching only a few at a time. Looking back it was clear the lights were attached to motion sensors, but if you can honestly tell me that having an abandoned tunnel light up as you walk through it wouldn’t scare you in the slightest…well, you’re braver than we were. Sara doesn’t run, and I don’t sprint, but I swear we could’ve given Usain Bolt a run (ha) for his money when the lights switched on.
Disconcerting tunnels and eerie silence aside, Oscarsborg was worth the day away from Oslo. In the summer they hold concerts and events on the island, and I look forward to returning to Oscarsborg and Drøbak when Norway’s midnight sun is out.