Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Viking Museum

Something Jeanette in particular had been looking forward too was the Viking museum on the Lofoten. She's interested in archaeology and could have easily been a spoon-digger herself. As the Viking museum is situated next to a fully reconstructed Viking house, she really wanted to see it. Of course the higher the expectation, the bigger the chance that it will disappoint. In this case it unfortunately did… very much so in fact.

I don't know what it is but sometimes the first impression is undoubtedly the right one. With the Viking museum that first impression was already generated at the parking area…! Situated well below the museum and accessible only by a steep gravel path, meaning that anyone who isn't fit will have a struggle just getting to the front door. How thoughtful. Once you're there you can see the cars of the staff parked next to the building, as if they want to emphasise that they just don't care. Customer friendliness isn't high on the list then. 

The door turned out to be locked, even though it was well past opening time. Making sure it wasn't just jamming, Jeanette rattled the door; which resulted in a man clothed in rags coming to check out what the commotion was about. They had forgotten to unlock the front door… Once inside we noticed a group of bus tourists already in the building, obviously they had used the back door. Bus tourists are apparently treated differently to plain mortals arriving by their own means.

After paying a rather hefty entry-fee, we were given a set of headphones and a small digital device. The function of which turned out to be a translator from Norwegian to English. Simply point it at the screens mounted in the walls and listen to the explanation in English. Not a bad idea of course but let's not get too excited just yet. The screens gave a vague explanation of why the visitor centre was built and how great it had been for the Lofoten to have such a wonderful museum… Hmmm, they don't mind patting themselves on the back… and don't give any real information.

The museum consists of 3 rooms, literally rooms. Small rooms in fact, that show little if anything about Viking life despite being in a Viking museum. There are a few displays with found artefacts but most of the funds have been spend on a luxury AV-show. The biggest exhibit is an old tractor half embedded in the floor and lasers show unrelated pictograms slowly moving over the ground. The show itself is pure fiction, no evidence is presented that it's based on facts at all. If anything it's a romanticised story of a girl meeting a boy and later marrying him, performed by actors and actresses. If I want to see a fiction movie, I'll go to the cinema. This is supposed to be a museum and the main function of a museum is to inform. The Viking museum doesn't inform, it tries to impress with a show.

Next to the museum is the Viking house. Presented as a true reconstruction of a unique find: a huge Viking house. Approaching it, it already gave me the impression that it just doesn't seem right somehow. I'm not an archaeologist but this just doesn't seem to fit the age it's supposed to be in. Looking at the roof I wondered why they would build a wooden shingle roof in such a climate, while slate or grass roofs were more the norm in the era it was supposedly from. Asking one of the 'men in rags' that amuse the tourists, we were informed that they thought grass would be too heavy and as they had found a building in Germany from a century later with a wooden roof, they simply assumed this had one too… So the decision on which roof was used was based on something that was built a century later and 2000 km further south… where they have a vastly different climate, different trees and different materials at hand. The roof's wooden slates are machined in a shape that would be hard to do without machines. The feeling of 'not being right' continues on the inside. Everywhere you look it's a mismatch of styles that don't seem to make any sense. Old woodcarvings have been complimented with new ones that seem to belong in another century and sometimes even another culture.

Like I said earlier if I go to a museum, I do so to be informed. Here we left with more questions than answers and the distinct impression we had just paid for a tourist trap. An impression later reinforced by a resident of the Lofoten who told us 'The Viking Museum is just a lot of fiction, a tourist show, nothing else'.