Join us for a walk with the world-famous playwright.
Ibsen walking in Oslo, 1901
Photo: National Library of Norway (CC BY 2.0)
Ibsen guarding the National Theatre
Photo: Johnny Shaw (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Oslo was Henrik Ibsen's city of retirement. After 27 years of self-imposed exile further south in Europe, Ibsen moved here in 1895. Being at this point an internationally renowned writer, he was a welcome addition to the capital’s cultural life.
Ibsen soon got in the habit of taking daily walks from his home down to the popular Grand Café, where he allegedly enjoyed a schnapps and a pint of beer. The route and time of departure were always the same, creating a predictability that made the walking author a living tourist attraction.
We follow Ibsen's route, pausing to enjoy a few tidbits about him and his Oslo along the way.
Out the door in Arbins gate, down Drammensveien …
Every day at the same hour Ibsen would leave his flat in Arbins gate 1. A few meters from his doorstep ran Drammensveien, today appropriately named Henrik Ibsen’s street, which he followed towards the city centre. What the old writer was pondering while he walked through his fashionable neighbourhood one can only speculate, but he certainly had quite a career to look back upon.
Ibsen’s accomplishments are hard to overstate. He has been named a founder of the prose drama and modern theatre. He is mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare, and has been an important source of influence for Joyce, Shaw, and O’Neill, to mention some. His writings are translated into 78 languages (and counting), and his plays have been staged across the globe.
... turning left, passing by the National Theatre ...
The National Theatre in Oslo opened in 1899. Ibsen had earlier thrown his support behind building the theatre here, right in the heart of Oslo, and could follow its completion as he walked by. Today his bronze doppelganger watches over the building, which has been an important Ibsen laboratory for more than a century.
At the National Theatre, Ibsen’s plays continue to be interpreted and reinterpreted, elevated and trivialized, deconstructed and reconstructed. Every other autumn, companies from many countries gather here for the International Ibsen Festival. They perform, celebrate and experiment on his plays, which seemingly never cease to engage.
… continuing onto Karl Johan street …
At the turn of the 19th century Oslo’s main street Karl Johan was the stomping ground of the city's middle and upper classes. Walking down Karl Johan, Ibsen must have met exactly the kind of people who figure in his most famous plays.
Ibsen is known for having ridden the theatre of knights, fairies, witches, queens, and similar characters, caught in unlikely plots. Rather, in plays such as A Doll's House, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, and The Wild Duck, he brings us into regular people’s living rooms and points his pen straight at the bourgeois life and its many carefully guarded, dark secrets. He challenged the newly liberalized Europe to examine its hypocrisy and vices, causing outrage as well as amazement.
… checking the time, then heading down to Grand Cafe.
On Karl Johan street, Ibsen always made a stop in front of the clock which hung (and still hangs) in the window of the university's main building. He would confirm that he was on schedule, and also made sure his pocket watch was running correctly. He then walked the few last blocks down to Grand Café.
The meticulousness that surfaced in Ibsen’s daily life also characterizes his works. Ask any Norwegian high school student who has completed the obligatory analyses of The Wild Duck, and he will eagerly confirm that every line, gesture and prop in an Ibsen play means something more, is a carefully fitted part of a bigger picture. Some find the ubiquity of deeper meanings and allusions to be a bit over the top, while others cherish this richness.
We leave that discussion alone and let Ibsen enter Grand Café on time. The café has a long standing as a popular hangout for writers, artists, academics and diplomats, and Ibsen would from time to time meet and socialise with notable contemporaries like Edvard Munch. The intriguing life at Grand is, however, another Oslo story.
Sources: www.ibsen.net; Oslo Kommune, byarkivet: På spasertur med Ibsen