Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

Learn about the stories behind the legends, about the countries, and most of all about the people.


"We sailed our ships to any shore that offered the best hope of booty; we feared no fellow on earth..."
Saga of Arrow-Odd

What is Gjetost?
A town in Sweden.
Brown goat cheese.
The word for "hello" in

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in

Correct answer?
OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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Feature: Stavanger
Featured City: Oslo
Food: The Great NordicDiet
          Swedish Semla
          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
History: The Round Tower
Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
People: Henrik Ibsen    
News: Happiest Countries          

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The King of Canned Fish
by Bob Brooke

Who is the king of sardines? King Oscar, of course. He ruled over Norway from 1872 to 1905, but he’s best known as the face on millions of cans of sardines. Artistically, the first King Oscar labels depicted a weak-looking king. His Majesty wasn’t at all pleased. The marketing department of the Christian Bjelland & Company cannery realized this, so they updated the king’s image, giving him wider shoulders, more hair, and a fuller moustache, all of which radiated the joy that should follow after a person ate Mr. Bjelland’s sardines.

The Stavanger Preserving Company established the first canning factory in
Stavanger for the production of canned meals for the merchant fleet in 1873. Two years later, Torkild Aarestad of Stavanger, and a German, began smoking brisling, another name for sardines, at a small smokehouse on Strandgatea Street in Stavanger. They named the product Kielersprut and sold it both locally and in Germany.

The method of canning sardines was simple. Men brought the fish up from the docks in wooden crates. Women then put the fish in salt water for three to seven minutes. They worked 10 hours a day and earned one kroner, 30 ute. Their shoes alone cost 9 kroner. The owners of these canneries paid the men double.

In 1878, Martin Gabrielsen of Stavanger opened a smokehouse on Sandvigå Street, where, together with Torkild Aarestad as his smoker, he continued his production of Kielersprut.

The Appearance of Soldered Cans
In 1879, Martin Gabrielsen and the manager of the Stavanger Preserving Company, Johan G. Mejlænder began producing smoked brisling packed in soldered cans. After the lids had been soldered on, cannery workers boiled the cans in open pans at 1832 F. Gabrielsen took care of the smoking while Mejlænder managed the packing, boiling, and marketing. They called their product Røgede Norske Sardiner, or Smoked Norwegian Sardines. But Gabrielsen became ill and the partnership ended.

Mejlænder went to Germany to study food smoking in 1880. He returned to Stavanger and installed the first German-made Wildhagen chamber smoking oven in the Stavanger Preserving Company’s cannery on Øvre Strandgate Street. And sales of sardines rocketed once again. The company now installed a French pressure cooker, known as an autoclave. Workers could now sterilize the sardines at 1940 F., thus prolonging their shelf life.

Stavanger Preserving Company acquired a gas-driven mechanical press from the U.S. for stamping out lids and cans directly from sheet metal.

By 1885, there were 18 sardine canneries in Norway, most of them located in old warehouses where workers did most of the production by hand.. Five years later, most of the canneries used the three-piece, soldered French can.

The number of sardine canneries in Norway had grown to 38, with 14 of them in Stavanger by 1900, by which time canneries had began attaching keys to open the tins.

New Inventions Revolutionize the Industry
Until 1905, canneries used little machinery, thus the volume of cans produced remained relatively small. A string of inventions by men from Stavanger resulted in an increasing number of machines and technical devices being adopted by the industry. The quantities both of cans produced and of those sold increased significantly.

The invention of the deep drawn can, Reinert’s seaming machine, and Opsal’s press tool revolutionized the production of cans, and forced the French type of cans out of the market.

Next came a combined cutting, pressing and trimming tool which considerably simplified can production and increased daily production could increase to 20,000 cans per press.

The French sardine industry brought a lawsuit against the Norwegian sardine cannery owners, claiming that smoked Norwegian brisling should not be called or sold as smoked sardines. The French claimed sole rights to the use of the word “sardine” for their sardines. The case dragged on for 10 years, ending with a French victory.

In 1905, the women cut the heads off the fish with scissors. And they soldered the lids on the cans by hand. Good workers could each solder 500 tins per day, producing 7,000 to 8,000 cans daily for the cannery.

In 1907, Johan Tjaaland launched the first practical decapitating machine for cutting the heads of the fish—not the workers. It used horizontal rotating knives. However, one year later Hans J. Larsen introduced a machine which was far superior to Tjaaland’s. Larsen’s machine had a rotating blade which ran on two large wheels and efficiently removed the heads of the fish. The machine became known as the båndklippemaskin, or band-cutting machine.

Fishermen began to use purse nets in 1908, which resulted in more efficient fishing. The phenomenal growth in the sardine industry, together with variable catches of brisling, averaging half a million crates of 5.2 gallons each, corresponding to roughly 50 million cans per year, created a shortage of fish. The canneries began to use young herring, called mussa, instead. And once again production skyrocketed to 100 million cans.

In 1910, John Braadland Ltd. purchased the property at 88 Øvre Strandgate Street where the Norwegian Canning Museum now stands, for use as a store and for the production of anchovies. The building dates from 1875 and originally housed one of the town’s largest tanneries. He later added the smokehouse for production of smoked sardines.

The lawsuits over the right to use the name “sardine” came to an end in 1914. The Norwegian canneries lost, so they had to stop using the word “sardine” in Europe and change it to “smoked brisling” or “smoked herring.” However, there wasn’t a restriction on using the word “sardine” in the U.S. or the rest of the world, so the canneries labeled their cans as “brisling sardines” or “herring sardines,” for which they used young herring.

The demand for canned sardines increased with the start of the World War I. By 1915, there were 128 sardine canneries in Norway, 48 of them producing 350 million cans in Stavanger. But when the War ended, demand plummeted and many of the canneries filed for bankruptcy. Of the 180 producers in existence in 1919, only 50 survived.

Regulation Comes to the Sardine Industry
In 1933, the Norwegian Parliament, the Storting, passed a law that regulated sardine canning. It established the A/S Hermetikkfabbrikenes Brislingsentral, or Canning Factories Brisling Distribution Center, governed the amounts of raw fish allowed to each cannery, and permitted canneries to sell their products to the Brislingsentral to be protected against loss. The law also prevented the establishment of new canneries.

By 1968, only 13 sardine canneries remained in Stavanger. But even those few canneries had a problem securing adequate amounts of fish. There were huge quantities of brisling along the coast of Scotland. This saved the Norwegian sardine industry, which dispatched six freezer ships, enabling the fishermen to freeze the fish and transport it to Norway for processing. There were also several Scottish land-based freezer plants which helped with the freezing. By using fresh-frozen fish, the remaining 48 Norwegian canneries, including those in Stavanger, produced 100 to 170 million cans per year.

The end came in 1983, when Norway Foods ceased production at its main cannery in Stavanger, and the last sardine cannery in Stavanger closed. And while fishermen still catch King Oscar sardines in the fjords of Norway, no canneries exist for them in the country. Now the frozen fish travel to Poland to be canned.

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Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

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In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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