Bergen, the power of the Hansa

Bryggen, the old hanseatic neighborhood

Bergen looks like a theater ready to receive the traveler arriving by sea. At the pier seafood sellers tempt us with salmon, cod, crab .., although the best known image of the Norwegian city, is the row of wooden houses that looks like posing for our cameras.

Pointed roofs, so close that they seem to lean together, welcome us to Bryggen with their strong colors. From that neighborhood merchants of the Hanseatic League dominated the trade of cod and wheat for centuries

It is a World Heritage Site. Following the line of the pier we found the Hakonshallen, the pavilion built by King Haakon Haakonsson. It was he, Haakon IV, who ended a century of dynastic confrontations that had consumed the economic and demographic resources of Norway, and achieved a peace that allowed him to begin the regeneration of the kingdom. His reformist work was directed against feudal laws which impaired the royal power. He normalized relations between the crown and the church, and encouraged trade agreements. For example, the agreement signed in 1250 with the German city of Lubeck, a city that became known as “The Queen of the Hansa”.

Hansa, the word originally referred to a small commercial cooperative, and appears in 1161 in the German town of Wisby. Gradually, German merchants in various cities were creating groups with the intention of trading on favorable terms, both the Baltic and the North Sea.

They signed agreements that gave them control of trade routes, special privileges, rights in trade and exemption from tolls. The first Hansa was born in 1281 promoted by the cities of Lubeck, Hamburg, Wismar and Rostock, and finally it culminated in the union of all the Hanseatic associations in the Hanseatic League, officially founded in 1356.

In the port of Bergen, the League had an office, and the Hanseatic merchants were confined in an upscale neighborhood, the Bryggen; there they could not accommodate their families and even the contact and trade with the local population were very restricted.

The merchants spoke their native language, which was influential along the coastal regions of the Baltic, because business language and the laws were Germanised. However, miscegenation was inevitable, as evidenced by the sepulchres of local delegates of the Hansa buried in the cemetery next to the Romanesque church of Mariakirken and many surnames of German origin in the current population.

The economic power of German merchants continued to grow, and soon the Hansa was involved in politics. Its main weapon was the boycott of a port or a region, although not hesitated to use military force against pirates or countries that opposed him harder, like Denmark.

Walking through the old Bryggen today, only we can get a little idea of the life of these powerful Teutonics; narrow streets, the continuing threat of fires in medieval times, the expertise inherited from the Vikings for using trees as struts, beams and natural support for buildings…

Behind of that wall colored that stands opposite the port, houses extend at courtyards, alleys, an intricate network of communications between homes. The fact is that today Bryggen is a vibrant area for tourists, craft and gift shops, where it survives the first restaurant in the city.

You need to visit the Hanseatic Museum for a journey back in time. You also find maps, coins, desks … the truth is that the rooms with built-in beds, like closets, are those that give us more details about a community of men gathered together, as in ship cabins. Some seem very tiny and amazes to know that many merchants slept almost sitting … for fear of being confused with a “corpse” !.

What really gives us an idea of the power of the Hanseatic League is the communal building, Schostuene, where we observe the large kitchen, rooms for parties and meetings, the space of discussions, decisions, the intrigues… On leaving back to the street, we could not stop look to the port with the constant temptation of boat service to Sogne, the longest fjord in Norway, or the coastal Express, Hurtigruten that leads to Tronheim, a destination for pilgrims since the Middle Ages, but that is another journey.

Bergen, located among green seven mountains, usually a rainy city, but has gifted us some wonderful days. Bergen and the Norwegian cod .., a funicular railway and a network of trails that families pass on weekends. A must to visit.


En español, “Bergen, el poder de la Hansa