Monday, 31 August 2009

What to see: Oscarshall Palace, Oslo

Last week Oscarshall Palace in Oslo reopened to the public after four years of extensive renovation works. This romantic, neo-Gothic pleasure palace is situated on a hilltop overlooking the water at the peninsula Bygdøy, a spot which according to legend was chosen by the sons of King Oscar I when they were out sailing.
Oscarshall was built between 1847 and 1852 and became the second palace built by the Bernadottes in the Norwegian capital. The long process of building the Royal Palace between 1825 and 1849 meant that many foreign artisans came to Norway and that Norwegian workers from them learnt new techniques on a higher level. At the same time the mid-19th century was a time when Norwegian art blossomed and it has been said that King Oscar I and Queen Josephina, both great patrons of art with artistic talents themselves, chose to let Norwegian workers build this palace and Norwegian artists decorate it to demonstrate what could be achieved in this country.
Unlike the Royal Palace, Oscarshall was paid for by the royal couple themselves – most of the money was probably Queen Josephina’s, which has led some people, including the current Queen, to suggest that it should perhaps have been called Josephineshall rather than Oscarshall.
The architect, Johan Henrik Nebelong (1817-1871), was a Dane who had himself come to Norway when the Royal Palace was built, acting as one of architect Hans D. F. Linstow’s assistants. The work on Oscarshall turned into a rather bitter affair for him, as he came into a conflict with Baron Ferdinand Wedel Jarlsberg, head of the Norwegian Court, who eventually managed to have him fired.
The slightly classicist, early neo-Gothic style of Oscarshall was at the time referred to as “English” in Norway, but the architectural inspiration should rather be sought in Germany. Two German palaces in particular have been pointed out as possible inspiration for Oscarshall – Babelsberg in Potsdam, built for the future Emperor Wilhelm I, and Hohenschwangau in Bavaria, built for Queen Josephina’s cousin, the future King Maximilian II of Bavaria.
Oscarshall is smaller than both of them. The main rooms are on the ground floor – the Dining Room is housed in a separate block, linked to the main block by a Tudor-inspired arch (third picture). The Dining Room is decorated with paintings by two of the most famous painters of the time – huge landscapes by Joachim Frich and a series of ovals showing idealised scenes from the lives of peasants by Adolph Tidemand. The walls of the main Drawing Room are covered in dark red velvet and have sculptures of medieval kings of Norway.
On the first floor is the King’s Drawing Room, perhaps the most important in addition to the Dining Room. The main attraction here, apart from the stunning view of the sea, are four huge landscapes painted by Hans Gude, a giant of Norwegian art history, and a frieze by Christopher Borch showing scenes from the 14th century legend of Fridthjof and Ingeborg. Next door is the King’s Bedroom, with a bed reminiscent of the Empire style. It has sometimes been claimed that Oscar I spent one night at Oscarshall, but the sources for this information are uncertain. On the second floor is the Queen’s Drawing Room and the Prince’s Room, which do not have their original furniture.
Oscarshall was never meant to be lived in, but as a place for excursions from the Royal Palace. Oscar I fell gravely ill the year it was completed, which meant that he rarely came there. In 1863 his heirs sold it to the state, but the King retained the right to use it. Oscar II thought of making it more inhabitable as a summer house, but in the end had several small villas built nearby and turned Oscarshall into a museum for the Bernadotte dynasty and their reign in 1881. The museum naturally closed with the deposal of the Bernadotte dynasty in 1905.
In 1929 it was decided that Oscarshall should become the residence of Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha and an architectural contest for its reconstruction was held. None of the proposals were however quite satisfactory and eventually the newlyweds settled at Skaugum in Asker.
Oscarshall is sometimes used for official representation – there was for instance a lunch there to celebrate the silver wedding of the present King and Queen in 1993 – there are concerts in the summer and in 2005 there was an exhibition on King Oscar II and Queen Sophia to mark the centenary of the end of the union. With Oscarshall now restored and brought back to its former glory it is planned that it will be used more by the royal family in the future.
The renovation means that there are now modern facilities such as toilets and cloakrooms for the visitors, while the former kitchen building will be used for exhibitions. Most importantly the interiors have been returned to their original appearance. Before the palace closed in 2005, the velvet on the walls of the King’s Bedroom was for example faded into a brownish green. Now it is once again dark blue, which gives the room quite another appearance. The exterior of the palace is now white again, having been pink since shortly after the end of WWII.
The renovation also means that certain works of art and items of furniture added after 1852 have been removed. This is not entirely unproblematic as the absence of such traces may give the impression that Oscarshall has no history after the year it was completed.
The garden was originally in the English landscape style, but was changed into a more linear and classicist garden in 1927. The garden has not yet been returned to its original shape.
Pictures of the interiors can be seen here:

In the future Oscarshall will be open to visitors during June, July and August, while the palace this year will stay open throughout September. Visitor information may be found at the Royal Court’s website:

Saturday, 29 August 2009

What to see: The Imperial Furniture Collection, Vienna

Half hidden away in a backyard off the bustling shopping street Mariahilfestrasse is the Imperial Furniture Collection, a large museum dedicated to the pieces of furniture and loose items available to the Kaiserliches Hofmobiliendepot, founded by Empress Maria Theresia inn1747. With only the Viennese palaces permanently furnished, it fell to the Imperial Furniture Collection to equip the many other imperial residences when they were to be used, making this the Habsburg equivalent of Sweden’s Royal Collections Department (Kungliga Husgerådskammaren) with its roots in the 16th century.
The imperial collection has been supplemented with furniture from the post-imperial time, making this also a museum of the history of Austrian furniture and interiors up to the present date. But the imperial pieces are in majority. And they are many – 165,000 to be exact.
Among them are rococo chairs and a desk from the reign of Maria Theresia (first picture) and the funeral regalia including a replica of the Imperial Crown of Austria, made of brass, false pearls and glass stones (second picture). As the third photo shows, there is a huge number of chairs of all styles, including the throne of Emperor Franz Joseph I (fourth photo) and the two 18th century folding chairs for use on travels (photo 5). There are also whole interiors, such as an imperial bedroom from the reign of Ferdinand I (sixth photo), and one may also find row upon row of mirrors, chandeliers, vases etc. (last photo).
To make the collection come alive there are screens here and there showing excerpts from some of the many films which have been made about Empress Elisabeth where one can see how the original pieces of furniture were used in the films.

Official website:

Funeral of Senator Kennedy

The funeral of US Senator Edward M. Kennedy took place at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Boston today.
In his eulogy, which was met with a standing ovation, President Obama described Senator Kennedy as “the greatest legislator of our time”, saying that “the greatest expectations were placed upon Ted Kennedy’s shoulders because of who he was, but he surpassed them all because of who he became” and quoting what Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis once wrote to her brother-in-law: “On you the carefree youngest brother fell a burden a hero would have begged to be spared. We are all going to make it because you were always there with your love”.
Among those attending were also First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden, former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter, former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, with the frail George H. W. Bush the only living president not to attend. Former Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dan Quayle were also in attendance, as well as Ireland’s Prime Minister Brian Cowen and the British Prime Minister’s wife Sarah Brown.
Following the funeral mass in Boston the coffin was flown to Washington, where the motorcade will make a short stop outside Congress, Kennedy’s working place for 46 years, before continuing on to Arlington National Cemetery outside the capital, where the Senator will rest near his two assassinated elder brothers John F. and Robert F. Kennedy.
On the orders of President Obama the flags flew at half staff of federal buildings today, including the US Embassy in Oslo.

Friday, 28 August 2009

New books: Oscarshall Palace

Oscarshall, the neo-Gothic pleasure palace at Bygdøy in Oslo which was built on the orders of King Oscar I and Queen Josephina in 1847-1852, reopened to the public two days ago after four years of renovation works. To coincide with the reopening, Cappelen Damm has published a short new book on the palace. Titled simply Oscarshall, it is written by Nina E. Høye, an art historian who has earlier written a guide book to the Royal Palace, where she is in charge of the guiding service.
The book is lavishly illustrated, mostly with photos of the interiors as they now appear after the restoration, but also with some historical images. The book starts with the background, the building process and the architectural context, continues on through the park and the smaller buildings on the estate, before dealing with the palace itself and its interiors room by room. At the end there is a chapter which briefly sums up the history of Oscarshall since it was completed in 1852.
The book is an easy read and well written, and although some names are spelt wrongly it is without the factual mistakes which somewhat clouded the author’s otherwise excellent earlier book on the Royal Palace. There are some topics which one feels could be dealt with more extensively, but given the limited space accorded to the author in this book of 93 pages it is understandable that not everything can be covered as thoroughly and she has done a good job in at least touching on most of the relevant aspects of this palace.
A more extensive book by Gunnar Hjelde was published in 1978. What this new book adds is mainly a thorough description of the recent renovation and some of the new knowledge resulting from this process. It is also more detailed on the building process in 1847-1852 and the conflict between the architect, Johan Henrik Nebelong, and the head of the Royal Court, Ferdinand Wedel Jarlsberg, but this story was also told by Poul J. Neubert in an article on Oscarshall in the Danish yearbook Archictectura in 2006, so it is not really new for this book.

From the publisher’s website:

An “aristocratic” wedding

Last week’s issue of Svensk Damtidning (no 35 – 2009) reports on the wedding of Ebba Løvenskiold and Sam Giertz in Maglehem Church in Scania, Sweden’s southernmost province. The bride belongs to one of the most prominent families of the former aristocracy of Norway, which was abolished in 1821.
Her uncle, Herman Løvenskiold, resides at Fossum Manor in Skien, Norway, while her father, Jacob Løvenskiold, lives at Borrestad Manor in Scania, which was built by his maternal grandfather, Count Pontus De la Gardie.
The bride and groom live in New York. She is a freelance writer while he is managing director of Nordaq Fresh.

King of Sweden appoints new Marshal of the Realm

King Carl Gustaf two days ago appointed Professor Svante Lindqvist as Marshal of the Realm (roughly equivalent of Lord Chamberlain in other countries) from 1 January 2010. Lindqvist is 61 years old, president of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and director of the Nobel Museum in Stockholm. He will succeed Ingemar Eliasson, who has been head of the Swedish Royal Court since 2003.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

€ 155 million for Prussian palaces

Berliner Morgenpost and Der Tagesspiegel last week reported on a deal having been reached which grants the Foundation of Prussian Palaces and Gardens € 155 million for restoration works until 2017. The federal state will contribute € 77.5 million, the state of Berlin € 24.5 million and the state of Brandenburg € 53 million. The foundation, which is in charge of 150 buildings, including 30 palaces which attract 7 million visitors a year, annually receives € 32.2 million from the federation and the two states.
This huge special grant comes after the General Director of the Foundation, Hartmut Dorgerloh, last year warned that some of the palaces are in such a condition that cultural and historical values are in danger of being lost. Among the palaces which are in most need of repairs are Charlottenburg in Berlin and the New Palace and Babelsberg in Potsdam. The latter palace is pictured above shortly after it reopened to visitors in 2008, although the interior at the time still looked most of all like a construction site.

Book news: Susanna Popova on Swedish royal wedding

It was reported in the Swedish media a while ago that the journalist Susanna Popova has been given the commission to write the official book on the wedding of Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling. It is said that the book will cover the engagement, the preparations for the wedding and of course the wedding festivities. It is expected to be published as soon as possible after the wedding on 19 June 2010.
Popova is educated a psychologist but has worked as a journalist for nearly thirty years. She has written five books, of which I have only read Överklass – En bok om klass och identitet, which was first published in 2007 and deals with the Swedish upper class. I found the book interesting although I felt that she could have done something more out of it than letting the interviews with members of the upper class speak for themselves. Nevertheless I find Popova a more interesting choice for the wedding book than some fawning journalist like Herman Lindqvist.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

What to see: Shoes on the Danube (Holocaust memorial), Budapest

Perhaps the most moving Holocaust memorial in Europe is that in Budapest. It is also one of the simplest. On the bank of the Danube, not far from Hungary’s impressive Parliament building, stands a long row of sixty pairs of empty, abandoned shoes, cast in bronze. The memorial is a work by Gyula Pauer and Can Togay and was dedicated in 2005. On this spot Jews and other citizens who had tried to help them were shot by militiamen from the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross Party in 1944 and 1945. As shoes were valuable at the time, the victims had to remove theirs before they were executed and fell into the river. Now the shoes stand there forever and no-one will ever come back for them.

Walburga Habsburg Douglas on her role in 1989

In the latest issue of the Budapest Times (volume 7, issue 33-35, dated 10-30 August 2009) there is a long interview with Walburga Habsburg Douglas, youngest daughter of Otto von Habsburg, the last Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince, in which she talks about the role she played in the 1989 revolution.
On 19 August that year, Walburga Habsburg as secretary-general of the Pan-European Union and her father’s representative, arranged a “Pan-European picnic” in Sopron where she symbolically used a wire cutter to make cuts to the fence separating Austria from Hungary, literally cutting open the Iron Curtain. The event had been planned as a symbolic meeting between Austrians and Hungarians by Walburga, her father, Hungarian human right groups and the opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum. The fact that they were joined by Imre Pozsgay, leader of the reformist communists, turned it into a larger event. He persuaded the Hungarian government to let a gate at the border stay open for four hours and that border guards would pretend not to notice those illegally crossing the frontier.
A large numbers of refugees from East Germany were at this time stuck in Hungary and many of them took the opportunity to escape through Austria to West Germany. An estimated 660 refugees escaped through the “symbolic gate” at Sopron that day, while some 1,400 managed to cross the border elsewhere that day. The event has been considered a trial for the general opening of the Hungarian border on 11 September.
In the interview, Douglas rejects the journalist’s suggestion that she may have been concerned that events might get out of hand and turn ugly: “I am not somebody who is afraid. The evening before we considered whether everything could get out of hand. But then we said: ‘Even if it gets out of hand, the main thing is that the broad direction is right.’ Together with other organisers we simply didn’t have the feeling that anything bad could happen. We intuitively sensed that there was no danger. In that respect we relied not least on our Hungarian co-organisers”.
She also claims that it was only later when she heard of the GDR leader Honecker’s rage that she realised the significance of what they had done: “We didn’t realise that our border opening would ultimately lead to the opening of the Iron Curtain. In the concrete situation my primary aim was to help as many people as people [sic, should be: possible] out of their difficult situation. I didn’t anticipate the possibility of doing politics on the world stage. I was happy that I could help people in need based on the principles of my organisation and not least my inner conviction. When I gradually realised what it could all lead to I was even more enthusiastic. For many years my social involvement had been directed towards finally getting rid of the dreadful Iron Curtain. On 19 August I was not yet fully aware of the significance of the events. It was like being in the eye of a hurricane. I simply did what my conscience dictated. I only really realised the significance of the event two days later when by chance I heard a German-language broadcast by Radio Moscow. An interview with SED chairman Honecker was being broadcast in which he spoke incredibly angrily and disparagingly about our picnic. That’s when I realised what a major blow the event was to the East German regime and that it must have really hit home”.
Now married to a Swedish count, Walburga Habsburg Douglas was elected to the Swedish Parliament for the Conservative Party in 2006. Her father, the former Crown Prince, will be 97 this autumn. The interview in its entirety can be read here:

“Prince Eugen followed his conscience”

This is the title of an interesting article on Prince Eugen which appeared in Svenska Dagbladet yesterday. In it, Jesús Alcalá regrets that the Prince is today remembered almost solely as “the Painter Prince”, which he considers a bit diminishing. Alcalá wants us to remember Prince Eugen the man, who went against many of the norms and values of his class and his time. He attended the funeral of the great, controversial author August Strindberg in 1912, he advocated a dissolution of the Swedish-Norwegian union before 1905, he showed public support for an officer who was frozen out for joining the Salvation Army, he found it a good thing if reformist social democrats would work with liberals, and, perhaps most importantly, he was a staunch opponent of Nazism which irritated large parts of the Swedish establishment during the Second World War. The author points out Prince Eugen as an excellent example of “a human being who is filled by the realisation that personal responsibility also extends to what is beyond the closest circle of persons”. The article is well worth reading both for those who are familiar with the Prince’s views and for those who are not:

At the road’s end: Edward M. Kennedy (1932-2009), US Senator and head of the Kennedy clan

In the forest of American politics it was one of the biggest trees that fell when the Kennedy family today announced that Senator Edward M. Kennedy died in his home in Hyannis Port late yesterday night local time. “Ted”, the last of the Kennedy brothers, was 77 and had been a member of the US Senate for 46 years. His funeral will take place on Saturday and he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, where his slain brothers John and Robert already rest.
Born on 22 February 1932, he was the youngest of the nine Kennedy siblings which by their great talents and glamorous appearance came to be seen as something near an American royal family. The death of Ted Kennedy today and his sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver exactly two weeks earlier leaves the youngest sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, as the only survivor of the siblings. The passing of that generation of the “dynasty” has lead to discussion about the future of the Kennedy legacy. Some consider that the Kennedy story is now over, while others point out that several members of the younger generation have chosen to serve society, but in another way, i.e. not from elected offices – such as Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who is a noted environmentalist.
With the tragic death of John F. Kennedy, Jr. in a plane crash in 1999 and his sister Caroline’s failed attempt to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate this winter, the only younger Kennedy now to hold a political office is Ted Kennedy’s second son, Patrick J. Kennedy. It has however been rumoured that Robert F. Kennedy’s son Christopher is considering running for one of Illinois’s seats in the Senate at the next election.
Having received a law degree in 1959, Edward M. Kennedy took part in his older brother John’s successful campaigns for re-election to the Senate in 1958 and for the presidency in 1960. In 1962 he won the special election held to fill the Senate seat for Massachusetts which had been vacated when John became president. He was only 30 at the time, the minimum age for membership of the US Senate. He took his seat in January 1963, the year which would end with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November. With his only surviving brother Robert F. Kennedy shot to death during his presidential primary campaign in 1968, Ted suddenly found himself the patriarch of the clan, whose hopes now rested on him, and surrogate father to a crowd of nephews and nieces.
Having declined to run for president himself following Bobby’s assassination, Ted was seen as a likely candidate to challenge Nixon for the presidency in 1972. This “inevitability” became an impossibility through the incident at Chappaquiddick in the summer of 1969 when Kennedy drove his car off a bridge and a female passenger drowned and it was nearly ten hours before the senator reported the accident to the police.
The amazing thing about Kennedy’s career is that he managed to build himself up from this political and surely also personal nadir to become one of the most respected politicians in his country. He turned down the Democratic nominee George S. McGovern’s offer of the vice presidency in 1972 and his attempt to challenge Jimmy Carter for the presidential re-nomination in 1980 was no success.
The way he ended his speech at the Democratic convention in 1980 is often regarded as oratorical highlights, although it may seem quite pompous to those of us who are used to a less turgid style of political speeches: “For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end. For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die”.
Kennedy uttered similar words at the party convention in 2008, when he in his last great speech declared that the torch had been passed again to a new generation. He was by then suffering from the brain cancer which claimed his life last night. Both Kennedy and his niece Caroline had been early supporters of Barack Obama and their investing him with the Kennedy mantle was seen as a serious blow to Hillary Clinton’s candidature.
Edward M. Kennedy was one of the most liberal members of the US Senate and made society’s less fortunate members his most important cause, which he would advocate to the end of his life. He was one of the most important champions of civil rights and also put health care, education, immigration and labour law high on his agenda. In later years he was one of the few senators to dared to oppose the war against Iraq from the beginning and counted his vote against the war as the best vote of his long career in Senate.
Health care was what he described as “the cause of my life” and “a defining issue for our society”. Through his work he helped ensure access to health care for millions of people to whom it had earlier been denied. His voice, absent due to his terminal illness, has been missed by many in the debate on health care reform which is currently perhaps the most important issue of American politics. His death means that his Senate seat will probably remain vacant until a successor is elected in some months’ time, something which may create difficulties for the process of passing the Obama administration’s health care reform.
A hallmark of Kennedy’s career was that he, despite his liberal stance, was able to work with and form friendships with his political opponents in the Republican party in a constructive and result-orientated way. He worked with George W. Bush on education reform and even joined forces with a natural opponent, the staunchly racist Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, on crime legislation. Through his ability to work with friends and foes to achieve results, he came to be one of the most respected members of the American legislature and perhaps also its most popular senator.
The question is if Edward M. Kennedy through his 46 years in the Senate and by the huge amount of important legislation he played a vital role in enacting did not actually leave a greater imprint on American society than his elder brothers were able to do in the comparatively short careers which were granted to those shooting stars.
When receiving an honorary degree from Harvard last December, Senator Kennedy said in his speech: “We know the future will outlast all of us, but I believe that all of us will live on in the future we make”.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

New books: 1989 – The fall of the Eastern bloc

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the revolutions in Eastern and Central Europe in 1989 which brought down the authoritarian communist regimes in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, East Germany and Hungary and trigged the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later. To mark the anniversary Weidenfeld & Nicolson some weeks ago published Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire by the Hungarian-born British journalist Victor Sebestyen, whose first book, Twelve Days, on the doomed Hungarian uprising of 1956, was met with critical acclaim in 2006.
In this excellent new book, Sebestyen singles out certain key events – such as the election of a Polish pope in 1978 and his momentous visit to his homeland, the strikes at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk and the emergence of Solidarity, the Hungarian “palace coup” directed at János Kádár, the mellowing of Ronald Reagan and the rise of the dynamic Mikhail Gorbachev following a succession of Soviet leaders virtually at death’s door – but also other events less directly related but of some political or symbolical significance – such as Matthias Rust landing his plane in the Kremlin in 1987, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the Soviet failure in Afghanistan.
The gripping narrative shows how the communist regimes were gradually weakened and binds these events together until climax is reached with the events of 1989 – the round table talks and subsequent almost free elections in Poland, the stolen local elections in the GDR and the protests which drove Honecker from office, the opening of the Hungarian border, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the coup in Bulgaria, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia and the executions of the Ceausescus on Christmas Day. In the final chapter the Vatican band plays “the Internationale” as the Gorbachevs are received by the Pope and Czechoslovakia’s new president Václav Havel addresses the crowds outside Prague Castle on New Year’s Day 1990.
There are only two things I miss in this book. When dealing with the pro-democracy demonstrations directed at the communist regimes in 1989 I think it could have been of some value to try and see the Tiananmen Square protests in relation to those in Europe. And as the author charts the (long) background for the downfall of the Soviet “empire” in Eastern Europe it would seem natural to me not to end the story in the New Year of 1990, but to take it through all the way to 1991 and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself.
Nevertheless this does not detract from that this is a great book, one of the best of 2009, and warmly recommended to anyone with an interest in recent European history.

From the publisher’s website:

Decline of the British cabinet

In an interesting article on their first page yesterday, the Guardian revealed how four men who held the position of cabinet secretary between 1979 and 2005 in giving evidence to a House of Lords committee investigating the workings of the cabinet office have criticised how prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown by their presidential style have bypassed both the cabinet and the civil service.
The interesting thing is that Downing Street does not deny it. Quite on the contrary; Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, told the committee: “The cabinet is not the right body in which to attempt to make difficult decisions, it has too many members for a proper debate ... it is for that reason that since at least the late 1970s the cabinet has been used to ratify decisions rather than take them”.
I can imagine that there would have been quite an outcry here in Norway if a similar thing had been said in such a matter-of-fact way. Of course there is an “inner cabinet” consisting of the three party leaders in the coalition, but to say that the rest of the ministers are not and should not be involved in decision-making would be quite unheard of.

Incidentally, yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the Guardian’s dropping “Manchester” from its name. The newspaper moved to London five years later, despite promising at the time of the name change that “we shall on no account abandon our northern home”.

At the road’s end: Kim Dae-jung (1924-2009), Korean ex-president and Nobel laureate

Kim Dae-jung, the former president of South Korea who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000, died from a heart attack on 18 August, probably aged 85 (though there is some uncertainty about which year he was actually born). Kim was a driving force in his country’s transition from an authoritarian to a democratic state. He was jailed, exiled or put under house arrest on several occasions through these decades, something which led to his occasionally being referred to, perhaps a bit exaggerated, as “Asia’s Mandela”.
Kim Dae-jung was elected president in December 1997, by a margin of half a percent. As president he initiated the so-called “sunshine policy” which aimed at reconciliation, interaction and co-operation between the two Koreas and for a time led to a detente in the relations with North Korea. In June 2000 Kim paid an official visit to Pyongyang and six months later he came to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
His presidency was sadly clouded by corruption scandals which involved both advisors and sons of Kim. They were a huge embarrassment to a president who had made an election pledge that no member of his family would be involved in corruption. It was however clear that the president himself was not tainted by corruption, unlike his successor Roh Moo-hyun, who took over as president when Kim left office after completing his five-year term in 2003. Faced with allegations of corruption, Roh committed suicide in May this year by throwing himself from a cliff.
In the Guardian’s obituary John Gittings concludes about Kim Dae-jung: “His narrow power base in the southwest, and reliance on the Korean disease of faction-building, thwarted any real transformation of the political culture. Yet Kim’s story remains one of unusual persistence and bravery in the face of death, and he will be remembered as a moral hero of modern Korea”.

Monday, 17 August 2009

What to see: Fossum Manor, Skien

The county of Telemark boasts two of Norway’s most important Empire style buildings. The wealthy merchant and politician Niels Aall had Ulefos Manor built in 1800-1807, and in 1811-1818 an even grander manor house was built for his first cousin Severin Løvenskiold at Fossum in Gjerpen (now part of Skien). At 2,418 square metres it is today the second largest private home in Norway, second only to Fritzøehus Manor outside Larvik with its 4,510 square metres. It was said that Løvenskiold by building such a grand manor hoped that Fossum, like nearby Jarlsberg, would be elevated to comital status, but before the house was finished Norway had become independent from Denmark with a constitution which forbade the creation of new nobility.
Although he never became a count, Severin Løvenskiold was not just anybody. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly of 1814 and went on to become Prime Minister of Norway in 1828 and Governor-General of Norway in 1841. He was one of King Carl XIV Johan’s most important supporters in Norway and ended up being such a reactionary anti-democrat that the position of Governor-General was left vacant after his resignation a few months before his death in 1856.
At the time Fossum Manor was begun, Norway was still a part of the Danish kingdom. The estate had been bought by Løvenskiold’s grandfather Herman Leopoldus in 1739, the same year he was ennobled with the name Løvenskiold. His son Herman Løvenskiold made it his permanent home in 1759, but it was when his nephew, Severin, took over the estate in 1803 that a new era began. He demolished the old main house and replaced it with a grand new one. The surviving drawing of the new Fossum’s main façade has been attributed to Denmark’s greatest neoclassical architect Christian Frederik Hansen (1756-1845), the architect of buildings such as the second Christiansborg Palace, Christianborg Palace Church and the Cathedral of Copenhagen, or his studio. The rest of the house is the work of Johan Godtfried Boydtler, a master bricklayer and timber man of Dano-German origins.
The estate’s name derives from the waterfall (“foss” in Norwegian) at the entrance to the grounds. From the bridge across the water a long alley of trees leads to the manor house and the main façade’s columned portico. A notable difference from the Royal Palace and the University in Oslo, the two most important neoclassical buildings in the country, is that the portico does not denote the main entrance. It is in fact the garden side, while the main entrance from the courtyard is a relatively simple door, although guarded by two cast-iron lions. The difference is explained by the fact that Fossum, unlike the Palace and the University, is a country house. Similar solutions can be found at Skinnarbøl and Jarlsberg, two others of the four important Empire style manors in Norway.
From the humble entrance there is however an imposing double staircase leading to the first and second floors. The major rooms are all located on the first floor. “The Round Hall” is the ballroom and the name derives not from its shape, which is rectangular, but from the barrel-vaulted ceiling. “The Golden Drawing Room” connects it with “the Small Hall”, which is located behind the portico and is perhaps the best Empire style interior at Fossum. On the walls is a large portrait of King Carl XIV Johan, which was a present to Severin Løvenskiold from the monarch, flanked by portraits of King Oscar I and Queen Josephina as well as Prince Frederik and Princess Louise of the Netherlands, the parents of Queen Lovisa.
Other rooms, such as the Dining Room and the Library, have been changed into other styles at a later date. Like other manors in Norway, Fossum has a “King’s Bedroom”, which was kept ready in case the King should pass by and need a place to spend the night. Among the royals who have stayed at Fossum are King Oscar I, Queen Josephina, Prince Gustaf, Princess Eugénie, Crown Prince Gustaf and Prince Eugen. The last royal to stay there was Crown Prince Olav in 1956, but the present Queen has stopped there on a private visit.
The current owner of Fossum Manor is Severin Løvenskiold’s great-great-great-grandson Herman Løvenskiold, who inherited it from his father Herman Leopold in 2006, although he had been in charge of the running of the estate for many years before his father’s death at 91. He lives with his wife, Borghild Anker Rasch from Rød Manor in Halden, in one of the wings, while his mother Catharina, née Countess De la Gardie from Borrestad Manor in Sweden, has her home in the other wing. Their son, Leopold Axel, is now in charge of the running of the estate and lives in the nearby Fossum Villa with his family.
Fossum Manor has been a listed building since 1923 and in 2007 it was, with 25 other listed buildings in Skien, exempted from property tax by the city council as some sort of compensation for that the Løvenskiold family themselves pay for the upkeep of this historic building. A thorough restoration was carried out in 1971-1981.

New books: The Bush heritage

Somewhat to my own surprise I have recently found myself reading several books and articles on George W. Bush and his presidency. With Bush back home in Texas and Dick Cheney, now powerless, busy ranting about how the current US government is opposed to the use of torture and is leading the country into the abyss, the Bush regime is now distant enough to feel more like history than an ever-present danger.
Earlier this summer I read Robert Draper’s Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, which was interesting but already out of date. Written in 2007, it does not cover the financial crisis which was the last nail in the Bush presidency’s coffin, nor the extent of that administration’s crimes against humanity which have been revealed during the last year.
The latter issue, although he does not just exactly that expression, is however thoroughly dealt with in a new Danish book, Arven efter Bush – Præsidentembedet og krigen mod terror by the jurist Anders Henriksen, published by Gyldendal. Henriksen demonstrates how people around Bush wanted to increase the President’s power and resurrect the “imperial presidency” which disappeared with Richard Nixon after Watergate.
Key figures in the book are Dick Cheney, John Yoo, who worked at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2001-2003 and David Addington, who was legal advisor and later chief of staff to Dick Cheney and sometimes known as “Cheney’s Cheney”. At the heart of the story is the so-called Unitary Executive Theory, coupled with the belief expressed by Nixon to David Frost that things are not illegal if they are done by the President.
The Unitary Executive Theory was first formulated by legal advisors to the Reagan administration in 1986. The theory argues that the usual interpretation of the US Constitution’s words on the separation of power is wrong and that the original intention was that certain powers were exclusively reserved for the President and others exclusively referred for Congress. It follows from this that the President has no right to interfere with those areas reserved for Congress and that Congress will have to stay out of those things left to the President, among them the power to shape the USA’s foreign and security policy.
Henriksen shows, in a detached and balanced manner of writing, how the Bush administration used this theory in many creative ways to stretch the President’s authority, to ignore Congress, to reinterpret laws and conventions to suit their needs and how they by this sort of manipulation were able to justify (at least to themselves) their right to hold prisoners without giving them access to the judicial system, to treat prisoners in a way which we now know amounted to torture, etc.
The Unitary Executive Theory, which has very few supporters among constitutional experts, was in the end soundly rejected by the Supreme Court and Henriksen argues that its supporters achieved the exact opposite of what they wanted – rather than strengthening the office of the President, they left a weakened presidency which will be watched closer than before by Congress and the Supreme Court to make sure that this abuse of power does not happen again.
Meanwhile it has emerged that Dick Cheney in discussing his upcoming memoirs has expressed the view that President Bush become too soft on the “War on Terror” and too concilatory towards public opinion during his second term in office and showed an unexpected independence in not always following Cheney’s advice. As someone commented on Swedish radio last week, one wonders what Cheney’s references are if he finds Bush too soft. The schism between the former President and former Vice-President was also highlighted by Time recently in an article about Bush’s refusal to pardon Cheney’s former Chief of Staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, for his role in leaking a CIA agent’s name to the press in retaliation for her husband’s criticism of the Bush administration.

Some information on Henriksen’s book from the publisher’s website:

Time’s report on the final days of Bush and Cheney:,8599,1912297,00.html

Washington Post reporting on Cheney’s disappointment in Bush:

Sunday, 16 August 2009

What to see: The Peace Monument, Karlstad

The Peace Monument in Karlstad’s Great Square must be one of the ugliest monuments in Europe. Worms emerge from a helmeted skull which is trampled to the ground by a woman breaking a sword in two, symbolising the triumph of peace over war.
The monument was done by the sculptor Ivar Johnson (1885-1970), who luckily for his reputation is better known for his “Woman by the Sea” outside the Maritime Museum in Gothenburg. This sculpture was unveiled in 1955 to mark the 50th anniversary of the peaceful dissolution of the union between Sweden and Norway. After more than three weeks of difficult negotiations, which took place in the Masonic Lodge to the monument’s right, an agreement was signed by the prime ministers of the two countries on 23 September 1905.
In 2005 four stone benches were added in a circle around the monument, inscribed with quotes from those present at the negotiations.

Book news: History and biography this autumn

It seems there will be a flood of interesting biographies and history books this autumn. Here in Norway Oscarshall Palace will reopen next week and in that connection Cappelen Damm will publish a new guide book about the summer palace by the art historian Nina E. Høye, who has earlier written a similar book on the Royal Palace (which is also available in English). The political scientist Carl-Erik Grimstad, best known as a former palace employee and for his feud with the King’s son-in-law Ari Behn, is the author of Dronning Mauds arv, which will be published by Aschehoug in November. Aschehoug is also the publisher of Bård Frydenlund’s Stormannen Peder Anker, a biography of our first Prime Minister Peder Anker which will be out in November.
Hans Olav Lahlum, the historian who in the last years has enjoyed success with his books on former prime minister Oscar Torp and the American presidents, has written the authorised biography of Labour party legend Haakon Lie. The book, titled Haakon Lie – Mytene om mennesket, will be published by Cappelen Damm on Lie’s 104th birthday 22 September. Lie had promised to be present at the release, but died in May this year. In Norway we will also see the first out of two volumes of Edvard Hoem’s biography of the author and politician Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.
In Sweden Albert Bonniers förlag will publish the journalist Herman Lindqvist’s Jean Bernadotte – Mannen vi valde, a book on King Carl XIV Johan’s life before he came to Sweden in 1810. The book will be out on 8 September. In September Gullers förlag will also release the volume on Haga, edited by Ingrid Sjöström, in the series on the Swedish royal palaces.
The first proper biography of King Carl X Gustaf, written by Björn Asker, will be published by Historiska Media this month. Henrik Arnstad, the biographer of Sweden’s wartime Foreign Minister Christian Günther, has written Skyldig till skuld, which deals with Nazi Germany’s allies and the question of responsibility. What he writes about Finland and Marshal Mannerheim has already stirred controversy well ahead of the book’s publication.
Jonas Nordin’s Frihetstidens monarki, about the Swedish monarchy in the Age of Liberty (1720-1772), was scheduled for May, but will apparently have to wait for the autumn. A biography of Prince Eugen by the retired director general of Waldemarsudde Hans Henrik Brummer has also been postponed – it was originally expected this year, but I am told Brummer is still on his head in the archives.
In Denmark we can expect the historian Jens Engberg’s biography of King Frederik VI, titled Den standhaftige tindsoldat, to be published by Politikens Forlag on 20 September. The greatest expectations are perhaps reserved for William Shawcross’s official biography of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, for which he has had unrestricted access to her papers. It will be released by Macmillan on 18 September and will run to more than 1,100 pages.
Other British royal biographies this autumn will be Ann Somerset on Queen Anne (HarperPress, 2 November) and Josephine Duggan on her heir, the Electress Sophia of Hanover (Peter Owen, 1 November). The Royal Collection will publish The Royal Portrait: Image and Impact by Jennifer Scott on 5 October and a few days earlier Allen Lane will release Dominic Lieven’s latest book, Russia against Napoleon: The Battle for Europe, 1807 to 1814.
Ilana Miller’s The Four Graces: Queen Victoria’s Hessian Granddaughters has been postponed by the publisher Eurohistory for the umpteenth time – it now says December but it has become a habit that once the publication date is near, it is postponed for several more months, so this is likely to happen again. In the meantime Miller, under the pseudonym Theresa Sherman, has had time to write a novel based on her own book, The Royal Mob, which was published earlier this year.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

What to see: Karlstad Cathedral, Karlstad

With its population of about 60,000, Karlstad is the main city of the Swedish province of Wermelandia and was made a cathedral city by Queen Christina in 1647. A new church had been built in Karlstad after the 14th century church had burned down in 1616, but this church also burnt down in 1719.
A new location was found and the present cathedral was begun in 1723 by Jonas Fristedt, but completed by Christian Haller, a master bricklayer from Germany. It was inaugurated on 2 July 1730, but the western tower was not built until 1734-1737. In fact the cathedral had an unfinished appearance until King Gustaf III ordered the architect Erik Palmstedt to carry out a thorough renovation in 1791-1792.
The cathedral is in the shape of a Latin cross and was meant to be a central church, with the altar placed in the middle beneath the highest vault. But the altar was placed at the end of the eastern vault, in stead giving the cathedral the character of a long church. This was corrected in 1967-1968, when a new altar was added in the middle of the church. The old altar, with a cross adorned in a deposition cloth symbolising the resurrection, is flanked by two angels representing devotion and religion, works of the famous sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel.
This altar as well as the pulpit and the bishop’s box date from Palmstedt’s renovation. There have been several renovations after that as well, the greatest ones taking place after the big city fire in 1865 (when the tower received its present appearance), in 1915-1916 and in 1967-1968.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Miscellaneous about the Swedish engagement

The engagement of Princess Madeleine and Jonas Bergström is naturally the biggest story in most Swedish newspapers today. The tabloids Expressen and Aftonbladet spend fifteen and sixteen pages respectively on it, while the quality newspapers are more guarded – four pages in Svenska Dagbladet and two in Dagens Nyheter, which is more sceptical towards the monarchy.
On the title issue the Royal Court has confirmed to Svensk Damtidning that Jonas Bergström will keep his surname even when he becomes Duke of Helsinga and Gastricia. The Court has no information about what titles their children may get.
There is of course a lot of speculation about when and where the wedding will take place and also where they will live. Catarina Hurtig, a royal reporter with little knowledge of the topic, is for some reason quoted as an expert in several newspapers. Her guess is a wedding at Seglora Church at Skansen in Stockholm in November, while TV4’s more knowledgeable court correspondent Roger Lundgren believes the Palace Church in Stockholm is more likely and guesses at 7 December 2010. Expressen points to Öland and the churches Gärdslösa or Räpplinge. Räpplinge Church was where Crown Princess Victoria was confirmed in 1992, while Gärdslösa was where Princess Christina was confirmed in 1958 and where Princess Margaretha married the late John Ambler in 1964, but the church can seat only 210 people. As Roger Lundgren points out it will also be difficult to house all the wedding guests, staff, media etc. at Öland.
Catarina Hurtig believes they may live at Rosendal Palace at Djurgården, which is out of the question – it has been a museum dedicated to King Carl XIV Johan for nearly 100 years and it is not possible to make a modern home in this very small palace without destroying its beautiful Empire style interiors. Princess Christina’s former home Villa Beylon at Ulriksdal is again mentioned, while Jenny Alexandersson in Aftonbladet suggests a villa in Djursholm or at Djurgården. Roland Johansson and Johan T. Lindwall of Expressen speculate about a villa close to Steninge Palace which was bought in May by a company belonging to a friend of King Carl Gustaf and which they claim the King has recently “inspected”.
Aftonbladet writes that yesterday’s engagement dinner at Solliden Palace was attended by the King and Queen, Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling, Prince Carl Philip, Jonas Bergström’s parents and brothers, and Princess Madeleine’s great-uncle Count Carl Johan Bernadotte af Wisborg with his wife Gunnila.
The same newspaper also has a family tree showing the closest family and ancestors of Jonas Bergström – the genealogy is also available at their website:

People from the past: Thomas Konow, last of the “founding fathers” of Norway

Thomas Konow was at the age of 17 the youngest member of the Norwegian Constituent Assembly of 1814 and, at the time of his death in 1881, the last survivor of the “founding fathers”.
Born in Bergen on 10 October 1796, he entered the Naval Academy in Copenhagen at the age of 12. He graduated in 1813, as one of the last Norwegians before the events on the world stage meant that Denmark had to surrender Norway to the King of Sweden by the Treaty of Kiel in January 1814. The Norwegians answered by declaring their independence and a Constituent Assembly met at Eidsvoll north of Oslo on 10 April 1814 to write the Constitution which was eventually signed on 17 May.
The armed forces were also allowed to send representatives to the Assembly and two of the Navy’s representatives were to be officers. Only two officers declared themselves candidates – Commander Jens S. Fabricius and Second Lieutenant Thomas Konow – which naturally meant that both were elected, although Konow was, at 17 ½, well below the age limit of 25. Konow did not take any particularly active role at the Assembly, where he belonged to the so-called “Independence Party”.
Following the monumental events of 1814, Konow returned to the Navy and two years later was given his first ship command on a journey to Eastern Finnmark to uphold Norwegian sovereignty against illegal Russian settlers – this was the first naval mission prepared for war since the establishment of a separate Norwegian navy in 1814.
Thomas Konow rose in the ranks until he became Rear-Admiral in 1860 and held many important positions on his way – in 1841 he was a member of the committee which established new rules of service for the Navy, two years later he had a seat in the Navy’s education commission and became secretary for the committee on the navigation law. In 1848 he became head of the naval shipyard in Horten, in 1851-1860 he was in command of the garrison at Horten and in 1860 he became head of the naval command.
Konow only returned briefly to politics in 1839, when he served as MP for the county of Jarlsberg and Larvik. He did not stand for re-election three years later. When King Carl XV travelled to Britain and France in 1861, Rear-Admiral Konow was appointed one of the members of the interim government.
Konow retired from the Navy in 1869 and received the Grand Cross of the Order of St Olav. The following year he moved to Christiania (now Oslo), where he lived in a house in Young’s Street. It soon became a tradition that the parade on Constitution Day, 17 May, would stop outside it to pay their respects to the last surviving member of the Constituent Assembly.
Thomas Konow died on his 85th birthday, 10 October 1881. His funeral took place from the Church of Holy Trinity a week later, with full military honours and King Oscar II at the head of the mourners. The short route from the church to the Cemetery of Our Saviour was lined by thousands of people when the last of the “founding fathers” was laid to rest.
The picture shows Thomas Konow as a 17-year-old member of the Constituent Assembly and is a small detail of Oscar Wergeland’s huge canvas “Eidsvold 1814”, which hangs in the Parliament Chamber.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Jonas Bergström to become duke

Princess Madeleine and her fiancé Jonas Bergström have just met the press at Solliden Palace at Öland. Before the press meeting the Marshal of the Realm, Ingemar Eliasson, informed that Jonas Bergström upon marrying will become Duke of Helsingia and Gestricia, which is Princess Madeleine’s duchy. Unlike Daniel Westling, Crown Princess Victoria’s fiancé, he will however not become a Prince of Sweden.
The wedding will take place in late 2010 or early 2011. At the press meeting the Princess said that they had first met when she was 17, but that it was only seven years ago they became a couple.
They also said that the proposal took place on 12 June at Capri, which was also the reason why engagement was announced at Solliden. The latter was built as a summer palace by Princess Madeleine’s great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, who because of her poor health did not enjoy the climate of Stockholm. Queen Victoria also spent much time at Capri to escape the northern climate and Solliden was built as an Italianate villa. While studying art history, Princess Madeleine wrote a university paper about Queen Victoria and Solliden. The couple had gone to Capri because the Princess wanted to see Axel Munthe’s villa, San Michele, which was an inspiration for the summer palace at Öland.
Tonight there will be an engagement dinner for the two families.

What to see: Copenhagen Cathedral (Church of Our Lady), Copenhagen

The present Cathedral of Copenhagen was built in the years 1811-1829 by Denmark’s greatest neoclassical architect, Christian Frederik Hansen (1756-1845), but stands on the site of the earlier, Baroque, Church of Our Lady. During the British terror bombardment of Copenhagen in 1807, the spire of the church was used as an aim for the gunboats, something which naturally left the church, as well as large parts of the city, in ruins.
For financial reasons C. F. Hansen was told to use the foundations and parts of the outer walls of the old church for his new church, something which naturally limited his freedom. He would also have preferred a church without a tower, which he considered alien to the neoclassical style, but did not get his views through on that point.
The Cathedral has a temple front with six columns of the Doric order, which sets it apart from Hansen’s nearby Christiansborg Palace Church with its four Ionic columns. It is built in Hansen’s trademark severe, unornamented brand of neoclassicism. In the early 20th century it was suggested to put a spire on the tower, something which led to a great debate and also inspired a renewed interest in Hansen’s architecture, which was probably one reason for the re-emergence of classical architecture in the Nordic countries in the interwar years. In 1975-1979 the Cathedral underwent restoration work to bring it back to what it had originally been like.
The sculptures are all made by the great sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. His famous sculpture of Jesus stands on the altar, while the twelve disciples are by the walls. They were originally meant to stand in niches, but Thorvaldsen thought that would hide them too much and deliberately made them too big for the niches. Thorvaldsen also created the baptismal font, which is in the shape of a kneeling angel holding a shell (fifth photo).
It was only in 1924 that the Church of Our Lady became the Cathedral of Copenhagen. 85 years on, it has been little used by the royal family, who has preferred other churches in and around Copenhagen, such as Holmen’s Church or the palace churches of Christiansborg, Fredensborg or Frederiksborg, but in May 2004 it was the venue for the wedding of Crown Prince Frederik and Mary Donaldson.
It has also housed less solemn events, such as the blessing of homosexual unions held there during the World Outgames at the end of July, when the portico was fittingly decorated (seventh photo).