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Bergen has a unique type of square called allmenning. Allmenning literally means commons - an open space to be used by all. These allmenning perhaps resembles wide streets more than squares. The main allmenning, the Torgallmenningen, is the city's very centre. Due to frequent and devasting fires (the city was mostly built from wood), several allmennings were laid out and widened during the centuries to stop fires spreading across the city. These allmennings now cuts through the city at strategic points, and they then defines distinct "slices" or areas in the centre. The view from the old Skansen fire station (next to the Fløibanen funicular) gives a very good picture of how these special type of streets/squares function.
While the city is defined by these allmennings, the countless narrow streets and alleys is also a typical feature. These are called "smug" (or smau) and "smalgang". Dyvekegangen (near the fish market) at a mere 67 cm is perhaps the most narrow on.
Henrik Ibsen, Norway's great author and modernist playwright, was employed as decorater and instructor at Det norske Theater (The Norwegian Theater) in Bergen from the age of 23 to 29. Ibsen's first dramas were written and performed there. His talent was discovered by Ole Bull, a famous violinist, Bull was also the founder of the theater. The theater building was destroyed by bombes during WW2. A statue of Ole Bull can be seen in the centre square (Ole Bulls plass) beneath the new theater. Ole Bull also discovered the talent of 15 year old Edvard Grieg and promptly insisted that the young Grieg should be sent to the music conservatory in Leipzig. Grieg is still regarded as one of Norway's most important composers, for example he composed music to Ibsen's Peer Gynt.
The ancient Norse name of the city, Bjørgvin (literally "green field between mountains"), is retained in the name for the protestant diocese headed by the bishop of Bergen. The modern name, Bergen, may be a transformation of this name during Hanseatic times or may simply be a low German or Dutch word meaning "mountains". A number of places or towns in German, Dutch and Flemish areas, for instance Bergen at the island Rügen and Bergen (or Mons) in Belgium (NATO headquarter), as well as several places in the US (including Bergen County, NJ).
Because of several hundred years of Hanseatic presence (plus Dutch, Scots and Danish imigration), inhabitants of Bergen - called Bergenser - speak a unique dialect that is instantly recognizable. Norwegians called the German merchants in Bergen "garp", specific dutch or low-german language influence is therefore called "garp".
The powerful, guttural (uvular) R is strikingly different from the trill (rolled) R further north, as well as the "flat" R in eastern Norway.
The german or hanseatic dominance in Bergen lasted for several hundred years, from the black plague until 1754 when the hanseatic station was formally abolished. For this reason the Bryggen (the Wharf) was called Tyskebryggen (German Wharf) or Hansabryggen. In May 1945 (two weeks after the end of the war) the city council decided that the name should be "Bryggen." Mariakirken (St Mary's church) was also called Tyskekirken (German church) or church of the German merchants. Church services were held in German until about 1870.
Bergen was one of the Hansa's main trading stations, a so called kontor, along with London, Brügge (Bruges) and Novogorod.
In Buddenbrooks, by the german author Thomas Mann, it is told how one learned to become a professional merchant among the german traders on Bryggen in Bergen.
The local beer is called Hansa.
The number of red deer inside the city of Bergen is so large that the city government do extensive hunting to keep the number at an acceptable level. They occasionally wander into residential areas to eat roses or apples.
Bergen claims to have the largest tree in Norway. It is a 100 year old tree on the slopes of Mt Fløyen, at the Hestebergveien path. This area was totally barren 100 years ago when a tree-planting program was started. The hills of Bergen and Mt Fløyen are now covered in big trees, growing fast due to mild climate and generous rain.