Saved by the bell
Hamningberg is located in the very north-east of Norway, on the shores of the Barents Sea and almost an hour by car from Vardø. What is special about Hamningberg is that this little fishing village was not destroyed in the razing of Finnmark in 1944–45. The German troops in the area heard rumours that the Russian forces were fast approaching, and fled before they had time to destroy the village. It is said that they ran and left food cooking on the stoves. As a result, this is one of the few places in Finnmark where you can still encounter old-fashioned houses and traditional coastal culture.
A nineteenth century environment
Around 1900, Hamningberg was one of the largest fishing villages in Finnmark and home to approximately 250 people. They primarily sold the fish they caught to the Pomors – the Russian traders who travelled to the region from Kvitsjøen every summer to buy fish and sell grain and timber. Many of the notched-join timber houses in the village were prefabricated in Russia and re-assembled in Hamningberg, as evidenced by the join technique used. Today, around 65 buildings – warehouses, boathouses, the fishing station farm, the store and the church – form a traditional Finnmark environment. The fish factory dates back to the 1950s and constitutes an intact feature of industrial history from the re-construction period.
Pier battle and resettlement
The first mention of Hamningberg can be traced back to the 1500s, and the location of the village on the very edge of the Varanger peninsula, close to the fishing grounds, was extremely favourable at the time when boats were still beached on the shore. After World War II, however, vessels became bigger and a more sheltered harbour was required. The people of Hamningberg therefore demanded a pier, which was never delivered. In 1965, it was decided to abandon the village, and the population were paid resettlement grants. In the same way as in all the other villages along the coast that received “the kiss of death”, all that remained for the locals was to pack up their belongings and start again somewhere new and bigger.
Summer life and winter break
Nevertheless, Hamningberg comes to life again for a few weeks every summer, when the road opens and the original residents and their descendants return. The little shop, which also serves coffee and waffles, is closed for the time being, but hopes to open soon. The day-trippers stroll around between the houses, and take a walk along the shoreline, looking for reindeer, eagles and whales. Or they simply enjoy the tranquillity in a place where a hectic programme is an unknown concept.
Across the moonscape
To reach Hamningberg, you need to drive around 40 km from Vardø, crossing a bare and barren landscape. The vegetation is so sparse that you can read the geology below like an open book: layers of rock, moraine and old shorelines. In one area immediately before Hamningberg, the shale rises up in strange formations, pressed and pressured by enormous forces. Hamningberg is at the end of The National Tourist Route in Varanger.