The story goes that when King Christian the 4th returned from his royal visit to Finnmark, everyone was referring to it as "The King's journey to the end of the world”, and rightly so – few coastal settlements were completely isolated from the rest of the world and each other, there were no roads and the distances were significant. Among the very first settlers of Berlevåg were those who crashed onto its coast, others came on their own and decided to call this wild land home.
From its inception, Berlevåg has always been a multiethnic site, consisting of Norwegians from every corner of the country, Sami, Kvens, Finns, people from Southern and Central Europe, Middle East and Asia. The 195 km long border with Russia in the north of the Kola peninsula, gave a rise for almost 2 centuries of decentralised Pomor trade conducted in a hybrid of a language –russenorsk.
-Tvoja fisk köpom?
-En vöga mokka,så to vöga trėska.
Population of the village has never been over 3000 inhabitants, yet Berlevåg managed to stand out not by amount but by the merit of its people. During the Second World War – which due to strategic proximity to the Soviet Union hasn’t left eastern Finnmark aside – some of men were executed for collaboration with partisans, women and children were sent to interrogations and concentration camps. Among those who survived and returned were Dagny Loe, a mother of 8, tiny woman of a strong character who lived till her late 90s. Nazis have left Berlevåg in November 1944 with nothing but ashes and ruins. Scorched earth tactic hasn’t spared neither majestic Kjolnes lighthouse, nor half of the newly constructed harbor. Several hundred people ignored forced evacuation orders and hid themselves into the cave of the mountain, while others overwintered under their boats.
Countless times the village was washed away by the ocean, twice burned down to the ground but rebuilt time and time again even when the only material available was the leftovers from the war plane planks. Regardless of the damage and the challenge faced, people were committed to stay and develop better living solutions for the future.
In the beginning of the 20th century one could literally walk across the harbor by jumping from one boat to the other. Fishing industry was and still is the main occupation of Berlevågingene, therefore the question of building a proper harbor that can withstand massive waves of the Barents sea was a matter of survival. Construction of the first breakwaters began in 1913 and took almost a century to complete. Heavy blocks proved to be insufficient for stopping the ocean and later were replaced by a better engineered solution – tetrapod. 11 000 interlocked tetrapods of concrete were drowned one by one to protect the village from the ocean. The idea behind their creation was that tetrahedral shape will dissipate the force of waves by allowing the water to flow around rather than against it, while interlocking legs of the structure will reduce displacement.
Upon the successful completion of the harbor, the tetrapod shape became a symbol of Berlevåg and local Coastal Heritage Museum or Berlevåg Havnemuseum, which preserves the rich and multifaceted history of the place. Interestingly enough, the museum itself is occupying the premises that until the 70s were used by the Norwegian Port Authority. Main 2-story building of the museum once served as a storehouse, while Kvitbrakka was given for offices.
Almost as symbolic as tetrapod is Berlevåg`s male choir, which was founded in 1917. Quite naturally, it consisted mainly of men involved in construction of the harbor. At the end, what do you do when you find yourself with a co-worker trapped up in a crane cabin waiting hours for the high tide to pass? The answer for the members of the choir was obvious. Knut Erik Jensen documentary “Cool and Crazy” or “Heftig og Begeistret” (2001) has long become the classic of Norwegian cinema and won the hearts of the audience far beyond Scandinavia. The movie makes evident that geographical periphery doesn’t always equal provinciality, and makes a point that any viable local community requires an active cultural life.
Art has always gone alongside Berlevåg`s industrial development, that’s how you find the Arctic Glasstudio workshop of a glass artist Daniela Salathe, overlooking 2 fishing factories. Half studio-half shop is housed inside Villa Borealis – environmentally blending architectural work of Stein Halvorsen. The story of the arrival of the young Swiss couple - Daniela and Dieter - to polar Finnmark by 2 small engine motorbikes 20 years ago is as unusual as the arrival of most other residents of the town – Berlevåg and its inhabitants will hardly ever become boring. 30 km south along the coast, one can find Kongsfjord Engraving Atelier of Claudia and Giorgio - Italian couple who left behind sharp Alps peaks to pursue their dream under the northern light sky.
Here, an eternal human struggle to tame nature with skill and purpose has long ago become a part of a daily routine. Historically, everything that had to be done in Berlevåg, had to be done on the spot, by anyone who could or dared to try. Overtime, it created a sense of self-reliance and healthy degree of curiosity and entrepreneur-spirit, which might explain how one day a particularly observant municipal worker typed into google search bar words which paved the road to 50 million nok EU-funded project Haeolus that can potentially transform Berlevåg from just idyllic fishing village into the Arctic renewable energy hub.
What used to be a geographical challenge for exposed harbor, proved to be an incomparable advantage for Raggovidda wind park – as open landscapes of the Varanger Peninsula pose little resistance to the gusts of ocean wind which on average blows with the speed of 9,5 m/sec throughout the year. This can help to replace traditional fossil fuels by removing about 200,000 tons CO2 per year and lead to zero emission shipping industry and off-grid plants. The byproduct of the hydrogen plant can be used for land-based fish farms and greenhouses to enable zero-km vegetable production all year round. At the end, where will the wind of the future blow?