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Red Cross Museum, Narvik

  
  - darkometer rating:  4 -
 
A museum in the town of Narvik, in northern Norway, which played a particularly important role in WWII. The museum covers this war history as well as that of POW prison camps and – to live up to its official name – also has a small medical section about the Red Cross. The exhibitions are more comprehensive and well laid-out than you would expect for such a small and remote place. Recommended. 

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

 
More background info: for the role of the town and its iron-ore harbour especially in WWII see under Narvik.
 
 
What there is to see: quite a lot – much more than the rather modest-looking, low-slung building would suggest from the outside. Inside it turns into something like a Tardis kind of a museum. It's chock-full of artefacts, photos and documents, all very densely crammed together on two levels.
  
Before you go in you will notice the museum's largest single exhibit: an old tank parked outside a bit to the right of the museum entrance. Once inside, a relief/diorama of the Narvik Battle area dominates the centre of the first hall. On a large panel with push buttons you can make various locations related to stages of the battle light up.
 
The rest of the museum is organized mostly chronologically, but in part also thematically. The sections are " numbered" by letters A-W. Section A sets the scene in a room at the far end of the downstairs part of the museum. This is about the German preparations for the invasion of Norway, code-named "Weserübung". There are an endearingly old-fashioned diorama display with models, documents, maps and various nautical artefacts from ships involved in that battle.
 
The remainder of the main hall around the staircase is filled with larger artefacts such as torpedoes, mines, model planes and the flags of the nations involved hang from the ceiling.
 
Upstairs the exhibition continues with endless details of naval warfare and the on-the-ground battles in and around Narvik. On display are medals, uniforms, signs, guns, nautical instruments, sailors'/soldiers' personal belongings, and so on and so forth. Way too much to describe in detail here. In fact visitors who aren't true militaria and war history buffs may find the amount presented here a bit overwhelming. If so, you just have to be selective (I certainly switched into selective mode from this point).
 
What is particularly noticeable (especially from a German point of view) is the frequency with which you come across the swastika symbol (something you wouldn't find to this extent in any museum in Germany today!). It features not only on flags and bits of uniforms but also on ships' bells and planes' tailpieces and there's even a complete bronze Reichsadler (Reich's eagle) clutching the usual swastika-filled emblem in its talons.
 
Apart from all the military stuff, the sections about the ways in which civilian everyday life was affected by the war are quite illuminating (black-marketeering, etc.). Also the section about the "propaganda war".
 
The most interesting section from a particular dark perspective, however, has to be that about the POW camps in which the Germans held mostly Soviet and Yugoslav prisoners who they (ab)used for hard labour (cf. Blood Road Museum). Artefacts include bits of barbed-wire fence, whips used by the camp guards and various objects made by prisoners (some are astonishingly intricate works of art). Photos and a model of a prison camp complement these.
 
On a screen at the entrance to this POW section a promotional film is shown in a loop (restarting ca. every 10 minutes) about a project to turn the site of the Beisfjord camp into a proper memorial. So far there are only a couple of meagre stone monuments with brief inscriptions at the site. The video showed animations and artists' impressions of what a more comprehensive memorial site could look like. The plan is also to specifically commemorate the massacre of Yugoslav POWs, which took place in July 1942 at a nearby site. It's all aimed at a more elaborate and contemporary way of commemoration, right at the authentic site of the camp(s) and the associated mass graves. It will be interesting to see if these plans will ever be fully realized …
 
The remainder of the upstairs part of the museum is taken up by a Red Cross section (finally justifying the museum's official name). There are mainly mock-ups of hospital wards and operation theatres populated by mannequins in nurses' and doctors' clothing.  
 
Down the stairs to the ground floor and we're back at war, as it were. The final sections of the museum feature some of the largest exhibits, such as military vehicles, a weird one-man submarine, various big guns and shells from battleships and coastal batteries (the latter mostly built by Germany to turn the country into the "Festung Norwegen" – 'fortress Norway'). This includes two impressively enormous specimens from what ranked amongst the largest calibre cannons ever built.
 
There's also a separate section about the German battleship "Tirpitz", which in November 1944 was sunk by RAF Lancaster bombers in the fjords near Tromsø using specially-devised large armour-piercing bombs called "Tallboy", thus removing the last major threat to the Atlantic convoys by German surface ships and a key deterrent against an Allied invasion of Norway. Amongst the artefacts in this section is also a German Enigma machine. Near Tromsø, by the way, there is even a dedicated museum about the Tirpitz (a branch of the local war museum at a former German coastal battery …).
 
The final section of the museum, back in the foyer/hall, completes the museum's subject matter by covering the celebrations at the end of the war, i.e. victory, from the point of view of the Allies, and liberation, from the point of view of the formerly occupied countries such as Norway (although the overall air in this museum is more one of a Norwegian victory after all …).
 
Labelling of the exhibits is in five languages: apart from Norwegian in English, German, French and Polish (the latter two I suppose not because you get so many Polish visitors these days but because France and Poland supplied significant contingents to the Allied forces fighting the Germans in 1940 …). Some sections have translations of the longer explanatory text panels too – often only into English and German in these cases. Other bits, especially many of the documents on display, however, often lack translations. The English originals are not a problem, and for me the German language ones weren't either, but the bits only in Norwegian remain obscure without the prerequisite language skills. There is, however, a brochure you can borrow from the reception desk that provides additional English translations of texts in the exhibition. On the other hand, many of the artefacts sufficiently speak for themselves anyway.
 
All in all, the museum, despite its slight shortcomings linguistically and in overall balance, is one of the better dark tourism attractions in Norway and well worth seeing when travelling up to the country's north. Whether it alone is also worth the long and time-consuming detour to get here all the way from the south is harder to say. I'd probably say yes, but more demanding museum-goers may disagree.
 
 
Location: right on the eastern side of Narvik's central square (Torgsvingen), next door to the fish market hall (actually sharing the same building called Torvhallen).
 
Google maps locator:[68.4380,17.4285]
  
 
Access and costs: easy to locate; not cheap but adequately priced for what it offers.  
 
Details: The museum could hardly be easier to find, given its location bang in the middle of Narvik right on its central main square. If that wasn't enough, the green tank to the side of the entrance is a difficult-to-overlook landmark and pointer.
 
Opening times: varying seasonally … most restricted in winter when the museum is only open Monday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., in the shoulder season of spring from late April to 10 June the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (only from 12 noon at weekends); in the summer season of mid June to late August/early September the opening times are extended most, namely to as late a 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays (and 12 noon to 6 p.m. Sundays).
 
Admission: 75 NOK (children 25 NOK – free in the height of the summer season)
 
 
Time required: I spent about an hour and a half in the museum. Others may go through it more quickly, yet real WWII buffs may well want even longer in here to study every one of the thousands of exhibits and read all the documentation. For the average visitor an hour may be a good estimate.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: see under Narvik.
 
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: in general see under Narvik – the museum is located right on the town's central square and thus makes a perfect starting point for further explorations. The main street (Kongesgate) that runs through central Narvik north to south of the square is also where most tourist shops are. Right next door to the museum is the fish market hall where you can also pick up a quick snack.
 
The rather bland high-rise edifice of the Narvik court house on the opposite side of the square may not look like much, but it served an impromptu role in the mystery thriller series "Lost", namely to stand in as a building of the Hanso Foundation. It wasn't a deliberate choice, it was just that the producers of the series used some stock footage which featured period images of a typically drab 1960s pile. And that it certainly is. Who would have thought that precisely that characteristic would ever lead any building to such unexpected "fame". The alleged Alvar Hanso that is seen vaguely in a window of the building in the series is actually not the actor who plays the character but in reality a random Norwegian government official of the time …
  
  
 
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 01 - outsideNarvik Red Cross Museum 01 - outside
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 02 - tankNarvik Red Cross Museum 02 - tank
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 03 - entranceNarvik Red Cross Museum 03 - entrance
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 04 - objects of naval warfare insideNarvik Red Cross Museum 04 - objects of naval warfare inside
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 05 - upstairsNarvik Red Cross Museum 05 - upstairs
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 06 - main exhibitionNarvik Red Cross Museum 06 - main exhibition
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 07 - lots of detailsNarvik Red Cross Museum 07 - lots of details
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 08 - ship bellNarvik Red Cross Museum 08 - ship bell
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 09 - grim relicsNarvik Red Cross Museum 09 - grim relics
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 10 - German signsNarvik Red Cross Museum 10 - German signs
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 11 - Nazi symbolsNarvik Red Cross Museum 11 - Nazi symbols
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 12 - fragments of hardwareNarvik Red Cross Museum 12 - fragments of hardware
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 13 - memorial sectionNarvik Red Cross Museum 13 - memorial section
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 14 - prison camp sectionNarvik Red Cross Museum 14 - prison camp section
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 15 - promising a new memorialNarvik Red Cross Museum 15 - promising a new memorial
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 16 - model of the campNarvik Red Cross Museum 16 - model of the camp
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 17 - even grimmer relicsNarvik Red Cross Museum 17 - even grimmer relics
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 18 - objects made by Soviet POWsNarvik Red Cross Museum 18 - objects made by Soviet POWs
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 19 - Red Cross sectionNarvik Red Cross Museum 19 - Red Cross section
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 20 - operation theatre mock-upNarvik Red Cross Museum 20 - operation theatre mock-up
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 21 - medicine is a lottery apparentlyNarvik Red Cross Museum 21 - medicine is a lottery apparently
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 22 - bigger objects downstairsNarvik Red Cross Museum 22 - bigger objects downstairs
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 23 - including massive shellsNarvik Red Cross Museum 23 - including massive shells
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 24 - Tirpitz sectionNarvik Red Cross Museum 24 - Tirpitz section
  • Narvik Red Cross Museum 25 - foyerNarvik Red Cross Museum 25 - foyer

 

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