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Falstad Centre

  - darkometer rating:  7 -
This is the main memorial (as well as research/educational) centre in Norway about the camps for political prisoners, POWs and Jews that were established by the Nazis during Germany's occupation of Norway. The centre's scope goes somewhat beyond that narrower framework and also touches on other human rights issues and genocides of the post-WWII period.  

>More background info

>What there is to see


>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations



More background info: Falstad was one of the biggest of the many prison camps established by the Nazis during Germany's occupation of Norway in WWII. It is even referred to as a concentration camp in some sources. Today it is the best preserved site of its type from that period. That's partly thanks to the nature of the edifice.
Unlike most other such camps, which were rather temporary complexes of barracks, sheds or even tents, the one at Falstad used an existing solid brick structure as its main building. This had been built as a special school in 1921 and was appropriated by the Nazis in 1941 to be converted into a prison camp.
The Falstad camp was run as a "Strafgefangenenlager" (StraLag), i.e. something like a 'penal colony', housing a wide range of prisoners, from political prisoners such as Norwegian and Danish resistance fighters to POWs from the occupied territories in Poland, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. In so far as several dozen Jews from Trondheim, who were later sent to Auschwitz, also passed through this camp, Falstad forms part of the Holocaust too, as a 'transit camp'. In total Falstad had some 5000 inmates over the years of WWII.
The camp was progressively enlarged, with barracks around the main building, watchtowers and a barbed wire fence around the whole complex. There were outlying utility buildings and a separate commandant's house.
A site in the nearby forest was used for executions. It remains unclear how many victims lost their lives here, but at least 220 or so cases are known. It is likely, though, there were many more than that.
After WWII and the liberation of Norway, the Falstad camp was first used to house Norwegian and German Nazis during the Norwegian post-war trials. From 1951 the building returned to its original role as a special school until 1992.
The memorial museum and research centre at Falstad was established in 1995, the 50th anniversary year of Norway's liberation from German occupation at the end of WWII – just like the Blood Road Museum at Saltdal further north. More recently, the permanent exhibition was given a substantial make-over and reopened in 2006. Additional exhibitions have been added on the upper floor and in a couple of the outlying buildings. In the nearby forest the execution site has become a memorial too, with several monuments and markers for burial places.  
What there is to see: The core of the site is the main building, a yellow, rectangular single-storey edifice with a small clock tower over the main gate and a courtyard in the centre. Dotted around the lawns outside are several information panels with photos from the days when this place was a prison camp. Inside, the main permanent exhibition is located in the basement of the main building.
It is very modern in design, with much emphasis on a striking design, which is visually arresting and generally dark (in a literal sense). Some artefacts are on display behind wire netting so that they are only really visible when standing directly in front of them. Various screens are involved, both large ones for continually changing projections as well as tiny LCD screens set into walls/panels at various points in the exhibition. It's all in Norwegian only – but you can obtain an English-language brochure from the reception desk that serves as a comprehensive guide through the exhibition, closely following its thematic sequence.
This begins with the rise of Nazism, key elements of the Nazi ideology in Germany (but also e.g. in the form of fascism in Italy or the dictatorship of Stalin). Issues highlighted are the general racial politics of the Nazis, the euthanasia programme, the concentration camp system, before the exhibition then moves on to the beginnings of WWII and the Holocaust.
The next room concentrates on the Falstad camp itself and outlines its history, the treatment of prisoners, and also has a section about the execution site in the nearby forest. There's a well-made model of the camp as it looked in its day. Artefacts on display include inmates' clothing, filing drawers of inmate registration cards, and wood-carving objects made by inmates.
Another separate section picks up the topics of the Holocaust again, especially the Norwegian element in it, as well as that of the fate of the POWs from Eastern Europe who were sent to the forced labour camps in Norway (again cf. Blood Road Museum).
Adjacent to this room is the "White Room" which features a wall of names, matched on the opposite wall by stacks of clothes/pieces of cloth, probably one for each name. In the centre are more video screens and you can listen to interviews with survivors.
A particularly stark point comes next: the "Dark Cell", a small windowless isolation cell under the stairs that was used for special punishment of inmates.
The following sections together comprise a kind of epilogue. First there's a section about the Norwegian post-WWII trials (with several individual small LCD screens playing short videos in loops), followed by one about the establishment of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is then contrasted with a small section on crimes against humanity since WWII, in particular the genocides in Rwanda and Cambodia and the massacres at Srebrenica.  
Upstairs on the ground floor, there was a separate temporary exhibition when I was there (August 2012) about Norwegian resistance fighters. There is also a library and seminar rooms. In the one at the far end, also accessible to the casual visitor, a film is screened, with English subtitles, featuring very moving interviews with a survivor returning to the Falstad memorial site after 64 years. Other parts are about the excavations at the execution site, in search of Soviet victims, and yet another was about the women inmates at Falstad (who were housed in a separate part of the main building).
Outside the main building there is yet more. In a separate utility outbuilding there was a special exhibition set up in conjunction with the memorial at Jasenovac in Croatia. It's both about camps in the former Yugoslavia (including Jasenovac itself but also e.g. Sajmiste in Belgrade) as well as in Norway, such as Beisfjord (cf. Red Cross Museum in Narvik), naturally with a focus on the victims from the Balkans.
A short path beyond the little bridge over the stream takes you to the former commandant's house. This today also houses yet another exhibition of text-and-photo panels in the otherwise bare rooms. Thematically it is a) about the succession of commandants of the Falstad camp, and b) about the excavations at the execution site in the forest nearby (some of the images here are quite graphic!).
A path along the course of the stream goes all the way from the commandant's house to that execution site. But you can also drive the ca. 2/3 of a mile (1 km). At the site there's a car park by the road. The main monument is a circular area with a single stone slab at the far end. The relief on this depicts an execution scene. Paths into the forest behind the main monument lead to yet more special monuments as well as to little pyramid-shaped markers of individual burial places.  
All in all, the Falstad centre is a special interest site, but a must for all those who do have a deeper interest in the darkest sides of Norwegian history during the German occupation. The centre is more geared towards study groups/school groups, but also accommodates individual visitors well. Speaking of 'accommodating' – in theory you can even stay at the centre itself (again: an offer more directed at school groups, presumably). But in this respect I have to concede that the centre disappointed me – I made several attempts at enquiring about this offer (as they advertise it on their website), but never received even the minutest of responses, just silence.
That said, when I actually turned up, the receptionist at the front desk was quite helpful and informative. Maybe they just don't deal with people by email …
Location: near the village of Ekne in Levanger region in central Norway. The nearest bigger city is Trondheim some 30 miles (50 km) further south (as the crow flies).
Google maps locators: 

Main building of the Falstad Centre: [63.6914,11.0412]
Executions memorial in the forest: [63.6826,11.0365]
Access and costs: quite a remote location, but not too far off the main E6 north-south artery that runs through Norway, so quite easy to reach by car (otherwise tricky). Somewhat limited opening times, but free.
Details: To get to Falstad you need a car. There is scant public transport to villages nearby, perhaps, but the site itself is really off the beaten (or well-serviced) track. The site is well signposted if you come from the north on the E6, from which you have to turn right just behind Skogn, towards Ekne. Coming from the south you can use the same signposted route – or do a short-cut (not signposted) by taking the minor road off the E6 to the left near Rognan and proceed to Ekne from the south, from where you can follow the signs again.
Opening times: only seasonally between April and August, Tuesdays to Fridays from 12 noon to 4 p.m., in May and August additionally on Sundays from 12 noon to 5 p.m. and in June and July also on Saturdays.
No admission fee – which is very rare in Norway!!  
Time required: for the permanent exhibition maybe around 45 minutes to an hour, but the extra exhibitions also take time, as do the memorial sites in the open air nearby. In total expect to spend a couple of hours to half a day here, depending on how deep you want to get into the topic here. Given that Falstad is a study centre too, there is scope for many days of immersion in the subject matter (but that would have to be pre-arranged).
Combinations with other dark destinations: Nothing much in the more immediate vicinity other than that memorial site in the adjacent forest already mentioned above. The topically related Blood Road Museum is a whole day's drive further north near Bodø. Narvik is further still and quite out of easy reach. The closest city, Trondheim, however, also has its own "Army and Resistance" museum, which may be worth a look (I didn't have time for it so can't tell from first-hand experience).
En route, near Trondheim's airport, lies the small village of Hell … yes, it is a (signposted) place on Earth! Its train station is a popular photo stop for tourists, especially as on one side of the station building a sign says "Gods Expedition" underneath "Hell". In Norwegian it quite innocently only means "handling of goods/freight/cargo"; and "Hell" also has a totally non-satanic meaning in Norwegian. But for English speakers at least there is some dark humour to be had here (even if it's a bit childish). At least back home you can semi-truthfully brag that you've been to Hell and back and that it was quite fun, actually.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: One major attraction for both local tourists and visitors from abroad is the Stiklestad Cultural Centre just 20 miles (32km) further to the north-east. It's the site of some ancient battle of the Middle Ages (fought by some King Olaf or other) and since that event is regarded as a kind of passage from the Viking age to the medieval times it's very important to real and would-be Norwegians. These days it's primarily a big-scale playground with massive tourism development to boot. There are attractions like "model" villages (a theme park really) and a pilgrim church – as well as a large hotel with a restaurant and a massive tourist-tack shop. Around the anniversary of the battle in late June, people flock here in their thousands and dress up in period costume and have "fun". I personally cannot relate to such re-enactment things (see also battlefield tourism) and was glad that it was fairly quiet when I used the hotel as a stopover after visiting Falstad in mid-August (which is already the end of the season in most of non-city and non-skiing Norway).
The city of Trondheim, also close to Falstad, is reputedly one of the most appealing places in Norway. It's the original capital (much older than Oslo!) and still a major hub in many senses of the word, not just in terms of transport. It's also a prime cultural and economic centre. The latter unfortunately prevented me from checking out the place myself when I was on my long summer trip of Norway in July/August 2012. Because around the time I could have made it to Trondheim, a fisheries convention was on and all accommodation was already booked out – not just in Trondheim itself, even in places dozens of miles away. So I gave up on it … albeit with a certain degree of regret. Instead I pushed on to Kristiansund and the fabled coastal Atlantic Ocean Road.  
For more see under Norway in general.
  • Falstad 01 - the main buildingFalstad 01 - the main building
  • Falstad 02 - gate and clock towerFalstad 02 - gate and clock tower
  • Falstad 03 - courtyardFalstad 03 - courtyard
  • Falstad 04 - model of the prison campFalstad 04 - model of the prison camp
  • Falstad 05 - old bureaucracyFalstad 05 - old bureaucracy
  • Falstad 06 - main exhibitionFalstad 06 - main exhibition
  • Falstad 07 - familiar evil facesFalstad 07 - familiar evil faces
  • Falstad 08 - exhibitsFalstad 08 - exhibits
  • Falstad 09 - former isolation cellFalstad 09 - former isolation cell
  • Falstad 10 - additional partsFalstad 10 - additional parts
  • Falstad 11 - covering other atrocities and genocidesFalstad 11 - covering other atrocities and genocides
  • Falstad 12 - film roomFalstad 12 - film room
  • Falstad 13 - libraryFalstad 13 - library
  • Falstad 14 - well stocked with films tooFalstad 14 - well stocked with films too
  • Falstad 15 - former house of the commandantFalstad 15 - former house of the commandant
  • Falstad 16 - inside the commandant houseFalstad 16 - inside the commandant house
  • Falstad 17 - forensic exhibition insideFalstad 17 - forensic exhibition inside
  • Falstad 18 - another ancillary buildingFalstad 18 - another ancillary building
  • Falstad 19 - Yugoslav exhibition insideFalstad 19 - Yugoslav exhibition inside
  • Falstad 20 - plaques in the groundsFalstad 20 - plaques in the grounds
  • Falstad 21 - execution memorial in the nearby forestFalstad 21 - execution memorial in the nearby forest
  • Falstad 22 - signposted walk in the forestFalstad 22 - signposted walk in the forest
  • Falstad 23 - memorial in the forestFalstad 23 - memorial in the forest


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