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Fjaerland Glacier Museum

  
  - darkometer rating:  3 -
 
A modern museum in Norway near Europe's largest mainland glacier, Jostedalsbreen, which is also the museum's main topic. However, what makes it also a site for the dark tourist is the extra exhibition about the looming dangers of global warming. It presents a drastic wake-up call by projecting what may be in store if nothing is done to curb/stop climate change. 

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

     

What there is to see: The Glacier Museum in Fjaerland, or "Norsk BreMuseum", to give it its official name in Norwegian, is a major attraction in the area complementing the natural splendour of the mighty Jostedalsbreen glacier itself. But it's not just something for a rainy day, it well merits a visit in any case.
 
Inside too it's all very modern, with a highly interactive and media-heavy exhibition. Lovers of the hands-on type of museum (rather than the kind where you just passively soak up information) will really like it … kids get a lot to do here, even if they don't grasp the whole significance of the exhibits, so it's a very family-friendly place.
 
Glaciers, how they form, their characteristics, their relation to human cultures, etc., etc., are naturally the main topic, and the Jostedalsbreen in particular is the principal focus. But it goes beyond that. E.g. it also has a mammoth tusk from Siberia, and features various set-ups with experiments revolving in one way or another around ice/glaciers.
 
So why should it be listed on this website as a dark tourism site? It's not just the replica of Ötzi, the 5000-year-old "ice man" corpse found well-preserved on an Austrian glacier in 1991. Nor is it just the section about the massive jökulhlaups of Iceland, where subglacial volcanoes regularly cause massively destructive surges of meltwater. These are at best only a mildly dark aspect.
 
No, the real stunner is the adjacent climate exhibition. Here things do get disturbingly dark indeed.
 
The exhibition is a kind-of walk-through multimedia show, which is organized into chapters. You can't move at your own pace but have to wait until each chapter is finished and then the door to the next one opens automatically.
 
It starts out with a slow build-up, right from the very beginnings … of there being any kind of climate on Earth (or even an Earth to start with), namely with the origins of the solar system. Lots of asteroids and volcanism and stuff with animated film projections, light and sound effects and all that.
 
Then we jump forward to 40 million years ago (jungle mock-ups), then 20,000 years ago (ice-age mock-ups … enter animated mammoths etc.). So far all's still well climate-wise for Mother Earth, but humans are already on the rise.
 
Next we hit the present day, and accordingly things get nasty in an instant. Over-industrialization and overpopulation are illustrated and so the scene is set for scenarios of climate change and its consequences for humankind and civilization.
 
In two stages we now get projections into the future, to the year 2040 and 2100, respectively. Mock newspaper headlines such as "Sea takes Manhattan", "Amsterdam drowned", "Malaria pandemic", "200 million climate refugees", "Paris under martial law as civil unrest breaks out" paint a suitably gloomy picture.
 
The urgent moral questions are hammered in explicitly too, along the lines of "what will we tell the next generation …? We knew about it but did nothing …?". But just as desperation reaches painful levels, the tune is suddenly changed to a rosy picture, namely to a projection for the year 2100 "if we change now", where the same question "what will you tell the next generation" now gets the overly optimistic answer: "we learned and changed our ways". Hurrah! So all will be just hunky-dory! We just think we'll change somehow and instantly don't have to worry about actually changing any more. But how exactly should we change? And how the hell can any ideas of sufficient change (rather than just cosmetic gestures) be actually implemented against the continuing trends towards worsening, with climate-change factors such as industrialization and pollution further on the rise, more and more overstretching of resources and continuing (over-)population growth. We are given no concrete answers.
 
Instead the final section has a beautiful projection of Earth – floating around in space as "our only home", while the familiar voice of David Attenborough (in the English-language version at least) admonishes us yet again to make sure we protect this Earth for future generations.
 
So it all ends on a vaguely optimistic note. It was probably deemed necessary in order to make sure people don't leave the exhibition unduly depressed. But at the same time it totally deflates the power of the previous shock-and-scare approach. Of course, it's nothing new. It's been like this for as long as I can remember the topic even being discussed (roughly since the 1970s). I for one find this usual always-end-on-a-positive-note approach more depressing than stark but realistic warnings about how nasty the future is actually likely to be. I wonder what, say, ten-year-olds make of this who are old and bright enough to understand what this thing about climate change is all about and that it's basically them that actually are that future generation that the exhibition talks about. Will they ask: "Right then, Daddy, so what are we doing to actually make a difference?" Probably not … and if they do, then Daddy will probably say something like: "we recycle bottles and paper … it's a start …"
 
Nevertheless, this addition of the climate exhibition (more a kind of "climate change experience") really does set the museum apart. At least the topic is taken up at all. That alone has to be applauded. It thus has to be recommended here as one of the few tourist sites related to that grim subject matter (the one that is possibly the very darkest of all – those who've seen Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" will know what I mean …).
 
 
Location: in Fjaerland (post code 6848) in the south-west of Norway, ca. 100 miles (160 km) from Bergen, and 180 miles (300 km) from Oslo … as the crow would fly, that is (road distances are much greater, of course).
 
Google maps locator:[61.423,6.762]
  
 
Access and costs: a bit remote but fairly easy to get to by car. Expensive.  
 
Details: The museum is easy enough to find but you'll need a car to get there, really. Regional buses may just about work out, but it would be quite a roundabout and time-consuming journey. The nearest regional hub (with even an airport) is Sogndal, ca. 30 miles (50 km) to the south. From Sogndal it's about a half-day drive to Bergen. Route 5 between Sogndal and Skei (where it connects to the E39 main road to Alesund and beyond) goes straight through Fjaerland, and the museum just to the west of the road is hard to overlook. There is plenty of parking directly at the museum.
 
Opening times: seasonally only, between April and October, daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; during the main peak season June to August times are extended: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. From November to March only open on request.   
 
Admission: a whopping 120 NOK (half for students/seniors); groups get discounts. It is quite a hefty price for museum of this size, but all the state-of-the-art multimedia technology and hands-on stuff probably weren't cheap to install either. So …
 
If you want to stay overnight in the area, Fjaerland has the marvellous Hotel Mundal, one of the classic historic hotels of Norway, a beautiful wooden building full of antiques and charm. The turret room is particularly wonderful – but rates are predictably quite steep. Walter Mondale, vice-president under Jimmy Carter in the USA in the late 1970s, stayed here once, presumably on a trip tracing his ancestral roots (as the name vaguely suggests), and much is made of that in the hotel. It boasts several photos of the man and his entourage, all manner of election campaign badges from the Carter era and an official special plaque presented by the VP himself. Almost the whole ground floor is a public space, with a fireplace, library, billiards room, and a lounge with a piano right under the turret room. It's very cosy, somewhat classy but informal and relaxed at the same time, and a very welcome change from all those chain hotels that so dominate Norway's accommodation options in most other places.
 
 
Time required: The climate change exhibition on its own takes less than 30 minutes, but if you want to see more of the rest of the museum too (which is more than likely) then about an hour to an hour and a half in total is a reasonable estimate.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: One of Jostedalsbreen's glacial tongues (Kjenndalsbreen) feeds the greenish waters of Lovatn lake, and on this lake is the site of the Lovatnet Disasters – when the displacement from gigantic landslides caused massive tsunamis that washed away entire villages.
 
Otherwise, see under Norway in general.
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Obviously, the still huge Jostedalsbreen glacier will for some time remain a major draw for tourists who are into such mountainous, icy worlds of glaciers. The whole system is a national park. Those experienced and adventurous enough can even cross the glacier from one side to the other – though that's serious mountaineering.
 
Easier alternatives are guided tours on one of the several glacial tongues coming down from the main icecap into the valleys. Clambering on glacial ice with crampons may be adventurous enough for many (the tourist info in Loen can help booking such tours). Yet others will be content with just seeing those fascinating blue-ice tongues from as close up as it is safe to do without any serious clambering.
 
The most popular of these view-only glacial tongues is Briksdalsbreen – see under Lovatnet for more details on this (and also Kjenndalsbreen). But there are other, less overcrowded alternatives on the southern side of Jostedalsbreen closer to Fjaerland too. You can get more info and directions (and also maps) from the glacier museum, including about glacier walks.
  
    
 
  • Fjaerland glacier museum 1 - modern architectureFjaerland glacier museum 1 - modern architecture
  • Fjaerland glacier museum 2 - in the climate change sectionFjaerland glacier museum 2 - in the climate change section
  • Fjaerland glacier museum 3 - overindustrialized and overpopulated EarthFjaerland glacier museum 3 - overindustrialized and overpopulated Earth
  • Fjaerland glacier museum 4 - speculative look into the futureFjaerland glacier museum 4 - speculative look into the future
  • Fjaerland glacier museum 5 - in the main exhibitionFjaerland glacier museum 5 - in the main exhibition
  • Fjaerland glacier museum 6 - Icelandic jökulhlaups explained graphicallyFjaerland glacier museum 6 - Icelandic jökulhlaups explained graphically
  • Fjaerland glacier museum 7 - Ötzi replicaFjaerland glacier museum 7 - Ötzi replica
  • Fjaerland glacier museum 8 - mock-up of a glacier tongueFjaerland glacier museum 8 - mock-up of a glacier tongue
  • Fjaerland glacier museum 9 - inside the mock glacierFjaerland glacier museum 9 - inside the mock glacier
  • Jostedalsbreen blocks of blue iceJostedalsbreen blocks of blue ice
  • KjendalsbreenKjendalsbreen
  • genuine glaciergenuine glacier
  • glacier tongue Briksdalsbreenglacier tongue Briksdalsbreen
  • it has shrunk a bit over the past centuryit has shrunk a bit over the past century
  

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