Washington Lodge member Tim Christenson recounts a recent visit to the in(famous) Norwegian town!
When you mention towns in Norway, the first one that comes to my mind is Hell. It’s a village of some 1,440 souls in the southern part of Nord-Trondelag county, near the Trondheim airport.
Like many tourists who pass through Hell, I bought a postcard from Hell showing a wintry scene. I sent it to my old Lutheran pastor back in the USA: “Dear Pastor, Since I was in Norway, I decided to go to Hell. As you can see, Hell does freeze over. It was a much nicer place than you led me to think it would be. If you don’t believe me, you can go to Hell!” The church secretary loved it, and Pastor forgave me.
I was not, of course, the first English speaker to employ such witticisms. In fact, Hell has developed itself into something of a minor tourist attraction for people who want to go to Hell – but only temporarily for a bit of fun. The train station’s sign has become a popular site for selfies. Hell has even accommodated visiting photographers by changing the spelling on its “Goods Handling” warehouse from a contemporary Norwegian spelling (Godsekspedisjon) to the Old Norse spelling “Hell Gods-Expedition.”
In Norwegian, Hell has a much different meaning. It’s true that, according to Norse mythology, that Loki’s daughter Hel presides over the place of the dead, so “go to Hel” means to die. The town’s name, however, comes from a different and more prosaic root: the Old Norse word hellir means “overhang,” a reference to the cliffs just outside of town.
Many folks, however, are unwilling to let that etymological fact stand in the way of a good story. The town was where the British punk band The Boys recorded their their album: To Hell with The Boys.
Even the locals occasionally trade on their town’s celebrity. The town sponsors a blues music festival every year: “Blues in Hell.” And when lovely Mona Gundt won the Miss Norway pageant in 1990, she went to the Miss Universe pageant advertising herself as “The Beauty Queen from Hell” – and was chosen Miss Universe! She managed to parlay that success into a role as Ensign Graham in the 1991 season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
It’s a small town, but there are those who love it. And even if you wouldn’t want to stay there, perhaps you should, as I told my pastor, go to Hell.