The magnificent Tyrolean Alps are shown as representative of a landscape that can generate elevated thoughts and actions in German music band Rammstein’s 'Ohne Dich' (Without You) video.
This cult of the Alps started in the late 18th century, combing aesthetics and politics, with freedom-yearning travelers finding “an ideological model in Switzerland, with its heroic and democratic history,” Swedish Ethnology Professor Orvar Löfgren wrote in 1999.
The trend had originated in England in the eighteenth century, where a combination of new interests, new attitudes, and fresh forms produced a body of works, from literature to visual arts that openly broke free from the classical tradition.
The Romantic Movement was born and one of the consequences of this new way of thinking was that Europe’s mountains ceased to be seen as ugly and deserted warts but became the grandest, most majestic objects on earth.
After a short time, Norwegian fjords and mountains came to the attention of Norwegians who, as professor Löfgren observes, “started to look to (their) mountains in their attempts to forge a national culture as an alternative to the forced political union with Sweden since 1814”.
It is interesting to note that the same mountains and fjords Norwegian visitors still depicted as ‘repulsive wilderness’, or as ‘a melancholy lifeless and monotonous desert’ in the 1820s were described a decade later in enthusiastic and highly positive terms by some of the first visiting Englishmen.
Within this process of elevation and nationalization, however, Norwegian fjords and mountains came to represent not an imitation of the Alps, but something truly Norwegian that stood as particular of what was about to become the modern nation of Norway.
The process of the nationalization of Norwegian mountains and fjords soon embraced and incorporated the people who inhabited these regions. Mountain peasants became the representation of the true Norwegian folk. Thus, the interplay between Norway’s wild nature and its farmers and seamen became the very soul of the emerging nation.
Like in H. C. Andersen’s famous fairy tale of the ugly duckling, Norwegian mountains and fjords, which were previously seen as unattractive, dangerous, and desert-like formations, turned into beautiful and glorious symbols of national identity, and, particularly after WWII, the centre of a booming tourist industry.
Today, Norwegians and tourists alike cannot refrain from being amazed by the beauty of Norway’s mountains and fjords, a beauty that seems intrinsic and unchanging.
Recommended further reading
“On Holiday. A History of Vacationing,” by Orvar Löfgren, Professor of Ethnology at the University of Lund in Sweden.
A highly enjoyable, engaging, and well researched book on the history of travel with a particular focus on the Nordic countries.