Flying to Kirkenes, a landscape unfolded under the plane, a landscape I know, a landscape I remember from Greenland, but landed in a new world where the day was pushed so the sun set did not fit the day.
I was introduced to a town, a mining town, a mine and a town with a history unknown to many, a town who barely survived the second world war even though so far north. During the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany, Kirkenes was one of the many bases for the German Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe’s Jagdgeschwader, and apart from that, the area served as a main base for supplies to the Murmansk front. Reportedly, Kirkenes is second after Malta on a list of European towns experiencing air-raid alarms and attacks, with more than 1,000 alarms and 320 air attacks. The town was taken over by the Red Army on 25 October 1944 when the German Wehrmacht was pushed out and fled the area after having destroyed most of the remaining infrastructure. Only 13 houses survived the war and today houses were built upon this history, on old bunkers.
One of my fellow students told me at a course in Arctic Marine Pollution that when she was a child, they would either go to the beach ad gather fun stuff washing up on the coast from Russia or they would dig, they would dig after treasures as she told, because during the second World War people dug all their valuable things down, their silver, their jewelry and other thing that they did not wish to be found or lost, they knew there houses would be burnt down when they fled.
Kirkenes, made me feel a little like a fish out of water, not knowing if one still is in Norway or have crossed the border to Russia.
Signs on the walls of houses advertise for boat trips or catching king crabs by the Russian border, so even though I only have heard Russian when walking in town, we still are in Norway. One of the reasons must be that the boarder is so close and the history of this area actually being Russian. The area around Kirkenes was a common Norwegian–Russian district until 1826, when the present border was settled. The original name of the peninsula was Piselvnes, but this was changed to Kirkenes (meaning “church headland”) after the church was built here in 1862.
Not only the Russian neighbors walk around in town, their fleets tied up in the harbors.
The sea and fjords have also gotten another visitor, the King crab.
This crab once seen as a invasive species has now become an export item and important resource.
Kirkenes also had also another history, a history of mining. which was the reason for me to be there, as I was giving a speech at EWMA on alternative ways for obtaining sustainable mining not only in relation to nature but also in relation to communities.
An iron ore was discovered in 1866, but it was not until the 1900s that new technology made it commercially viable. Sydvaranger was established in 1906 by Christian Anker and Nils Persson. It was this open pit mine which rebuilt this town, this mine and the history of it being very visible in town.
I do not really have a clear opinion on mining, but it is incredible what it can build, what effects it can have on communities and how discourses of investment, money, culture, landscape, sustainability, politics clash together.
On my way to Kirkenes I read about Kiruna, a mining town which they now are moving because of the mine expanding.
For the first time I was in a mine, I saw how iron was extracted and formed to small magnetic iron balls.
This factory was huge,
But probably small compared to many others.
A thick smell of rust filled the air and a black magnetic dust covered surfaces,
But even though dark,
Harsh and noisy,
It in some way also was astonishing and beautiful,
Among barrels, oil and dust.
So Kirkenes introduced me to a new world, it educated me, surprised me, made me see history, mining and communities in a new perspective. Even though the mine rose over the horizon of the town Kirkenes had an awkward beauty in its strait roads and lined up houses, in the mix of cultures, beautiful pink sky and not at least in its history.