Explore the Hanseatic city Bergen

Tradition holds that Bergen was founded in 1070 by King Olav Kyrre, a date which subsequent archaeological surveys have broadly supported.
There were few natural resources in the vicinity. The low density of population and shortage of natures gifts forced people to import a range of goods, which were paid for with export products. Norways greatest export in the Middle Ages was fish products, and as Bergen lay between the large fisheries in northern Norway and its European trading partners, it grew into a centre trading in import and export goods. Bergen offered a sheltered harbour and a good supply of fresh water from the mountains surrounding the town. 

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I. The City

On a relatively narrow strip to the east of the harbour between the sea and the mountains lay farmland. Development depended on the land tenure and all the signs indicate that the king was the owner and ruling authority when the town was founded. The first houses stood in the precise spot where the famous wooden houses stand at Bryggen today: two rows made up of pairs of houses with gable walls facing the sea and a shared passageway. Around 1170 the town grew, and in order to find space to build, people began building houses into the sea. This form of expansion continued and, when the Black Death descended on Bergen in 1350, there were buildings as far as 60 metres out onto the sea. At this time Bergen had about 5000 inhabitants. 

In 1191 the town was visited by Crusaders who recorded the following, Stockfish, also known as dried cod, there is in such large quantities that it cannot be measured or counted. Ships and men come sailing in from all four corners of the earth. Bergen was now an international town with German traders also coming to exchange stockfish and fish oil for their goods. The first Germans probably came from the Rhine, but from around the middle of the 13th century they came from the Baltic ports. The Germans brought grain, which was essential for northern Norway, and crucial to the history of the Hanseatic League in Bergen. In 1350 almost all the nobility and a large section of commercial life were carried off by the Black Death. This cleared the way for the establishment of the German Kontor in Bergen in 1360. The Hanseatic League remained in Bergen for 400 years, yet Bergen never became a member of the Hanseatic League. 

The German Kontor in Bergen ca. 1360 1754

The Kontor in Bergen was the last of the four Hanseatic Kontors to be established and it lasted the longest. Trade at the Kontor was based on the import of grain, flour, malt, beer and fishing equipment, and the export of stockfish, fish oil and hides. The Hanseatic League maintained international trade during a difficult period for Norway and achieved an almost complete monopoly in the trade in stockfish and fish oil. Only the middle classes were entitled to join the Kontor, which at its peak may have had as many as 1000 members. The society was the preserve of men alone, as its members were unmarried and returned to Germany when they could afford to live there. The Kontor had its own area, Bryggen, in the centre of the city, governed by a council of elders who managed the Kontor according to its own rules and who had powers of internal jurisdiction. The rules were developed by the Hansetag in Lübeck and controlled from there. The Kontor was allowed to trade with the province of Nordland and parts of Troms, but not with other regions.

In Bergen the importance of the Kontor was limited, but for northern Norway it was enormous. The Hanseatic League was able to obtain essential supplies of grain and knew where in Europe to sell stockfish and fish oil. For the Hanseatic League, all four Kontors were of great importance, even though the German Kontor in Bergen yielded the least income. The men who worked in Bryggen in Bergen usually became established as solid middle-class citizens in their locality.

The Norwegian Kontor in Bergen 1754 1899

After 1630 an increasing number of Hanseatic traders became citizens of Bergen and continued to trade in stockfish, fish oil and grain. By 1740 there were only nine German trading posts left, whilst there were ninety held by citizens of Bergen. Consequently, reorganisation of the Kontor began, and in 1754 the Norwegian Kontor was finally established. This organisation adopted most of the Hanseatic rules and continued the system until the 1840s. Until the 1830s, for instance, trade administrators were still prohibited from marrying. Even until the 1840s most of the merchants in Bryggen had still been born in Germany, and German was spoken in Bryggen until the end of the 19th Century. The last German mass was held in the Mariakirken in 1868. The soft transition from German organisation to local Bergen organisation meant it was possible to retain the old markets in Germany and at the same time expand in other places. Amongst other things, this led to an extensive trade in dried cod with Italy, and Italy is still Norways most important market for stockfish.

The Norwegian Kontor was closed in 1899 marking the end of almost five hundred years of history.
Bergen - today

Bergen has 250.000 inhabitants and two-thirds of Norways exports are created in the region, with most income being generated by oil and gas from the North Sea as well as the maritime and fishing industries. The city has a strong research environment, a varied and high-tech industrial sector and access to some of the worlds largest energy sources: oil, gas and hydroelectric power.

Bergen is the gateway to the Norwegian fjords and one of the most visited cities in northern Europe, with one of the largest passenger ports in Europe. Bergen is a vibrant centre of art and culture and in 2000 was honoured with the status of European City of Culture.

II. Tradition
The Archive

The City Archives of Bergen currently house about 31,000 shelf metres of archives of the local authority as well as of local companies, organisations and people in the city. 

The oldest item is the Bürgerbuch or citizens roll. This was maintained from the 1550s to 1751and was one of the few books to survive the great city fire of 1702 which not only destroyed the city archives but also most of the city itself. 

The catalogue uses the Norwegian database system Asta Some of the entries are available at www.arkivportalen.no.

www.oppslagsverket.no contains an internet encyclopaedia of some of the information available in the City Archives, including about twenty entries relating to the Hanseatic League, Bryggen and the fish trade. www.arkivportalen.no contains the lists of the archives pertaining to Bryggen kept at the City Archives of Bergen. A search for bryggen will bring them all up as result.

The archives of the Kontor, the organisation of the German merchants at Bryggen, were shipped to Lübeck in the 1760s, and are at present to be found in the Lübeck City Archives. A few remaining fragments are kept in the City Archives of Bergen, which also holds the archives of the successor organisation, Det Norske Kontor (The Norwegian Kontor) 1754 1899. The City Archives also house archives from some of the merchants at Bryggen from the early 18th to the mid-20th century, several of whom were German. These archives provide information about the relationship between the German merchants and the fishermen of northern Norway. 

Lists of these archives can be found on www.oppslagsverket.no using the keyword Nordlandshandel and Hansa. 

The City Archives have reading room facilities, including rooms for groups and long-term researchers. There is a permanent exhibition space. The public space is also equipped for disabled persons. The library is accessible from the reading room and contains more than 25,000 volumes. 

Archives from some of the trading companies can be found in the special collections of the University Library of Bergen. 

Literature and Presentation

Andersson, Helle, Wiberg, Trebbi: Bryggen. Das Hanseatische Kontor in Bergen. Bergen 1982.

Bergen Bys Historie I og II.

Bergen Historiske Forenings Skrifter:

No. 1, 1895:  Dat Gartenrecht in den Jacobsfjorden unndt Bellgarden. (1529-1638).
No. 3, 1897:  Der Gesellen Boeck jm Jacubsforden unnde Belgarden. (1604-1671).
No. 31-32, 1925-1926: E. Bull: Bergen og Hansestæderne. Nogle oplysninger fra nordtyske arkiver.
No. 38, 1932: O. Brattegard: Über die Organisation und die Urkunden des hansischens Kontors zu Bergen.

F. Bruns: Die Sekretäre des Deutschen Kontores zu Bergen. Bergen 1939.

Frachtherrenbuch der Lübecker Bergenfahrer. Bergen 1953.
Das Hansische Kontor zu Bergen und die Lübecker Bergenfahrer. International Workshop Lübeck 2003.
Die Hanse. Lebenswirklichkeit und Mythos I-II. Exhibition catalogue. Hamburg 1989.
Britt Kristin Holsen: Nordlands handelarkiver. Historikk, veiledning og arkivfortegnelser. Bergen Byarkivs skrifter, rekke B no. 3. Bergen 1984.
M.Trebbi: Bryggen i Bergen. Oslo 1997. With English parallel text.
Chr. Koren Wiberg: Det Tyske Kontor i Bergen. Bergen 1899.
Bergen-Fahrer dokumenter i tyske arkiver. Bergen 1921.
Det Hanseatiske Museums manuskriptsamling. Bergen 1926.
Hanseaterne og Bergen. Bergen 1932.
Joh. Koren Wiberg: Det Norske Kontor. Bergen 1934

Hansestadt Bergen

A weekend trip to Bergen

Weltkulturerbe Bergen

Weltkulturerbe Bergen Mehr Informationen


Bergen kommune,
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N-5020 Bergen