It’s time to round off Hver bydel har et hjerte, and we are going to do it in style! The final blog is written by guest blogger Øystein Ulsberg Brager. He is joint artistic director of Imploding Fictions and co-creator of the audio fiction podcast The Amelia Project.
Throughout 2017 & 2018 poet and blogger Leeanne Stoddart traveled around Oslo searching for the heart of each borough. She wrote blogs, took photos, and wrote poetry from each place she visited. You can trace the journey here, and follow @hverbydelharethjerte on Instagram.
We also invited a number of guest writers to contribute to the project. Øystein Ulsberg Brager is writing about Stovner, Bjerke, St. Hanshaugen, Frogner, Søndre Nordstrand and Marka, with poems by guest writers Bree Switzer and Maddie Lama Sjåtil.
The Six Borough Cocoa Competition!
If you have listened to The Amelia Project, you know that the show is a comedy audio drama podcast about fake deaths, absurd reappearances and cocoa. Lots and lots of sweet, warm cocoa. If you haven’t listened yet, I’d be very honoured if you checked it out. You will find the show on your favourite podcast app. (I will be referencing some of our characters throughout the blog post, so it might help to listen to a few episodes before you start reading to get all the references.)
The Amelia Project is created by Imploding Fictions, who’s also curated Leeanne Stoddart’s Hearts of the City project. So now that Hearts of the City draws to a close, it made sense to us to do a little Amelia Project / Hearts of the City cross over. And what better way to do that than through an Amelia-inspired…
Six boroughs of Oslo remain to be explored: Stovner, Bjerke, St. Hanshaugen, Frogner, Søndre Nordstrand and Marka (which isn’t actually a borough, but an area that doesn’t belong to a specific borough). Normally the blogs have been about finding the heart of each borough, but this time we’re shifting that focus a little. Instead we are asking: Which of these six boroughs offers the best cup of cocoa? I am visiting one independent café in each place (no chains!), and along the way I make some discoveries about the areas I’m visiting.
Meanwhile, I’m making the assumption that the heart of any decent borough will be a warm cup of frothy, creamy, silky warm drinking chocolate…
Let the games begin!
St. Hanshaugen is like a smaller Grünerløkka with a more affluent demographic. The borough is situated just north of Sentrum, and can offer an array of lovely cafés and restaurants, as well as a phone booth turned micro library! The borough circles the hill it’s named after, St. Hanshaugen, a much used and much loved park.
I was originally heading to Pascal for my cocoa experience, a fancy, rather upmarket French café and bakery with a couple of outlets in Oslo. But once I got there, the white table cloths and “wait to be seated” sign kind of scared me off… (I know, Alvina wouldn’t be proud of me…) Lining Ullevålsveien, just south of St. Hanshaugen park, there are a plethora of cafés to choose from. Arte Pazza, Smalhans, Pascal and Baker Hansen. The traditional Norwegian restaurant Schrøder is just around the corner and both Rouleur Bar & Cafe and Vegan Loving Hut is nearby. No lack of choice. But I ended up right next door to Pascal, at a little, charming hipster café called Java.
Java offers a variety of hot cocoas with a different percentage of cocoa content: Tumaco with 53% cocoa, Sierra Nevada with 64% cocoa, Arhuacos with 72% cocoa and Cacao Hunters, a 100% cacao experience! You can even chose to have your cocoa as a shot!
I went for the Arhuacos, normal size, and ordered a Brødpudding on the side.
Their version of a Brødpudding was an interesting discovery. It was a sort of muffin consisting of yesterdays leftover cakes, mixed together and re-baked with a bit of fruit compote. I appreciate that they don’t throw away food, and it tasted delicious too!
Now, to the cocoa: It tastes like (and I expect it is) melted dark chocolate mixed with warm whole milk. Peeking over at the woman who was making it, I could observe the work of a real barista. She prepared the cocoa with great care. Such a dark cocoa has a rather sophisticated or acquired taste. Or perhaps I should call it “adult” – this is not a kid’s drink. I can imagine our hardcore henchman Salvatore enjoying a shot of 100% Cacao Hunters as a break from his regular double espresso. Our sugar craving Interviewer on the other hand might find this drink a little less than satisfying… To me, it was a nice break from the sugary milk that often passes for cocoa. This was a very impressive version of hot chocolate!
I feel like I should have tried all the different varieties they had, but for the sake of my blood pressure I’ve decided to stick with one cup of cocoa per café. I’ll have to come back someday to try a cocoa shot though.
St. Hanshaugen borough is full of beating hearts, but the largest heart must be St. Hanshaugen itself, the park at the centre of the area, which connects all of its inhabitants. As well as a heart, it is also a breathing lung.
Poet Bree Switzer has written a poem about St. Hanshaugen that beautifully captures the area’s spirit.
And Evening Bells Ring
The love was unexpected.
This was a place I knew, a place to pass through.
We took a walk here one day, to see, and you said,
I think yes, to this place.
This place in the middle, where our lives would blend.
On a hill is a curve in the street
and up on the third floor
all the sunlight we never saw before
In autumn and early winter
I wrap up, walk out,
brush past trees, as they turn
from green to yellow-green,
to yellow, then fall.
Bushes aflame with sunbright flowers
fresh and robust, greet me.
And up to the top of the hill where,
if the sun is out, it will shine on me.
Down the sweep of the city, the fjord.
Boats come in from Denmark, big and slow,
The islands a shape to the water.
When a breeze blows up from the fjord
the scent of all the sunset-coloured roses
along the hill in rows blows towards me.
I see the way there are spaces in this place
for the sun to look through:
The city, the fjord.
Church spires, black slate and terracotta roofs,
and trees, wherever you turn, trees.
Bree Switzer grew up in the mountains of western Canada and now lives in St. Hanshaugen. Bree runs a small business that aims to bring people from all walks of life together to sing. She likes to write poetry and fiction.
Frogner is on the west side of Oslo, and is a borough known for old money, embassies, diplomatic residencies and posh stores. It’s also a busy area full of cafés, small boutiques and brand stores that may be expensive, but that make for great window shopping.
Hordes of tourists come to Frogner each year to visit Frognerparken, also known as Vigelandsparken. The famous sculpture park is also much used by Oslovians, especially in summer. Frognerbadet is a popular spot, both for swimming and when it becomes a concert arena. Colosseum is one of the biggest cinemas in town. Gimle, as far as I know, was for a long time the only cinema in town to served alcohol, whilst the recently reopened Frogner Kino offers you the experience of how the cinema looked when it first opened back in 1926. Bogstadveien is one of Oslo’s best known (and poshest) shopping streets.
This morning I’ve ended up at Café Elise, a Spanish restaurant and café, that has been a local favourite for many years. It’s obvious that this is a neighbourhood café, as the owners seem to know the guests (most of them older ladies), having a chat when they come in, and asking them if they want “the regular”.
I’m here for lunch and order a Tostada Tropicana, a toasted sandwich with ham, cheese, tomato and pineapple, next to my hot cocoa. The Tostada itself was nice, but the salad it came with was rather boring, with a tasteless store bought dressing. How does this bode for the cocoa?
The warm chocolate served at Café Elise was a run of the mill version from powdered cocoa, with cream from a spray can. Although the drink was sweet and absolutely OK at first, after a while the taste turned too “buttery”. The drink came with a free Daim chocolate on the side, but that wasn’t enough to improve the overall impression: this cocoa was nothing special. I can imagine the Interviewer frowning at the experience.
Frogner has many competitors for the title of “heart”, but I think I’m going to pick Frognerparken: A communal space where locals, visitors and tourists all gather surrounded by fascinating sculptures that celebrate life from birth to death.
Poet Maddie Lama Sjåtil has written this poem about her experience of Frogner:
I press my tired eyes
against the cold smooth granite.
My favourite two men
Vigeland at his sculptural best.
The ache ebbs from my sleep deprived forehead
Into the stone.
I feel peace.
My hand reaches up; my fingers dance along the chiseled face,
The other strokes the head of the sleeping infant wrapped at my chest
My eyes stay closed; I hear melodies of the park
Children fluttering around me
Birds walking past me, pit-patting, tapping,
Voices exclaiming, proclaiming the genius artist.
I can smell the grass; I can taste the flowers;
The warm sun melts on my eyelids
I feel home.
Strolling, with my stroller, weaving elegant lanes,
Window facades inviting, enticing,
Cakes for the soul, naked breads, macron jewels
Gifts for beloveds
In unique boutiques
(Which I’ll have to wait forever
to buy or fit into).
Proud leafy branches almost ruffle
The tall dignified 19th century dwellings,
A rainbow of pastel shades
In perfect lines.
Brimming with tall
And sky-high ornate ceilings and rosettes.
Split, uneven glossy wooden floors
Reflect immense glittering chandeliers,
And pieces of art.
I catch a glimpse of ground-floor life:
An ambassador, a mother
Fathers, children running, Students reading;
A melting pot, neighbours, cultures,
Between tree and building,
Swathes of wide blue sky
Allow the candalescent sun,
To sparkle the cobbles, and cast tall shadows
For me to inhale the air, tinged with the smell of the fjord to the left
And urban city to the right.
The salty breeze floats in a gull or two,
On the echo of the latest cruise ship
Snuggling in Oslo’s contemporary harbour.
A flash of turquoise,
The old number 12 tram noisily grumbles past
Impatient to arrive at its next stop.
My baby awakes, and I smile.
I feel home.
Leaving the cozy buzzy cafe, smell of coffee in my hair
Blowing kisses to my new mummy friends.
Stepping out in my new winter boots, my heroes, my knights,
They slash through the thick snow,
Baby stashed under thick coat.
The freezing air freezes my cheeks,my eyelashes,
It muffles the sounds
My frosty breath curls like cigarette smoke.
Be still my heart.
I walk uphill where the golden castle
Proudly invites us to walk right beside it
Stop and admire it.
It’s made of slabs and layers of lemony cake,
Shimmering with sugary iced snowflakes,
And guarding a King
‘A fairy-tale’ I whisper to my curled-up king.
Through palace grounds, frozen duck pond
Children in bright snow suits, sliding,
Mothers smiling and laughing and shrieking at once
Along leafy lanes but leaves all gone
A soon setting rusty sky
Accompanies me along.
And then I stop,
My gloved hand holds a shiny key
I hesitate, I look up
A huge arched door of old dark green wood
beneath four tall floors of pale yellow symmetry,
Beckons me in.
Over 2 centuries, people have here stood
Maybe reflecting too.
I am home.
Originally the concept of these blogs was that they would be written by an immigrant to Oslo. Leeanne herself and most of her guest writers have all discovered Oslo first as adults, and through that, the idea was that they could give their newly discovered Oslo as a present to the people who already live here, and who might have forgotten to look properly at their hometown.
What will happen, then, when I, an Oslo kid born and bred, embark on a journey trying to rediscover my own city? Interestingly, I find myself observing not just anew – but also for the first time. Getting off at Holmlia station I realize I have actually never been to this neighborhood before. The area is in many ways recognizable. I’ve grown up in Groruddalen, and the southeast of Oslo isn’t that different, looking at demographic, history and architecture. Working class population living in blocks of flats, mixed in with more affluent enclaves of villas and semi-detached houses. I feel at home – at yet at the same time, I’m walking around as a complete stranger.
I needed to take a short stroll around Holmlia before I sat down at a café. I was still buzzing from my previous sugary cocoa intake, and couldn’t face another cup just yet. On my little walk just around Holmlia centre I discovered Holmlia church, perched on a cliff and hidden in a forest – a mysterious location for a beautiful building. I strolled through a little park with a gazebo and an obstacle course for kids (Traversing a little stream! So cool!). I also passed the entrance to Holmlia Flerbrukshall and Bad which is located inside a mountain. How Norwegian is that! I love the idea that when you’re heading for a swim, you enter the hall of the mountain king and go swimming with the trolls…
Søndre Nordstrand is more than just Holmlia. Last spring Leeanne and I went to Hvervenbukta, for example, a lovely place to go swimming in summer. We had lunch at Anne på landet, a small and charming café right on the water. A lovely place to visit also outside the swimming season.
But today I’m at Holmlia Kulturcafé situated at Holmlia Senter.
Holmlia Senter, if you see it from the back, looks rather like a fortress. A massive building shooting up out of the ground. The structure consists of a number of blocks of flats, with shops and a library on the ground floor, around an outdoor square. Much like an old time fortress, once you’re inside, it has a very different feel. People live here, work here and socialise here. And if this community has a heart, I think Holmlia Kulturcafé might very well be it.
Holmlia Kulturkafé is a local spot where the friendly staff know their customers, and where everyone feels welcome. A group of kids drink hot caramel-milk at one table, whilst an elderly couple who seem to be on a date are sitting at the table next to them. A mother is breastfeeding in the corner, an immigrant family with an enthusiastic little girl is having cake and two friends speaking a language I don’t know are laughing over their espresso.
I order a pear tart which turns out to be really yummy. It was a hard choice between that and the other delicious looking cakes, all baked on site. But I was very happy with my choice; it was obviously made with real butter, and the mix of pear, cinnamon and soft sponge cake was scrumptious.
So what about the cocoa? Holmlia Kulturkafé serves cocoa made from syrup. It is a better choice than making cocoa from powder. The cocoa is not too sweet, and there’s room for the taste of milk in the blend. Unfortunately they use spray cream which draws the overall impression down. One of the better hot cocoas on this journey, but it doesn’t get a full score. Our henchman Joey might enjoy it, but then again he doesn’t really pay too much attention to the finer details of life…
Norwegians have a special relationship to nature and recreational activities, and the citizens of Oslo have a very close relationship to Marka, the forests and hills surrounding the capital. From swimming in the lakes in summer via walking the forests in spring and foraging for mushrooms and berries in autumn to skiing and snowboarding in winter, the people of Oslo love their outdoor activities.
My pick for this particular cocoa experience is Café Tårnstua at Oslo Vinterpark at Tryvann. On the tube and bus coming here I’m surrounded by people in full winter gear carrying snowboards and skis. I feel a bit out of place. I’m clearly the only one heading to Tryvann who isn’t coming here for the sports, but only for a hot drink…
I’ve already had two cocoas today. That doesn’t sound like much, but oh my lord – I don’t know how the Interviewer does it. “This is a three cup case!” What!?! I feel like I’m going to die from sugar shock. I can’t face a third cocoa.
Having a burger helps. Turns out part of my queasy feeling was that I was hungry, which combined with sugar intake that was way too high. Apparently you feel weird if you try to live off only cocoa and cake. I’ve been waiting for my level of genius to reach the Interviewer’s, but it hasn’t happened. It can’t be the cocoa that gives him his brains…
After my dinner (a tasty, if pricey, Mexican burger with cheddar, served without fries) I feel a bit better and ready to embark on the last cocoa tasting of the day.
Café Tårnstua get their cocoa straight out of a machine. Not too promising, but then I see they use real whipped cream… Now, that’s a plus. Unfortunately, the cream can’t save the ready made taste of machine cocoa. Machines make drinks from powder, and like other powdered versions I’ve had, the taste is too “buttery”. This small cup of cocoa might do the trick when you’re just dropping by to warm up in between slaloming, but it doesn’t do it for me. The overworked Alvina might appreciate the efficiency of a machine made cocoa, but the Interviewer would never approve.
Bjerke is one of the smallest boroughs in Oslo. The area is perhaps best known for housing Bjerke Travbane, the horse racing tracks, which Leeanne has written about in a previous blog post. The borough also is home to Årvoll Gård, a cozy old farm now used as a gallery and local cultural centre.
I’ve made my way to Aroma Cafe-Bar at Årvoll Senter. It strikes me again how important it is for a community to have a local meeting point where you can drop by for a cup of coffee to meet friends, or just to have people around you whilst you’re reading your paper. Aroma Cafe-Bar might not be the most charming of venues, situated at the corner of the relatively soul-less Årvoll shopping centre, but it still carries importance to its regular customers. The staff have also done their best to make the space more inviting. At the moment it is decorated for Christmas, and the Santa-Mice adorning each table are rather funny.
Today I’ve decided to mix things up a little and I try their iced cocoa. Despite that the drink is made from syrup, not powder, and despite that it looks rather inviting, the drink is not particularly tasty. It seems to be made from skimmed milk, which means the consistency is thin and the taste not very rich. When the ice gradually melts the whole thing gets rather watery. It reminds me of drinking chocolate milk as a child, only this isn’t as good. This cocoa gets my lowest score so far. (I do have this weird feeling that the crazy surgeon Kozlowski might actually prefer this one. He’s so weird, what’s appalling to others is often interesting to him… Or maybe he’d use it to store body parts in or something…)
Aroma Café-Bar might be a vein, perhaps even an artery, but the heart of Bjerke it is not. Bjerke Travbane, despite being an old Oslo institution, doesn’t deserve that title either. It’s an institution of gambling and financial tragedy as much as it is a site of sports and fun. I’m sure our ex-gangster henchmen Joey and Salvatore would have loved hanging out at Bjerke losing all their money – or rigging the races. And any place endorsed by those two guys should not get the title “heart of” anything.
I think the most deserving winner of the title Heart of Bjerke is Årvoll Gård, a charming community centre where people meet to enjoy culture, coffee and company.
Last out is Stovner, a large and populous borough on the east side of Oslo. Stovner consists of a number of areas: Høybråten, Haugenstua, Rommen and more. Having grown up at Høybråten, I’m of course biased, but my impression of Stovner is that it’s full of warmhearted, hard working, welcoming people. (And the occasional grumpy neighbour, of course…) The different areas of Stovner all have their individual feel and idiosyncrasies, and the areas may compete internally, but if anyone attacks Groruddalen – Groruddalen is the valley on the east side of Oslo which consists of Bjerke, Stovner, Alna and Grorud – we all stand united as “Groruddøler”.
I’m visiting Verdenshuset Haugenstua today, a beating heart in Haugenstua, where you can find a cafe, a boxing club, kids club, youth club, dancing classes, a girls club and a number of other activities. A true community centre that unites the people in the area.
Haugenstua Kafé situated in Verdenshuset is a typical local meeting point, with long opening hours and friendly staff. I was very tempted to order a full Christmas dinner, but decided to let my taste buds focus on the task of the day: The final cocoa tasting.
The cocoa at Haugenstua Kafé is made from syrup and steamed whole milk. It’s warm, rich and not too sweet. A perfect, filling sweet treat. There’s no cream, and I wasn’t asked if I wanted any, but I didn’t miss it either, the drink was nice and frothy. Not bad! The Interviewer would definitely order a second serving of this one, although he would miss the adornment of cream, sprinkles and marshmallows. But sometimes it’s not about creativity, and just about getting it right.
Declaring something the heart of Stovner is hard. It’s such a big borough, so full of important hearts (community centres, cafés, sports grounds, etc.) in each community. Therefore, I am going to declare the people of Stovner as the heart of the borough, as they made it the fine place to grow up that it was for me.
So which borough whips up the best cocoa? Is it Stovner, Bjerke, St. Hanshaugen, Marka, Frogner or Søndre Nordstrand? In between battling a number of self inflicted heart attacks and hypoglycemic attacks from a recent intake of cocoa that’s way beyond the RDA, I am taking the time to give you the answer!
None of the cafés I visited serve their cocoa Salvatore style: With vanilla-infused cream, a quadruple serving of melted marshmallows, chocolate sprinkles, cinnamon, a touch of crushed cardamon, maple syrup and a glazed cherry. But I guess that would be too much to expect…
In rising order, here are the scores:
Iced cocoa at Aroma Café-Bar in Bjerke.
Watery and disappointing.
Cocoa with cream at Café Tårnstua in Marka.
Small and greasy tasting.
Cocoa with cream at Café Elise in Frogner.
Run of the mill.
Cocoa with cream at Holmlia Kulturkafé in Søndre Nordstrand.
Good cocoa, fake cream.
Which leaves Haugenstua Kafé and Java in the running… and the winner is:
Arhuacos cocoa at Java in St. Hanshaugen!
A unique and classy cocoa experience.
Which means that the second place goes to:
Cocoa at Haugenstua Kafé.
Good, regular cocoa, just the way you want it.
Having zig-zagged across Oslo for the last few days, from the very north-west to the very south-east, I feel like giving a shout out to Ruter. They might not be the heart of Oslo, but they’re Oslo’s circulatory system, bringing passenger-nutrients to all parts of the Oslo-body.
As fun as my cocoa experience has been, I must admit I’m looking forward to drinking something else than cocoa again. I’m very, very cocoed out… Perhaps… just water. For a few months. At least. Six cocoas in less than 52 hours is – well, let’s be real here: Almost lethal.
I’ll see you all on the other side of my sugar detox! ;o)
(And here’s my poem to sum up the experience…)
Veins in pain
A limerick about sacrificing yourself for the art (of blogging)
There once was a playwright and writer
in A&E for an all-nighter
His body went loco
when he drank to much cocoa
It was tragic and sad und zu weiter
Øystein is a freelance director, playwright and dramaturg, currently working at Unge Viken Teater in Lillestrøm. He is joint artistic director of Imploding Fictions and co-creator of the award winning audio fiction podcast The Amelia Project.
About The Amelia Project
The Amelia Project is an award winning fiction podcast by Imploding Fictions. The show tells the tale of the eponymous Amelia Project, an organization that offers a very special service: Faking its clients’ deaths! It’s eccentric clientele includes cult leaders, politicians and criminals, all desperate to disappear and start over… But how long can the secrecy last? You can listen to the show on iTunes or your favorite podcatcher.