Throughout 2017 & 2018 poet and blogger Leeanne Stoddart will travel around Oslo searching for the heart of each borough. She will write blogs, take photos, and write poetry from each place she visits. You can trace the journey here, and follow @hverbydelharethjerte on Instagram.
We are also inviting a number of guest writers to contribute to the project. Srividya Karthik has written about Ullern.
A journey in search of Ullern’s heart
So it began…
When people ask me where I am from, I struggle for an answer that’s succinct and satisfactory. They often follow it with, ‘You know, where’s home?’ No, that’s not making it better! And then, they go on to tell me some version of ‘Home is where the heart is’. Where is my heart? In a place? In a house? In some people? These were the thoughts that flitted through my mind as I began my journey to find the heart of Bydel Ullern.
It all started with a cake. It was my partner’s birthday and I wanted to order a vegan chocolate cake with chocolate and peanut butter icing. Turned out the person making the cake lives in Skøyen. Oh wait, actually, it didn’t start with a cake. Sorry! It started with Google, like most journeys do these days.
I had never been to Ullern before. So, I looked it up online. Bydel Ullern, according to Wikipedia, is made up of several neighbourhoods: Skøyen, Hoff, southern half of Smestad, Montebello, Abbediengen, Ullern, Ullernåsen, Bestum, Lilleaker, Øraker, Sollerud, and Vækerø. To the west, it shares its border with Bærum and Lysakerelven, in the south is Lysakerfjorden and Bygdøy, in the east is Bydel Frogner, and in the north is Bydel Vestre Aker. It derives its name from the Ullern Farm. The word Ullern comes from Ullarin, Ullr + vin, meaning Ullr’s meadow. But the name Ullr comes from Norse mythology, which means, ‘the honourable’.
Cake in Skøyen
Coming back to that cake … When I found out Skøyen is part of Ullern, I was delighted at the prospect of picking up a cake and scouting out the local area. As my tram rolled past chic cafes and unique boutiques, I expected the whole of Skøyen to exude those characteristics. I was wrong. When I got off the tram at the Skøyen stop, I was met by sights of suburban living next to urban existence. Houses arranged in a row, office buildings surrounded by large parking, the skyline filled with construction cranes at a distance. Disappointment was making its way to me and surprise, a little wooden bridge. Down an unpaved path surrounded by trees, the gurgling sound of water drew me to it with open arms.
I stood there for I don’t know how long with a smile on my face, as if the little river was reminding me that beauty exists in places least expected if only we have the eyes to see them. I hurried on to get the cake, got lost, called the cake maker, found the right house, and finally picked up the cake.
Before the good people of Bydel Ullern call me names, I must confess. I have lived in cities all my life; big ones, small ones, friendly ones, busy ones, bad ones. A lifetime among concrete structures, though beautiful in their own way, makes the heart grow fonder of the slivers of nature that exist within them. Oslo, unlike many of those cities, has whole big slices of greenery and nature within and around. So, when I searched for places to explore within the Bydel, I was drawn like a firefly to spaces with nature. And the cake was yummy!
Walk to Ullern Church
To explore the area near Ullern Church, I took the t-bane to Ullernåsen. Somewhere after Smestad, a brook appeared out of nowhere and I stopped the podcast I usually listen to when commuting. I watched three little girls on the t-bane playing near the door, their carefree faces lit up by the warm sun and nascent spring outside. A dear friend joined me on this leg of the journey and we walked on Silurveien from the t-bane to the motorway.
The winter had begun to thaw the ground and it was a bright sunny day. As we passed a bridge with train tracks, I saw the remains of ice on the ground beneath. The trees were still bare, the signs of spring still making its way to Oslo. As the road led us down a sloping path, I saw some beautiful views of the city. The distant wintery haze still shrouded it but the sparkle of sun was a welcome sight. Flats and houses, old and new, lined the street, and sprinkles of flowers had begun to bloom on the sun-starved ground. We crossed over the motorway to the other side and the first thing that caught my eye was the structure of Ullern Church against a blue sky. A little mound of snow and mud still held its place on the ground. According to their website, the Ullern church is about 110 years old. When we tried the old wooden door to the church, it was locked. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the inside. But the door handle fascinated me. It was shaped like a hand holding out a small baton, like an invitation to join. It was both elegant and rustic.
The Church looked impressive and well maintained, and so were the rest of the grounds around it. A large cemetery stretched out behind the church. I know many people tend to be wary of cemeteries. But having lived next to one for a few years now, walking through the cemetery felt comfortable and enjoyable. Especially since cemeteries tend to be quiet!
My friend, an expert on birds and flowers, had brought binoculars with her. When sounds of birds chirping surrounded us, she was kind enough to point out a few birds. I got to have close look at a Blue Tit sitting on a branch far away as though it was posing for us. Little colourful blossoms littered the soil, new life springing around the ground where the dead lay. Life and death, they exist in nature in equal balance. We saw a squirrel running down a tree to collect a nut and it scampered away as we got closer.
Beside the Church stood a prayer hall. It appeared functional from the outside, and the inside felt serene. The round glass windows high up on their walls made me feel as though I was underwater. The statue of a little angel stood opposite the prayer hall between two short bushes, its hands outstretched almost as if the angel was pushing the bushes aside and emerging from in between them like a child playing hide and seek.
As we made our way towards the Åsjordet t-bane, more flowers announced the imminent arrival of spring. Roadsides covered with dots of blue, clumps of yellow sprouting out of the dry ground defiantly, little drooping white umbrellas sticking out of a pile of dry leaves and thorny branches, my heart felt warmed at the thought that spring was coming. After a long, cold winter, every splash of colour was a beauty to be beheld. Even the typically Norwegian way of leaving a lost glove by the road side, for the person who lost it to come looking for it and find it!
Along the border of Ullern
The next leg of my journey, began on a bus. I decided to go to the border of Bydel Ullern in the west and see what I find. My idea was to take a bus to Lysaker and get off on the way to have a look at the coastline. But as the bus travelled along the road, I saw rows and rows of boats anchored along the bay. To be honest, that didn’t really appeal to me. So, I got off at Lysaker just where the Lysakerelven (Lysaker river) divides Oslo and Bærum.
I had originally planned to walk from there to the CCVest shopping centre at Lilleaker. But, the sound of water took me a different way. I walked over a nondescript concrete bridge, and there it was, right under me, a wide river flanked by trees with green buds of leaves on one side and Norwegian houses and tall buildings on the other. An orange wooden building stood in the front. A group of people sat on a bench on a deck extending over the river eating their lunch. If the river weren’t as fast flowing as it was, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see them swimming around it!
As I walked along the trees, the sound of birds and cascading water blocked out all the traffic on the motorway nearby. A large waterfall suddenly emerged from in between the trees and a big brick building. I got closer and I saw the full force of the brownish water gushing down the edge, frothing white water billowing out like a bed of foam on the river below.
Above it, was a thin, red, wooden bridge with a little hut in the middle. I doubt more than two people could have walked side by side on that bridge. At the end of the bridge, an old piece of farm equipment stood as a sculpture as though it was bearing witness to the farmland history of Bydel Ullern. On the other side of the bridge, the river flowed like as if it was feeling lazy and was in no hurry to get anywhere.
I found modern buildings and architecture on the Ullern side of the river. Just when I thought this was a modern part of the area, I was thrown off by roads where the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, co-exist. And they did it with such grace, they seemed to add beauty to the presence of each other.
From there I headed for the CCVest shopping centre to get some lunch. It was a shopping centre like any other. Having seen way too many before, I walked around looking for a place to eat. Having checked the bakeries and eateries there, I had to settle for a cream cheese bagel and a croissant at the Espresso House, because that was the only vegetarian food I could find! I must say, as a vegetarian, I do find more choice of food at the city centre.
When I looked up the area that falls under Bydel Ullern on the map, I was surprised to find that almost half of the famous Frogner park actually belongs to Ullern, including the renowned Monolith! What surprised me more, was that within the Skøyen park was Den Engelske Park (the English Park). The British in me was curious to see why. A part of me hoped that perhaps I might find something there that would remind me of the place I called home.
I took the t-bane to Majorstuen and walked from that side of the Frogner Park to the end of Skøyen park along Prinsessalléen and walked along that road back to Frogner Park. Spring had arrived. Sun was out, and so were people. Trees were green again, grass was beginning to get its colour back, and flowers bloomed everywhere. I walked down a quiet path that ran along the Skøyen school. Sounds of children playing and their laughter filled the air. Little rivulets peeked out from the ground, eager to shed the gloominess of the winter, and glimmer in the sun. A lone tree stood giving shade to an old wooden bench, as though they were keeping each other company.
I was eager to see the Engelske Park and I followed the rough path that seemed to lead me through a forest in the middle of Oslo. Past a big red building, I caught a glimpse of the big cream structure that had appeared in my online searches for the Engelske Park. A netted fence ran around it at a distance. I walked along the fence, hoping to see a gate somewhere. It felt as if I was being led into another world, a world of happy birds, their warbling loud and clear, a world of paths less travelled with no visible end.
When I finally saw a gate, it was closed. I looked around a bit and I realised, the entire section was fenced off. I checked the gate and it wasn’t locked. But there was no one inside. I ventured in and saw a lovely pond. But I felt like I was intruding so I returned to the path outside the fence. I later found out that it was intended as a private park and the name Den Engelske Park was really because of a mistake in an article that appeared in 1970! What struck me was that I went there looking for something that reminded me of home in the UK, and what I got instead was a fenced off park, much like my country that is fencing off its borders now and losing its multicultural identity which made it feel like home to me in the first place.
Just as I stepped beyond the fence and further into Skøyen park, the air filled with sounds of birds. No one else was around and I managed to record some of the bird songs. It felt surreal to stand there alone and hear the melodies of nature.
I strolled along Prinsessalléen till it joined Skøyen park again. Houses, families, people, were out basking in the sun, greenery in trees reflected in the lives of people I saw. On the way back, I stopped to rest on that old bench under the shade of the lone tree. As I sipped water from my water bottle, I saw a riot of colour behind me among the kids playing in the school playground.
Slowly, I made my way back through the park. I saw a mother sitting under a tree with a small baby on a blanket. She had a Sophie the Giraffe toy in her hand. A dark pram stood next to them. I saw their faces filled with delight, with love and my heart felt full. People laughing, taking pictures, licking ice-creams. Kids running in the grass, people stretched out on the ground, soaking themselves in the sun that they had missed for months. All this with some music playing in the background from somewhere. It didn’t matter whether they were tourists or locals. They all looked the same under the sun, content and happy. There, in those joyful moments, I knew I had seen the heart of Bydel Ullern. And it glowed.
A Sliver of Spring
The shades of
Blue, yellow, green, pink, purple, brown, black, white, and grey
Of a tree
On an old bench
Sun soaked life
A mother resting under a tree
Playing with her child
Life looks the same
Here under the sun
Srividya Karthik is an international writer, storyteller, and editor. She loves words, especially verbs, and likes her humour and chocolate dark.
She has over thirteen years of storytelling experience across the publishing, animation, and theatre industries. Just to be clear, she did not set out to be a storyteller. From an early age, she loved reading books and writing, and it brought her such joy, it never occurred to her to make it her career. One day, as the London riots unfolded, she saw huge fire balls in the sky from her balcony, and she started writing her first novel.
While working on her speculative fiction novel, she also writes short stories and poems, many of which have been published in anthologies. She is an active member of Oslo Writers’ League and edits their yearly anthology. She has a Masters in Communications and a Post Graduate degree in Animation.
She was born in India, calls London home, and lives in Oslo with her partner and their young son. In her free time, she enjoys combining two of her passions, words and drawing, with hand lettering.