Strolling along Østensjø Lake

With the warm weather finally returning to Oslo after a very long and dark winter, it’s been nice to spend time exploring the further reaches of the city. Early summer is one of the best times to visit the forests and lakes on Oslo’s edges. The new growth on the trees bathes the hills in stunning shades of emerald green, and the incredibly sunny days we’ve been having the past few weeks helps to highlight the beautiful colors.

If you are not ready to hike out into the backwoods of Nordmarka just yet, there is still plenty of nature to see closer to home. One such place is the beautiful Østensjø lake (Østensjøvannet) on the east side of town. Situated in the middle of Østensjø bydel, the lake stretches roughly 1.7km from north to south. There are paths, benches, and open grass areas along the entire shoreline, and a pleasant walk around the whole lake can be done in around 90 minutes.
The blue water and green surroundings of Østensjøvannet

The lake is especially well-known for its abundant avian life and is an important stop-over point for migrating birds. Over 200 species of birds have been seen on or near the lake, and any time you spend there will likely see you followed by numerous geese and ducks, all hoping for a handout.  


The bridge at the southern end of the lake is a popular hangout spot for birds
 Quite a number of geese can be seen at the water’s edge. Don’t get too close, they can be really territorial!
 The local waterfowl gladly pose for pictures (in exchange for snacks, of course)
The lake received its name from the Østensjø farm. Likely established over 1,500 years ago, Østensjø was originally called “Austansjor” in old Norse, which means literally “east of the water”, describing its location on the east shore of the lake. Throughout most of its history the farm was located in relative isolation from the rest of the city, but all that changed after World War II and the rapid growth of the outlying drabantbyens. Østensjøvannet was soon completely surrounded by newly-built homes, apartment complexes, shops, and roads, all of which severely effected the environmental quality of the lake. Faulty sewage pipes leaked waste into the water, and by the 1980s the lake was facing serious problems. In response the Østensjøvannet Nature Reserve was established in 1992, placing the lake and surrounding shoreline under strict environmental protection, and serious efforts were undertaken to improve the local ecology. This work has paid off, and today the lake is a beautiful place to spend a few hours. The friendly birds and pleasant playground make it very family friendly as well. The lake can be easily reached from downtown by taking the subway line 3 to Skøyenåsen or Oppsal stations near the north shore. A large car park provides parking at the south shore as well, if you want to drive.
The main path along the shore of Østensjøvannet, perfect for both running and pleasant strolls.

Seeing Stars in Oslo

I have never had so many opportunities to see American singers and comedians as I have in Oslo. The number of international acts making their way through Scandinavia just keep growing and growing. Perhaps even more importantly, those entertainers who came to Oslo in previous years are coming back for more – clearly they’re impressed with their Norwegian fan base.

Before I lived here, the idea that Jerry Seinfeld or Ricky Gervais would bother to perform in Oslo would have stuck me as absolutely ludicrous (speaking of which, Ludacris has performed here as well). A lot of these big acts don’t even make it Portland, a pretty good-sized city in the U.S., so why in the world would they bother to come all the way to Norway? What in the world could they possibly hope to find?

Well, one thing as it turns out is a good paycheck – tickets to last week’s Gabriel Iglesias show went for around 550-600 kroner, or roughly $100, while in the U.S. his tickets are only $40-50. There were around 6,000 people packed into Oslo Spektrum to see him – I’ll leave you to do the exact math, but it’s clearly worth his while to come through here. Not to mention the fact that while so many other areas have had economic woes, during which entertainment spending is generally curtailed, Norway’s economy has (so far) remained relatively stable and strong, meaning there are plenty of people able to pay those high prices.

Another one reason, though (and probably the most important one) are the fans here. Norwegians are more plugged in to American culture than any other ground of people that I know, and that’s including people in other English-speaking countries (you heard me, Canada). American music, movies, and TV shows are pervasive here, and the lack of dubbing means Norwegians are completely familiar with American-style English and all its associated humor. Last year when well-known comedian and ventriloquist Jeff Dunham was here he stopped a couple times during the show just to see if people were following his jokes, clearly surprised that everyone spoke and understood English so well. He seemed even more surprised that people here were so familiar with his material.   

I went with a country-loving Norwegian family member to a Brad Paisley concert a few weeks ago at Oslo Spektrum, and the passion of the fans was on display there as well. Paisley commented that he liked coming to Norway (it was his second time, I believe) because, as he said “you guys are real fans. Y’all don’t just know the popular songs, you know all my songs”. This was humorously brought home to him when, during the requests portion, a fan asked for the song “Toothbrush“, only to have Paisley forget half the lyrics and turn to the audience to help him finish, a task they were more than up to.

Brad Paisley preforming at Oslo Spektrum, as documented by my crappy iPhone camera
The intensity of Norwegian fans was most obvious when Justin Bieber came to town last May and the passionate (crazed?) fans nearly shut the city down. The first ten minutes of this video shows how even Bieber’s crew was completely surprised by the unexpected hordes of screaming teens.
All these shows and concerts make being an American expat in Oslo that much easier. Even if you’re not going to the shows yourself, that fact that the options are there, and that so many people are so familiar with American pop culture, makes it that much easier and comfortable to live here and find common ground in tastes and interests with Norwegians. 
If you’re not seeing at least a few shows, though, then you’re missing out – especially with the comedians. They all have something to say about Norway, and you’ll often hear off-the-cuff routines specifically about Oslo that you’ll never see on YouTube. Out of all the shows I’ve been to, my personal favorite was Jeff Dunham and Walter, where for 30+ minutes grumpy old Walter shared his decidedly unimpressed thoughts on “all those cold naked people” at Vigeland Park.
“I was in the pool!”
To see who’s coming to Oslo and to buy tickets check out Most of the major non-Norwegian acts are at Oslo Spektrum or Telenor Arena.

The Old Border Stones

I recently moved from downtown Oslo out to Nydalen, which involved a lot of driving back-and-forth along Geitmyrsveien in the St. Hanshaugen area. After several long red lights the intersection of Geitmyrsveien and Ring 2, I noticed a small stone wedged at the bottom of a light pole, with something carved on the face. Finally I stopped and walked over to take a look at the thing.

The front side of the stone The back side

It turns out that this is an old border stone demarcating the 1878 boundary between Christiania and Aker herred (read more about herreds here). Aker herred was basically the area surrounding Christiania, and its boundaries correspond with the modern borders of Oslo, stretching from the Lysaker River in the west to Groruddalen in the east, and from the northern reaches of Nordmarka down to the southern edge of Nordstrand. Aker herred was traditionally the farmland for the city, providing food and supplies for the urban residents and, most importantly, the garrison at Akershus Fortress. The massive expansion of the city in the 1800s meant more land had been taken away from the herred for Christiania, and over the 19th century more and more of the farms and løkke, or pastures, became developed urban areas (which is why so many areas of the city have “løkke” in their name).

To get a sense of the city’s expansion, take a look at two maps: First, this map depicts the city’s limited size in 1830, while this 1860 map (split into two images on the city archive’s website) shows the massive growth that had occurred over just 30 years, especially to the north. As this tide of outward expansion continued, it was decided in 1878 to set up a series of markers clearly indicating where the city stopped and the herred began. 81 stones were placed on the border, with a “K” on one side for Christiania (which was sometimes spelled “Kristiania”) and an “A” on the other for Aker herred. The stones were numbered as well – the one I came across, as you can see, is #70.

Some of these stones can still be seen today, often in their original location. There are a few good guides for finding them, though they are all in Norwegian. First check out for their entry on the stones (this Norwegian-language website is an amazing resource in general for information about Oslo and Norwegian history, and in terms of public wiki sites it often surpasses the information available on the Norwegian Wikipedia). Second, go to this page for a detailed list of each of the 81 stones and their current status today.

In 1948 Aker herred was completely absorbed into Oslo, giving the city its present size and shape. The inconspicuous stones are now all firmly within the city, and are often slightly hidden, like the #70 stone above, in small corners where they’re easily overlooked. A walk along the old border, looking for the stones along the way, would make for a great day hike around the city, and I hope it’s something I can find time to do before the snow sets in…

The sun’s setting earlier every day…
With that in mind, be sure to enjoy the fall foliage and crisp days while they last, and have a good høstferie!

Out at Bogstad Farm

After a long summer of visiting friends and family abroad I’ve returned to Oslo just in time to enjoy some of the city’s remaining sunny summer days. This last Sunday I headed out to the northwest edge of Oslo, up to Bogstad Farm (in Norwegian, Bogstad gård).

Bogstad farm stretches across a large area on the north side of Bogstad lake (Bogstadvannet). The property boasts an impressive 18th-century country manor house, large barns and workshops, beautiful baroque and English-romantic gardens, and a pleasant shoreline where you can relax, fish, or feed the many ducks and geese.

Bogstad Lake

You gonna feed me?
The Bogstad area was originally under church control in the Middle Ages before being confiscated by the crown during the Reformation. It was sold in the 1600s to Morten Lauritzen, who was mayor of Christiania (Oslo) at the time, and has remained in private hands from then until Oslo kommune acquired the property in 1955.
The manor house and gardens we see today are primarily the work of Peder Anker. He was member of the influential Anker family who were the premier business and political clan of their day. Peder Anker served as the first Prime Minister of Norway following the constitutional assembly in May 1814 (which was coincidentally held at the home of Peder’s cousin, Carsten Anker). Much of their money was made in the timber industry, which was booming at the time, and Peder Anker put a fair amount of his earnings into creating a beautiful, stately retreat just outside Christiania.
The manor house at Bogstad Farm, built by Peder Anker in the late 18th century

The interior courtyard

A small display to the side of the courtyard shows some of the old wagons that were used at Bogstad
Bogstad is well-known for its gardens on the shore of the lake. The gardens were planned out it two phases. The earlier part is a classic baroque garden dating from the 17th century, while the other incorporates an English landscape style that was popular in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The gardens at Bogstad served as an inspiration for many parks throughout Norway. Extensive restoration over the past decade have returned the gardens to their original styles, and they remain a pleasant place to stroll and relax on a nice day.
Part of the gardens at Bogstad
It was an open farm day when I was there, which meant there were a number of kid-friendly activities going on. Bogstad is kept up as a working farm, and the kids were having fun exploring the various flowers and vegetables growing in the garden, as well as trying to feed the farm animals in their pens.

Both kids and adults had fun trying out the stilts, and a nearby carpentry craft table allowed everyone a chance to try their hand at building a birdhouse or toolbox
Cows relaxing (or just being bored?) in their pen.

Horse and wagon rides were available as well
Bogstad is a bit out of the way, lying as it does on the very western edge of Oslo, but it’s still easy enough to get to by car, bike, or public transportation (bus 41 from Røa subway station). There are events happening all year, so check out the Bogstad website for more information.

When to renew your Norwegian residence permit?

I recently had to renew my Norwegian family residence permit (oppholdstillatelse). Residence permits, in case you aren’t aware, have to be renewed every year for the first three years. When I initially received a residence permit for Norway a UDI staff member told me to start the renewal process around one month before the current permit expired. Later on the UDI website was updated to say you should apply at a minimum one month before – slightly different from what I was originally told, but still in the same general time frame. I applied a few weeks before the one month deadline, and called to double-check which documents were needed. The UDI representative told me there was a one-month processing period for residence permit renewals, which was a welcome time-frame given that my initial residence permit took over a year to process. I made my appointment and went down to the UDI office in Oslo. After turning in my papers I asked how long the renewal would take to process. The answer: three to four months. Yep, that’s right, in the space of two weeks the processing time increased threefold. Ahhh, UDI and your shenanigans….

 Your ever-changing antics would be much more entertaining if my entire legal existence didn’t depend on you

Finally, after three months or so, my renewal finished processing. If you want to know when yours is done, the quickest way is to call UDI – you can make an appointment immediately after you learn you have been approved. This can potentially save a fair amount of time, as the letter informing me of my renewal application approval came nearly two weeks after I had actually been approved.

After calling the Oslo office, scheduling an appointment, and waiting two weeks (yes, even more waiting) I was able to go down and get my photos and fingerprints taken for the new card. I then had to wait two more weeks for the card itself. All told, between when I first began the process to when I finally received the renewed residence permit card it had been twenty weeks, or a little over four months had passed. For a while during that time I had no valid oppholdstillatelse for Norway – as us non-EU/EEC immigrants know, this can be troublesome if you have a job (since technically you’re not supposed to be working without a currently valid oppholdstillatelse) and disastrous if you get a job during this period (since you officially can’t be hired without one).

So how do you avoid this oppholdstillatelse gap? Clearly following the UDI instructions (minimum one month before the current permit expires) isn’t good enough. Their case processing estimate of three to four months seems accurate for now, though remember that they admit to being not constant (look halfway down the page), so really it’s better to be apply for your renewal months in advance, just in case of even more UDI shenanigans. I inquired at UDI and found out you can apply for a renewal of your residence permit up to four months before its expiration – and they recommend you do so. None of this is on the UDI website – why I don’t know – but if you are going to be renewing your Norwegian residence permit anytime soon, get on it early. The day you are four months away from your expiration date, go to Application Portal Norway and get the process started. Who knows, you might even get your new one before your current one expires.

Your New Nearest Post Office in Oslo

The Norwegian Postal Service recently decided to close the vast majority of post offices in Norway. All the closures should be implemented by 2014, at which point there will only be 30 post offices in the entire country. In Oslo we will lose 28 postal centers. This doesn’t mean that the mail is going away – most cities and towns will still have at least one Post i butikk, a system where there is a postal counter in local stores, plus mail delivery will continue as normal. 

If you prefer going to an actual post office to mail your letters and packages then count yourself lucky if you live in Oslo – we will still have seven postal centers after all is said and done. They will all be located in the inner Oslo area, though, with no post offices outside the Ring 3 road. To see where your new nearest post office will be, check the map below showing the seven surviving offices.

View Remaining Post Offices in Oslo in a larger map

Keep in mind that there may be a Post i butikk closer to you – use Posten’s map to see all available postal options in your area. A list of all post offices being closed can be found in PDF format here.

Oslo’s Hidden May 17th

May 17th is Norway’s Constitution day, a day for bunads and flags and kids parading up and down Karl Johan street while the Royal Family tries to not strain their wrists during four straight hours of hand-waving.

There are some smaller celebrations, though, that are easily overlooked. NRK doesn’t film these acts of remembrance – only those few who gather together in the early morning hours (and in the case of this year, brave the morning downpours) can see and be part of these ceremonies.

May 17th isn’t simply a day of parades and fancy clothes, but is also a time to recall what made Norway the place it is today. There are a number of Norwegians who have had a profound impact on the country, and through their acts the country was reshaped, sometimes radically and sometimes violently, into the form we are all familiar with. Most of these names are now confined to history books and wouldn’t be recognized by most Norwegians, but fortunately there are a few who still take the time once a year to give these great men of Norway’s past the recognition they deserve.

This May 17th I was able to attend two such ceremonies, one for the man who helped to create a modern Norwegian identity, and another who defended Norway’s constitution on the battlefield, and in the process set the groundwork for Norway’s ultimate independence.

 The crowd at the rainy remembrance ceremony for Henrik Wergeland at Vår Frelsers Graveyard

The first ceremony, which was fairly well attended, was at the grave of poet Henrik Wergeland. This is quite fitting as Wergeland was a major proponent for holding celebrations on May 17th. There had been annual commemorations of the date that the constitution was ratified on since 1814, but they were rather small affairs. Nevertheless, the celebrations caused concern for the Swedish-Norwegian king at the time, Karl Johan, who in 1828 prohibited any patriotic songs or speeches on May 17th.

When the next Constitution day came around in 1829, a number of Norwegians in Oslo (Christiania at the time), led in part by Wergeland, celebrated anyway. Swedish troops attacked and began to beat the Norwegians while they were gathered on Stortorvet, just in front of the cathedral. Though the patriotic demonstration was broken up, Wergeland used the event and its aftermath to further push for May 17th to be a day of commemoration of the constitution. Karl Johan relented and revoked his prohibition, after which the size and scope of May 17th celebrations continued grow across Norway.

 The crowd listens as a speech about Wergeland is given

The remembrance ceremony at the graveyard is lead by Oslo’s Jewish community, as a way of giving thanks to Wergeland’s efforts on behalf of Jews in Norway. As I mentioned in a previous post, the first Norwegian constitution prohibited Jews from living in the country. It was only after several decades of effort, in a large part spearheaded by Wergeland, that the constitution was amended and a Jewish community could grow in Norway.

A even lesser-attended ceremony is in a small graveyard behind Deichman Library. Known as Christ Graveyard, it was established following a massive outbreak of plague in Christiania in 1654. Several notable people were buried here over the next two centuries, such as Edvard Munch’s parents and his sister, who died as a teenager (she was the model for several of his paintings, such as “The Sick Child“).

On May 17th, all attention in this graveyard is focused on a impressive grave near the back gate. A tall granite obelisk, it has a handsome profile of a man without whom Norway as we know it today might not exist. That man is Andreas Samuel Krebs – “The Hero from Matrand”.

 A close-up of Krebs’ grave monument

The general story of Norway in 1814 is sadly not presented in any good English-language book. With the 200th anniversary of the events 1814 just two years away, I hope this unfortunate situation will be remedied soon. For the time being, if you are not familiar with the rather epic story of the creation of Norway’s constitution and its brief struggle for independence, you can read a quick summary here.

The initial push for independence that year culminated in the constitution being signed on May 17th, 1814. This document called for radical changes to the way governance was carried out in Norway, most importantly through the creation of the parliament, the Storting.

Norway, however, had little outside support in their push for independence, and the Swedes, who had been promised Norway by the European powers, were eager to collect their prize. In the summer of 1814 Swedish troops crossed into Norway, lead by Karl Johan. The understanding was that Norway was not destined to be a true co-equal in a union with Sweden, but would rather find themselves as the much lesser member, functioning more as a Swedish province, in much the same way as Norway had been a de-facto Danish province since the Reformation. This new constitution and Storting were not to be tolerated, and the Swedish forces were there to crush any aspirations of independence once and for all. For the Norwegians, it was not enough that they had created their own constitution – now they had to defend it.

This task fell in part to Krebs, a major in the Norwegian-Danish army who threw his lot in with the Norwegians in 1814. In two battles on August 2 and 5 he first stopped and then routed the Swedish forces advancing on Kongsvinger. These victories were the moral boost Norway needed, and the successful tactical retreat by the Norwegian army a few days later at Langnes further drove home the fact that the Norwegians were ready to defend the accomplishments of Eidsvoll. If the Swedes wanted to destroy the Eidsvoll constitution, they would have to fight their way across all of eastern Norway, a slow and costly proposition. Instead, Karl Johan decided to negotiate with the Norwegians. The peace treaty, known as the Convention of Moss, was a victory for the Norwegians (despite what modern Norwegian historians might say) in that it allowed them to keep their constitution and parliament. These would serve to greatly strengthen Norway’s position in the union with Sweden, and it lay the groundwork for the May 17th celebrations and subsequent growth of nationalism and identity in Norway over the next century.

Had the Norwegians lost at Lier and Matrand then the entire history of the Norwegian-Swedish union would have been much different, to Norway’s detriment. For this reason, and for his bravery as a solider, Andreas Krebs is remembered to this day in a Royal Guard ceremony every May 17th.

The Royal Guard in formation near Krebs’ grave in Christ Graveyard on May 17th

This ceremony this year was decently attended, given the relatively unknown status of Major Krebs (a status that is completely undeserved, considering his contributions to his country). I would estimate there were around 50 people or so in attendance, not counting the Royal Guard members. There were even several descendants of Krebs there, continuing to honor the memory of their ancestor. 
A wreath is laid on Krebs’ grave every May 17th

After giving a speech highlighting Krebs’ bravery and service and laying a wreath, a member of the Royal Guard salutes towards the grave

 Descendants of Andreas Krebs talking with a member of the Royal Guard after the ceremony
There are several other wreath-laying ceremonies around Oslo on May 17th, including one at the statue of King Haakon VII, the graves of Norwegian excited by Nazi forces during World War II, and the grave of Christian Magnus Falsen, who was instrumental in writing the constitution at Eidsvoll. The memorials by the graves of Krebs and Falsen are the only two events on May 17th which  commemorate someone directly involved in the events of 1814.

If you are interested in seeing more of May 17th in Oslo besides what happens on Karl Johan street, check the official May 17th schedule before next year’s events to see what is planned. It will be a worthwhile experience.

Eidsvoll: Under Construction

I had heard that plans were underway at the Eidsvoll Manor house to completely refurbish the place in preparation for the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution. If you’re not familiar with the name Eidsvoll, here’s a quick bit of background – the Eidsvoll Manor house, located about 20 minutes north of Gardermoen airport, is where an assembly of leading Norwegians meet in the early months of 1814 and drafted the Norwegian constitution as part of Norway’s push for independence during the Napoleonic Wars. The constitution was signed in this building on May 17, 1814, and is the same constitution still in use today (with some later amendments, such as changing the second paragraph which originally decreed that Jews couldn’t live in Norway – yes, it really said that). It is actually the second oldest constitution in the world after the American constitution. The date of the constitution’s ratification became Norway’s day of national celebration – May 17th.

Since I was going to the airport to pick up a friend, I decided to leave a little early to take a side-trip by this historic house and see how things were going. And right now the refurbishing is certainly in full swing…

 Eidsvoll Manor is now one massive construction zone

 This is what the building normally looks like:

And here is what one of the front wings looks like today:

It’s interesting to see the building in this state. With the paneling removed, you can see the actual timbers underneath, and gain a sense of the building’s construction and the construction styles of the period. For the time being the manor itself is completely closed. While I understand the desire to keep the public out, so that work can proceed quickly, there is a lost opportunity here. The reconstruction and refurbishment efforts would make an incredibly interesting exhibition in their own right, since this work gives us a rare opportunity to literally “see under the skin” of the historic building. But alas, all that can be done now is visit the small museum off to the side, with the usual exhibits on 1814.
 The backside of Eidsvoll Manor

Both the main house and the side buildings are being worked on

As I mentioned, this is all being done to prepare the building for a flurry of festivities (and a likely upswing in visitors) in 2014. One of the staff at the museum told me the focus now is on authenticity. Past refurbishments did not try to retain the specific appearance of the house from 1814, instead using general “period” furniture and wallpaper. As a result, the look of the 1814 interior has been somewhat lost. The hope is that once the current work is done, the inside of the manor will appear as near as possible to how it looked in those heady days of 1814, when the fate of the country was literally being decided within its walls.

If you live in Oslo but haven’t been to Eidsvoll Manor, you really should go – just not right now. While the museum is interesting, the real point of visiting Eidsvoll is to see the rooms where the historic events of 1814 actually occurred, which of course can’t be done at this moment. The house should (hopefully) be open again for visitors in early 2014, if not sooner, and once it is be sure to make a point to visit. In the meantime, check out the house/museum website at (English version here) to learn more about the events surrounding the creation of the constitution. It is actually a very gripping story, and I’m surprised that there is no English-language book focusing on 1814 in Norway (if there is one and I’ve missed it, please let me know). Read up and share some history with your friends this May 17th!

St. Paddy’s Day in Oslo!

The Norwegian Irish Society put on another St. Patrick’s Day parade this year, and this time it was actually on St. Patrick’s Day! The parade itself wasn’t too long, going from just the Central train station to University Square. At the square we heard several speeches, including one from the current Irish ambassador to Norway, and enjoyed Irish singing and dancing. After that it was off for drinks at the Hard Rock Cafe, then we headed over to The Dubliner to end St. Patrick’s Day in the traditional Irish manner (more drinks). Though it was a wet day in Oslo, the weather held up during the festivities itself, and fun was had all around.

 The parade coming down Karl Johan street.

The Irish ambassador to Norway reading the St. Patrick’s Day message.
 St. Patrick was there! He was busy blessing people, buddy Jesus style.

 The crowds on University Square.

Irish dancers showed off their Riverdance-style moves. 

Here an Aker, There an Aker…

…everywhere we see an Aker. The name “Aker” is scattered around Oslo, from the Old Aker Church to Aker Solutions. It’s the name of the river demarcating the town’s (in)famous east-west divide, and Oslo City Hall is flanked by two Akers – Aker Brygge and Akershus Fortress. Beyond that, nearly all of Oslo is surrounded by Akershus county. Aker truly is everywhere.

A selection of some “Akers” in Oslo – clockwise from the upper left: Old Aker Church, Akershus Fortress, the Aker River, Oslo-based Aker Solutions, and Aker Brygge

The cold has kept me inside a bit more than usual, which means there is time for some research on the story behind Aker. For most historical inquiries about Oslo there are some standard sources to check first – Oslo Byleksikon, the Store Norske Leksikon, and articles from the Norwegian Wikipedia and the LokalHistorieWiki. The wikis can be a hit or miss, but in some cases there are amazingly detailed articles by people who clearly know their stuff. I also grabbed a few books from the Oslo University library (if you’re new in Oslo, go get a library card at the university library right away – it’s free, you can check out unlimited books, and they have a lot of new non-fiction publications in English, usually long before they would be available at Deichman).

As far as Oslo place names go, the general rule is to assume the name has something to do with a farm. “Løkke”, for example, which we see in names like Grünerløkka and Tullinløkke, means a paddock, where farm animals were kept. Nearly the entire Oslo valley was already filled with farms by the time of Viking era (c.800 CE), and these farm names (with endings like –løkke, –sted, or –gård) became neighborhood names as the city expanded out.

One of earliest of these farmsteads was actually called Aker Farm (Aker gård in Norwegian). The farm was probably around from the Iron Age, which in Scandinavia was from c.500 CE to c.800 CE. The name was about as unimaginative as could be – “akr was just a Norse word for field, so basically this was “field farm”. What Aker Farm lacked in creativity, though, it made up for in size – the large property originally stretched from the Aker river on its east side to today’s Bislett neighborhood on its west.  It was later divided into Lille (small) Aker and Store (big) Aker, with Bislet creek marking the border between the two. Bislet creek, after being hidden underground for years, is partly visible again running through the middle of Oslo Høgskolen on Pilestredet. 

Bislet Creek (Bisletbekken), frozen over at the moment, runs through the campus of Oslo Høgskolen before being routed through pipes, eventually emptying out into Pipervika. This served as the border between the two Aker farms.   
Researchers aren’t exactly sure where the main centers of these two farms were located, but it’s believed that Store Aker was around where Old Aker Church is today and Lille Aker was somewhere just to the north of today’s Hegdehaugveien, likely on Underhaugsveien. In the Middle Ages the farm belonged to Nonneseter Abbey, but was later transferred to Akershus Fortress and supplied the fortress with foodstuffs.
Looking down Underhaugsveien towards Bislett Stadium. Lille Aker farm was likely centered around here,
Speaking of which, how did the name of the farm end up in the name of the fortress? Well, south of Aker farm was an area known as Akershagen, meaning “Aker garden”, or “Aker yard”. This yard covered roughly the area from the Parliament building down to Akershus Fortress, and from Rosenkrantz gate over to Dronningens gate. At that time the shoreline of Oslo was much higher than it is today (the shore line has changed to its present location thanks to both post-glacial rebound and man-made expansions starting from the 1700s), and the small peninsula where Akershus Fortress is located today was much more narrow. Nearly the whole of entire peninsula was likely part of Aker yard. The yard itself was likely used as a grazing area for Aker farm up until the early Middle Ages, when it was acquired by the king. 
Even more Aker! This street, called first Akersgata and later Akersveien, runs from Akershus fortress up to Old Aker Church.
From this point onward the headland became an important site in Norwegian history, especially Norwegian royal history. The defensive capabilities of the headland, which was known as Aker headland (Akersneset in Norwegian – I’m not sure which was named “Aker” first, the garden or the headland) were recognized early on, and there was likely some kind of simple fortification on the headland during the Viking era. The area was used by several kings and nobles during the early Middle Ages, and was even the site of a battle involving King Sverre in the year 1200. The inital fortress as we know it today began to be built on Aker headland in 1299 under the reign of Håkon V, and was called the building (hus) on Aker, or Akershus. It would serve as both a palace and a fortress. Today, inn addition to being a popular tourist attraction, it continues to serve as the home of the Norwegian Defense Ministry. 

Akerhus Fortress, whose name ultimately derived from a farm. Seriously, almost all names in Oslo are somehow farm-based.

What of some of the other Aker names? Well, around the year 1100 a small stone church was built on a hilltop in Store Aker farm. The church was named after the farm and became known as Aker Church, though today we refer to it as Old Aker Church (Gamle Aker Kirke). At that time Store Aker farm lay in Oslo herred – the word herred here meaning roughly “hundred”, and served as an old system of organization in Scandinavia (you can read more about the herred system here). When the city of Oslo was established in the early Middle Ages, the large part of the herred that was not incorporated into Oslo proper was renamed Akers herred, after the church and its surrounding parish. Over the next 900 years Aker herred was gobbled up by the expansion of Oslo, bit by bit, until a sweeping reorganization in 1948 transferred the rest of the herred to Oslo proper. 
The Aker river was originally called the Frysja during the Viking and medieval periods. According to Gunnar Jerman in his book Akerselva – fra sagatid til opera (and retold here in Norwegian), this original name was done away with by a Danish bureaucrat. Writing in 1636 while stationed at Akershus fortress, the bureaucrat was unsure what the name of the river near the fortress was, and so simply called it Aggershuuses elv, or (as well would spell it today) the “Akershus River”. The name stuck, and over time this was shortened to simply Akerselva – the Aker river. 
    I wonder if at some point in the future there will be a movement to change the name back to Frysja, like there was to change Christiania back to Oslo.

The Aker river also was the namesake for Aker Brygge, in a roundabout way. An industrial company was set up in 1841 on the banks of the river near Øvre Foss, which at that time was still in Aker herred. The company incorporated the herred name into its name, calling itself Akers mekaniske verksted. This company, which got involved in shipbuilding, eventually moved to the city shoreline, directly across from Akershus fortress. The brygge, or wharf they built and worked at was named after the company – Aker Brygge. Though the company mostly left the area in the late 20th century, the name remained, and Aker Brygge became the snazzy dining and shopping locale we know today.
Aker Brygge, transformed from industrial work area to public relaxation space.

Finally, the Akers mekaniske verksted had another transformation to go through. In the mid 20th century Akers mekaniske verksted brought a number of other companies and became known as the Aker Group. It continued to grow and merge, buying shares in other companies, including Kværner ASA. These groups eventually evolved into Aker Kværner, before being renamed Aker Solutions in 2008. So, next time you stroll along Aker Brygge or the Aker river, view the harbor from Akershus fortress, or go to your job with Aker Solutions, remember – the names around you have a history and legacy nearly as old as Norway itself.