Author Gunnar Staalesen Shows Us Bergen – In the Footsteps of Varg Veum
We joined a tour of Varg Veum's hometown with the crime writer who created the tough private investigator.
Varg made his first appearance in the book Bukken til havresekken in 1977. Since then, he has been entertaining crime fiction readers worldwide.
Many believe this series was the starting point of the crime genre known as Nordic noir, which later paved the way for Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson, Camilla Läckberg, and more.
Throughout the series, Staalesen's hometown of Bergen has served as a dark yet beautiful backdrop.
"When I'm abroad, I really praise Bergen. What other city has a more perfect crime noir atmosphere?"
"There are often dark clouds, rain, and wet asphalt. Plus, Bergen is a spectacular city with exciting architecture and history," says Staalesen.
"Could there be a better backdrop for a crime novel?" the author asks.
Since the debut novel, there have been a total of 19 books in the Varg Veum series, with book number 20 on the way in 2023. The books have also been adapted into films, plays, and graphic novels. They have also been translated into more than 20 languages.
"I read the crime books about Martin Beck in Sweden and thought: Why don't we have such a character in Norway?"
"Those books described the dark side of the welfare society while being realistic. They told us something important while entertaining us. So, I just created one," Staalesen tells Strawberry.
Join us as we will follow in the footsteps of Varg Veum through the capital of Western Norway together with the renowned author.
Strandkaien 2 - Varg Veum's Office
"Outside my office windows, this late summer evening, Bergen stands out as a sparkling film noir set. The neon advertisements thump with a silent rock 'n' roll rhythm, potential murderers and victims wander in the city streets like dazed insects, and up the mountainsides, the lights along the Fløibanen funicular drip like blood from the edge of a knife. The air vibrates with pent-up drama. It's murder time." Varg Veum's Bergen.
"There used to be a bar here on the second floor, but unfortunately, it's no longer there. Now it's just a hotel bar that doesn't have the same dark charm," the author tells us.
The Norwegian spirit aquavit is the private investigator's preferred drink, but we must now seek it elsewhere. Nevertheless, one can glimpse Veum's office in the building - fourth floor, fourth window from the left, overlooking one of Bergen's most famous attractions: the Fish Market.
There is also a Varg Veum statue outside, with which one can pose for a selfie. And every year, there is a celebration on the character's birthday, the 15th of October.
Nordnes – Varg Veum's Childhood Neighbourhood
With alleys so narrow that cars struggle to get through and history embedded in the dense wooden houses, Nordnes district is something entirely unique and an important part of Bergen's history. A visit there is a must. You'll also find another famous attraction there: The Bergen Aquarium.
"In the book Svarte får (Black Sheep), Veum is supposed to meet a man inside the Aquarium and becomes irritated when he doesn't show up on time. Suddenly, Veum notices a head floating in one of the tanks. Naturally, it belongs to the man he's supposed to meet," Staalesen tells us, pointing at the Aquarium.
"This is also Varg's childhood neighbourhood. I grew up in this district myself and have injected some elements of my own childhood into Veum but have consciously kept our backgrounds very different. Looking back, he's probably heavily influenced by the older boys in the street. He's a tough guy," the author says, before adding:
"This is also the neighbourhood where the Norwegian author Amalie Skram was born and that she wrote extensively about. Her work has meant a lot to me. The way she described environments and portrayed characters is reflected in the Veum books."
In addition, you can take the legendary ferry MS Beffen a short ride across the harbour from Nykirkekaien to the historic wharf, Bryggen. The trip takes just over two minutes but offers a spectacular view of the city.
Varg Veum's Residence – Telthussmuget 7A
Narrow alleys and dense cluster of traditional wooden houses, not far from the Fløibanen funicular. Telthussmauet is where the private investigator's home is located, at least in the books.
"I've never disclosed an exact address for Veum, but in one of the books, 7A appears in a form that Veum fills out, although that address doesn't exist in reality," reveals the author, laughing.
"When I worked at the theatre in the city, I often walked here on my way to work. I thought that Varg had to live on the hillside, in a narrow alley. Telthussmuget is a lovely name and, in my mind, absolutely perfect."
"There are so many escape routes in case Veum needs to get away from those who are after him."
The Police Station
"If you want to get close to Veum, it's a must to stop by here," Staalesen tells us.
The Police Headquarters is only a few hundred metres from Torgallmenningen, the main square in the centre of Bergen. It plays an important part in the books. The private detective has a strained relationship with the people who work there, including Jacob Hamre. However, in the films, Hamre is a police officer with whom he collaborates to some extent.
"It might be a good idea to pass by the police station, but best to avoid being pulled in there," Staalesen chuckles.
Nygårdsparken – Veum's Gateway to the Underworld
“Without any apparent haste, she was on her way into Nygårdsparken. I followed at a safe distance, along the upper road by the Science building, out of the park in Parkveien, past the old patrician houses there, further towards the Bergen Museum and down past the University's big new administrative building at the corner of Christies gate and Fosswinckels gate, before she ended up - like a beached mermaid - here, where I now sat and observed her.” Excerpt from Blonde Trouble.
"Nygårdsparken is where Veum goes whenever he needs information from Bergen's underworld. This is where he finds the sources on the shadow side, who assist him. Fortunately, they've cleaned up the drug scene that was here, and it's a beautiful park well worth visiting," insists Staalesen.
Stay at Hotel Oleana while following in Varg Veum's footsteps.