What’s a “kjentmannsmerket” and who is Bernhard Herre? Those are natural questions for quite a few Norwegians, and not least those who weren’t born with skis on their feet or who grew up heading out on Sunday hikes in the forest (known as “marka”) with their families. The answers are worth knowing for anyone living in the greater Oslo metropolitan area or interested in some Norwegian history, geography and just pretty scenery.
The term “kjentmann” merely refers to anyone who is “kjent” (familiar) with a place. Oslo’s local ski association launched a program a few decades ago to help those who like skiing and/or hiking become familiar with the vast and scenic hills and forests surrounding Norway’s capital. Posts were set up all over the area, from Nordmarka north of the city to Sørmarka in the southeast and Hurum in the southwest, to draw people to places of special historical, geographical or scenic interest. Those finding the posts and documenting their effort could qualify for medals of sorts (a merk, or pin). Today, 15 posts yields a bronze merk/pin, 25 a silver and those finding 40 or more of the 50 posts qualify for gold.
The program was popular in the 1960s and 1970s but then faded away for several years before being revived in 1990. Since then, thanks largely to a group of marka enthusiasts tied to the local ski association that sells the books (Skiforeningen), the program has come out with a new book of 50 posts every two years — the latest in September 2010 — and thousands of folks now take part, expanding their horizons and getting some wonderful hiking, biking or ski trips with a clear goal.
That’s where this web site comes in, since it was founded by a marka enthusiast himself (Norwegian journalist Morten Møst) who wanted to spread the word about the posts and reach out to others hunting for them. It all led to the informal formation of a user group he called Kjentmannsmerkets Venner (“Friends of the Kjentmannsmerket program,” partially translated).
The group’s legendary hero is a man considered by many to be one of the first marka enthusiasts to write about the forested areas mostly north and west of Oslo, then called Christiania. His name was Bernhard Herre, and he lived from 1812 until 1849, when he died in a mysterious shooting accident in the very hills he loved to walk in and write about. His essays about marka were collected after his death by some of his friends, who included some of Norway’s most famous writers at the time, and published in a classic book called En Jegers Erindringer (A Hunter’s Memories).
For foreigners living in Oslo, the Kjentmannsmerket program can open up a new world beyond all the more conventional sights and landmarks in the Norwegian capital. Oslo’s marka offers a recreational paradise full of well-marked hiking, cycling and skiing trails, with many trailheads easily accessible by public transportation. Detailed trail maps of the various areas of marka can be bought in most bookstores, and half the fun is plotting the posts on the map and planning your trip. Always allow plenty of time! Most post hunts involve the better part of a day.
This web site offers a treasure trove of photos from new and old posts, more information about many of them, descriptions of individual treks and, not least, an active “Kjentmannsforum,” that gives post hunters a chance to share tips for finding them and comment on the posts themselves. The lively written discussion goes on in Norwegian, though!
As the Norwegians would say, “god tur” (have a good trip), whether out in Oslomarka yourself or of the virtual sort by surfing around the site.
Written by Nina Berglund,
transplanted American journalist and proud holder of six Kjentmannsmerker in gold.