The streets of Oslo are filled with love

Terrorism. In Oslo, one of the safest cities in the world. A month ago, the worst tragedy since World War II hit Norway. A mad man, a terrorist, set off a bomb near the Prime Minister’s office, killing 8. He then travelled to the island of Utøya and murdered 69 more. This afternoon, the victims were honoured in a national memorial ceremony. Each name was read out loud, their faces on a big screen before us. 77 names, mostly kids. Here are my notes from that weekend of terror.

Friday 22 July 2011
We’re only 5 at work today. Usually, we’re 30. Summer holidays. I like working in July and I adore Oslo in summer. It’s vibrant, gregarious and enticingly uninhibited. Long, white nights. Feels like the day never ends. I get so much done.

3:25 pm
A loud bang. Like a sharp burst of thunder very near. The building shivers a bit. Nina next door pops in. “Did you feel that? Odd, what?”

Through the window, we spot yellowish smoke rising from the government quarter, four blocks away. Nina thinks it’s a bomb. I don’t. Too far-fetched. But what? Rock blasting? I left civil service four years ago. Hope all my former colleagues are unharmed. Most are on holiday, I expect.

We return to our work, occasionally checking online newspapers. “Explosion in the government quarter. More to follow.”

Nina’s sister stops by. She has just walked past shattered windows and bleeding people. It smells gunpowder out there, sulphur, like fireworks. ‘The police told everyone to get away from the area,’ she says. ‘There might be another bomb.’

Bomb? Surely not. This is Oslo, the most peaceful place in the world.

Then a rumour: A second bomb at Parliament Street 14. We’re at 22. Time to leave. Outside, we walk in different directions. I get on the bus. Armed police everywhere. Very unsettling. Norwegian police don’t carry guns.

5:30 pm
I’m at my mum’s house, TV on. It was a bomb! Most likely in a car parked outside the prime minister’s office. People are asked to leave the city centre.

I wonder about the intention. Striking in the middle of the summer holidays, almost half an hour after working hours? Did they mean to harm the government, yet hurt as few people as possible?

Little do we know the nightmare has just begun.

Jens Stoltenberg, the PM, is on. His immediate reaction: No one can frighten us away from democracy and openness. Our response will be even more democracy. Even more openness.

Democracy and openness are core values here. This is also a very egalitarian society. There are no real class differences; everyone is involved. You frequently meet high-ranking politicians on the street, in a café or on the bus, happy to chat. We call them by their first names. The royals are equally unpretentious. Last September, I bumped into them twice. Once at a Sting concert, once at a John Cleese comedy show. I sat right behind the king. The whole family was there. All laughing a lot.

Still no word on who might be responsible. Though there is talk of Al Qaeda.

Then: breaking news of gunfire at Utøya.

Utøya (meaning Out Island) is venue of an annual AUF summer camp. AUF is the youth branch of the Labour Party. About 600 kids, aged 14 – 25, spend a week at Utøya every summer, discussing politics, singing around the campfire, playing, swimming, having fun.

Norway has a long tradition of youth involvement in politics. All parties, from the far left to the far right, have active youth organisations. Most have been involved in political work at one time or another. Either in non-partisan organisations like Amnesty, Yes to EU membership, No to EU membership, or similar – or in the party organisations. As a people, we tend to always challenge authorities. From an early age, we’re encouraged to question. Not to obey.

A man in police uniform has been shooting at the kids at Utøya. Some have jumped in the lake, we hear. The mainland is about 500 metres away, a short ferry distance. Yet a long swim in the cold water.

As many as 10 kids may have died at Utøya. The police have apprehended someone. A local. We go to bed. Everything feels surreal. Difficult to take in. Difficult to sleep.

Saturday morning 23 July
The number of casualties has risen to 84. I’m dizzy, nauseous. There are no words…

Sunday 24 July
The PM speaks at a memorial service in Oslo Cathedral. It’s beautiful! He has been to Utøya every year since 1974. His childhood paradise. This weekend, it’s hell. Jens talks of Monica and Tore. Monica was 45: “Mother Utøya” for 20 years. Near and dear to thousands of kids through the years, making them feel safe and at home. Tore was 21, a very gifted young politician. He recently gave a passionate speech on the question of implementing EU’s postal directive and won over the entire Labour Party.

Later, we hear Monica was shot in front of her husband, her teenage daughter and her daughter’s friend. The killer then turned his gun on them. Monica’s husband and daughter managed to escape. The friend didn’t.

The terrorist is Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old man from Oslo.

Tuesday 26 July, early morning
The numbers are adjusted. 68 kids are confirmed dead at Utøya. Six are still missing. Eight have died in the Oslo bomb explosion. Some were civil servants. Two just happened to walk past.

Ours is a small, close-knit country. Only 5 million people. Distances are vast, but the kids represented all regions. Everyone knows someone who has been affected. My friend’s beautiful daughter became the youngest victim. She turned 14 just days earlier.

After setting off the bomb, Breivik drives an hour, then takes the ferry from the mainland to Utøya. Most of the kids are in the main hall, trying to find out more about the bomb explosion in Oslo – glad they’re safe on the island, miles away. Some linger outside. A tall, blond, athletic police officer motions for them to come over. The police can be trusted, of course. As they approach, he pulls out a gun, shooting one after the other.

We hear fragments of what happened. Children tell the most gruesome stories on camera. Stories of watching friends being mowed down – in the main hall, along the beach, in the water… Stories of running from the hunter, of hearts beating a mile a minute when hearing him approach their hiding place. Of dead friends falling on top of them. Of jumping out of windows, of breaking bones, but still running. Of swimming, of being shot in the water…

Some run to their tents to hide. Breivik spots them and follows. In the tent, there’s nowhere to hide.

Adrian survived by playing dead. Lying there, he overhears an 11-year-old who has just seen his father being killed. As the killer points the gun at him, the little boy says defiantly: “Ikke skyt meg, nå har du skutt nok. Du har drept pappaen min. Jeg er for ung til å dø”. (Don’t shoot me, you’ve shot enough now. You’ve killed my dad. I’m too young to die.”) Incredibly, the killer lets him go.

I can’t begin to imagine the fear these kids must have felt. Yet they are all calm, composed. Some are on the BBC, speaking in English, calmly telling their stories in a foreign language in what must surely be the most stressful time in their young lives. They tell stories of utter horror. But also stories of great heroism. I’m so impressed and so proud of them.

Breivik planned his actions for nine years. He spent the last two years writing a 1500-page manifesto, published the same day. It’s partly a composite of other like-minded thinkers, partly a diary: his own life story, his thoughts, his preparations, his plans, his work. All in painstaking detail.

His main gripe with society is multi-culturalism and the rising influence of Islam in Europe. The main culprit, in his warped mind, seems to be the ruling Labour Party for allowing this to happen; for being traitors to European culture. He says killing the kids was a gruesome, but necessary act to stop recruitment to Labour. This, he claims, is the beginning of a revolution.

Breivik meant to hit the Labour Party. By hitting a political youth camp, one of the finest features of a democracy, he hit the whole nation. I’m happy to say Breivik has failed in his mission. All political youth organisations already report record new members.

Even more democracy, even more openness has been a mantra ever since 22 July. More importantly, it has been implemented. Three days later, the city centre was re-opened, cordons removed except around the buildings that were directly hit. Jens and leading politicians across party lines, as well as the royal family were all out and about with no extra security, hugging and comforting people and being comforted in return. Mette-Marit, the Crown Princess, lost her step-brother. He worked as a guard at Utøya. Though teary-eyed, she’s out there, strong and resilient, like the rest.

Things have changed. Immigrants tell stories of being hugged by locals, complete strangers. A facebook group has been set up to support Breivik’s mother. She’s a victim, too.

Last night (Monday 25 July) there was to be a flower parade through the streets of Oslo. It was cancelled. There were simply too many people out. A parade wasn’t physically possible. More than 200 000 people were in the centre of our little capital. We all stood packed like sardines, everyone carrying flowers.

On an open stage in front of City Hall, Jens was welcomed like a rock star. As was Haakon, the Crown Prince. His words will go down in history: Tonight, the streets are filled with love.

It’s up to each and every one now – to stand up for democracy and get even more involved. Record voter participation is expected at the upcoming local elections in September.

Before I left for work today, I looked in on my daughters, still sleeping. The thought of never seeing them again is unbearable. This weekend, the parents of 68 kids gradually realized their children had been brutally killed. They will never see their children again.

The whole country grieves with them. This morning, Oslo is an ocean of roses. On the wind screen of police cars, on statues, by Parliament and the government quarter. There are so many flowers, a street had to be closed to traffic.

This is a country mourning its dead. This is a country filled with love.

streets of Oslo



“If one man can show so much hatred, just think how much love we can show together”






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27 Responses to “The streets of Oslo are filled with love”

  1. The Travel Chica 22 August 2011 0350 #

    Incredible. I had not read much about what happened after this tragedy. Thank you for sharing this.

    This is obviously a strong country and society that will recover and move on while honoring the memories of those who died.
    The Travel Chica recently posted..My Argentine Crush

  2. Your beautiful tribute moved me to tears. How is killing children a political statement? What a lunatic. I can’t imagine how the families of the victims must feel, or the survivors. I’m so glad Norway has pulled together so well after such a terrible tragedy.
    Barbara – The Dropout Diaries recently posted..Pretty Gur … GRRRRRR

  3. Italian Notes 22 August 2011 0852 #

    Danish television showed part of the ceremony. Heartbreaking – especially the King’s speech and Til Ungdommen.
    Italian Notes recently posted..Inspirational links

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 22 August 2011 0935 #

      @ItalianNotes – Yes, I had never expected to see the king fight back tears on TV. I’m not normally a monarchist, but now I love them all, especially the king.

  4. Angela 22 August 2011 1008 #

    It’s impossible to find the words to describe the horror, and what those people, especially the children must have felt. There’s something really wrong in the world if such events can happen, not only in Norway, but everywhere.
    Angela recently posted..Shanghai’s display of Communism

  5. Tim 22 August 2011 1339 #

    Tears are falling on my keyboard as I read this. I’m full of admiration for your beautiful country and proud to be a neighbour across the North Sea.

  6. Debbie @ European Travelista 22 August 2011 2104 #

    It is so difficult to understand actions like this bombers. I am glad your country is finding comfort in unity. It is important and always amazing how a tragedy like this can bring all members of a community together. I was glad to hear people are being supportive of the bombers mother. Sometimes the family feels the brunt of everyone’s anger and fear.

    Glad you and your family were safe.
    Debbie @ European Travelista recently posted..The 6 EST’s of Europe

  7. Cathy Sweeney 22 August 2011 2137 #

    Sophie, thank you for sharing your experience and perspectives about this tragedy. I’m full of admiration for the people of Norway and their strength as they mourn the dead, but move forward together.
    Cathy Sweeney recently posted..Nevada on the Rocks

  8. Jessica 22 August 2011 2146 #

    Wow! I had chills as I read this. What a beautiful retelling filled with hope and positive message. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Barbara Weibel 23 August 2011 0119 #

    Sophie: I’m sitting in a coffee shop with tears running down my face. This is the most powerful piece of writing I have read in a very long time. Thank you for sharing it; I now it must have been painful to write. I am sharing it momentarily on my Facebook Profile, Page, and Tweeting and Stumbling it. Everyone in the world needs to read this.
    Barbara Weibel recently posted..Adirondack Park – Land of No Locks

  10. Kelly 23 August 2011 0200 #

    So sad. Those kids are so brave!

  11. Sherry 23 August 2011 1212 #

    Wow! Rarely am I moved by anything, so I was really surprised by how emotional I became while reading this post. It was so touching that I felt the rise and fall of my emotions from the anger at the massacre to happiness at the resolve. I learned so much more than just about this incident but also about how truly wonderful the people of Norway are and your way of life, which is truly enviable. I’m touched and I’m glad you shared your story.
    Sherry recently posted..“A Foodie’s Exuberant Shanghai Night”

  12. Christy @ Technosyncratic 24 August 2011 1110 #

    “No one can frighten us away from democracy and openness. Our response will be even more democracy. Even more openness.”

    What a beautiful response by the PM, and in such stark contrast to how a lot of countries have responded to terrorism. Facing this kind of devastation head-on with a call for openness is such a sign of strength and compassion.
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..A Canal Ride through Central London

  13. robin 24 August 2011 1348 #

    I have to say the response of Norwegians to this has been humbling – genuine solidarity and strength on display – none of the negativity and finger pointing we have seen so often seen elswhere following terrorist attacks and which is a product of fear; something of course that terrorists love.

    It stands in stark contrast to some of the disgusting comments that have emanated from the likes of Fox news and websites with right wing leanings, castin aspersions on the kids and on the summer camp.

    It might sound corny but I sincerely believe that Norway has been an example to us all here; others would do well to take note of what solidarity and true democratic openness looks like.
    robin recently posted..Nada

  14. Green Beauty Girl 24 August 2011 1647 #

    I am at a loss for words. This quotes gives us food for thought. “If one man can show so much hatred, just think how much love we can show together”. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Andrea 25 August 2011 1604 #

    Such a terrible tragedy – it’s wonderful how communities tend to pull together and show solidarity when things like this happen, though.

  16. RyukyuMike 25 August 2011 1631 #

    Until just now, I didn’t know what to say, Sophie. Fine tribute you’ve presented here and it is great knowing folks can pull things together under unimagineable circumstances an lift each other’s spirits. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Anu 25 August 2011 1753 #

    I dont really know what to say to you…. thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us!
    Anu recently posted..Aihole

  18. Michael Figueiredo 25 August 2011 2200 #

    This is very powerful, Sophie. Thanks for sharing your firsthand perspective. Like everyone, I was completely shocked when I heard the news on TV. No one expects this sort of tragedy to happen in a peaceful society like Norway.
    Michael Figueiredo recently posted..Greetings From… Atlanta, Georgia

  19. Nancie 26 August 2011 1203 #

    There really no words when something like this happens. A lovely tribute Sophie, and so glad that you and your family were physically unharmed.The emotional harm, only time will heal.
    Nancie recently posted..Travel Photo Thursday, August 25, 2011 — Riding the Wave in Nova Scotia

  20. Christian 26 August 2011 1313 #

    Here in Denmark it’s as if we were hit ourselves. Such a brilliant and moving article you wrote. Thank you.

  21. Christina 26 August 2011 2010 #

    It is so good to get a local’s perspective and experience of this tragic event. Reading things like
    “Things have changed. Immigrants tell stories of being hugged by locals, complete strangers. A facebook group has been set up to support Breivik’s mother. She’s a victim, too.”
    is so comforting. Things the media hardly ever report.
    I was very moved by your post.
    Christina recently posted..Things to do in Akaroa

  22. Erich F. 30 August 2011 0834 #

    This is the most beautiful article I have read in a very very long time!

  23. Anne-Sophie Redisch
    Anne-Sophie Redisch 30 August 2011 2050 #

    This was indeed a difficult post to write and I so appreciate everyone’s kind and generous comments. Thank you so very much.

  24. Tina 21 September 2011 0912 #

    I’m all choked up and have no words. Except to say this is so beautifully written.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch
      Anne-Sophie Redisch 24 September 2011 1945 #

      @Tina – thank you!

  25. Mark 7 October 2011 2123 #

    This is really scary and I hope it increased the awareness for safety to a lot of people. I grieve for the victims. I will protect my love ones from such things. This has truly left a scar to the families and I pray for their recovery.
    Mark recently to get a girl to like you

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