Grünnerløkka (Oslo)

Maria Mena in Oslo, Norway

Grünerløkke
Maria Mena
Mashed Lung

The Place: Grünerløkke (Oslo), Norway

“…the hip and happening gentrified part of the city where it feels like every second building is a café or a bar, and where green oases make you forget that you’re in a city at all, let alone a country capitol. This is the artistic beating heart of Oslo, where full-blown celebrities and aspiring ones alike coalesce in a melting pot of art and self-expression.”

Read About Grünerløkke

A small city with big beauty; in the summer months in particular, Oslo is a gem in an under-visited country. A pristine river clean enough to swim in cascades down waterfalls and meanders between buildings all the way to Oslofjord, complete with built-in gates to allow the salmon to travel upstream. Take a breath and your lungs will feel clear. Go for a swim and you’ll come out cleaner than when you went in. The spotless streets are lined with bistros and cafe’s, where the locals sit outside to enjoy their espressos (Norway is actually the second biggest coffee consumer in the world per capita) and the warm weather.

The “sea-front” screams “modern”, with its iceburg-shaped opera house and equally beautiful, bustling young people. Treat yourself to reindeer sausages from one of the food trucks parked along the water, or even a plate of Pad Thai from an indoor market that boasts international food diversity and authenticity. It seems that no matter where you go or what you do in Oslo, its uniqueness and charm will continue to strike you, whether it’s zip-lining from a ski jump with a view of the city, or feeling the embrace of a sea breeze despite the fact that you’re hundreds of kilometres inland.

But Oslo is more than just the city as a whole. We stayed in Grünerløkka, the hip and happening gentrified part of the city where it feels like every second building is a café or a bar, and where green oases make you forget that you’re in a city at all, let alone a country capitol. This is the artistic beating heart of Oslo, where full-blown celebrities and aspiring ones alike coalesce in a melting pot of art and self-expression.


Please note that we do not fact-check our interviewees, and that their views do not necessarily represent our own.

The Person: Maria Mena, 32, Norwegian Pop Artist

 “My job, my career and my hobby is writing and performing music. I was kind of discovered before I had the chance to dream about that. It was something I stumbled upon, and luck would have it that I ended up having this as a career. So I basically write music about my life and am known for honest lyrics…”

 Read More About Maria's Background


My job, my career and my hobby is writing and performing music. I was kind of discovered before I had the chance to dream about that. It was something I stumbled upon, and luck would have it that I ended up having this as a career. So I basically write music about my life and am known for honest lyrics; I guess that’s my thing.

I live in Oslo, in a place called Grünerløkka, which for a long time was quite a shabby place to live. Before I moved here, it was a run down part of town, and a lot of people on social support. But then at a certain point it became this kind of Greenwich village in Oslo. I think it became cool about 10 years ago. The people who still live here are people who really love this place, but they aren’t necessarily the people who go out. Like I used to go out a lot, but I can’t say the last time I went to a bar in this area.

But it’s actually a really cool place to raise kids, even though most of my friends move out of the city when they want children. I’ve grown up here and know all the green lungs inside back gardens, and there’s a real community here. If you wanna stay here, it’s a safe place to have kids, but you’d have to want that urban type of lifestyle, which I have to have. My boyfriend lives outside in a place called Nessoden which is an AMAZING place. He builds everything himself which is very Norwegian. But even now he’s on holiday, and I have the keys to his place, but there’s something about it when he’s not there that’s like “it’s not me.” I need to stay in the city. I try to tell myself “put on your boots and go hiking on a mountain!” But really I’m just like “No I’d rather have sushi.”

My Dad is from New York and came there as an immigrant from Nicaragua. I spent a little time in the States growing up. I don’t think I was planned! My dad left a son in America, and didn’t come back, so my brother Jordan had to come here to Norway on his own and be like “hey, I’m your brother.” My family is not tight-knit at all. My Dad said you’re on your own when you’re 18. And I feel that’s how he was brought up. His Mother came to America five years before him to work, and he never saw her. He never met his father, so if that’s what you’re taught when you’re a child, it’s hard to teach something else. My Dad was a musician, though, and he helped me get to the right contacts, and really guided me for the first couple of years but then I was on my own. “These are the people, see you later.”

 

What does ‘home’ mean to you?

“…it’s like being in a relationship for a long time; you predict what the other person will say before they say it, or you know the comforting sounds when they sleep.”

See Maria's Full Answer

You asked if I lived in America, and I did for about half a year because my record company wanted to kind of break me in the U.S. So I would travel, at 17 going on 18, and I was alone and got to the point where I started thinking in English. But I have never felt more Norwegian than I did then. And that’s weird because in Norway I felt like I didn’t fit in. They kept asking if I wanted to move permanently to the U.S. and there was just no part of me that wanted to. When I’m here I don’t feel so Norwegian.

But I think it’s like being in a relationship for a long time; you predict what the other person will say before they say it, or you know the comforting sounds when they sleep. I love the fact that in Norway we have, in general, a feeling that we are taken care of. I would never understand coming from a country where that wasn’t the social foundation. If I get sick, I know that I don’t risk losing all my money and having to go on welfare after, or think that nobody cares. I think that in a general sense we are a big family. Families fight, and we don’t always get along, but I have a feeling that this is my family. That really feels like this is home.

 

I just watched the movie Utøya – I always told myself I wouldn’t watch it. My friend and I were just talking about it and I got a feeling that I needed to see it. It’s weird to say that its good but it is a great movie. It’s done very respectfully. I have never been in a movie theatre where everyone just sits when the credits are done and cries. People wouldn’t leave. And that’s the same feeling. I didn’t know anyone, but it feels like someone close to me died. And that’s the feeling of being Norwegian. That’s the only way I can explain it.

What is special about Norway?

“…we are not used to getting visitorsI wouldn’t say that this is the best place to come and be like “hey I’m a new person, can I come and hang with you?” But it is a great place to stay.”

See Maria's Full Answer

Norway as a country? We’re nice people. We’re not easy to get to know. If you come as a backpacker and you’re used to the whole friendliness and openness of America or other places- we are not used to getting visitors, and we’re not used to hearing ourselves having to speak English out loud, and we don’t like it even though we’re actually quite good at it. And so I wouldn’t say that this is the best place to come and be like “hey I’m a new person, can I come and hang with you?” But it is a great place to stay and a great place to live. 

 

We also have this unwritten law called “Janteloven”, but it’s not necessarily a good thing. It means you’re not supposed to think that you’re better than anyone. As opposed to America where you can be anyone you want – we’re like “no you can’t, and you definitely should not say it out loud!” Even just showing confidence and being like “yeah, I believe in myself”, people are kind of like “who do you think you are?”

How did you decide you wanted to have a career in music?

“I have something called synaesthesia… I see music in colour. That’s how I make music. It’s not that I just see it, but I feel it… For me it just really makes sense and I thought everyone was like that, so I never told anyone…”

See Maria's Full Answer

I had a passion for music before I stumbled into it, but the passion was really just for expressing myself. My family is mostly painters so I’ve lived a pretty different lifestyle. Even though I say I was born here, we did move 20 times, and I’m not exaggerating. It was almost like we were on the run. I had a feeling that they didn’t pay taxes or something, but I don’t know. They were very eccentric and different, so the lifestyle for me was such that it would be weird for me to have wanted to be, say, a doctor. They wouldn’t have been able to help me. They’d have been like “alright, you’re on your own”. So they would always try to encourage me to paint, but that wasn’t literal enough for me. Like I couldn’t paint exactly how I felt, so words became my thing.

I have something called synaesthesia. A lot of artists have it. I actually didn’t know I had it until I did an interview with a TV station, and this guy went home and did research and said “I think you have something.”  The reason I try and figure this all out for myself now is because I felt so different for so long. And I felt like I didn’t fit in, and have been trying to adjust to a world that kind of made me sick, and I couldn’t do that anymore without having to fake who I was. So I feel like my antennas are just big and vulnerable. And the synaesthesia is the same thing; I see music in colour. That’s how I make music. It’s not just that I see it, but I feel it… For me it just really makes sense and I thought everyone was like that, so I never told anyone because I thought this is what we do. Mine isn’t such an extreme version, but at the beginning I had to explain what I wanted to producers using synaesthesia because I lacked the language. But now I know what grey means – I know what drum sound to ask for, instead of saying “I want grey drums”.

How did breaking into music at such a young age affect you?

“I had to grow up in the limelight, and my voice wasn’t developed yet, and I wasn’t good live… now I’m happy that all that happened. I feel like I was in the last wave of people who actually sell albums; I got to see the last of the time in the music industry where people had the time to get to know you as an artist.”

See Maria's Full Answer

I had to grow up in the limelight, and my voice wasn’t developed yet, and I wasn’t good live, but I had to do a lot of things in the public eye. But now I’m happy that all that happened. I feel like I was in the last wave of people who actually sell albums; I got to see the last of the time in the music industry where people had the time to get to know you as an artist. Now it’s like “if it’s not a hit right now, then off you go.” Even though the internet makes it a lot easier to find new artists and break boundaries – you can sit in Norway and listen to Azerbaijani artists in a moments time and you don’t have to go to a record store and order the CD – I’m really happy I’m old school, because I feel I’m actually part of people’s lives.

What have you learned from living in Oslo?

You can walk off a stage after performing for 20,000 people and go to another city and no one knows who you are, and you’re kind of humbled by that.”

See Maria's Full Answer

When I was travelling abroad and people used to say “she’s from Norway, tell us about Norway!” I could give them other artists that capture “the sound of Norway”, but I really haven’t. As a person, being in Grünerløkka, it’s a little bit less ‘Jantelove’. There were artists here and if you walk around here you’ll find the school of arts. It’s an area where people are a little bit more allowed to express themselves. If you go down to Blå you’ll see a whole area of people being able to make art. There’s a swan in the shape of a penis… whatever floats you’re boat.

Being from Grünerløkka probably made it a little easier for me. I think if I was from a smaller place in Norway it would have been a lot harder. But I have a feeling that’s the same fricken’ story about everyone who makes music or art. It’s like “I didn’t fit in at school”. I wasn’t bullied or anything but I felt different. This sounds horrible but I’m gonna be honest, I felt like I had to make myself dumber… not school-wise but socially. “Oh he’s so cute!” “this outfit!”, and so on.

 

When I go outside of Oslo, it doesn’t take long before people start staring. But here, you know you’re going to meet famous people, and its fine. We’re Vikings first, and then we were farmers, so we’re humble, and you just don’t see a person you’ve seen on TV. When that happens, you can’t help staring. But in this area of Oslo, I’m one of many. That’s a great thing. I have a feeling you can choose to not live in the spotlight but you have to take yourself out of it. If you live in a place where the paparazzi are around… if you’re in West Virginia there might just be one guy who is the town paparazzi. There are celebrities that we haven’t seen. Like Denzel Washington – I’ve never seen a photo of him outside of movies.

 

The thing I love about Norway as well, as a celebrity, is the press is respectful. We work for that because they are trying to push it over to be like America. The British are even worse. You have magazines whose job is to bully. But I’m the type of artist that’s known in some places but not all over, so that’s good. You can walk off a stage after performing in front of 20,000 people and go to another city and no one knows who you are, and you’re kind of humbled by that. Thank god I get to remind myself how lucky I am.

Have you been outside of Oslo and Norway?

Until I was about 25 I only travelled for work, because we didn’t have the money when we were kids. Now it’s like the most normal thing… I don’t understand why all families feel like they have to have one week in the tropics a year.”

See Maria's Full Answer

Amsterdam and Copenhagen have been my favourite places. They’re pretty similar; it’s like being in Norway but it’s bigger and, especially Copenhagen, it moves at such a quick pace when it comes to food, culture and fashion which I’m very into. Especially food. I love that you get the big city feeling without it feeling too big.

 

I have a big Audience in Holland, so the times where I had to travel so much that you lose yourself a bit, it’s good to come to a place where you can return to and know the city a bit. So for me Amsterdam is like a home away from home. The opposite place where I don’t feel like that is… I’d never want to live in Berlin. It’s too big. It’s just such a cold place. And people are like “it’s such a great artistic environment.” No, it’s pseudo. What is this dot on this canvas? I don’t get it!

 

Until I was about 25 I only travelled for work, because we didn’t have the money when we were kids. Now it’s like the most normal thing. Everybody goes to Spain now, or to ‘Suden’ – the South – and it costs a lot of money. I don’t understand why all families feel like they have to have one week in the tropics a year. I don’t get it. I would rather – one of the things that has become really trendy in Norway is to get a house on wheels – get a Bøbil (campervan).

Can you think of a time you have been proud of Oslo/Norway?

“…just coming together being like “this is all that matters.” Because you see the same thing happen in America all the time and it just creates more conflict.”

See Maria's Full Answer

You probably already know what I’m gonna answer. I was here – we all have our memories of where we were during the 2011 attacks. Being here and watching the news, seeing the numbers go up, but also the hours before where you just realised that the kids were there and the police wouldn’t get there in time, and you were following it as it happened. Everyone was panicking not knowing what to do. I got to sing a very beautiful Norwegian song for that, but we all were just coming together being like “this is all that matters.” You see the same thing happen in America all the time and it just creates more conflict. And I felt like it didn’t do that here. It just created this feeling of family.

I don’t even understand like the logic of the Americans, I don’t get it. And I know that it doesn’t speak for a lot of Americans, but I feel like the ones who speak the loudest right now are the ones we’re hearing, and it sounds horrible. And I’m half American and have a passport but I don’t relate to that way of thinking. I understand that you wouldn’t want to get used by people, and why you want to take care of what’s yours, but I don’t understand why you wouldn’t open the door if somebody needed you, or you wouldn’t want to pay your taxes in order for people to be taken care of. Like how much money is a life worth.

What is your main concern or worry about Oslo?

I feel like we miss a lot of chances to take care of the youth… A long time ago, there was a neo-Nazi environment where I used to live, and one of the reasons why that became such a big deal in that area was because they didn’t have anything else to do.”

See Maria's Full Answer

I’m afraid of the politicians looking at it from a different angle creating a divide instead of including. I don’t think we need to become more right-wing, but I do love the fact that there’s a balance. I love the fact that there we have different opinions, and that it is a democracy. I love the green party, but I don’t love the fact that you can’t park anywhere now, like that went too fast! Ok I get it, but where are we supposed to park. We need a system that takes over: we can’t park here but we have a system for you. And that’s what I didn’t like, it just went away. And I don’t drive! But I feel for those who do and actually need their car for work.

 

With the media being so in your face I feel like there are idiots who get a voice and we hear that voice louder now. I’m scared for the areas of Oslo which have a lot of immigrants and we don’t take care of them when they come here. I’m worried that we’ll have a generation of Norwegians then who feel that they don’t belong. They grow up in a place that look at them as though they’re in the way.

I feel like we miss a lot of chances to take care of the youth. Every time they cut a budget in school, they cut out those activities, the arts and stuff that give the youth a place to go. A long time ago, there was a neo-Nazi environment where I used to live, and one of the reasons why that became such a big deal in that area was because they didn’t have anything else to do. The guy who ended up committing a racist killing wasn’t picked up by our community. Instead of having a place to go, he found a community with the neo-Nazis. They find the weak ones. Now he’s a grown man and doesn’t even understand who he was.

How would you convince a tourist to visit Oslo?

“For me there’s nothing like it during the summer. I would ride a bike and just get lost in the city if I were a tourist here.”

See Maria's Full Answer

For me there’s nothing like it during the summer. I would ride a bike and just get lost in the city if I were a tourist here. Stay close to the fjords and the water. I wouldn’t suggest you come here during winter. You can get the most amazing snow, but if you get to the point where it’s just grey… we all just try to survive it. That’s basically what we do in winter, and then when this comes we’re like “why is it so warm?”

What are your thoughts on Stereotypes of people from Oslo or Norway?

We’re always going hiking… People look like they know what they’re doing. I know if I need to go to the mountains, I have the boots… They’re not pretty, but for me it turns me on a little bit! When someone looks prepared.”

See Maria's Full Answer

In Oslo you have opposites, the people who walk around in hemp clothing who are super hipster and then if you go to the west side you’ll find faces that are unnaturally tight. But Norway for me is “allesjaker”- we go hiking. We’re always going hiking. People ask “where are you going?” It’s not the place we’re going, it’s the trip! So it’s like prepared clothing. People look like they know what they’re doing. I know if I need to go to the mountains, I have the boots… I look like I know what I’m doing. That’s the stereotype. They’re not pretty, but for me it turns me on a little bit! When someone looks prepared… like my boyfriend has this knife, I don’t know what he uses it for but he always has it and he always looks prepared!

 

We also always talk about the weather, and always complain about the weather. It’s never perfect. My friend yesterday was like “I can’t take it anymore! I don’t like it!” But we have to be thankful, this is going to go away. And in the winter we’re like “I miss the summer!” But can you believe the weather right now? It’s amazing. I had to work out at 6am this morning because I couldn’t deal with the sun. People who jog now it’s like they have a death wish!

 

What do you eat during the Holidays here?

Pinnekjott! It’s mutton… It’s salted and dried… The reason I love that food, is because we only have it at that time of year. If we had it every week I wouldn’t love it.”

See Maria's Full Answer

Pinnekjott! It’s mutton and I think it’s the ribs. It’s salted and dried and… ahhhh! I love it. But I have to have everything. I have lutefisk, ribe, and pinnekjott during that week. And then I die.

 

Some people eat cod, but I don’t. The reason I love that food, is because we only have it at that time of year. If we had it every week I wouldn’t love it. You look forward to it all year. I used to drink as well though, and the combination of drinking a lot and adding salt, it wasn’t a good mix.

What is your favourite Norwegian Dish?

I’ll crave ‘Fårikål’ – it’s basically mutton and Kale. I have to have it. It’s the national dish. I was divorced and the first year after I was tearfully like “I’m making it for myself”.”

See Maria's Full Answer

It really depends on the time of year. Like I’ll crave ‘Fårikål’ – it’s basically mutton and Kale. I have to have it. It’s the national dish. I was divorced and the first year after I was tearfully like “I’m making it for myself”. My manager said “That’s so sad!” I was trying to act like I could live on my own, but you have to make like a huge family sized pot when you make it, so I just ended up eating it and being like “I’m alone!”  

In summer it’s very Norwegian to peel your own shrimp and have it on white bread with mayo and stuff like that. But during the winter I have to have pinnekjott, and if I had to choose then that would be my favourite, with all the fixings of course. That or raspeball – potato balls with the fixings. You get a stew, its’ so good. They only serve it on Thursdays in a certain part of Norway, and you can’t actually get it here, but the reason why I have a relationship with it is because my family stems from Stavanger. All the food we have is supposed to fill you up for winter. You don’t count the calories; you’re good for three days.

And your least favourite?

“…the only thing that my mother ever gave me that I couldn’t handle, and I’m not sure if I could handle it today… was chopped liver, fried… I’ll eat Gravlax, fermented fish. I don’t understand how my body can handle it…”

See Maria's Full Answer

I eat anything, but the only thing that my mother ever gave me that I couldn’t handle, and I’m not sure if I could handle it today- and I think it was the way she prepared it – was chopped liver, fried. It was the consistency. I remember thinking this is not something I should eat. Other than that I will eat anything. I’ll eat Gravlax; fermented fish. I don’t understand how my body can handle it because it’s like old food! It used to be edible.

 

But I feel like if you’re eating an animal you should be able to eat all of it. I’ve eaten ‘smalahove’, a lamb’s head. It’s fine! Tastes like pinnekjott. I just had frogs legs. I occasionally have a problem with chicken. I eat it but there’s so many problems when it comes to like hygiene. Every year I feel like it’s like “Don’t eat the chicken! Something’s wrong!”

Reccomendation:

“One of my favourite meals which is so high in calories I can’t eat it unless I’m really skinny is mashed lung. I feel like I should have it now… I’ll make it for you. Let’s go to my place and do it.”

See Maria's Full Reccomendation

One of my favourite meals which is so high in calories I can’t eat it unless I’m really skinny is mashed lung. I feel like I should have it now. You get it in a tube and you fry it, and have it with ketchup. It sounds horrible but it’s so good. It tastes like minced beef. I’m not sure what meat it is. To be honest with you, I think it’s a pig but you never know! As long as it’s a lung, I’m good. When are you guys leaving? I’ll make it for you. Let’s go to my place and do it.

Life According to Locals #Oslo #Norway #MariaMena #InterviewsWithLocals Click To Tweet

 


 The Plate: Mashed Lung

“To be honest, mashed lung doesn’t taste wildly different from haggis… for those that haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate an authentic Burns night, it might be a unique flavour for you. With a consistency of paté and a strong aroma, expect to smell it before you taste it.”

Read About Mashed Lung

Ok, it sounds pretty bad, and you’re not sure quite what type of meat cocktail is sitting on the plate in front of you when you have the surreal experience of being confronted by a mound of fried assorted animal lungs mashed to a pulp and served to you by one of Norway’s most well-known musicians. But the worst part is working up the courage to take your first bite. To be honest, mashed lung doesn’t taste wildly different from haggis, for the Scottish readers out there. But for those that haven’t had the opportunity to celebrate an authentic Burns night, it might be a unique flavour for you. With a consistency of paté and a strong aroma, expect to smell it before you taste it. With your first mouthful, you’ll be hit with the savoury tang of the meat. It’s a pure flavour, with no spices or seasoning to hinder your lung experience, and actually leaves you wanting more. It’s not something you can stomach a lot of, though, and I’d recommend trying it with something like ketchup, as Maria suggested, rather than having it on it’s own as we did.


BONUS: A Spoonful of Fish Oil 

“The consistency will make your stomach churn for an hour afterwards, and having it just before a 65km cycle was probably the worst mistake I made on this trip so far. If you’re in Norway, try it just to see the lengths some people will go to in the spirit of staying healthy.”

Read About Fish Oil

I knew it was only a matter of time before I had to come face-to-face with this surprisingly popular morning supplement. I won’t lie, a spoonful of fish oil is about as good as it sounds, and you’ll be reminded you had it in the morning for the rest of the day as the taste coats the back of your mouth no matter how much you try to wash it down with literally anything else. The consistency will make your stomach churn for an hour afterwards, and having it just before a 65km cycle was probably the worst mistake I made on this trip so far. If you’re in Norway, try it just to see the lengths some people will go to in the spirit of staying healthy.


Thoughts? Leave a comment down below!


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Attempting to cycle from Tromsø in Northern Norway to Baku, Azerbaijan while interviewing locals en route. Despite my chequered history with bikes, here’s to me returning home with an intact facial structure and at least as many body parts as I left with.

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