Red overalls, red buses: High-school graduates partying at Tryvann Festival Tjuvholmen’s modern harborside development
© Fabian Weiss

Painting the town red

  • TEXT LISA ROKAHR
  • PHOTOS FABIAN WEISS

Every year at graduation time, young people celebrate in red overalls, adding a bright splash of color to Oslo’s forests and fjords

The russ are coming! You can’t see anything yet, but you can hear the bass rhythms thumping in the woods. The red buses they arrive in contrast nicely with the green and white of Tryvann, the winter park in the forested area north of Oslo, where snow often covers the ground into April and May. Every year, the russ – Norwegian high-school graduates – celebrate what is probably Europe’s biggest graduation party here.

It is Friday, and the Tryvann Festival is in full swing. Every day, a crowd of 10 000 gathers here to party for five days straight. During the festival, a special connection is forged between locals, tourists and the party-mad young 18 and 19-year-olds, who celebrate this centuries-old Norwegian tradition more loudly and wildly than ever before. The word Russefeiring (russ celebration) has existed since the 17th century, and “russ” is apparently short for the Latin expression cornua depositurus, which means  “bound to put aside one’s horns.” The Norwegian word “rus” also means  “intoxication,” so there could be some truth in both origins.

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OSL

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Riding the Metro No. 1 down the mountain from Tryvann, we have a magnificent view of the Norwegian capital on the -Oslo Fjord with its green forests, shimmering lakes and tiny, faraway islands. Oslo is Europe’s fastest-growing city, its population increasing by two percent a year. But rather than bustling, it’s charmingly sedate, and an insider tip. Stroll around Pipervika Bay between Akerhus Fortress and tAker Brygge district, and most of the people you encounter will usually be locals; but this weekend, the streets are full of russ in their red overalls. For adults, the sight of the rødruss – the red russ – brings back memories of their own wild youth. Children love to collect the fake business cards the rødruss carry with them. “Vi er tomme,” says Sondre – he’s already out of cards. “I had 600 printed, but the children are insatiable.” Sondre has traveled from Trondheim for the festival. He earned the money for the trip cleaning offices.

Oslo is a bit different from other big cities: The locals are more open; the atmosphere is cozier, the food a little healthier – and the graduation parties are wilder. During the Tryvann Festival, the russ mainly go down into town when they get hungry. Across from the inner harbor in a former train station the newly opened Alfred restaurant serves only organic food sourced locally by chef Joni Leskinen. Eco-eating is very popular in Norway. Countless shops, restaurants, galleries and hotels have opened and apartments have gone up on the former shipyard site that is the new Aker Brygge district.

Grünerløkka is the neighborhood to go to for a good take-out in Oslo. It’s a hip district filled with colorful old buildings, buzzing parks and street cafés. Three years ago, the Mathallen food hall opened here in a former factory, selling fish, cheese and baked goods. Jarle Torgersen also runs a farm shop here called Bondens butikk, which sells produce from farmers in the north. Some of them are Sami, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia, who have been living with and from reindeer for centuries. Torgensen sells their reindeer meat in Oslo along with many other typically Norwegian foods such as the thin, dry flatbrød the Vikings used to eat.

Tjuvholmen’s modern harborside ­development

Tjuvholmen’s modern harborside ­development

© Fabian Weiss
A Russ ritual: ­exchanging cards

A Russ ritual: ­exchanging cards

© Fabian Weiss
Graffiti in central Oslo

Graffiti in central Oslo

© Fabian Weiss
The Thief hotel on the waterfront in ­Tjuv­holmen

The Thief hotel on the waterfront in ­Tjuv­holmen

© Fabian Weiss
The Fru Hagen ...

The Fru Hagen ...

© Fabian Weiss
... known for its many varieties of smørrebrød

... known for its many varieties of smørrebrød

© Fabian Weiss
Flowers, lanterns, lemonade: When “spring” arrives and temperatures hit 8°C, things get busy for waitress Mathilde at the Dattera til Hagen café

Flowers, lanterns, lemonade: When “spring” arrives and temperatures hit 8°C, things get busy for waitress Mathilde at the Dattera til Hagen café

© Fabian Weiss
Norway’s best jazz musicians play at the Herr Nilsen

Norway’s best jazz musicians play at the Herr Nilsen

© Fabian Weiss
The Jaeger boasts the best DJs

The Jaeger boasts the best DJs

© Fabian Weiss

Five stops away, Grønland district is louder, more vibrant and more boisterous than the rest of the city, and very popular with young people. Students and immigrants from all over the world live here. The bohemian crowd likes to frequent Dattera til Hagen, a café with chairs and lanterns as colorful and eclectic as the crowd it attracts. This is the place to spend an entire afternoon rather than just the time it takes to finish an espresso. Mathilde, the waitress, is busy this weekend, and all the tables in the back courtyard are full. “Nice weather today!” says a man in a T-shirt as Mathilde brings him a soda. Everyone is talking about the weather today. It’s 8 degrees Celsius, which means spring has arrived. Everyone: sunglasses at the ready!

It’s an experience you only make once in your lifetime

Henrik Stenslet, High School graduate

The city is bursting into life, but the snow in Tryvann hasn’t melted yet. Some of the russ celebrants have camped out anyway. Here in Tryvann, the russ celebrations finish on Sunday, 
but elsewhere in Norway, they continue until May 17, a national holiday. “It’s stupid, really, because exams begin two days later,” says Henrik Stenslet, 19, who has come to Oslo from his home near Skarnes. “But it’s a tradition and an experience that you only make once in your lifetime.” Russ has acquired a bad rap in recent years, with reports circling in Norwegian newspapers of young people losing control amid the music and alcohol, and tales of sex in the woods. The “russeknuter” are controversial, too. For decades, it has been a russ tradition to collect knots, one for each challenge completed, and tying them to your russ cap. Some challenges are funny, some dangerous, others borderline illegal. “Many people now earn their knots doing charity work,” says Henrik. He himself wants to earn a knot before the festival ends by doing something quite harmless: eating his russ card in front of his cheering friends and washing it down with beer. Henrik sticks out his tongue to prove his mouth is empty, grins proudly and adds the empty can to a “beer garland” he has strung between the red buses.

It’s not so easy to criticize russ because nearly everyone has taken part at one time or another. “It’s pretty crazy what they do,” says Sindre Strand, 21. We meet him at the Jaeger, a fashionable hipster club close to the old Stortorvet market square. “Three years later, russ suddenly seems ridiculous and over the top to me, but at 18, we had the time of our lives.” There will be dancing later in the basement, which is where Norwegian resistance fighters reputedly printed pamphlets protesting the German occupation during World War II.

The music is still playing at Jaeger, but Tryvann’s massive stages emptied long ago. In their old buses, the windows fogged and the music muffled, the russ party on. “Three days of Tryvann is three days with cold feet,” says Henrik on Sunday morning, glancing down at his soggy sneakers. “I think you have to actually participate to realize that russ is about much more than just partying,” he says. “It’s about friendship and being together for the last time before we go our separate ways.” Henrik will be starting his compulsory military service in the fall. Many of his friends want to spend a year abroad. “Perhaps russ is not about becoming an adult,” says Henrik, “but about being young one last time.”

 


Oslo Tips

Dattera til Hagen

This colorful café in trendy ­Grønland district is where Oslo’s bohemian crowd convenes.

dattera.no

The Thief

A hotel located in a former ­shipyard, The Thief has a great view of the ­canal in Tjuvholmen.

thethief.com

Mathallen

This market in a former factory in Grünerløkka district sells regional Norwegian delicacies.

mathallenoslo.no/

Jaeger

The Jaeger, which is currently considered Oslo’s most popular club, is situated near the old Stortorvet market square.

jaegeroslo.no

These Oslo tips are on Foursquare, too

foursquare.com/lufthansa


Fabian Weiss is a freelance photographer and a member of the photo agency LAIF. In his photo essays, Fabian explores the cultural changes taking place in our turbulent times, his intimate pictures and perceptive observations creating nuanced portraits of life within each individual culture. While on a teaching assignment with the international workshop series Publish Yourself! he produced entire magazines in record time. Fabian lives in Estonia and Germany, and works in the Baltic states, Eastern Europe and further east.

Our photographer was surprised to find dense jungle, broad bays and rugged cliffs right on the doorstep of Hong Kong. And no matter which nature trail he took, it always ended at an inviting food stand.

Fabian Weiß Photography