Icelanders are doing it for themselves

October 13, 2009


One thing that stood out for us in Iceland, was the number of museums that had been created and were in some cases still being run by the same person. I’ve already written about the Phallological Museum, which started out as a personal collection and is still owned and run by its founder and curator. In fact, the reason it moved from the capital of Reykjavík to the small northern town of Húsavik was that he retired and relocated there, taking the museum with him.

Back in Reykjavík, we encountered a similar ‘one-man-show’ in the Saga Museum, Iceland’s answer to the Jorvik Viking Centre. Situated in a retired water tower, the Saga Museum tells the story of key moments in Icelandic history from the time of the first settlers onwards. Owner Ernst Backmann not only designed and created the exhibit, he also attends the front desk where he greets visitors and sells them their tickets. Visitors are guided through the exhibits via an audio tour, which is available in a number of languages including English, German and French. One of the most interesting parts of the visit was the film at the end of the exhibit, which showed the museum being created – and if you think the life sized models look extremely realistic, it’s because they were all cast from friends and family of the owner, as he proudly tells us. Admission is 1500 ISK, which is about £5, but it’s well worth it and there are discounts for children, students, and retired and disabled visitors.

Our final encounter of Icelanders doing it for themselves was our visit to ‘The Volcano Show’, and popular film based visitor attraction in Reykjavík. The cinema where it’s on show, along with the adjoining film workshop, is owned and run by documentary volcano film maker Villi Knudsen. The show consists of three back-to-back documentaries, showing first a dramatic and exciting overview of all Icelandic volcanic eruptions since 1947 – guided and narrated by Villi Knudsen himself – followed by documentaries focusing on the 1973 eruption on the island of Heimaey and on the birth of the island of Surtsey caused by an eruption in 1963. We were welcomed by, you’ve guessed it, Villi Knudsen, who also sold us our tickets and gave us an introduction to the volcano scene in Iceland before starting the film!

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