Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2009/6 posted by hidden europe on

This weekend a little more beer than usual will be downed at the Café Nielsen in Egilsstaðir. For Sunday 1 March marks the twentieth anniversary of the legalisation of beer in Iceland. Until then, Icelanders had to make do with very low-alcohol beer, though it was common practice in the days of beer prohibition to throw a shot of fiery brennivín into every glass of light beer to give the brew a bit of a kick.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

There may be hints of spring in much of Europe, but not in Iceland where winter lingers well into March. Egilsstaðir is a bustling wee place in the far east of Iceland. It wins no prizes for beauty, but it has an interesting frontier kind of feel - the sort of community you might run across on a minor road in Wyoming or northern Manitoba. For travellers arriving in Iceland on the once weekly ferry from Denmark, Egilsstaðir is often the newcomers' first encounter with Iceland - it is just a twenty-minute-drive up the hill from the ferry terminal at Seyðisfjörður, and most new arrivals pause in Egilsstaðir to stock up on supplies before heading off into the Icelandic wilderness.

Egilsstaðir is a new town, a place that has developed around a road junction. If you believe the talk down at the Café Nielsen, that's where Egilsstaðir life all started back in 1944. It was the first building in town. The Café Nielsen and the Söluskáli kiosk at the petrol station are today the twin hubs of Egilsstaðir life. The Nielsen is the more appealing of the two. It is a white clapboard building with steep gables, sitting square in a plot delimited by pretty white fences decorated with cream fairy lights. The Nielsen is a place to linger long into the evening over reindeer casserole and a beer.

This weekend a little more beer than usual will be downed at the Nielsen. For Sunday 1 March marks the twentieth anniversary of the legalisation of beer in Iceland. Until then, Icelanders had to make do with very low-alcohol beer, though it was common practice in the days of beer prohibition to throw a shot of fiery brennivín into every glass of light beer to give the brew a bit of a kick. It is a remarkable curiosity that the beer ban survived in Iceland for as long as it did, particularly as even prior to the lifting of the ban one Icelandic brewery was already marketing full strength beer. Sales were restricted to one case per person arriving by plane at Keflavík airport, a restraint which ensured that only a more affluent middle class with funds to travel regularly could ever develop a taste for Icelandic beer. Twenty years after the end of the beer ban, Icelanders of all walks of life have developed an affection for their local brews.

hidden europe 25 preview

The March / April 2009 issue of hidden europe is now available, and you can see the full table of contents of hidden europe 25, plus extracts from every article, on our website. In this latest issue of the magazine we visit a village in Belarus, explore Famagusta in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, sing along with Latvians, enjoy some of Europe's more intriguing follies, look at how car rallies played their part in the building of socialism in Russia, and ride the tram along the coast of Belgium from Plopsaland to Preventorium.

Find out why a Dresden mosque turns out to be a cigarette factory and a building that looks like a Russian Orthodox church in the heart of the English countryside was in fact built to store tractors. We look at the way in which Iceland has kept faith with history, and we celebrate Europe's Islamic cultural legacy with visits to a tomb in Budapest and a remarkable area of palm groves in the Levante region of Spain. With palms on our mind, we search for the most northerly palm tree in Europe (and the world). And we unravel the curious tale of why the platform at Newhaven Marine railway station on the coast of southern England is forever devoid of trains.

Nicky and Susanne
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.