Postcard from... Reykjavik

By Marcel Krueger:

Leif Erikson ignores me. As I walk past his statue in the shadow of rocket thrower-shaped Hallgrímskirkja he stares at the horizon, at Greenland maybe or at the planes tumbling through the wind towards Keflavik airport. The two ravens sitting on Leif's shoulders, however, croak mockery down at me. Maybe they’re not used to see a hungover tourist without colorful plastic jacket and selfie stick. Would it not have been for the appointment with a friend I would have not left my hotel bed, but we had a hot dog and a coffee and I feel good. It is 4.30 in the afternoon, and the sun is setting. 

Iceland has changed since I’ve been here the last time, four years ago. I’m thinking of Harpa, the impressive concert hall by the harbor, and how I once watched Björk making music with Tesla coils there, on an equally cold and dark day. But there are no Tesla coils now, only American tourists buying overpriced t-shirts and magma rocks that someone labelled as jewelry. The city center is as busy as the Berlin one, cranes and building sites everywhere, new hotels rising skywards where skate parks and public spaces used to be before. In 2015, the tourism industry contributed over 5% to the Icelandic GDP, and the number of foreign visitors exceeded 1,000,000; you can now purchase a special ticket for the bus from the airport: where in the past tourists had to make their own way from the main bus terminal BSÍ now there's an armada of smaller buses waiting, ferrying tourists directly to their hotels so no one has to walk through the bitter cold, as if it was a nuisance and not a feature of the land and the season. 

Before I got drunk in Kaffibarinn yesterday, I took the bus to the Seltjanarnes neighbourhood and walked along the coastal trail, towards the tip of the peninsula and the lighthouse on Grótta Island. Icelandic artist Ólöf Nordal has created a basalt sculpture named Kvika here, a hot water foot bath I planned to use, aiming to sit in the icy cold with my feet in hot thermal water, looking out over the bay and snow-covered Mount Esja rising behind it. I walked along the rocks on the seafront, while ravens sat on the street lamps along the trail. Other pedestrians I did not see. The sun was sinking fast, but the light over Reykjavik and the mountains had the outstanding clarity that only the winter sun up here in the north has. When I arrived at the foot bath it was occupied by a tall Norseman with long blonde hair, who had immersed himself completely in the small bath, his naked upper torso and legs out in the cold and his midriff covered with the hot water. I did not mind, and instead watched the ravens, playing over the water.

Image: Joseph Carr Photography