Housing Prices Highest in Decades

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses

House prices in Reykjavík have risen sharply, with an average increase of 22.3% in the past 12 months. Detached home prices are up 25.7% and the price of the average price of an apartment is up 21.5% year over year, RÚV reports.

The steady rise in real estate prices has caused the consumer price index to follow suit, prompting Landsbanki economists to raise their inflation forecasts. Inflation stands at 7.7% in May.

Not responding to rate increases

The Central Bank adjusted interest rates earlier this month in an attempt to cool the housing market, but the rate hike hasn’t shown results as yet.

House prices have not been as high in relation to wages since the boom years of 2005 to 2008 that preceded Iceland’s economic collapse.

Improving the Icelandic Language on Devices

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir / Minister of Culture and Business Affairs

An Icelandic delegation has arrived in the United States to meet with tech companies about the importance of the Icelandic language being integrated into devices, RÚV reports. Iceland’s delegation is headed by President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and Minister of Culture and Trade Lilja D. Alfreðsdóttir.

Lilja told the national broadcaster there needs to be broad collaboration in order to ensure the digital future of Icelandic language. She extended praise to computer scientists and entrepreneurs for the progress Iceland has made. Representatives from Apple said few countries have come as far as Iceland in developing language technology.

“Few issues are as important to me as Icelandic, it is the basis of everything we do and stand for,” said Lilja, who is working on four core projects of the Icelandic government’s language technology program.

Dictating in Icelandic

Among the innovations on the Icelandic delegation’s wish list is speech recognition that provides the ability to communicate verbally with devices. This is of particular importance for increasing the accessibility of those unable to type text.

Speech synthesizers are also being developed that can read Icelandic text clearly, to sound natural and be more easily understood, as are translation programs, auto-correct tools and language databases.

Historical Relics Unearthed on Grímsey

While undertaking excavations in preparation of building a new church on Grímsey, archeologists unearthed relics that indicate humans inhabited the island since shortly after the settlement of Iceland in 870.

The island’s church burned to the ground in September 2021, and plans were underway to erect the new church on the same footprint. However, the unexpected historical findings on the site mean the new church will be built on another plot of land, just four metres to the east.

Among the initial findings on the site of the old church building are the remnants of a church dating to the year 1300, including the cemetery wall of the oldest known church on Grímsey, and graves.

“When this was discovered, it was decided to move the (new) church to protect these graves,” archeologist Hildur Gestsdóttir told RÚV.

The old church

The church that burned down was named Miðgarðakirkja, and was built out of driftwood in 1867. In 1932, it was moved further away from the neighbouring farm due to risk of fire and a tower and choir loft were built on to the structure. The church underwent extensive renovations in 1956 and was reconsecrated that year. The renovation included wood carvings made by Deacon Einar Einarsson both on the outside and inside of the building. Miðgarðakirkja was protected in 1990.

Grímsey island is the northernmost point of Iceland and has 67 inhabitants.

First State Visit to Greenland in 24 years

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir embarked this week on the first official visit of an Icelandic leader to Greenland since 1998. She was in Nuuk at the invitation of Greenlandic Prime Minister Múte B. Egede.

The two leaders discussed opportunities for increased cooperation between Iceland and Greenland. Specific points of focus were a free trade agreement, fisheries and tourism, education and research, equality and energy and the climate crisis. Another meeting is already in the works for later this year to continue to build on the ideas presented this week.

During her visit, Katrín also met with Greenland’s Minister of Finance Naaju Nathanielsen to discuss the state of the countries respective economies. She also paid a visit to the Greenlandic Parliament, the National Museum of Greenland, the University of Nuuk, and met with Greenlandic women from the from politics, business, culture and the university to discuss the challenges and opportunities they face and parallels between Iceland and Greenland.

Can you help me find a poem my tour guide recited about showering in Iceland’s swimming pools?

We’re very sorry to say we don’t know the poem you’re referring to. We are, however, very familiar with the showering protocols of Iceland’s public swimming pools.

At every swimming pool, you’ll see signs reminding you in several languages that you must shower – in the nude! with soap! – prior to putting on your swimsuit and jumping into the pool. The signs even include diagrams highlighting the body parts to focus on when lathering up: Hair, underarms, genitals/backside, and feet.

The reason is twofold. First, it’s just basic decency to wash yourself properly before stewing in hot water with other people. Secondly, the more everyone practices proper pool hygiene, the fewer chemicals are needed in the public swimming pools. It’s a win-win!

Icelanders have been going to the swimming pool on the regular since before they could walk. That means they’re very accustomed to being in the presence of bodies of all shapes and sizes. Nobody’s sizing anybody else up, they’re just focused on washing themselves so they can hit the hot tub.

If you’re less accustomed to communal shower situations, most public pools around the country have at least one private shower stall available.

We’re people pleasers here at Iceland Review, and since we couldn’t provide the poem your tour guide mentioned, we’ve whipped up this rhyme instead:

 

So you’re visiting Iceland and want to go swim?

Then there’s something important you must do with vim.

First find a locker and take it all off.

Doff your shirt, pants and undies; and let down your quaff.

Now on to the shower, to wash all your bits;

from your head to your toes, and don’t forget your armpits.

Pay no attention to others, it’s not about looking cool.

You’re just getting clean so you can jump in the pool.

Finally, pull on your suit – nudity be gone!

You’re clean and you’re dressed, so go get your swim on.

Where can I find the sculpture of a man with a big rock on his body?

Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat by Magnús Tómasson Reykjavík

The sculpture you’re looking for is the “Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat.” The sculpture, which combines the lower half of a person in a suit carrying a briefcase and a massive unhewn rock where the upper torso and head should be, was created by Icelandic sculptor Magnús Tómasson in 1994.

The sculpture used to be located in an alleyway off Lækjargata, perhaps a nod to the obscurity of the character it represents. But today it stands prominently at the northern end of Reykjavík’s central pond, Tjörnin, at the end of the long footbridge leading into city hall.

The statue is an ode to the faceless member of government, toiling away without much thanks or praise – hence the figure being reduced to a generic body of a business person, with any distinguishing features obscured by a large boulder.

Magnús has said the sculpture is his take on monuments to unknown soldiers that you can find in many countries around the world to pay tribute to people who have given their lives in defence of their countries. “There is no army in Iceland, but plenty of officials,” Magnús told Morgunblaðið newspaper about the work. “And I thought it appropriate that the infantry of the bureaucracy, the anonymous destinies of the lives of ordinary people, should have their monument.”

Magnús is also the creator of a large sculpture placed prominently outside Iceland’s international airport in Keflavík. The “Jet Nest” is a massive steel egg sitting atop a nest of basalt rock. Poking out of the cracked egg is the wing of a jet that resembles the beak of a bird.

Almost Half Of Icelanders Want Alcohol In Supermarkets

alcohol in iceland

About half of Icelanders want to buy wine and beer alongside their other groceries, while fewer would support the sale of strong alcohol outside of government-run stores, Vísir reports.

The perennial debate about breaking the state’s monopoly on alcohol sales rages on, with polling showing steady support for permitting the sale of alcohol in private stores. A survey conducted in February by Maskína for Vísir suggests that 47.6% of Icelanders support the sale of wine and beer in grocery stores, up from 43.4% in 2021.

Meanwhile, just 22.4% of respondents are in favour of strong alcohol being sold in private stores, up from 19.1% last year.

Those aged 30 to 39 are most in favour of selling alcohol in private stores, with 65.8% in this age group supporting the sale of beer and wine outside of Vínbúð locations. Icelanders over 60 are least supportive of breaking the state monopoly, with just 25.8% in favour of wine and beer sales in grocery stores.

Plan on drinking? Plan ahead

The lack of alcoholic beverages in Icelandic grocery stores catches many visitors to the country by surprise. Tourists are often advised to “do as the locals do” and make full use of their duty-free alcohol allowance when entering the country, should they plan in imbibing. The state-run alcohol stores, Vínbúð, are expensive, and opening hours can be sporadic during holidays and in more rural parts of the country. Vínbúð stores are always closed on Sunday.

Central Bank Investigating Íslandsbanki Sale

Central Bank Ásgeir Jónsson seðlabankastjóri

The Central Bank of Iceland confirmed to Stundin that it has opened an investigation into the government’s March 22 sale of a 22.5% stake in Íslandsbanki bank. However, what specific matters about the sale are under investigation is not clear.

“In light of the Central Bank of Iceland’s supervisory role, the Bank cannot comment on issues that are directly related to the state’s sale of a holding in Íslandsbanki,” a Central Bank spokesperson told Stundin. “The reason is that individual factors related to the sale may be examined by the Central Bank’s Financial Supervisory Authority, and an examination of certain aspects related to the sale has already begun.”

As previously reported, Íslandsbanki was entirely state-owned until the government sold a 35% stake in 2021. While last year’s sale was a public offering, the March 2022 sale was only open to professional investors, who received an invitation to buy shares, which were then sold for 5% less than market value after markets had closed for the day.

The blowback to the sale was swift once it came to light that, in addition to pension funds, those who purchased shares in March included Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, the largest shareholder in Glitnir bank before it went bust in Iceland’s 2008 economic collapse; Samherji CEO and former Glitnir chairman Þorseinn Már Baldvinsson; and Benedikt Sveinsson, the father of Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson.

Stundin raised concerns last week about the status of those invited to the recent sale. The offering was meant to be open exclusively to institutional investors, but, Stundin’s source alleged, some investors who walked away with Íslandsbanki shares were general investors with third party securities firms.

Trouble in parliament

Also voicing concerns over how the recent sale was handled is Minister of Tourism, Trade and Culture Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir, Vísir reports. She said Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson must be held responsible. What isn’t clear is whether Lilja is speaking for herself or if her sentiments about the sale and Bjarni are representative of the Progressive Party, of which she is vice-chairperson.

Lilja sits on the Council of Ministers for Economic Affairs and the Restructuring of the Financial System along with Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and the Finance Minister. The Prime Minister said that Lilja had not noted her opposition to the sale in any official minutes.

Stolen Statue Resurfaces On A Spaceship

The case of the stolen statue has been solved.

As reported last week, a bronze statue of Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir was stolen from its pedestal in Laugarbrekka, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Titled “The First White Mother in America,” the stolen statue depicted Guðríður and her son and was cast from a sculpture that renowned Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson created for the 1940 World’s Fair in New York.

Guðríður and her son reappeared Saturday in a spaceship outside the Living Art Museum in Reykjavík. After some confusion over how the statue came to be in the rudimentary rocket atop a steel launchpad, it came to light it had been placed there by artists Bryndís Björnsdóttir and Steinunn Gunnlaugsdóttir, who told Vísir that, in placing the statue in this new setting, they were making the point that it is racist and should be launched into space.

The spaceship and the statue have been marked with a plaque identifying it as “Carry-on: The First White Mother in Space.”

Speaking on Vísir’s evening news program, Bryndís said she and Steinunn were questioning what point was being made by referring to Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir as the “The First White Mother in America.”

“We are delighted that this racist work has finally come off its pedestal and is in its proper place in the spacecraft on its way to space. It will be launched and hopefully turn into debris that flies around the earth,” she said.

Artists gone rogue

Director of the Living Art Museum Sunna Ástþórsdóttir said the statue hadn’t been stolen in consultation with the museum and that she was as surprised as everyone else when it appeared Saturday. Snæfellsbær Mayor Kristinn Jónasson said he was just relieved the statue had been found, and he would be arranging for it to be picked up and returned to its pedestal in Laugarbrekka.

Guðríður was born in Laugarbrekka around the year 1000 and was considered the most travelled woman in the world, as well as the first Christian woman to give birth in North America when her son Snorri Þorfinnsson was born during a voyage to Vinland.

Bronze Statue Stolen in West Iceland

Guðriður Þorbjarnardottir Statue

A bronze statue of Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir was stolen from its pedestal in Laugarbrekka, on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, Vísir reports.

The statue’s disappearance was first noted by a guide leading a tour in the area Thursday. Snæfellsbær Mayor Kristinn Jónasson told Vísir he is shocked that the beloved statue had been stolen, saying it appears to have been removed from its platform with a power saw within the past two days.

Guðríður was born in Laugarbrekka around the year 1000 and was considered the most travelled woman in the world, as well as the first Christian woman to give birth in North America when her son Snorri Þorfinnsson was born during a voyage to Vinland.

Titled “The First White Mother in America,” the stolen statue depicted Guðríður and her son, and was cast from a statue that renowned Icelandic sculptor Ásmundur Sveinsson created for the 1940 World’s Fair in New York. It was unveiled in Laugarbrekka in 2000 by then-president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.