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Western promises

While most people today are very much aware of Europe’s exploration and colony building in what was optimistically called the New World, you would be forgiven for not knowing that Icelanders founded a self-governing colony in the Americas as well. New Iceland was established on the shores of Lake Winnipeg, Manitoba in the late 19th century, beginning with the settlement of Gimli, named after “the most beautiful place on Earth” in Norse mythology. It is estimated that nearly 25% of the entire population of Iceland emigrated to North America over the four decades that followed.

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Staging stories

At the time of our interview, Brynhildur Guðjónsdóttir has been the director of the Reykjavík City Theatre for exactly five days. She’s known that the job was hers for only ten days: the former director left before her four-year term was over and asked to be released immediately. As I congratulate her and ask how it’s going, her first reaction is the following: “Well, my calendar is full, that’s for sure.” Despite the busy times ahead, the development is a positive one. “There’s a lot of action and movement in Iceland’s theatre life. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.”

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Iceland Symphony Orchestra in Eldborg Hall

When the Band Began to Play

First, the strings enter: bowing a soft, high A. It’s the first ray of morning sunlight breaking over the horizon. The woodwinds answer with a two-note proclamation, like shadows retreating before the dawn. Like brilliant droplets of dew, glittering textures arise from the clarinets.

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Take Me to Church

It’s a cold Sunday morning as I make my way up Skólavörðustígur towards the mighty Hallgrímskirkja church, a white, tapered structure that towers gracefully over downtown Reykjavík like a huge upside-down icicle. Very few people are out and about, and from the looks of it, most of them are tourists. None of them, however, look like they’re on their way to mass.

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avalanche barriers

In Focus: Avalanche Barriers

On January 14, 2020, three large avalanches fell in quick succession in the Westfjords of Iceland. One avalanche fell in Súgandafjörður, directly across from Suðureyri, causing a tidal wave to strike the town that, ultimately, did little damage. The other two fell in Flateyri, causing more significant destruction. The timing of the avalanches was noteworthy. […]

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Krýsuvíkurbjarg egg collection

Eggs in a Basket

On a mild spring night in Iceland, when the wind barely ruffles the hair on your head, it’s neither too hot nor too cold, and a soft light shines through the high clouds, driving around the Reykjanes peninsula is a magical experience. The spell is broken as soon as I turn on to the road to Krísuvíkurbjarg, however; the rocky trail to Southwest Iceland’s largest bird cliff is less travelled for a reason. But there’s no turning back now. At the end of the road, I have a meeting with members of the Hafnarfjörður Search and Rescue squad, who have been visiting the cliff every spring for decades. Their goal has always been the same, though their purpose has shifted.

When I finally get to the cliff, two large jeeps have already arrived, with a blur of activity around them. Long lines extend from one of the jeeps standing about 60m (200ft) from the cliff’s edge. At the other end of the line is a rescue squad volunteer in red overalls and a white helmet, with an orange pack around his waist. His name is Símon Halldórsson, and it’s hardly the first time he’s preparing to lower himself over the edge of this cliff. “I was 15 when I went over for the first time, and that was about 30 years ago,” he says as he signals the driver of the jeep that he’s ready to descend.

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Eurovision Söngvakeppnin 2020 Daði Freyr Dimma

Daðis’s Eurovision is 20/20

The Eurovision Song Contest traces its origins to the end of the Second World War when the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) established a committee to unite the war-torn countries of Europe around a “light entertainment programme.” At a meeting in 1955, the journalist Sergio Pugliese suggested that the EBU host an international song contest in the vein of the Sanremo Music Festival in Italy, likewise established to revitalise the city’s economy and reputation in the wake of the war.

A year later, in 1956, the first Eurovision was held with seven participating countries. Today, it is the longest-running annual international television contest; one of the world’s most enduring television programmes period; and ranks among the most-watched non-sporting events in the world, with an estimated 100 to 600 million viewers annually.

Few people would oppose the noble ideal of peaceably uniting with one’s neighbours to forestall war, unless, of course, the very act of amicable assemblage could prove lethal. In Iceland, it would seem there could be no worse time to bring people together than on February 29, 2020 – the day after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the country.

It is a testament to the inevitable and irrational joy of Eurovision that it, despite all caveats, must always go on.

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Icelandic beer

Oh, Hoppy Day!

1989. The Berlin Wall comes down. Seinfeld starts its run. Minesweeper is released. Coming to America is one of the most popular movies. And on March 1, Iceland lifts its ban on beer.

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Cover to Cover:
Iceland Review from 1963 to the Present Day

We at Iceland Review are proud of our history as the oldest continuously-published magazine presenting Iceland in English. In the 57 years since the first issue hit the printers, many things about the magazine have changed, not least its design. Though many people say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, first impressions certainly […]

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Westfjords avalanche

After the Avalanche

In January 1995, an avalanche hit the small town of Súðavík in the Westfjords. The town was decimated, and out of the 227 inhabitants, 14 people died. Some were rescued, including a teenage boy who spent 23 hours buried under the snow.

In October that same year, another avalanche hit Flateyri, a town of 350 people about a half an hour’s drive away. This time, 20 people were lost. The two avalanches were not only a blow to those affected, but to the nation as a whole. In the decades since, energy and funds have been spent building up anti-avalanche earthworks to prevent such disasters from happening again.

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Men of the Cloth

Steps above the crowded Laugavegur street, the workshop of Kormákur and Skjöldur Men’s Boutique provides a cushy haven: hefty rolls of fabric rise in piles, and fine suit jackets in various stages of completion line the walls. Sounds are dampened, but there’s plenty to see – and touch. In the middle of the room, tailors Birna Sigurjónsdóttir and Rakel Ýr Leifsdóttir share a high table. They’re making a bespoke suit for artist Ragnar Kjartansson.

Herrafataverzlun Kormáks og Skjaldar, as it is known in Icelandic, has only been dressing men in Iceland since 1996, but their timeless selection of menswear suggests a much longer tradition. Pick up any one item – a wool suit, a Barbour jacket, or a plaid accessory (there is no shortage of plaid on offer) – and the first adjective that comes to mind is “classic.” Yet the suit lying on the table in this workshop is the first fruit of a remarkably innovative project – a quest to make high-quality tweed out of Icelandic wool.

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Reykjavík sewage Veitur

Dirty Little Secrets

I’d wager you’ll sit down at a toilet today. Who knows what you’re doing in there, but if you’re in Reykjavík – you’ll flush the remains. But have you ever wondered what happens after the flush? Where all of it goes? The short answer: out to sea. For the longest time, that was the long answer, as well, as sewage went untreated into the ocean.

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