British Army Off the Hook for Mining of Rauðhólar

Reykjavík City Airport flugvöllur

New information has come to light regarding the destruction of Rauðhólar, or the Red Hills, a natural area of craters by Elliðavatn lake in the capital area.

Originally, some 80 of these craters stood on the edge of Reykjavík, but their numbers have decreased due to gravel mining. Previously, it had been believed that the British military levelled much of this area for construction material during the Second World War, with some calling this one of Iceland’s first natural disasters of the modern era. However, recent evidence reported by Vísir shows that aerial photographs taken of the area taken shortly after the war prove that this is not the case.

Friðþór Eydal, an author interested in the activities of the British army during the war years, said in a statement to Vísir: “Mining had already begun here before the British started their construction of the Reykjavík airport.” The city of Reykjavík, according to Friðþór, had begun using the site for gravel in road construction before the British arrived.

Much material for the construction of the Reykjavík airport came from Öskjuhlíð, the hillside now home to Perlan, and also Fífuhvammur in Kópavogur. There was indeed gravel from Rauðhólar utilised in the construction of the Reykjavík airport, but the British also took careful records of the amounts removed.

According to Friðþór, the 95,000 cubic metres taken by the British army can’t account for the total damage done to the Rauðhólar area. Additionally, the new photographic evidence taken in 1946 still shows the area as largely in tact.

The largest part of Rauðhólar then must have been taken after the war, by the city of Reykjavík itself.

The area was mined for gravel up until 1961, when it was given protected status.

 

 

 

British Billionaire Plans to Build Fishing Lodge

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe hopes to build a 950 sq m [10,226 sq ft] fishing lodge on land he co-owns in Vopnafjörður, in Northeast Iceland, RÚV reports. According to the public zoning application, the development plans include an onsite restaurant and guesthouse.

Ratcliffe has purchased a significant amount of land in the area in recent years and owns a majority share of at least 30 properties, a minority share of nine, and fishing rights at two places within public lands around Selárdalur, home to one of the best salmon rivers in the country. In the past, he’s stated that he bought the land in the name of environmental protection and in order to protect Icelandic salmon stock.

In order for Ratcliffe and his fellow owners to move forward with their development plans, the land at Ytri Hlíð, which is currently zoned as agricultural land, would need to be rezoned as a retail and service area. Per the proposal, the landowners say the fishing lodge and accompanying facilities and intended to strengthen tourism in the area and make it a more competitive destination on the local market. If approved, the fishing lodge would overlook Vesturárdalur valley, as well as the Krossavíkur and Smjörfjöll mountains.

In order for the proposed lodge and facilities to be usable, significant infrastructural development would also be required: a road to the property would need to be paved, power lines would have to be laid, and, in order to provide drinking water, a well would either need to be drilled or else a spring in a nearby village would need to be tapped for the purpose.

The public has the opportunity to comment on the proposal until September 3. The Vopnafjörður district office will also hold an open house on Monday to present the development plans.

Iceland’s First Hamburger Was Sold in 1941

Hamburger and fries in Iceland

The first hamburger may have been sold in Iceland as early as 1941, Vísir reports. Visitors to the island may be more likely to think of lamb soup or cod cheeks when thinking of classic Icelandic fare, but while these are certainly more homegrown dishes, the country has long maintained a love affair with the hamburger. As such, Iceland’s preeminent food historian, Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, has set out to determine when and where this delicacy was first sold to hungry Icelanders.

Nanna has been outlining her research for Vísir and also in televised interviews, which has yielded a great deal of information from the public about early sightings of the fast food favorite. In October 1956, Kjörbar in downtown Reykjavík started advertising “hamburgers all day” and a rest stop grill near the Hvítá bridge in West Iceland also had them on the menu. A restaurant called Ísborg in downtown Reykjavík began selling burgers and French fries in 1957. The much-beloved rest stop grill and gas station Staðarskáli began serving up hamburgers during the summer of 1960. And in January of the same year, a restaurant called Smárabar in the Westman Islands started advertising them on their menu.

Fittingly, it now seems that the earliest documented hamburger in Iceland was likely sold at a restaurant on Aðalstræti, Reykjavík’s oldest street.

“The American army arrived in July 1941,” notes Nanna, “and that same month, they start offering hamburgers there.”

There are also stories of American soldiers teaching Jakobína Ámundadóttir, the owner of a cafe near Öskjuhlíð (the hill on which Perlan is located), how to make hamburgers during the war years. According to her sister Íris, Jakobína opened her café when the British built their base on the site of the Reykjavík Domestic airport and intended it to serve Icelanders who worked on the base. When the American soldiers arrived, however, they craved burgers and French fries from home and in addition to teaching Jakobína how to make a hamburger are said to have also baked hamburger buns for her to try as well.

These early hamburger-adopters would have been among several places that advertised burgers in newspapers that were published specially for servicemen, such as The Daily Post and The White Falcon.

Even as the meal gained popularity at cafes serving soldiers stationed in Iceland, however, it does not seem to have made a big impression on Icelanders as a whole for close to ten years. In a travel article written by Vísir journalist Thorolf Smith after a trip to America in 1952, for example, he describes hamburgers as a strange, unknown phenomenon: “some kind of ground beefsteak between two pieces of bread.” Another news article describes an Icelandic man’s shock at being served a hamburger for dinner by the chef of a canteen at the American base in Keflavík.

Nanna says that the American base in Keflavík became the de facto home of the hamburger in Iceland, but that by 1956, it had made its way to Reykjavík and had given rise to a number of hamburger joints, such as those mentioned above. All of these early restaurants are closed now, except for the Staðarskáli rest stop and grill. Nanna believes that it’s likely that Staðarskáli holds the honor of being the place that has sold hamburgers longest in Iceland.