Published August 22, 2003
Hegningarhúsið (The Punishment House) at Skólavörðustígur 9 was originally built in 1873 to supplant the “Black Hole” housed at Austurstræti 22. It also houses the city administration and the Supreme Court. At the time when the French were sending their prisoners to Devil´s Island, here they were kept in the centre of town, where they to this day can still hear the partying through the walls on weekends. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment.
Iceland does not have much in the way of military heroes, hence there are no monuments to soldiers known or unknown. We do, however, have many a brave office worker who tirelessly toil day after day to keep the cogs in the machine running. Finally, in 1994, they got their reward, a monument dedicated to the Unknown Office worker, so those who have friends or relatives locked away in offices can show their condolences by placing flowers at the foot of the statue.
In Hong Kong, when still a part of the British Empire, the Chinese built a skyscraper in the shape of a knife cutting into the heart of the city, or so it seemed to some of its inhabitants. This, the House of Trade, seems somewhat symbolic as well, as the house resembles nothing so much as four fingers, with one in particular extended. One wonders whether this was intended, or something in the subconscious of the architect.
Reykjavik’s first public park was opened in 1909, but it is somewhat rare to see people there. Perhaps the location with wind blowing straight down from the North Pole has something to do with this. The park is named after the music tower which houses the Reykjavík marching band. Perhaps they have learnt to play electrical guitars lately, for some distinctly unmarchingbandlike sounds have been heard emanating from the tower.
This statue outside the University is actually not in honour of the unknown seal hunter, who bravely defends himself from a vicious animal, but Sæmundur Fróði (the Wise), said to be the most learned Icelander of his day (1056-1133). He was in a sense the first Icelandic exchange student as he studied abroad. It is said he was made to study so hard he actually forgot his own name. He finally escaped by tricking the schoolmaster, and rode the devil, in the form of a seal, back home, hitting him on the head for his labours when done.
Inside this building is where they make the electricity that powers our Nintendos and our TVs. On the outside, however, it looks more like an Imperial Star Destroyer, or something of the sort. Its residents, however, are not planning anything more sinister that supplying electricity as well as warm water to the city and its surroundings. Or so they would have us believe.