Immerse yourself in the world of glistening chainmail, brutal sword-fights and bloodthirsty war cries—all the necessary elements to make for a perfect Viking bash. Throw in the odd Metallica t-shirt, some traffic noise and an array of questionable footwear and you’ve got yourself a concoction for a Viking festival!
During mid-June of each year, the Viking Village in Hafnarfjörður hosts a lively festival to pay tribute to some of Iceland’s most awesome history. They call it The Viking Festival, and the event has sparked interest from audiences across the world over, introducing them to a history Icelanders are proud to celebrate. We paid them a visit last month, to check out all the Viking-style fun.
A Viking to your liking
Upon entering the Viking Village, the energy is almost palpable. It’s feels as though you’ve stumbled onto the set of a period docudrama, as every other figure is drenched in Viking attire. Bushy beards and mangled hair crawl down to the bellybutton of almost every man present, women’s hemlines reach for the floor as they walk around with coy smiles while children bearing wooden swords and toy shields frantically run around as if it’s Christmas. The festival is then sprinkled off with the occasional appearance of fluorescent pink candyfloss. No Icelandic festival is complete without candyfloss, anachronisms be damned!
The village is flooded with market stalls, each providing a galore of handcrafted Viking merchandise. I was welcomed to a feast of war helmets, carefully melded medallions, pendants, bracers, belt buckles and drinking horns—along with a wealthy collection of blunted weaponry and battle gear. All this was enough to make the average LARPer go weak at the knees and while the prices can be steep, youngsters used this as a chance to hone their medieval-style haggling skills.
Many of these merchants travel from overseas, like Joachim Kreuzer, German blacksmith and boat builder. Joachim is no newcomer to these events. He tells me that he attends a Viking or Middle Age themed festival almost every weekend to show off his handmade ornaments and battle gear.
As I continue through the festival, the smell of burning charcoal slowly becomes overpowering. Still, the traditional meat soup and delectable lamb in flatbread makes it all worth the eye-scorching pain. Venturing past the food stalls will introduce you to a range of old Viking professions; women educate passers-by on ancestral knitting techniques whilst red-faced blacksmiths forge sturdy weapons. These guys show nothing less than sheer commitment when reliving and recreating ancient trades.
Let the bloodbath commence
When the clock strikes the hour the warriors take to the field. And with a few malicious interchanges between the opposing teams—a couple of jokes about sex, women and murder—the battle commences.
The adrenaline and tension are high, and it’s hard to hear anything over the clashing swords and hooligan yelling. But I’m surprised to see such skilled hand-to-hand sword combat with real steel weapons. It certainly rouses the crowd up as kids cheer and scream “fucking kill him!” All in good spirit of course. Once the last man is down, a priest-like figure hovers onto the field and raises the dead. Just like in the days of yore.
“These are some of the best fighters in the world,” says Dean Hobbs on site. Dean is the leader of an English alliance within the umbrella organisation ‘The Brotherhood of Jomsborg’. He goes on to tell me that the Brotherhood is the world’s leading Viking re-enactment organisation, and that it travels all around the world putting on Viking shows and posing for films as extras. “Italy, Canada, Texas… We’ve been to some really unusual places doing these Viking shows.”
Give us some native blood!
I was disappointed to find that very few of the fighters were actually of Icelandic origin, but the ‘Jomsvikings’ (as they refer to themselves) consist of some real badass fighters training with authentic Viking-age steel weapons. They are anything but amateurs.
“It’s become a lifestyle rather than a job,” says Dean, “there’s a lot of energy in the Icelandic festival… a lot of deep rooted history. In England we have to do our research, but a lot of Icelanders already know the sagas. It’s as if it’s in their genes so they seem to adapt to it naturally.”
Dean is excited, and he goes on: “The festival is also very interactive. It’s teaches the kids personal skills and how to interact, which is a step up from video and computer games. There is something here for everybody, whether you’re interested in the Viking age or not.”
You should definitely try and catch a glimpse of the festival when it swings’ round next year. If you’re not into sweaty guys battling it out to the death, then you can wander around and soak in some Viking culture. Or, if you really want to get into the spirit of things, just get shitfaced on Viking ale and chuck a few tables over whilst enjoying some of the traditional live music on offer.
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