It looks just like any other traditional chair in one of the tasteful lounges of Kviknes Hotel in the village of Balestrand in the western part of Norway, but you have to look a little closer. Sigurd Kvikne, the proud owner of the old, family run hotel on the Sognefjord, turns the chair around to show the inscription on the bottom of the seat. “Kaiser Wilhelm sat in this chair on 25 July, 1914 in the afternoon from 5 to 5.30 when he and his entourage paid a visit to Professor Hans Dahl in his villa at Strandheim, Balestrand, Sogn, when the war broke out. He left on the Hohenzollern for Kiel when Austria and Serbia were on the brink of war.”
“My family bought this set at an auction. Many people assume that the Kaiser stayed at our hotel during his many visits to Balestrand, but he stayed on board his ship moored in the bay. Of course he would visit the hotel occasionally, but he would usually spend time with his friend, the painter Hans Dahl, who lived a short walk from here,” Sigurd Kvikne explains.
Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia, was a great fan of Norway and especially of the beautiful fjords. From 1889 to 1914 he visited Balestrand on an almost yearly basis, often staying for long stretches of time. He would arrive on his beloved, 120 metres long imperial yacht the Hohenzollern II usually in July and stay until August. The first year he was accompanied by his wife, but later he went on his so-called Nordlandfahrt with a group of carefully selected officers.
He loved being at sea and he spent literally years on board the Hohenzollern. The emperor loved the romantic setting of Balestrand and he could be seen visiting garden parties and taking long walks. Norway, in his opinion, still had that original, traditional charm that Germany had lost. The Kaiser was the most photographed person in the world, and in a real sense the very first movie star. He even brought his own team on his trips to the fjords. He was very conscious of the ‘modern media’ and only went out when the light conditions were ideal. “His Majesty needs sun,” the journalists used to say.
Kaiser Wilhelm II felt a personal connection to Fridtjof the Bold, a legendary Viking ruler who perhaps once lived in the area. He commissioned his friend Max Unger to create a larger than life statue in the small village of Vangsnes. In 1913, the enormous statue was shipped in pieces and assembled by his sailors. Another statue of another legendary king, Bele, was created for the town of Balestrand. The ancient king still looks out over the fjord contemplating the challenges of life. The Norwegians were not sure how to respond to all these honours, and over the years there have been calls to tear them down. So far they are still there and have become quite the tourist attraction.
The Kaiser was not alone in his admiration of the Sognefjord. This poetic, natural masterpiece has inspired artists and writers since the middle of the 19th century. It is an idyllic place nestled between placid, mirror-like fjords and high towering mountains, often topped with snow. Balestrand still is one of the most popular holiday destinations of Norway.
Kviknes Hotel has a long history that goes back to 1877, when Ole Kvikne took over the local inn at Balestrand. The present white wooden building was built in 1894 and extended in 1913 and still is a landmark of Norwegian hospitality. In the 1960s the wooden building was almost torn down to be replaced by a Modernist design, better suited to the ever increasing number of tourists that wanted modern accommodations. Luckily, a compromise was reached and the charming structure with its many historical details and sculptured woodworks is still with us today and more popular than ever.