“Nearer My God to Thee” and Icebergs

August 27, 2017, Nanortalik, Greenland:  Nanortalik is the southernmost town in Greenland, it has about 1,300 people, which makes it a pretty big town for Greenland.  Lonely Planet says it is magnificent with soaring mountains surrounding the town.  This Sunday the fog hangs pretty low allowing us to concentrate on the village and not the surroundings.

Nanortalik was founded in 1797 as a trading post for whalers and sealers.  Today it is a fishing town but many of the people also hunt seals.  It is full of brightly colored houses with steep pitched rooves.  Nanortalik means “Place of the Polar Bears.”  The Norse called it Hrakbjarnarey, or bear hunt island.  Today bears are not welcomed in town.   But we were.  Tourism is a new industry and this year the Prinsendam was one of 14 cruise ship calls and people were happy to talk with us.  While Suzi was checking out the supermarket an old man asked me where I was from.  When I said ‘Alaska’ he got excited and started talking to me in his language and was disappointed that I could not speak with him in it.  But he did tell me he was a seal hunter from Eastern Greenland who had “retired” and welcomed me.  He asked me about Amsterdam where the ship came from, we shook hands and he went on his way.  We saw several men carrying guns, either large caliber rifles or over under rifle-shotguns for the seal hunt.

We arrived early Sunday morning.  As we strolled the town as heard the Lutheran Church bell announce the service.  We stopped by the church after the service and heard the organ.  The organist was playing “Nearer My God to Thee.”  We stepped out of the church, looked to our left at the Prinsendam and the icebergs around her and thought “oh-oh”


Later the community invited us into the church to listen to a Greenlander hymn sing.  Some of the singers were wearing traditional sweaters and leggings and had to duck out between songs into the cool air.  Others had “choir robes” that had an ulu knife design.  Afterwards I went up to the organist to look at the instrument.  It was imported from Germany in the 1850s.  The organist asked me if I wanted to play.  I don’t know how but thanked him and continued our amble through this little town which, if you ever are here, has a very nice museum, much larger than you would expect in such a small town, that preserves several old buildings from the town and is full of exhibits, including the town’s first radio station that was full of things that I didn’t think were so old.

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