Bergen’s Theta Museum: tiny room with a huge story
It was a secret room then and, for many, it remains a secret museum and hidden room today. It is the itty-bitty Theta Museum, a minute 170-square-foot (16 square meters) low-ceiling room hidden away on an upper floor of the Bryggen wharf area in Bergen. The museum was the headquarters of the Theta Group, an important part of the Norwegian Resistance during WWII. Fascinating in its story, the room was reconstructed exactly how it looked when it operated with a few young men and one woman from 1940-1942 as their secret headquarters.
These individuals secretly broadcast German navy ship locations up and down the coast to the Allies in the United Kingdom from their Theta Group headquarters. The courageous young Norwegians, between 19 to 22 years of age, risked their lives for more than two years of the room’s existence and after that too. They are credited with helping the British navy find and ultimately sink the Tirpitz, the most feared German battleship.
The room looks and exists much as it did back in 1942, partly thanks to several of the men who were still alive at the time of the museum’s creation, plus their memories and photos. Although not listed in many guide books, visiting the Theta Museum is a do-not-miss sight in Bergen where you can personally experience the bravery, intelligence and keen engineering savvy of the group. For example, the members created an ingenious electrical lock on the Theta Museum door that didn’t really look like a door. A rusty old bent piece of wire hung nearby on the wall in the maze of warehouse buildings. Use the wire to connect two nails through tiny holes in the door and it opens – and that system is still demonstrated today to visitors.
The secret room itself, albeit small, was set up so the resistance workers could live there for short periods of time, with fold-down bunks, electric cookers, food provisions and furniture. For example, if they had been away in England a period of time, they didn’t want to reappear in Bergen suddenly and arose suspicion.
It was quite by accident that the Nazis discovered the hidden room. During a raid on the Bryggen wharf on Oct. 17, 1942, one of the German soldiers stepped through the rotten wood ceiling above the room. None of the Theta Group members were inside at the time. Fortunately (for history and for Bergen), the large cache of TNT that was stored in a cabinet and intended to destroy the room if discovered did not detonate. The amount of TNT, it is theorized now, would have been sufficient to destroy the entire Bryggen wharf and beyond. Six Theta Group members were in Bergen at the time and went undercover.
The Germans destroyed the room following the raid, but the furniture, radio equipment, maps, and other objects in the museum have been carefully assembled to closely approximate how the room looked in World War II. The coffee table, we were told, was the only original piece from the room, discovered in a German office following the war. Historic photos and a machine gun on the wall add to the fascinating story being told by one tiny room. A working committee of six former Theta members was set up in the early ‘80s and, eventually, with publicity and a successful search for funding, the historic museum was opened in 1983 by King Olav the 5th.
Finding the Theta Museum
Finding the room is not overly difficult although it does remain in a somewhat discrete location – and will take a bit of determination. The entrance is hidden behind the Enhjorningen restaurant on the third floor. In fact, you have to walk up stairs from the Enhjorningsgaarden passageway through part of the restaurant. The stairs are near the small square at the end of the passageway. At the time we were there, there was a small sign at the end of the street (more of a tiny poster in a frame) and another on the wall near the entrance, both with a photo of the interior and a short description.
Hours for the Theta Room are very limited, unfortunately. In 2014, it was allegedly only open in June, July and August on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 2-4 p.m. However, we have found indications that others visited as early as May or into September. The best we can recommend is to sleuth it out and go there to see. In addition, the Bryggen Foundation that oversees it (located nearby in the Bredsgaarden) notes to contact its offices for possible special arrangements — +47 55 55 20 80
There is also a page of information about the Theta Museum on the Bryggen Foundation website, unfortunately only in Norwegian. But there is a map, and translation websites will give you the basic information on the page.
The entry fee is 40 NOK for adults and 20 NOK for children (approximately USD $5.50 and $2.75) – not inexpensive for a guided visit that may not take more than 30 minutes. But do not hesitate. The Theta Museum is an historical gem.
If you like Bergen you'll love these other cities in Norway
If you like Bergan as much as we do, you will love Norway’s other magical cities, such as Trondheim, Alesund, Kirkenes and Roros. Be sure to read Eight reasons to visit Trondheim, Visit Roros, Norway: UNESCO World Heritage Town, Beautiful Alesund inspires artists and photographers, and Kirkenes travel tips: An Arctic frontier at road’s end.