Thursday, May 12, 2011

Get your Viking on

By J.J. Despain

There may be fewer Norwegians in Bay Ridge than herring at a barbecue — but that won’t prevent the neighborhood’s legendary Norwegian Constitution Day Parade from marching on.

On Sunday, the neighborhood celebrates 197 years of Norwegian independence with a parade through a neighborhood that’s more Little Median than Little Oslo.

“This is where the parade was originally formed, and we’re going to keep it here,” said Ken Gundersen, chairman of the annual celebration of Norway’s constitution, which also comes a day after Viking Fest at Owls Head Park, which, like the parade, will feature plenty of horned helmets, as well as a Viking ship, music and dance.

The parade and festival are a throwback to the 1920s, when Bay Ridge was truly Little Norway, a neighborhood where Scandinavian delis and shops were common, people used words spelled with that o with the line through it, and Eighth Avenue was better known as “Lapskaus Boulevard” — you know, after the beef stew beloved from Oslo to Ospeskogen to Ovington Avenue.

Of course, the Norwegian population of Bay Ridge has declined — from about 54,530 after World War II to about 6,000 today. But still, 100,000 spectators are expected, more than previous years.

“Wherever they live now, the Norwegian population is still coming out in strong numbers,” Gundersen said. “It’s the largest Independence Day parade outside of Oslo.”

Even if you don’t give a wooden krone about Bay Ridge’s Scandinavian roots, you should care about Norwegian independence, which came about when the country signed its legendary constitution in 1814 — a document that remains the oldest constitution in democracy-challenged Europe.

Better still, this parade is a barrel of lutefisk! This year’s march, for example, honors Roald Amundsen, best known as the Norwegian who reached the South Pole first.

“We thought that he brought a lot to Norwegian history,” Gundersen said.

And also on hand will be Bay Ridge’s own Jennifer Egeberg, who just won the Miss Norway of Greater New York contest.

And there’ll be plenty of that Scandinavian food, arts and culture. So don your bunad and save room for plenty of lefse (they’re better than they sound).

Norwegian Constitution Day Parade [starts at 83rd Street and Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge, (718) 745-6653] at 1 pm on May 15. Parade continues to Leif Ericson Park between Sixth and Seventh avenues; Viking Fest at Owls Head Park [Colonial Road and 68th Street entrance], May 14 from noon to 5 pm. Free.

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