When you arrive at Kirkenes you come to the end of the road – this should be taken literally since the main E6 road through Norway actually ends at the ferry terminal in Kirkenes from where you can catch Hurtigruten back to Bergen. But for three years Kirkenes wasn’t the end of the road it was one of the main theaters of the northern front in the Second World War.
If you head east of Kirkenes the next major settlement is Murmansk in Russia or back then in the Soviet Union. Murmansk was the only harbor in European Soviet Union which was ice free and could be reached via the Atlantic Ocean – hence it was the main center of supplies from the western allies to the Soviet Union during the war. This endless stream of supplies from the USA and UK to the Soviet Union made the city of Murmansk an important target for the Germans to capture and the Soviets to defend. Despite the short distance the problems with the terrain and the long supply lines made the front here pretty stationary during the war and neither side of the war really made any significant progress for 3 years.
The importance of this area meant a large part of the German army in Norway were located in the northern region – around a third of the total force which must have been pretty difficult to keep supplied given the lack of roads and railways up in the northern part of Norway. The Soviet considered the city an important target as well. Therefore Kirkenes was the most bombed city in Norway during the war. The Soviet Union made no less than 320 bombing raids on Kirkenes. So when the city was finally liberated only 13 houses were still standing.
The war was so important for the people of Kirkenes so there are a couple of reminders of the war. The one most easily seen is the small Soviet War memorial which is on the top of a little hill. There is a statue of a Soviet soldier on top of the monument he is looking out over the ocean below.
Another memorial for the war is the old air-raid shelter. It was built underground with a difficult entrance to make it secure during the many air-raids on the city. The shelter is called Andersgrotta and you can go down in the shelter on a guided tour and see a movie about the time in Kirkenes. We didn’t really feel like going down underground in an enclosed space with other visitors this summer so I have no idea what it looks like inside. We only saw the entrance from above ground which is pretty close to the Soviet war memorial.