The school building next to the funicular station in Øvregaten has been in constant use as an elementary school for over 260 years. Established in 1739, the building is as old as compulsory schooling in Norway, and raised to give the poorest their basic knowledge.
Christi Krybbe, which means the Crib of Christ, had its set of rules - the Fundas - written by two clergy men. Reverend Jens Mariager and Chaplain Christian Thunboe had the Fundas signed by 24 significant local businessmen in May 1737, in addition to their own signatures. The Fundas was then sent to King Christian VI in Copenhagen, who signed it in August 1738.
The Fundas needed to be signed by the 24 businessmen because they were the ones who financed the school. The priest and the chaplain had visited each and every one of them and had subsequently ended up with a substantial sum of money. The school's corner stone was laid down on 20 April 1739.
The church of St Marten was situated on the property before it burnt down in 1702, along with 90 per cent of Bergen town. The property had belonged to the Hanseatic community, but they could not automatically donate it for school purposes. First they had to send a request to the Mayor of Hamburg! Starting a local school was clearly a consideralbe process. It seems however, that everybody agreed that the purpose was a good one: to start a school for the poorest children in town.
The Fundas proclaimed some important rules: Christi Krybbe should always be a school for the poorest children within the parish of Korskirken - the Church of the Cross. Priority was given to orphans, subsequently those who had lost their father, and finally other poor children were admitted. The subjects taught were religion, reading, writing and some maths.
The teacher, who lived at the school premises, was also subject to specific rules. He was not allowed to have visitors without asking the priest's permission, and had likewise to ask for the priest's permission if he wanted to get married. The teacher should talk to the pupils politely, and not address them in a contemptible or disrespectful manner. He was not permitted to hit the children with a stick or a whip, neither was he allowed to smack them in the face. However, if the children were disobedient, or were making noise after they had been talked to, they should be spanked. On Sundays the children would come to school and go to church together with the teacher. On 11 November each year, the Bishop visited the school. He examined each pupil orally, with the priest standing next to him noting the pupils' grades.
All schools emphasized the importance of orderly and good behaviour. When instructions from the teacher proved insufficient, the disobedient child was soon punished with the cane. The school did not find it necessary to involve the parents when the children were disciplined. But when children came home with their backsides black and blue, the parents would occasionally react. On 12 November 1897, the teacher's council made this note:
"It is about to become a bad habit that parents, and particularly mothers, turn up at school to disturb our daily work through loud talk, slamming of doors and other kinds of noise. The parents are even prone to yell at the teachers in front of the children, something that is a terrible nuisance. Many teachers uttered the hope that it in future would be possible, particularly for our female colleagues, to be better protected against these unreasonable and occasionally brutal parents."
The teachers were in their full right to punish the children. The school regulations of 1893 confirmed that "if a child is guilty of truancy, disobedience, laziness or any other kind of poor behaviour the teacher is permitted to use any means of punishment that he sees fit. In serious cases, or when other disciplinary actions have proven futile, physical punishment may be used, after, mark, an agreement has been made with the headmaster or other senior staff, who must also supervise the punishment. The child shall preferably not be physically disciplined in front of the class. The teachers are only allowed to spank or cane the children on their backsides. It is forbidden to strike the child's head. Only female teachers, supervised by other female teachers, are allowed to punish girls. Girls above the age of ten years shall not be physically disciplined."
Today two schools stand next to each other on the old Hanseatic ground. The second school building was erected in 1874, on the left side of the original school. The new school was called Øvregaten School - named after the street - and was an independent girl school until 1893. The children were kept separated by a fence until the 1930s.
The school was occupied by the Germans in 1940. During long periods of the war the children went to Krohnengen School or they were taught in the teacher's home. Sometimes the children were without school for long periods, but when the opportunity arose they all gathered in more or less provisional classrooms.
During the 1960s and -70s fewer families lived in central parts of Bergen, and the number of schoolchildren decreased to the extent that the school was in danger of being shut down. Today, however, the situation has been turned around. The school is full of children, and the schoolyard as well as the school building itself have been beautifully restored.