Job in Maarmorilik 

I was, like many others working in Greenland, gone up there because of economical problems. I became bankrupt and had to find a way of clearing my debt.

I contacted "ISS" that back then had a service contract with the Danish-Canadian corporation "Greenex", which ran the lead/zinc mine "The Black Angel" in Maarmorilik, in the Qaamarujuk fiord that lie in northwest Greenland, 600 km north of the polar circle.

I was called in for an interview with a Birthe Alsted at the company's head office on Rentemestervej in Copenhagen. We came to an understanding that I was already going the next friday.

It caused several changes in my planning. One thing was that I had to drop out of high school, where I was about to pass my finals, and another thing was that I had to cancel my 30th birthday the saturday after. Things was was going to change radically.


The following week went with various doctor checks, dentist appointment, tuberculosis station and such examinations. My health had to be at its peak.

Thursday afternoon I had to fly to Copenhagen from Beldringe and spend the night at the "Hotel Tre Falke" so I could be ready for my flight the next morning from Kastrup.

It's curious how certain things stick to your memory, but I remember going to Tre Falke-Bio to see the movie "Jaws" that just then had premiere. A more exciting way of killing time that evening.

In the morning I was picked up by a manager, Gosch-Andersen, from ISS, and we went to Kastrup Airport.

Odense Airport

The trip

We handed in our luggage at check-in and went to what back then was called "Hammers Bar" and had ourselves a "Gammel Dansk". Gosch-Andersen explained to me that this was the bar where you'd normally meet up before boarding the plane to Søndre Strømfjord.

Around 11.00 a.m. we were called out to the plane, SAS SK-921 to Sdr. Strømfjord. We got on board and found our seets, and around 11.30 we took off from Kastrup.

Greenland  seen from above the wing of the SAS plane.

Now we're nearing Sdr. Strømfjord  

It's a little funny that the flight time to Sdr. Strømfjord is about 4 hours, and that Greenland's timezone is about 4 hours behind Denmark, so as we landed in Sdr. Strømfjord around 11.30 a.m. local time, the day was extended to 28 hours.


later discovered another funny thing in that regard. Leaving Greenland on the way home to Denmark, you could, while nearing the east coast of Greenland and looking out the window, see that behind where we came from it was day, but ahead towards Denmark you could it was night.
I had an effect on the difference of time, that when taking off from Sdr. Strømfjord around noon, we had to set our watches 4 hours ahead, and while the flight duration was also 4 hours, we landed in Kastrup around 10 pm.
It was mostly noticeable in the winter when it would get dark earlier back home.

A different experience:

I still recall the sensation I had in my nose as the cabin door was opened. In a fraction of a second my froze to ice.
It was about -50 degrees celcius outside, and not a long time ago did we leave the misty and mild winter weather in Denmark. It was a strange feeling.

The hotel in Sdr. Strømfjord as seen from the landing strip.

We arrived safe and sound to Sdr. Strømfjord and were told that we wouldn't progress any further that day when the helicopter left. It would have to reach Maarmorilik before dusk.


The arrival hall in Sdr. Strømfjord. The reception to the left.

The arrival hall from another angleAnkomsthallen set fra en anden vinkel

In the winter it was only bright enough for it to be able to land about 1 - 1½ hours around noon, as Maarmorilik is situated some distance north of the polar circle. It is under the polar night, which means that it is dark almost 24 hours a day.
In the summer it is the other way around. A couple of months a year the sun will be up all the time, which means daylight 24 hours a day. It was only by looking at the location of the sun and the date of your watch, that you could tell whether or not it was night or day.
It is what we here at home call the midnight sun.

Sdr. Strømfjord

We were assigned to a room on the ”Arctic Hotel” at the american base, whereafter we had a look around, and around dinner we went to the "NCO-Club", a famous place among Danish that was travelling Greenland back then.

I can't remember the menu, but I do remember that it was the first time I ever had baked potatoes.

Baked potatoes hadn't really broken through yet back home, but it was a pleasant experience. We had our potatoes served with a bowl of ice water and butter slices, a tip I still make use of when I have guests.

Later we went to the cinema, which by it self was quite an event. The movie started with the national anthem of Denmark, accompanied with "Dannebrog" on the screen, and after that the national anthem of America to the "Stars and Stripes".

Everybody would stand up during the national anthems. Later we were told, that had anyone remained seated, they would have been arrested by the American Military Police, as there was no room for any kind of demonstration. If this was true I do not know, and I did not have any remote desire to find out.

Saturday morning we packed up our luggage, ate breakfast and drove to the big hotel in Sdr. Strømfjord on the other side of the landing strip where we waited for our helicopter to arrive. We were greeted by our contact from Greenex, H. C. Skau – or in everyday speech "HC".

Around 10:30 am a helicopter landed, "Sikorsky S58", and rolled up in front of the departure hall. We had the opportunity to say hello to our pilot and his second pilot in command.

A Sikorsky S58 landed

- and rolled up in front of the departure hall

Our  pilot

and our second pilot.

Now we had 4 hours of flight ahead of us, going up along the west coast of Greenland.
There would be a short landing in Jakobshavn - Ilulissat  after a a couple of hours.

It was a stirring experience, sitting there and looking out at the fantastic nature from a helicopter.


A glimpse out the helicopter window

Another glimpse.

The helicopter seen from the inside. This is summer. Parcacoat would be obligatory in the winter during all helicopter travel.


This is actually my mother, on the way to visit in Maarmorilik.

Sitting in a helicopter is memorable in itself, but being able to see the marvelous landscape of Greenland in addition, - it's something you'll just have to experience yourself to fully understand, it's just magnificent.
I can understand why the Greenlanders call their home "Kaallalit Nunaat" - it means the country of the people.

Even though the nature up there is hostile on the face of it, there's something special about it that fascinates you.
Regarding people that has been on Greenland just once, I believe you can say, that the island will aleays have a huge spot in our hearts for the rest of our lives. This is how I feel anyway.
I will always miss it up there, both the country and all the lovely people I got to know those years, the locals as well as many other nationalities.

Jakobshavn (in Greenlandic: "Ilulissat" which means: "Icemountains" )


Here you can sense how much of the actual iceberg is
hiding below the surface of the water.
As known, it is only 1/10th of the ice colossus that rises above water,
so if a night is dark, they are incredibly dangerous towards seafaring.

After a couple of hours of flying, the weather got more foggy and we arrived at Jakobshavn. We were told that we wouldn't be making any further progress that day, as the weather above the Nuussuaq peninsula in the Disco Bay was too bad for flight.

We were picked up at the heliport by a car and taken to the ”Hotel Hvide Falk”, where we lodged into some nice rooms.

I went for a walk around town and saw most of it. Among other things I got a lift by a guy who drove me out to where you could see the Disco Bay and the ”Big Glacier”. It's the biggest and the worlds most ice giving glacier altogether, named "Store Qarajaq" in Greenlandic.
Huge icebergs breaks off 24 hours a day. The glacier is calving they say.

It was a fabulous sight, enormous mountains of ice, spread out in all of the bay.


I remembered one of my childhood playmates, John Maaløe Nielsen, that unfortunately lost his life up there. He was on a coaster "Hanne S" of Svendborg 16 years earlier, that sank with all on board.

Looking at the pictures below, one can without a doubt  sense how such a monster could easily take down even an enormous ship, as it happened in the beginning of the last century with ”Titannic”, or our own "Hans Hedtoft" that went down at Kap Farvel, on its maiden voyage January 1959.

Big icebergs in the Disco Bay

Enormous colossuses

It's understandable how these giants can sink ships

One more iceberg

Unfortunately, back in those days one were, as a Dane, not always welcome everywere. So I took care to be back at the hotel in the city before nightfall, which was pretty early in the day compared to Denmark, as it was high up north.

We were treated with an outstanding dinner. I still remember it to be the first time I ever had whale steak. It tasted wonderful, and we had a good red wine with it.

On the hotel I met a guy named Poul, called ”Poul Elektriker/Electrician”. I had met him earlier back home when he visited Henning, who worked at the laundry in Maarmorilik.
Who exactly Henning is will follow in the part about the laundry further down the site.

Poul had an idea that it had to be close to my birthday, and pressing harder on the matter, I could not help but amit, that it was actually my 30th birthday, this exact day.

Man, we had a party. With Poul, his Greenlandic girlfriend Sarah, Gosh-Anderson, together with some nice Greenlanders that Poul and Sarah knew, who joined us.
It was an unforgettable night. I could definitely not have had a better birthday back home. The only thing missing was actually my family.

I was loaded with impressions as I went to rest that night, and with high expectations to the morning and what it might bring.


The map below shows buildings in Marmorilik 1979:


The next morning we continued our flight over the mentioned peninsula Nuussuaq. We flew right down between the mountains, worryingly close to the hillsides if you ask me.

Well, our pilots was capable enough of knowing the distance,apparently, as we did pass the peninsula, and had a short stop in Uummannaq before continuing.
We flew a while between some high mountains, and all of the sudden Gosh-Andersen poked me in the shoulder and points ahead and to the right: "There ahead on that edge that jut out into the fiord lies Maarmorilik".

The helicopter took a right above the heliport and the pilot took the mashine to the ground.
The door to the cabin was opened from the outside by a guy I later came to know as ”Børge-heliport”, and we jumped out of the mashine.

It was a weird sensation standing there, almost as far away as possible from the world you knew.
There were different people to welcome you, among others the Personnel Manager of Greenex, Ingolf Christiansen.

Our luggage was loaded onto a truck, an grey old VW-transporter. Later we got red four-wheel drive Toyotas.
I followed Ingolf to the office – "the administration" – and there got the opportunity to meet the mine chief Arne Gottlieb and got a nod from the administrative director Jørgen Graversen, in daily speech "JG" or "Stoneface". I had my required paperwork done.

You can see from Jakobshavn to Maarmorilik
on the map

Then I got to know where I would be living. It was "Bunkhouse 1, that lies right up there", Ingolf said and pointet towards the end of a never ending steep staircase, going straight up the mountain side from where we were.

Someone showed me the way up, but I no longer remember who it was.
The stairs that I thought to look steep happened to be almost unclimbable.

Phew, it was tough getting up, and I think that most people that has been to Maarmorilik will remember how you'd pant on the way up the first time. It had serious demands to your fitness condition, but up we got.

Luckily in time it became routine and you'd no longer think anything of it.

Right up at the end of the stairs the bunkhouse 1 was located. It is Henning Christensen who come walking over.


The Laundry

We went for a walk and had a look around Maarmorilik. First the Laundry where Henning was in charge.

Henning and I had known each other for many years. He had his own room at my parents house, from when I was about 14-15 years old.

We were almost viewed as brothers. He had no idea I was employed up there, it was going to be a surprise.

I was explained that your laundry could be delivered in the morning,as an example, and then you'd be able to pick it up after work the same day. Then it would be cleaned, folded and ready for use.

It didn't cost anything, as it was a service to the emplyees, a service I valued a lot.

Henning is seen to the left in the picture


Henning once received a shirt for cleaning, and a pin with a little note was attached to the collar: "More soap here".
Henning got annoyed and when he later returned the clothes to the man, he had put a note on the inside of a pair of the undies: "More paper here".

Another Anecdote:

Also in Maarmorilik most thought that Henning and I were brothers.
Once someone asked Henning: "Now John and you will be visited by your father and mother, but we don't quite understand that your surname is Ckristensen. John is named Malmer (that was originally my middle name), and your parents are called Petersen, how does that fit together?"
"It is pretty simple, actually"
, Henning said, "our mother was just a little easy of virtue when she was young" - and then he just left it at that!


The messroom

Then we went to the messroom.

 In principle it would be open all day, so we sat and had a cup of coffee, and I got explained how the fair worked.

There would be breakfast from 6 a.m. featuring rye bread, white loaf, crusty rolls, and every kind of sliced meats and accompaniments. You could get fried eggs with bacon or ham, boiled eggs and even warm meals if you wished so. There was tea, coffee, juice and everything you could imagine.

We also got to accompany a couple of my future colleagues from ISS, among others Martin Michelsen, that today, more than thirty years later, still is one of my close friends.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the messroom would again open up for all who was working day shift. There would be everything that your heart could desire, both cold and warm on big dishes.
There was big bowls of fresh shrimps, every kind of salad, peas, corn, cucumber-salad, etc.
I once counted the bowls on a daily table, and there was no less than 47 on the long buffet table.

Martin and I in the messroom


The lunch table with the many bowls of delicacies among other things

From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. it would again be open and serving warm food. You'd pick it up at the counter – "The line" – and the was all kinds of accompaniments once again, for those who were on nightshift.

At 8 p.m. a movie would be played in the messroom, though tuesdays was reserved for bingo, where there would bee nice prizes to win.

It was also in the messroom that the bigger events would take place, such as Christmas- /Easter- and Whitsunevents, and much else.
All provision was totally free ofcause for those who worked in Maarmorilik, and it was the same for the people visiting the place.

Old Rec-Hall  (rec=recreation)

After visiting the messroom the next stop was ”The old Rec-Hall”, opposite of the messroom.

In here, among other things, the Maarmorilik post office were located, managed by Dennis. You could get your mail here when the helicopter had been by.

Our local grocer were also located here, Svend, that offered a splendid selection of daily necessities - like a range of soaps and shampoo's that could be used with the soft water, and ofcause also a proper selection of tobacco, beer and liquor. I still remember that a bottle of whiskey, labeled "Canadian Club", would cost the overwhelming amount of 30 Danish Crowns (US $5.4).

The water in Maarmorilik was processed at our own power station. It was so soft, that if you did not have soap with the correct PH-value, it would be nearly impossible to wash off.


Once one of my Swedish colleagues, Ernst Pettersson, and I was bathing at the Change-house. It was a big communal bath.
He was washing the soap out of his hair under the shower head with his eyes closed - I couldn't help it and grabbed a quarter gallon can of shampoo, and let it run slowly down on his head with the warm water. I think 3-4 minutes went by before he became suspicious, opened his eyes and yelled "jävla jon åt helvete din gubjävel...!" (more or less translated: "devilish John,  to hell with you, you bastard...!")
Man did I laugh.


A billard table was also available at the old Rec-Hall, which was almost always occupied. It was moslty pool that was being played here.

New Rec-Hall  

After that we went up some stairs to ”The New Rec-Hall”.

Here was sauna and bath together with a nice gym, with lots of good facilities and a weighing machine.

Her var sauna og bad i forbindelse med et dejligt kondirum med en masse gode redskaber, samt en vægt man kunne veje sig på. 

In addition to that there was a newspaper reading hall, where you could read all the Danish newspapers. They were subscribed to Greenex, and free for all to make use of, so you could be updated both in the happenings in the world as well as where you came from.

Finally we had a minor library where you could loan books to take home and then there was a darkroom with various equipment.

The new Rec-Hall also contained our own private TV- and radiostation.

A look into the Gym, as it looked back in the 1970ties



On the station they broadcast the Danish TV-programmes, that had been pre-recorded on tape back home and later send up to Maarmorilik. They were also capable of producing their own programmes.
You could then choose to watch television in the TV-room of the Rec-Hall, or back at your own room.

The fact that the programmes was a couple of days late didn't bother us at Maarmorilik the least. We ate up all the news.

Some of the big music hits of that time were: Smokie with "Living Next Door To Alice", Baccara with "Yes Sir, I Can Boogie", Abba with "Fernando", Pussycat with "Missisippi", Bonnie Tyler with "I'ts A Heartache", and many others.

The big hit on TV in Maarmorilik was the ABBA TV-show "Made in Sweden", where the two girls, Agneta and Annifried, were dressed up in their "tigerdress".

I still see before me "Egon Chivas" lying over a table at the bar, while watching the ABBA show. He looked with big eyes at the television and groaned:  "What the hell are we doing here in the world's butthole - owww! ". That could take his thoughts away from his food - or "mulje" - as he called it.

Everything with pretty girls on was more than welcome in Maarmorilik back then.

To think that there was a society of men, a long way from the world and its women, where even the sight of a lady's bike would heat up the senses.


Egon Chivas med sin "mulje"



Once I came by Thorbjørn at the radio and I began to laugh: "What are you doing?" I asked.
Around the room, going aroung lamps, chairs, bookshelves and whatnot, was running an never ending videotape.
"Yes well", Thorbjørn answered, "that same News programme has now been running for over an hour, and not even one person in the TV-room has found out that it's the same programme repeating itself over and over".
Do I even need to tell that I laughed out loud - It was just Thorbjørn in a nutshell, he was full of fun and games.

The bar

Also the bar was located in the building. It was usually open from around 7 p.m. till about 11 p.m. on working days, and on saturday they would keep it open as long as there was guests.

The bar was a cosy room, where besides the bar itself were about 7-8 square and round tables, with comfortable chairs to sit and have a pleasant time.

We left the Rec-Hall and went down again to see some more of the location.

Vi forlod Rec-Hall’en og gik ned igen for at se noget mere af pladsen. 

Hygge i baren, Thorbjørn, mig og Henning

The mill

Next visit was ”The mill”, or the processing plant, as it was rightfully called.
Here the crushed ore came down from the mine itself. It would be grinded to powder and suspended in in water and chemicals, and in this process, that I don't know any more specific than that, they extracted zinc, lead and silver.
The zinc were the primary extraction, but as I was explained, the amount of extracted silver were enough to pay for all transport to and from Maarmorilik.
It might be that it is not entirely correct, but it was just what I was told, and the numbers linked to the ore production, indicates that it is correct.
All the way at bottom of this site, you can see how much that was extracted in Maarmorilik.

In the mill they had a well-equipped laboratory, where more than a few lab technicians had their daily goals, and today I can only remember the names of Dorthe (in daily speech ”Little Dorthe”) and Dora, but that was a couple of extraordinary sweet girls though.


A look into the mill

The Change House

After that we visited the ”Change House”, a huge building covered in tinplates.
Here the "miners" would change before the job.
The clothes was hoisted up under the roof and would hang there between shifts.

One would have their own basket and chain with one's working number on, and you could lock the chain with a padlock, so that nobody would be able to get to your belongings.

The rules were very strict regarding these kinds of things. You HAD to change your clothes before going up to the barracks and the like.
It was to avoid, as much as possible, to spread the contaminating lead. A mineral that was also present in the ore in plenty amounts, and as we know, can accumulate in the human system

The Change-House. Note that the clothes are hanging up under the roof - I'm to the far right of the picture

Hoisten - The mountain railway (cable car)

After the look into the Change-House we saw hoisten, and greeted Wildfred and Gerner that were looking after it at that time.
It was a mountain railway up to the mine. There were two small personnel cabins, in which you took the men up in the mine.
Most commonly there would be two rides to get everyone up there. The trip was about 4 – 5 minutes, and was about 1½ km long.

We were told that the rail was sensitive to high ”windspeeds”. When the windspeed would get above 55 km / pr. hour, you couldn't ride the railway, which meant that people wouldn't be able to get down from the mine, and ofcause not up there either, so you'd just have to sit down and wait patiently till the wind would calm down again.

It has happened that people has been stuck in the mine for a couple of days, but a stocked food were available - the so-called emergency rations, which meant canned food, beverages, crackers and chokolate, so you could survive.

When there was windspeed, there was no working in the mine. Then you'd sit and wait in one of the mine's many lunch-rooms.
You couldn't risk that any accidents were to happen, while it would be impossible to get help and bring the casualties down.
They did have a very good ”First-Aid” though – a First aid room was up there, and if an accident did happen, everyone in Maarmorilik had taken a first aid course, so help were present.

Wilfred told that when the personnel were taken up to a shift, a big container with salt-water was placed in one of the cabins instead, and then salt-water were taken to the mine.
The salt-water was mixed in a big tank by the hoist house.

As I remember it, 20-25 sacks of salt were put into each mixture. It was pretty concentrated, but a lot of water was used for cooling in the mine.
When there were perma frost in the mountain all year round, only very strong salt water could be used, so it wouldn't freeze to ice.
The big quantities of salt water storaged in the so called ”swamp” up in the mine, was contained at a certain water level all the time, so there were no risk of running out.

One of the cabins were taken off and a water tank was put on.

Here's a picture of the "swamp" up in the mine. It's hard to make out, but under the gangway there was an enormous salt water basin.

To the left of the "Hoist House", a little up the mountain wall, a house was located. You almost imagined yourself to be in Austria or Switzerland, because of the way the house was placed on the rock wall.
It was a cabin that was occupied by one of the people who had build the two railways in Maarmorilik. His name was Noldi, and so the cabin was never named anything but ”Noldi’s house”.
The house can be seen on one of the other pages by clicking the "Greenland" button.
The house was used once in a while. It could be small gatherings and such.

Even higher up the mountain wall you would see some newer red barracks, BH 5 and BH 6 (BH=BunkHouse). I was told that it were "Staff-Houses”.
When I asked what it implied, I was told that you could come to be lucky and live up there, had you been a sufficiently long time in Maarmorilik.
Up there it wasn't just small rooms, but small apartments with private toilet, bath and everything that belongs.

Many years later I myself was one of those who got an apartment, what was then named BH 7, and was build while I was up there. Pictures from it can be seen on the page you can get to by clicking the "Greenland" button.

Power plant

Åge in the power plant

- one of the engines of the power plant


Now we continued down and looked at our power plant. It was lying right up to the fiord. It was two huge diesel machines that provided the energy- and water supply to the mining town.
I also got to say hello to a couple of the employees, Thor and Åge.
The first thing that struck me, was that it was unbelievably clean everywhere. The floor were painted red and everything was shining from the floor to machines.

Bunk House 1

Now it was time to see, where I, myself, would be living in the time to come. I was really anxious about it, as everyting were so new to me.
We started walking uphill to the second of four barracks, that stood on concrete columns on the rock - or the "mutterne" as we said - they were a bit up the road.
We reached the barrack, a grey/white building with iron stairs at the end. We went up the stairs to the first floor.

A grey/white building on concrete columns - it is my window that is open

A long hallway with doors on both sides. My door to the right is ajar.


We entered the barrack, coming to a long hallway with doors on both sides. Actually there were 58 rooms on each of the two floors + toilets and bath.

I was shown my room...

I was shown my room, which would have been roughly 2.5 x 3 metres. There was a little table attached to the wall and a chair. The bed had two carpets and a sheet (the american way without a duvet), and there were a single lamp in the ceiling as a pole lamp. This would be my room for a long time to come.
I was instructed that from henceforward, it was my job to clean the barrack, and that would be every single room on both floors, and the bed sheets was to be changed every second week, if I recall it correctly.

I started on my job the very same day, that turned out to be pretty pleasant after all.

Sure there were 116 rooms, trash bins and all, but it became a routine, and you got to know all the people for better and worse. I time most became dear to me, so it felt good visiting all the rooms.

But even so it was a hard beginning in many ways. Us who were hired by ”ISS” (International Service System), were not very welcome in the beginning.

ISS had won a competitive tender concerning the cleaning, and under those circumstances the former company ”DCC” (Danish Construction Corporation) was disposed of, Most employees had gone home as ISS mainly used their own people, among those myself.

I recall that we were called the ”Cygnets”, compared to the swan in the ISS logo.


Well, as time went by we became integrated and accepted in the small society, you'd get to know different people, and many of them only by their nicknames: ”Blondie”, ”Hansen-Denmark”, ”Svend-Tele”, ”Nallergakken”, ”Harry-powder-Riske”, ”The Pianist”, ”Gottschalk”, ”Gus Goose”, ”The Silent Swede”, ”Grandpa”, ”Arne Glass Eye”, ”Little Dorthe”, ”Mrs Nielsen” (- who were English and by the name Gillian Wright, but nobody cared to call her that), ”The Red”, ”Creeping Hans”, ”Frank Blacksmith”, ”Bosse”, "Ann Katrine" (who was a man) "Holmeren", ”Frank Alimak”, ”Jens Reverse”, ”Børge Baluba”, ”Wilfred-Garaventa-Jensen”, "Sjoske", "Poul Hopscotch”, ”The President”, "The B-52", "Fut Larsen", ”Niels Timekeeper”, "Otto King Dull", "Børge Heliport", ”The Sergeant's Dog”, "Stoneface", ”Svend Merchant”, "Egon Chivas", ”Tupilakken”, ”Hands and Legs”, ”Skrotten”,  ”Peter Tub”, ”Awful Olfert”, ”Kaskelajen, The Puppy, The Mole , The Kangaroo -  and loads of other funny nicknames. 

The names were obviously linked to their job, looks, or something else that could relate to that person.

A couple of examples: ”The Pianist” came to be when one of the guys got his fingers ripped off by a steel cable. The humor could be very harsh up there! ”Poul hopscotch” emerged from Poul's heavy spectacle lenses. ”The Sergeant's Dog” was because his name was Otto, and dog in "Beetle Bailey" is named Otto. ”Arne Glass Eye” was one of the chiefs, and he did actually have an eye of glass.


 (I personally can only see with one eye), and it caused "Arne Glass Eye" to say to me one day: ”John, I would like to talk to you under two eyes”. 

Arne also told me one day, after I've been on a tough diet (going from 105 kg to 56 kg in 2-3 months)– "You'll soon look like one who's supposed to model for Neungamme
(*German concentration camp). 

A couple of funny episodes

I remember once entering a room to clean. Inside were three-four guys in a rather good mood.

Up on the little two-legged table, that was fastened to the wall, "Grandpa" was standing, a hefty chap that was well above 120 kg. He was about to jump down on a chair in front of the table.

"What on earth are you doing?" I asked, gawking.
"We are about to pressure test a watch" Grandpa answered up from the table.

Only then did I notice that a Seiko-wristwatch was lying beneath one of the chair's legs.
"Yes" Grandpa said, "if it survives when I land on the chair, the junk will have passed the pressure test".

I can't remember what happened to the watch, but I was impressed that both floor and the chair survived the test.

I also firmly rejected the offer to have my own watch pressure tested!


- a little two-legged table,
fastened to the wall.

Another time a loud crash came from my neighbour Jan, called "Blondie", and I went in there. The window was missing, and as I looked out from it, I saw his brand-new little white Panasonic TV, which he had bought that same afternoon, in thousands bits outside on the rocks.

"Why?" I asked.

"It was a crappy TV, no damn thing worth watching on it", a plastered Blondie said, "so I didn't care to look at it, and out it went".


- his little brand-new Panasonic TV


Problem solving 

I had a somewhat irritating problem at times
When the guys have had a tremendously good saturday evening, it happened that they didn't care to go to the men's room to pee. Instead they would decide to pee in the trash can that was made of metal (can be seen under the little table, going up a bit on this site).

It would be pretty disgusting for me, who had to empty it in the monday. But then I went down to the carpenter store and borrowed a hammer and a big nail.

A hole was made in the bottom of the trash cans, and then the problem was solved.
It might be that a couple of guys was angry that their carpets were soaking in their own doings, but it solved my problem once and for all.


Working hours

In Maarmorilik we would work 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, and furthermore we could choose if we would like to work on sunday too.
The contract was worked out so that you had a four months working period, and then one month of vacation at home. Greenex payed for the trip both ways, including catering.

Personally I had to rid my debt, which was more or less half a million danish crowns (roughly $90000 USD), so I took what I could get of part time jobs, and stayed up there for noticeably longer periods at a time.

My first stay was almost a year without a holiday, but then I was simply ordered to go home on a holiday. I remember Ingolf, our personnel manager, said that one could tell that it was about time.

The hell it is, I said, but the colleagues are impossible to deal with at the moment.

Yes yes, Ingolf said, when you think that it's everybody else who's crazy, then it's time to go on holiday. And so it came to be, I was on the helicopter the next morning.

One of the places I often did a little work was the kitchen, or rather, the dishwashing.

Here it isn't me who's dishwashing though. I don't remember the name of the young lady on the left, but with the back towards the camera, it's Susanne who's  rinsing the dishes.

I also had many great hours in our bar, the "Black Angel Bar", being bartender with a guy named Tonny.
I especially remember about him that his favorite expression was: "Netop" (meaning exactly) - with pressure on the last syllable. He used it constantly - sorry Tonny, I couldn't help it.
One of the guys once carved out a wooden sign that hang above the bar. It had the inscription:


 Tonny behind the bar

Me and Tonny



Sometimes I also had work in the in the laundry, where I had to mark clothes before washing/cleaning, as it was pretty important that the right people got their clothes back, when they cam to pick it up.

In the summer when the supply ships came, I had my share of work by unloading cargo and taking it to the different huge warehouses and cold storages.

All necessaries for the whole year could only get to Maarmorilik while it was  high summer and the sea was free from ice.

Enormous amounts of food and other provisions are used when a good 300 people have to live a whole year - and preferably live well without any needs.

Also all of the materials to be used everywhere in Maarmorilik, were shipped those couple of months in the summer, when it was possible to sail there.


Here I am at the laundry


It also occurred that a excursion ship would come by. One of the times it happened was when the pilots at Grønlandsfly went on a strike in 1976. Then the only way of transportation was by ship.
A ship had need of cleaning and bed linnen had to be changed, and so we were a couple who would like to make the money this amount of work would bring.
There were a couple of the ships that were sailing along the coast back then: "Kununguaq" and "Disko". 
I don't remember if "Disko" called to our port at Maarmorilik, but "Kununguaq" did, and then we had to be quick with the cleaning and changing of bedlinen, before the ship once again went south to Sdr. Strømfjord.

Disco Kununguaq

IOnce in a while we were spring-cleaning in the administration, the messroom, or other places - then we were a couple who got some work done. As we said "There's money to be made".


At a time I had the administration as part of my permanent cleaning job. The first couple of days I was wondering a lot why there were lying paperclips the strangest places - under vases, telephones, on the floor, and so on. Then I suddenly realized, they were placed there on purpose. It was a "trap" to test me, if I took care of every nook and cranny.
Man, did I get angry.

I put tape over every one of the clips so they were stuck, and left a note on Gottlieb's secretary Lone's desk, where I wrote:
"Now I've fastened all the clips with tape, so both you and me knows where they are, that is much easier for the both of us".
The next day Lone came to me and said: "I'm sorry, if something's out of order I'll be sure to tell you directly instead from now on".
It has to be said, that Lone and I were great friends after that!

Other work:

Besides that, it could happen that a craftsman had been somewhere to repair something. It could be the likes of leaking water pipes, and then there'd be called for someone from ISS. It was what we called "a callout". It made 4 hours of payment, no matter how long it would take, and it was often the easiest money to make.

All in all I had a many workingdays with over 20 hours of work a day. I certainly didn't have any trouble falling asleep, when I got home "on my branch", as we used to call it.

In the mine, the power station, the hoist and a couple of other places, they had double-teamed shifts. The working time were also over 10 hours here. You had a month ”on nighttime” and a month ”on daytime”. Then there'd be one whole day off between the two shifts.

Personnel composition

In Maarmorilik there were several different nationalities:

Some of us were Danes, most of us men, but we did have some girls working in both administration and the service section.
There were Swedes, Norwegians and Finnish. They already had some experience with working in a mine, as all three countries has mining, and thereby the expertise that Greenex needed.
Some of the names I remember right now are Mario (Swedish, but an descendant of Italy), Bosse Johansson, Ernst Pettersson, Maestro Kangas and Stig Spetz - last-mentioned being the head of the mine.
Besides that we had a lot of Canadian. They came from a company called "Redpad", who among other things had specialized in the drilling of mineshafts.

For a time we also had a wonderful chap from what used to be Czechoslovakia. His name was Pjotr Link (I'm not a 100% sure about his last name). 

We had a single guy from South Africa, Brian Eyres.

A single Aussie was also employed. I don't know if it was his name, but we called him "Kiwi".
A funny little story about him: He always wore shorts, summer as well as winter.
It must have been cold, walking around in -30 to -40 degrees Celcius, wearing shorts and mountain boots, but that was just the way it was. He only stayed for less than a year too.

On top of that we had a German by the name Bernie, who had his own little workshop up in the mine: "Bernies Shop".

The last group of people were ofcause Greenlanders. We had a lot working in Maarmorilik, and I have in my life never worked together with anyone, who could get as much work done when needed. And unbelievably good at their jobs they were too. In many ways it was certainly me who was the "rookie" at the workmanship.

I think of many of them with great affection, Markus Sebulonsen, his pal Andreas, "Nallergakken", a short older guy with excellent spirits, Ole "Greenlander" Nielsen and his brother Jonas Nielsen, Cecilie, Hans, and many many more.

In the beginning the native part of the employees had a looser rein than us Danes. As an example, it didn't have much consequence in the beginning, if a Greenlander was to stay away from the job for some reason, and reasons there were:
Once there was payment, many of those who came from the trading stations from around, didn't understand why they should show up on a cold and enclosed place, as a mine is.

Once they had money, it would make do for all of the necessities, food, drink, clothes, and so on.
From the beginning of time, these things have been the fundamental needs in Greenland, and it's undoubtably a healthier way of life than the one we others has brought up. Constantly chasing all the new materialistic stuff that are being made.

The same thing happened in Fall, when the musk ox hunt began. Well, then they'd just travel south to hunt musk oxes. Why would you want to be trapped in a mine city like ours, when you had the option to fill up the food depots for the winter.

It changed, I think it was in 1976 or 77, when the Greenlandic workers came under the same restrictions as the Dane - but it also gave them the same salary and agreement.

It meant a bit of turnover in the beginning, but ofcause it all gradually fell into a natural rythm, so our Greenlandic colleagues were just as stable as the rest of us.

Finally we had the Brittish, one being Kevin Wright who was married to "Mrs. Nielsen" (look under nicknames).

The picture on the left shows Henning and Gillian at the solstice party in Spring 1977. It is taken on a fleet that was put into the fiord. Pictures from it can be seen on one of the other pages, pressing the "Grønland" button.

Henning and Gillian "Mrs. Nielsen" Wright  

One of the Canadian guys, Bob, took a special minehelmet with him from Canada for me. It actually hangs in my entry hall still, cleaned and polished.

It was a type of helmet that was pretty sought after up there. The standard helmet was just a regular white plastic helmet, which wasn't that interesting.

Several of my colleagues would have liked to take over the helmet after me, but I kept it. Partly because I thought it was a fun souvenir, but also because I didn't want to favour one of the guys over the others.

I still have the helmet today


Brian Eyres had been Shiftboss in a mine in Rhodesia some years back. Just like in Maarmorilik, the toilets were old fashioned "privys" - or "outhouse" if you will, a wooden shed with a board with a hole. Beneath it was a big bucket  with a black plastic sack in it.
Brian had ordered one of his black miners to have the bucket emptied, as it was starting to heap.
The man had refused to empty the bucket, so at last Brian got tough with him: "You'll get this shit removed, and I don't care one bit how you do it, it will just have to be gone in fifteen minutes".
5-10 minutes after, when Brian was sitting in his office, a tearing crash was heard, and an unmistakable odour of faeces spread through the minehall.
Brien rushed out of the office and saw that the whole outhouse was gone, and that the walls of the minehall were glistenering with a brown color...
The black miner were standing with a grin and looking at Brian "You said you didn't care how I got rid of it, as long as it was removed!"
He had simply taken 5-6 bars of dynamite, tied them together and plucked  a fuse in, put it in the bucket, lit the fuse and hurried away.
Brian said that the smell of shit teared in the nose for several weeks, but he couldn't help but laughing, so the man wasn't fired.

Employee perks

As an employee of Greenex you had several perks. You could, as an example,  get your closest relatives up to  to visit Maarmorilik once in a while.
Greenex would also pay for the trip, but the relatives would have to pay for any extra expences on the way themselves, which was very reasonable, as it was expensive to travel to Greenland – also back then.
In the summer 1978, Henning and I had my parents up to visit, and later that year, more specific Christmas, where I had my fiancée for a visit.

Here the helicopter has just lande. The two people in the back are my father and mother visiting me in Maarmorilik.


Here my father is standing on the stairs at BH 7. Here you can see that the midnight sun isn’t just nonsense, as the picture is taken 2 a.m. Saturday night, where we had been at a party

A trip with "The Jet Ranger"

MYou be lucky and get a little flight with the permanent helicopter - "The Jet Ranger" – we had stationed on the airfield.
Beneath is a small range of pictures from one such trip around Maarmorilik.


NB! You can see a bigger version of the  pictures by clicking on each of them.

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The Jet Rangeren in front of the hangar. It’s my father who’s standing in front of it.

We take off. Notice the guy standing down on the airfield, all the way to the right, taking a picture. He’s the one taking the next picture.


Here we’re in the air. The helicopter is seen right in the middle of the picture

"The Angel” up close

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The platforms above the holes, the small ”combs” on the mountain walls, are protective constructions, that could catch falling pjeces of rock, before they’d destroy the railway cables.

Up high.


The ice cap.

Fantastic isn’t it? Ahead you can see one of our fishing lakes, where we  could go fishing in our free time.


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In the middle of the  Qaamarujuk fiord. The small buildings are our dynamite depots.

Our dynamite depots at the bottom, seen a little closer.

Maarmorilik, as the town was seen, coming from the fiord in a helicopter

Maarmorilik again. We flew around to land.


A trip with the sparetime boat


In Maarmorilik we also had a moterboat, which could be borrowed for trips on the fiord. The trips could be of both short and long duration.
Beneath is a series of pictures from a trip to Uumannaq with the boat. It was pleasant, but definitely also chilly, whether it was summer or winter.

The leisure boat, a bit dark unfortunately

The wake from the boat

Drift ice


Near Uummannaq
Graveyard near Uummannaq

The famous Uummannaq mountain. Uummannaq means ”The heartshaped Mountain”, and has named the town

Not always cold

Here a wind shelter is put up behind Bunkhouse 7, and a couple of mattresses is dragged out to lie on. Now this somewhat resembles a Danish summer

In contrary to what most people think, it's not always freezing cold on Greenland, though you're about 600 km north of the polar circle.

In the summer it could be nice and warm - especially if you took care to have shelter where you were.

It wasn't the summer temperatures we're used to in Denmark ofcause, but it could be really nice a sunny summer day, especially if a wind shelter was put up, that could protect you from the often cold blow that came down from the ice cap. Then it would be no problem to take a sun bath.

Order and justice

Free time was divided with necessary consideration for the two shifts.

Every night at 8 p.m. the TV was turned in, and it repeated itself in the morning at 8 a.m.

At 11 both a.m. and p.m. there had to be quiet in regards to the the shift that was currently sleeping.

A fireguard would regularly walk through the living quarters, and if you were too loud or the TV was turned too much up, you'd be asked to turn it down and be quiet.
It usually helped, and if it didn't, you'd get a warning. If that didn't help either you were history, and put on the next helicopter home.
The same happened if you were cought smoking in bed. Then there'd be no pardon, you'd be out right away.

Also if you got into a fist fight. The one who hit would go home instantly, and if you were hit  - and punched back, then you'd also get send home. There was no discussion.

The only people who were allowed to actually use force were us bartenders, but because many of us were undersized compared to the big Swedish and Canadian miners, that option never really presented itself as far as I recall.

It was also departure if you turned up drunk at work.

You could get away with oversleeping once, that would get you a warning, but if it occurred again you'd be looking for a new job.
It was tough conditions some might think, but personally I found that it was ok. In this way you avoided that it would turn into real anarchy, where the strongest and moat ruthless set the agenda.


It was before the time of mobile phones. All communication went through either radiom, telegrams or mail.

If you had an urgent need to talk to somebody at home, you had to get down to the tele-office and reserve a call.
It was a pretty expensive affair, as it cost a little over 100 danish crowns (about $20) a minute, and there was a minimum charge of three minutes. So this was something that could be felt in the wallet. On the other hand did I always remember to write all down that had to be said, so I didn't forget anything when I got through to Denmark.

Even thought you reserved a call, you could certainly not be be entirely sure that you would get through to Denmark. The conversation would go through radio to Uummannaq, from there through radio to Godthåb, there through radio to Canada, and then on to USA, where the conversation would take the Atlantic cable to Denmark and over the regular telephone network.

The safest way of communication was by the help of the Post Office, a letter.
Personally I had a comprehensive correspondence. According to Dennis from the Post Office, I sent more letters than the rest of the town altogether.
I sent 6-8 letters every day of the year. Writing always came easy to me, so it wasn't any problem.

Actually I sent home letters from Maarmorilik, that was so heavy, that I had to send them home to Denmark as parcels. 40 pieces of A4 paper takes up some space, I should say. Back then I was very much in love, and my fiancée got a letter at least every day, but family, friends and acquainted didn't miss out on letters from me.
Not alone did I send letters, but I also decorated the envelopes with various clippings, so it must sometimes have been fun to be mailman, especially in Vejle where my girlfriend lived.
The funny thing is that several years after I came home, I was payed by a stamp dealer the same amount of money I payed to get them sent back then.

Envelopes send from me to my girlfriend in Denmark

Actually we got married and had 22 wonderful years together, until we got seperated in 2003. But we are still good friends, and I still care for her a lot.



A couple of the guys had been hunting in the hills, I'm not entirely sure, but I think it was Gøsta and Gerner.
It isn't important, but I they came home from the hunt and told:
While they were having a smoke, a relatively big bird landed a 15-20 feet in front of them.
One of them had their "over/under" rifle hanging from under the right arm. Slowly he liftet the gun, aimed and fired both barrels.
The bird simply disappeared in a big cloud of feathers, while the two legs kept standing in the snow all alone.

Moving to Greenex

When December 1976 came near, ISS lost the concession again.
It certainly didn't surprise me. I must admit I have rarely been employed at a place, where the management of everything was so poor.
Our boss made a list, where people who'd like to seek employment at the main firm Greenex, could write themselves on. Then he'd
talk to the staff office about it.

I didn't sign up on the list, but went to Greenex myself and applied.

When I was asked why I wasn't on the list from ISS, I answered, honestly enough, that if I would only be considered through ISS, then I couldn't be bothered, I new what I stood for.
The curious result was, as far as I remember, that I was the only one of the "cygnets" that got to stay.
I'd been up there since the beginning of Janurary, being only interrupted the four days in April where I was home to get seperated. Then I got a short vacation from the 1st of December, was back again and started as a miner December 15th.
After I came back I had to participate in different courses besides my job in the mine.

The course

First of all I had to learn extended first aid. I've had several first aid courses back home, so this was just a refreshment of what I already knew.

Something new on the other hand, was that I had to learn how to handle explosives and get certificates to the different kinds:

, Gurit, Amex, B-line, Fuses and what else it was called.. 

It was pretty interesting, but I sure had a lot of respect for it - and I still do.


Paradoxically, in spite of my respect, about half a year later a blasting accident occurred, which caused me to be sent home with a so-called "medical" and I never came back up there.

The mine

The mine itself in Maarmorilik was divided into three levels, or floors if you will.

The first level was the mine itself, or the mining area. It lies about 700 metres above sealevel. The mining area closest to the mountain wall was called the "Angel zone", further in the "Cover zoner" and deepest into the mountain the "Banana zone".

The place that I worked was called the 600-metre, 600 metres above the sea,  which we called the service-level. About 100 metres below we had the crushing mill, that chrushed the ore into smaller pieces, before it was taken to the mill at the ground, where it would be grinded into a kind of stone-flour.

From the mining area, big holes was blasted downwards - cone shaped funnels that reached down to the 600-metre, where the transport of ore took place.
In the end of the funnel some kind of opening-closing mechanism, a shutter, from where you could open the gate briefly, to fill an ore cart.

Then the train would drive forth one length of a cart. The man on the shutter would again open up and fill it, and so forth until all of the carts were filled.

                           Ore cable car top terminal


I've tried to sketch out the structure of the mine in a simple way.

A more precise site about the mine's occurrences can be found by this link:

It could happen that too big pieces came in from the mine, so that they wouldn't get through the shutter. Then we'd have to blow up the piece, so it could move on.

The man on the shutter gave a signal to the train driver with his head light, when he had to go forth, back, stop or drive out to empty the carts.

The head light signals were: Up and down (nodding) drive forward, - sideways (shaking the head) stop, - Circular movement
(around) come closer.

When all of the carts were filled, the train went out to the ore-dump and unloaded.

It went down on a huge grating. Some of the ore-pieces were too big, but then there'd be someone to chop it into smaller pieces with some kind of pneumatic drill (the stonepecker). Then they'd get through the grating and down to the crushing mill, where it would  be crushed into small bits, and after that with the ore track down to the mill.

Here you can slightly see the ore being tipped down into the ore-dump. On the right there's a man sitting on the stonepecker, who's pounding the pieces to a size, that would fit through the grating down to the crushing mill.


Here the stonepecker is seen in work. You can se the enormous grating, the ore had to go through.

Kaffepause i et af minens lunchroom, her det store 
lunchroom på 600 meter niveau

We also had many other tasks. We delivered dynamite to different places. Small boxes with dynamite were everywhere. Partly because we used them in the shutters, partly because we might need it in case of collapses. Note the picture a bit above where I'm getting ready for a blast.
We also drove out timber, materials, pipes and tools around the mine, when something had to be repaired some place.


We had warehouses of significant sizes up in the mine. Here you could get the different stuff that were used for new constructions, and/or spare parts, when something was broken.

Whe had a lot of heated lunch-rooms around the mine. The distances were too great to just walk to a lunch or coffe break.

Electricity was everywhere ofcause. Air was blown around the mine my giant air fans, sent in at the bottom of the mine through big yellow plastic tubes. They were hanging everywhere, measuring about two feet in diameter. So there's always be a an icecold draught going out towards the mine's entrance, no matter where were at.
That's why we were warmly dressed
with big mine safety boots. Helly-Hansen thermo-clothes and durable boiler suits. Us on the 600-metre also often used thick parcacoats to keep us warm.

 We also came around to learn a few Greenlandic words as time passed by. The first four I personally learned was probably: Suu = yes  *  namik = no  *  imera = maybe  *  ajungilak = good or allright * along with a couble that aren't entirely fitting, like usuk  = no translation here! I don't know about the spelling, it's purely what it sounded like.

In our coffee braks we read "The Greenlandic Post" = "Sermitsiaq"
or as we in daily speech called it, a little disrespectfully: "The sealskin boot post". It would be lying around the lunch rooms among other places in the mine. Then we'd be a little updated about what happened other places in Greenland, than just us in Maarmorilik, which certainly wasn't known as beeing the ordinay lifestyle of Greenland.

Funny sign

 In the lunchroom of the 600-metre level, a sign was hanging with the following text:

All drinking of liquor in this room is strictly forbidden
- except in connection with fish.
All food is considered fish, except sausage!
Should sausage be served anyway
- God forbid -

then this dish shall also be counted as fish.


When the work day was over


When the day's work was over, the head lights was placed for charging.

I worked in the mine a couple of years. After that I got to work in the hoist, that being the aerial ropeway.

We also had a nice team, where we spend many good hours. Right now I remember Wilfred, Gerner, Hans, Otto, George and Nils.

The main work was ofcause to transport people to and fro the mine, but there were also a lot of other funny tasks, delivering different materials to the mine. Everything had to go from the ground through us.

A couple of facts about the mining of ore in Maarmorilik

In the seventeen years the mine was active (from 1973 to 1990), there was mined in all 11.3 million tons of ore.
In the ore pr. ton:

12,3% zinc
                                                    4,0% lead
                                                  29,0 gram silver

Here is seen a picture from Maarmorilik, taken in 1979, while the mine was still going at full rate.

 The building farthest away to the right is the electricity plant.



Below is a satellite foto of Maarmorilik, borrowed from Google's "":



Maarmorilik was between the years 1936 to 1940 an active marble mine. In the yard there was a whole little town, and Hans Jacobi who was business manager those years, has a clear memory of how it was, back then, to be there.

 In 1966 they undertook test mining again, and Hans Jacobi's story about this return to Maarmorilik, can hopefully soon be read by clicking below. The story is put on the internet by "The Greenlandic Society". I've requested permission to post it here on the site, and if I get it, it can be read here:

Hans Jacobi: "Gensyn med Marmorilik" (Maarmorilik Revisited)


Closing comments

I often think back in melancholy on those years in Maarmorilik, and I would love to see the place again, but it looks now as if it's only a thought that will never be realized - alone because of my echonomy. It is not possible with early-release scheme to be sure, but maybe one will win the lottery one day.

It has none the less been the most fantastic event of my life, and I think in happiness of all the great people I came to know. In my mind I'm quietly thanking for the many experiences I had back then.

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