It is evening. Karina Bernlow, 37, is standing with baby Freja in her arm at the window in the little red house in Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland. Five meters further down is sea ice.Freja is crying. Karina looks and discovers a polar bear fighting with the dogs just outside. She yells: "Martin, dammit, there's a bear." A rifle hanging on the wall, as in every other home in the town, with cartridges in the magazine. Martin Munck, 42, grabs it, runs the four steps to the door and shoots the bear from a distance of 60 meters.
Keeping the garments
Eight years later, there is a blue light behind the Green Dogs kennels in Bolterdalen. A couple of dogs bark, snow lies peacefully on the ground and an outdoor light show offers a welcome next to one of the five buildings. Freja, 7, is at school in Longyearbyen and her brother, Storm, 5, in kindergarten.
Inside the reception room of a Russian cabin the fireplace is burning, but Martin Munck keeps his coat on. It is made from the musk ox that is hanging on the wall. Only Karina takes hers off, settling for her thick Icelandic sweater.
It's here they came from Greenland three years ago, along with 60 dogs. Now they have a four-legged workforce of 150.
It was, in many respects, here in Longyearbyen it all started. Martin came from Copenhagen to study geology at The University Centre in Svalbard in 1996. During that time he was taught how to mush sled dogs by Berit and Karl Våtvik at Svalbard Villmarkssenter.
Before he came, he had applied to be a part of Denmark's Sirius Sledge Patrol, the Danish military presence in Northeast Greenland, and been refused. During his stay in Svalbard he applied again and was accepted.
For six months out of each year, Martin was on patrol with 11 dogs, skis and a partner.
"It was tiring, but terrific," Martin says. "We were conducting sovereignty enforcement, observations and patrols. The aim of the overall patrol was driving over the entire national park, which is 15 times larger than Spitsbergen, with dogsleds, during the course of five years."
He and his partner of made completely fresh tracks in the snow. They found several new routes that were never driven before by Sirius.
1.5 meters of letters
During the summer of 2000, they went to the small Zackenberg research station, where Karina worked as a chef.
Her father worked as the regional manager in the small, isolated village of Ittoqqortoormiit, also known as Scoresbysund, on the east coast of Greenland for about 35 years. When Karina was 15, she was tired of school and went to live with him and the 450 Greenlanders who were there.
"The village was formed in 1925 when people were moved there from another village," she says. "Those who live there are mostly all related to each other in one way or another. I was the only young Danish girl at the time. But it is a town one is welcomed in."
After she had finished high school in Denmark, she went back and got a job as a cook at the airport at Constable Pynt near Ittoqqortoormiit. The woman who had been there previously had gotten drunk and thrown crockery at her boss. The job led Karina to other field stations, including to Zackenberg when Martin came by. He was there only a few hours, but lightning struck and a few weeks later he traveled more than 20 kilometers to meet her again. When they met, he had a year left in the Sirius patrol, but he received an additional year as its chief.
They kept in touch by letter and fax. She got Icelandic pilots to fly love letters up and down the east coast of Greenland.
Now she has a pile of letters 1.5 meters high.
"One time they flew me to Daneborg, dropped me off and flew on. When the station manager discovered me, there wasn't anything he could do," Karina says, looking at her man.
Hunting like football
When Martin completed his Sirius assignment on Aug. 20, 2002, he went straight to Karina and the house they had bought in Ittoqqortoormiit. The village is isolated and to reach the small airport one must first fly to Constable Pynt by helicopter. The planes carried a maximum of 28 passengers and departed once a week, but it was not unusual for flights to be canceled and three weeks to go by between each.
Here in the village, Karina and Martin were engaged in tourism. In addition, Martin obtained a hunting license and hunted polar bears, seals, musk oxen, narwhals, grouse, foxes and walruses.
"It is a proper hunting society. Children are hunting from a very young age. It is the foundation of the town," says Karina. She sits with her back to the fireplace and a coffee cup in front of her on the table.
There were only 15 registered professional hunters in Ittoqqortoormiit, but everyone in town was involved.
"The animals come, so they hunt," Martin says. "It's like playing football in Denmark. When whales came into the bay, the teachers disappeared from the school and went down to the sea and shot."
"It was like being in a war," his wife chimes in. "Children came down to the water and threw stones at the whales so they got involved with capturing them."
Ice is life
The harbor in front of the village was frozen nine months a year – and the ice meant life. It was there Karina and Martin went on hunts and expeditions with tourists. The guests were, on average, out on sled tours for five days, but they also were offered a chance to go trophy hunting.
"We had so few customers that they got what they wanted," Karina says.
They had contact with guests for up to a year before they arrived.
"Then we accommodated them and they went on tours with us or the local hunters we worked with," she says. "When we came home, they ate dinner at home with us. There was nowhere to buy food or have coffee in the city. We still have contact with many of those who came."
During the summer, about 20 cruise ships came to the small town.
"We started a product called the open-town package," Karina says. "We thought that the town was an asset that was not utilized. We involved pensioners who were guides and showed pelts, served musk ox and beaded. It was lovely to involve so many locals."
Sel in the kindergarten
Half of their income in Greenland came from tourists and half from hunting.
"A trapper earns on average 60,000 kroner per year," Martin says. "It is a completely different economy there than here. One captured all the meat one ever needed and we bought a nice house for 25,000 kroner."
They could not go out and buy clothes or a cup of coffee. And the selection at the store was not that big. Maybe they could find tomatoes for nine kroner apiece or a head of iceberg lettuce for 100 kroner, but there were often no vegetables to get. Sometimes they did not have flour or yeast or anything else to bake bread with. Meat was plentiful and at the kindergarten children got fresh seal for lunch.
"The animal was skinned and thrown into the kitchen," Karina says. "When it was cold, the skinning was done inside."
"Greenlanders are impressively good at slaughtering," Martin says. "They could pull a seal onto the floor and then there would be no blood left behind them when they were finished, and they used only a small knife."
Pensioners built hiding places where they could sit and drink coffee while waiting for seals to come past.
Boys are best
Karina's stomach began to grow and she went to Denmark to give birth. When she came home to Ittoqqortoormiit afterward, she was very proud and took her daughter to an old trapper.
"You should not worry, you will get a boy next time," he said.
That is where Danish and Greenlandic cultures collided. It also turned out the elderly trapper believed that women should walk a few steps behind men.
"I sometimes thought that I would not fucking bow down to male chauvinism and was fit to walk beside Martin, not after," Karina says.
The children in town played with stones, sticks, water and sand. They played on ice floes and ran on rooftops.
"They had an amazing motor skills and were allowed to be kids longer," she says. "It seems that I turned out fine and I've tried to apply that to our children's upbringing. I'm a strict mother and didn't have a television, iPad or anything."
Slalom skiing with the baby
But the school in town wasn't so good, and gradually Karina and Martin started thinking about moving from Greenland for their children's sake.
"We didn't want that they would be 18 years and say 'why didn't we have the chance to study?'" Martin explains.
Freja's kindergarten was in a storage space. She needed more. Karina had multiple outings with the baby where they were slaloming between drunk people. There were teachers and educators among them.
"When someone was lying drunk, you could say to a young child that they were sleeping," Martin says. "When they get older, one can't say that and it should not be natural to be with drunk people."
"Everything was poorer in Greenland," Karina says. "Our town had a budget of 22 million kroner annually. Flight opportunities and supplies were poor, and it was time to go. But those years we were there were fantastic."
They began to look at positions in Svalbard – and suddenly there were three dog kennels for sale. Now they are in Bolterdalen and the wind has begun to rub against the corners of the rundown house that's a 15-minute drive from Longyearbyen.
"I feel I have come from the wilderness to civilization, while for many others in town it feels the opposite," Karina says. "I felt much more isolated when I lived in the center of Ittoqqortoormiit than I do here. But I am not some urbanite. I should be able to see far and have space around me."
Vodka and Laden
It is now Saturday and rain is in the air in Bolterdalen. Martin is out with a tourist group while Karina and the children are left in the dog kennels. Freja sits in the puppybox along with eight small, warm bodies. She ran out in the middle of breakfast to tell the tourists that came about the puppies. Now she explains again:
"There are six boys and two girls. This is Salt, it's a boy, and this is Pepper, that is a girl. Then I don't quite know about the others."
She points to a brown and a white dog. Her Danish has eroded away completely and she speaks Norwegian with a little guttural consonant on the r's.
The dog is the puppies' mum, Laden, who is standing beside the checkout counter and following lazily along.
"It is the first time she's had puppies, she's really clever," Freja says. "The two white dogs over there will mate. Then the daddy thinks the puppies will be white."
"We also have a dog with another funny name. It's Vodka."
She gets out of the puppybox and gets help putting the lid on. Her brother Storm has a buddy visiting and is serving food on the red deck adjacent to the residential cottage. Freja gets a cup of cocoa and a piece of cake.
"My little brother has a wife," she says. "He should have a wedding with her when he grows up."
Polar bear skull in the living room
The kids want to go inside. The boys spring first and are pulling off their clothes in the hallway. Freja and Karina come after. On the walls in the living room hang pictures of polar bears and tours. On the windowsill, their first Christmas figures are lined up in a row.
"I remember when I got to see a polar bears," Freja says. "It was not mom who saw it first, but I."
Karina opens a glass cabinet and lift down a polar bear skull to her daughter. It is Freja's bear.
When her father opened the door of their red house in Greenland, their lead dog Bo was standing on his hind legs. So was the bear. It had gotten past the dogs to get to a seal that it fancied, but it would not let the dogs have any of it. When Bo dropped again on all fours, Martin got a clean line of sight and fired. Afterwards a mass of people came. They help with skinning the bear on the spot and the catch was carved up.
When Freja as baby saw the bear go to attack their dogs in Ittoqqortoormiit, it was hers. It was proper that the one who saw the bear first got the pelt, not the hunter. Regardless of whether the person who saw the bear was 80 years old or two months old.
There was also a time that when their dogs were barking at night. Karina said to Martin that it certainly wasn't anything.
"Then came our neighbor first and then the bear," she says. "But he ran out of shots because the kids had been playing with his weapon. Martin hit it, but it was not his because it was not he who had seen it."
Karina also has a hide. She and Martin were on an overnight trip at a cabin. When they arrived, Karina took the binoculars and in the pack ice saw what she first thought was a dog, but it was a bear. Martin shot it, but the pelt was hers.
Martin has shot 14 bears. Eight of them alone, the rest he has had a share in.
A year when Karina was heavily pregnant he got night binoculars for Christmas and went on the lookout at a quarter before midnight on Oct. 1 when the polar bear hunt started.
"At a quarter past twelve he called and said he had shot two bears," Karina says. "When he shot one, there appeared another pair of eyes. It suited us fine because we needed money for a stroller."
A dried hide from a polar bear sold for between 10,000 and 20,000 kroner.
Karina and Martin haven't skimped on polar bear hides, but they have skulls from the Freja and Karina bears. Karina shows her cranium, which also sits in the glass cabinet.
"And then we have penis bones," she says. "They are 10 centimeters long."
It smells like fresh-baked rolls in the cabin and soon each of the kids is chewing on one. Karina retrieves Martin's tools for scraping hides. Three knives with different blades and the grip of the pistol.
"This pushed the water and fat out of the skin," Karina demonstrates.
"These tools have been used for hundreds of years," she says.
The first years they lived in Ittoqqortoormiit the only rule was you could not shoot females with cubs younger than a year old. In 2008, new rules were enacted that set a quota of 35 bears for the city.
During the final few years the family lived in Greenland, hunting seemed stupid because a well-meaning person would get the pelt only if they saw the bear, and then they had to go out and hunt it. Then it became so that the first hunter that took on the bear got the pelt.
After that when a bear was shot, the first five who took part or joined got a portion of it. It was the same for bearded seals, narwhals and walruses.
One of the trappers had shot 218 bears during his career.
"The elderly in Greenland are modest," Karina says. "They don't boast, but when they first tell their stories it is absolutely insane what comes out. Like the story of a father-in-law that was sucked down with a diving whale."
Or the story of two boys playing outside a house when a polar bear came. Their father was inside and saw the bear. He shot it over the head of one boy and when it fell it had the boy's hat in its paw.
Out in the world
It is nearing the time when the guests will come back from their sleigh ride, and Karina leaves the living room with the bear and walrus skulls. She gives her children the message that she is going out to the Russian cabin to get things ready. The guests will receive stew and cake when they return.
The fireplace is crackling. The hostess has set the table with nice dishware and white candles that she lights one by one.
"It is important to prioritize family," she says, adding she believes they have been good at doing it despite the fact she and Martin live at their job.
"But we are not so good at taking time off. With Freja I had four months' maternity leave. With Storm I had none. He was born in the middle of the tourist season, so I had to take him to the office. It is important for us to take a timeout, to take time off. But you always have your phone with you."
She cuts up cake and warms food that comes from the Radisson Blu Polar Hotel.
"It was different in Greenland," she says. "There we invited people home. Here it is almost an art to have a little privacy. I get a little tired of people coming crashing in to see how the locals live."
Another major difference is that things work as expected, in that there is a safety net. If there was a drunk man going around and shooting in Ittoqqortoormiit, the police didn't necessary come out. They just said, "call back if he doesn't stop." When they were out on tours there was no helicopter standing ready to rescue them if anything should happen. Their safety plan was a friend in town with a snowmobile that hopefully would start. And Karina almost fainted when she saw the selection at Svalbardbutikken.
They want their children to grow up here, but they also want them to become familiar with Denmark and the Danish.
"If not they can become rootless," Karina says. "Svalbard is not a place that becomes one's entire life. We want them to get out in the world. This is an artificial society where the troublesome elements are removed. We want them to experience the world of good and evil."