Kristian Elster was born into a family of senior civil servants in Overhalla, the county of Nord-Trøndelag. In 1853 the family moved to Førde because his father had been appointed as a judge in Sunnfjord.
At the age of 15 Kristian was sent to school in Kristiania [now Oslo]. It had originally been planned that he would pursue a military career, but this had to be put aside due to his myopia. After some failed attempts at academic studies, he went to Germany in 1867 to study forestry at the Master’s degree level. With a diploma in this field he returned to Norway the following year.
Once back in Norway he initially did not work much with forests as he had strong artistic interests. Until 1873 he worked as a literature and drama critic in the capital. In the 1860s and 1870s he also published some plays and short stories. As a man engrossed in culture, Kristian Elster was strongly influenced by Bjørnson, Grundtvig and the idea of enlightening the people.
Then, from 1873 he had the opportunity to practise his forestry skills when he was employed as a forester's assistant in Trondheim. During this period comprehensive afforestation was planned and carried out in Bymarka. This was a pioneer project, and many had little faith in the success of such a comprehensive planting project so far north. The strategist behind this work was Johannes Schiøtz (1835-97), but in his absence, Elster would have the responsibility. The Fagerlia and Ilbergan areas were clothed in forest. Constructing walking paths was an integral part of the plan, and this helped to open for general recreational use of the forest by Trondheim’s inhabitants during the last half of the nineteenth century.
While carrying out his afforestation duties Elster continued to develop his writing. He is a notable figure in Norwegian literary history with his most popular novels being Tora Trondal (1879) and Farlige Folk [Dangerous people] (published posthumously), both works of social criticism.
At the age of 40 Kristian Elster senior died of pneumonia. Nationally, Elster is thought of as an author, but in Trondheim he is remembered as a forester. The Elster park in Ilbergan is a lasting monument for all who like to take walks in the forest.
Some months before he died, he had a son, Kristian Elster (junior) (1881-1947), and this son’s life was quite similar to his father's. He also worked with forestry issues, in addition to being an author and literary critic.
Recommended reading: Kristian Elster: Veien fra Grundtvig til Marx [The road from Grundtvig to Marx]. Gyldendal, 1977.