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Ten years later: McDonald’s burger lives on

31.10.2019 - 16:00
Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: CC0 - Pixabay
Today marks ten years since McDonald’s Iceland shut up shop for the final time at the height of the financial crisis. Its legacy is not dead, however, as what is often dubbed “the last ever McDonald’s hamburger sold in Iceland” lives to this day and looks more like it was bought a week ago than a decade ago.

The burger and fries (which were definitely bought ten years ago today, but may admittedly not have been the very last ones out of the fryer) can be found in a display case at Snotra Hostel in Þykkvibær, South Iceland.  


Having heard urban legends online that McDonald’s food might not ever rot, Hjörtur Smárason grabbed his final chance and bought a burger and fries in a paper bag from the Suðurlandsbraut location. He didn’t know what he was going to do with them, and they ended up forgotten in his garage. 

Three years later, he was packing for a move to Denmark and rediscovered the seemingly perfect condition.  

“It has really become a historical artefact. It is both a symbol of the times that were happening in Iceland after the crash and about McDonald’s, which had to shut down,” Hjörtur says. “What does one do with a historical artefact? I called the National Museum and asked if they wanted the hamburger. And they said yes please.” 

The burger only stayed at the museum for a year, though; as a visiting auditing curator from Denmark declared the National Museum was not equipped to store food-based exhibits. The fact that the food has been maintaining itself undeterred for a decade does rather seem to undermine that assertion, but nevertheless, the burger had to go!

Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: Anna Marsibil Clausen

Worldwide fame

Hjörtur was asked to take it back, and he found a suitable home for it with a friend who was running Reykjavík’s Bus Hostel. There, it became the focus of a live 24/7 webcam feed. Despite the odd theft of a French fry here and there and many befuddled tourists, the burger lived a quiet life. This all changed in 2015, when an journalist discovered it. Then, an English-language version of the story in the Reykjavík Grapevine went viral and soon Bus Hostel was fielding questions from media outlets around the world. 

“It got millions, the burger, of viewers,” says former owner of Bus Hostel Sigurður Smári Gylfason. “One time the live feed crashed, and an American family got in touch with us. It was essential viewing [for them]; an example of what should not be eaten.” 

When Sigurður sold Bus Hostel, the hamburger and fries were specifically excluded from the sale. They would follow him to his new hostel in South Iceland. The webcam is still live round the clock, fans will be relieved to know. Tourists regularly take a detour off the main Route 1 highway to drop in and see the famous old chunks of cow, bread, and potato with their own eyes.

Mynd með færslu
 Mynd: Anna Marsibil Clausen

Going strong

After 3,652 days, the fries are a little dry-looking, and there are fewer of them thanks to sneaky hostel guests before they lived in a locked case. The burger, bread, and cheese, meanwhile, look fine. If anything, they might even look better now than they did five years ago, the journalist behind its initial surge in popularity, Anna Marsibil Clausen, now says.

The meal looks about a week old, she says, and there is no mould to be seen. If anything, it is the packaging that shows its age worst. So, how long can this mix of art, science, social, and economic studies go on for? 

“This is clearly a research project. How will it look after another ten years?” asks Sigurður. Throwing the meal away is out of the question: “Hopefully it will last a lot longer than even that!”

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Alexander Elliott
Fréttastofa RÚV