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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Passage to Malmö

Recalling a time when crossing over the Oresund — from Denmark to Sweden — was a joy ride.

Written by Divya A | Malmo (sweden) | Updated: March 27, 2016 12:00:57 am
Sweden, Denmark, Oresund, Malmo, krone, krona, refugees, refugee crisis, Copenhagen, travel, tourism, Moderna Museet, The Bridge, Turning Torso, Scandinavia Copenhagen; the Oresund bridge that connects Denmark and Sweden. (Source: WoCo)

For the first time in half a century, Sweden has introduced check points on its border with Denmark earlier this year in a desperate bid to stem the flow of immigrants. Since then, guards have been inspecting passports of those entering the Swedish city of Malmö through the Oresund Bridge — that connects it with Copenhagen — the Danish capital.

It’s ironic now that Oresund — the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe — was always considered the most visible symbol of European integration. Hassled commuters on both sides complain about spending hours in queues for a journey which, by itself, takes less than an hour. Before this era of border checks, travel between the two countries was a breeze. Since it is easy and economical to travel between Sweden and Denmark — 40 minutes and 12 euros is all it takes — many Danes have bought homes in Sweden to take advantage of lower housing prices in Malmö and commute to work in Copenhagen everyday. Swedes go to Denmark to buy grocery and liquor since it’s a little cheaper that side. In fact, one encounters young Swedes working at upscale stores across Copenhagen, mostly because of Denmark’s high salaries owing to a stronger krone as compared to the Swedish krona.

On a trip to Copenhagen sometime back, I encountered a slice of this life. When my local contact told me she was visiting Malmo the next afternoon to meet a cousin, I decided to tag along. “After supper in Sweden, we shall be back in time for dinner in Denmark,” she had remarked. After a quick brunch on a Friday afternoon, we walked to the Kastrup station to catch a train to Malmö. At that time, you could never tell a Dane from a Swede on a platform. It’s only now — after January 4 — that a fence has been erected and while Danes board from the north side of the fence, Swedes use the southern platform. Many refer to this fence as Sweden’s own Berlin Wall.

Oresund offers a road route also — which takes lesser time — but taking the train from Copenhagen to Malmö or vice-versa is more popular among the 30,000-odd commuters who criss-cross between the two Scandinavian neighbours everyday. The trains depart the central train stations every 20 minutes and the advantage here is a flexible schedule and a low price since one doesn’t have to pay the bridge toll.

The train journey is comfortable and interesting. While you get a motley crowd of students, professionals and tourists as co-passengers, the view outside the window is stunning. Gradually, the landscape of Copenhagen gives way to the crystal clear waters of the Baltic sea.

The 16-km Oresund Bridge was inaugurated in 2000 by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. As a symbolic gesture, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden met midway across the bridge-tunnel in August 1999 to celebrate its completion. In recent times, the bridge has gained a foothold in popular culture, being at the centre of the hit Scandinavian crime television series The Bridge — which starts with detectives from the two countries teaming up to investigate the murder of a woman whose body is found on it. It was also the inspiration behind the 2014 song Walk Me to the Bridge by the famous Welsh band, Manic Street Preachers.

Once you arrive in Malmö, the landscape changes. Leaving behind Copenhagen’s cobbled streets, gabled houses and colourful buildings, you have now entered the city of parks. Malmö is home to The King’s Park and the Castle Park — widely considered the country’s most beautiful parks, separated by a canal and linked by several bridges. Moderna Museet — the Stockholm-based modern art museum — also opened a Malmö branch in December 2009.

But parks are not all that Malmo has. Once you start walking by and reach an area called Möllevångstorget, you can find exotic shops selling Asian and Middle-Eastern food items and several pubs and bars. The neighbourhood is full of inexpensive shops, restaurants and grocery stores catering to the immigrant population. By the way, krone is acceptable in Malmö too.

The central point of Sweden’s third largest city is its waterfront — with the hugely famous Turning Torso building. Completed in 2005, this 190m structure is the tallest building in Scandinavia and hosts mostly apartments and some offices. With no observation deck or other sightseeing facilities, it’s best admired from afar.

After a quick coffee and a slice of walnut pie at one of the many cafes in the waterfront area, I returned to Malmö central station to join my Danish friend on the trip back. While Copenhagen is a fascinating place for a city break, Malmö is a typical post-industrial city that has found boom recently. Nonetheless, its close cultural and historical ties to Copenhagen are manifested extensively in many ways — not the least in the fact that the people of Denmark and Sweden are often referred to as broderfolk (brothers). But more than that, it’s the Oresund that has bridged all the gaps — until recently.

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