I’m in a cafe chatting to a local musician who tells me: ”Twenty years ago, just the name Malmö would scare young children. Now it’s kind of hip.”
Sweden’s third largest city was buzzing from the minute I arrived. From the heavy banging of building a new rail-link at the station to the fabulous sounds of a Romanian jazz trio in Stortorget, everywhere I walked there was a different beat and a sense that things were happening.
They were. The Malmö Festival was heading to town. This week long event, which has been running for 25 years, takes over the city’s streets, parks and venues with music, performance, art, turning trees into giant red condoms, and a lot of complaints about the noise.
Indeed, with the battle won for women to bathe topless here, the locals now had a different axe to grind. It seems the festival is either loved or hated by the people . And so having listened to the frustrations and divided opinions, the marketeers came up with a novel campaign slogan this year: ”Malmöfestivalen: Du kanske hatar mig men jag älskar alltid dig.” (Maybe you hate me, but I will always love you)
Personally, I have a love-hate thing for guided tours. I’ve taken a fair few on this trip because there’s always a bit of trivia to be had and tips to explore further without following the crowd. But I don’t find it a pleasant experience; being herded around in pursuit of a lofty umbrella and even worse if you have to wear a sticky blue dot on your chest.
In Malmö I took one of the boat tours, a voyage of not-much-discovery under the city’s 21 bridges. The guide was obviously as bored as she sounded, reeling off her scripted sentences from paper in Swedish, English and German without really understanding the puns, written in earnest but lost without the right delivery.
”And the building to the right is called the …errr…Slaughter House, because it used to…errr…be one – now it’s a nightclub so you could say it’s ….errr….still a meat market.”
I switched off and instead turned my attention to the views. It was obvious to see how redevelopment has helped to colourfully transform the city’s image from industrial grey. Admittedly, before coming here, I had the old-school reputation in mind and put Malmö up there with Mogadishu on my list of places not to visit.
It remains very much a working city and, like any other, has its challenges to address but there’s a new look to Malmö. It’s not only about the modern coastal skyline of the Western Harbour and Turning Torso; young people are no longer afraid of the place but rather moving here in numbers. And when you ask what there is to do in Malmö nowadays the answer need not be go across the bridge to Copenhagen.
Another love-hate entry in my top ten goes out to the sisterhood of feminist overkill. Bravo for equal rights I say but if you’re going to make a big deal of being able to get your boobs out in public then make sure you do it.
Exploit it. En masse. Get them out, bounce them around in victorious celebration and rub it in. I kept my eyes peeled as I walked by the beach but it seemed no one wanted to rub their breasts in my face.
So I went Ribersborg bathhouse where nudist bathers can let it all hang out, take a sauna and a dip in the sea. As a first-time nudist, I shelved both British prudishness and my bikini to spend a few sunny hours in ’natural’ surroundings.
So with a subtle tan and no white marks I leave Malmö with neither love nor hate for the place but a recommendation to others to visit where they may have once feared to tread.