Viking clash: Danes and Swedes battle to be biggest

When Stockholm's Mayor donned a t-shirt proclaiming the city 'Capital of Scandinavia', the reaction from the neighbours was predictably indignant. Daniel Boman looks at how Stockholm and Copenhagen are battling to prove who's biggest and best.

For two years Stockholm has busily been marketing itself as the ‘Capital of Scandinavia’, in a campaign intended to mark the city out as the natural destination for foreign investment in the Nordic region. Yet not everyone has been pleased by this promotional wheeze – particularly not neighbouring Scandinavians. Now Copenhagen has upped the ante, claiming to be the Real Capital of Scandinavia.

The Danes flexed their muscles during a recent travel fair in Stockholm, when Copenhagen Kastrup Airport published a five page document on why their city is the place to be. This was widely viewed as counterattack on Stockholm’s Mayor Kristina Axén Olin, who has been proudly displaying a t-shirt bearing the city’s slogan.

Copenhagen politicians have now joined forces with Kastrup. Matin Geertsen, head of culture and recreation at the city council, gave Danish newspapers his opinion:

“Copenhagen is indisputably the most important and central city in Scandinavia. If there should be one capital in this region, it´s here”, he said.

There has not been an official Scandinavian capital since the 16th century, when Copenhagen ruled the Kalmar union. But many see the trademark as just too valuable to be neglected. According to brand communications strategist Julian Stubbs, it is a powerful tool to reach foreign investors.

“Until 2001, Stockholm was the given place to do business, but then Copenhagen launched a strong marketing campaign and gained financial status. Stockholm needed a long term brand to establish itself as the most vital city to do business, he says.

Stubbs worked on Stockholm’s trademark and analyzed the competition from neighbouring countries.

“Scandinavia is an attractive region. To be recognized as the capital brings a lot of attention – it’s a way to put Stockholm back on the foreign investors’ shopping lists. What the city needs is to build a name as strong as London or Barcelona or other major European cities.

Olle Zetterberg, president of Stockholm Business Region, a council-run organization for promoting Stockholm, says the slogan also has a role in boosting the self-image of Stockholmers:

“We have to make the people living in Stockholm feel proud of their city,” he says.

But how good are Stockholm’s claims to be the Scandinavian top dog?

Scandinavia consists of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Finland is one of the Nordic countries, but does not belong to Scandinavia. Basically there are two major areas competing for the unofficial capital status: the Stockholm region (including six counties surrounding Lake Mälaren) and the Öresund region (Copenhagen and Malmö).

About five years ago the Öresund region attempted to establish itself as The Human Capital of Scandinavia. Officials focused on the hospitality and friendship of the 3.5 million people living there, as well as the high level of education.

“With three highly ranked universities on the Shanghai academic list we are one of the most educated regions in Europe, or even globally,” says Bengt Streijffert CEO at Öresund Science Region.

In 2005 Stockholm went all the way and claimed the throne of Scandinavia based on three main arguments; location, culture and business.

Being the largest city in Scandinavia, Stockholm has the most trafficked ports in the Baltic sea and several international airports.

But Copenhagen bosses, not unexpectedly, see things differently. Peter Römer Hansen of the Wonderful Copenhagen tourist office points out that Copenhagen airport is larger than Stockholm Arlanda.

“Kastrup is the air transport hub of Scandinavia,” he says.

While Römer Hansen is more diplomatic than some of his colleagues, there is no mistaking that Stockholm’s claims to supremacy are treated with diplomatic scepticism from the most southerly Scandinavian country.

“I’m not sure Capital of Scandinavia is the best slogan for Stockholm. There are four major cities in this region with great potential, maybe they should have focused on some of their qualities instead.”

Culturally Stockholm highligts its international food culture and renowned design industry. The city’s advocates also point out that it has the region’s largest financial market, the highest number of multinational companies and one of Europe’s largest biotech clusters.

But for every claim made by Stockholm, Copenhagen’s supporters reckon they can return with a killer statistic. They cite the fact that the Guide Michelin lists ten restaurants in the Danish capital compared to six in Stockholm. When it comes to status as a business location, Mastercard ranks Copenhagen as the 14th most important business city in the world, two notches above Stockholm.

“We can throw numbers back and forth, but it doen’t make much sense. There are specific values in each city. Stockholm is the largest but Copenhagen is very liveable with places such as Christiania,” says Römer Hansen.

Stockholm’s leaders know the city faces tough challenges to its pre-eminence in the region, and they are taking nothing for granted. To secure its position as the largest city in Scandinavia the Stockholm-Lake Mälaren region, home to three million people, has set a goal to become the fastest-growing region in northern Europe by 2010.

The hope is that increasing migration and a rising birthrate will keep the city expanding. Several major projects to raise the city’s status are in the pipeline. A new national arena is being built in Solna, the famous city library is expanding and both an ABBA museum and a new opera house are planned. These projects are focused as much on giving current Stockholmers pride in their city as on attracting newcomers, says Olle Zetterberg:

“We have a tendency to complain about our hometown when we meet foreigners. People in other capitals in northern Europe are not like that, they like their cities. The individual citizens are the most important marketers.”

Daniel Boman

This article previously mistakenly referred to Julian Stubbs by the wrong name. This error has now been corrected and we would like to extend our apologies to Mr. Stubbs


Stockholm Pride is a little different this year: here’s what you need to know 

This week marks the beginning of Pride festivities in the Swedish capital. The tickets sold out immediately, for the partly in-person, partly digital events. 

Pride parade 2019
There won't be a Pride parade like the one in 2019 on the streets of Stockholm this year. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

You might have noticed rainbow flags popping up on major buildings in Stockholm, and on buses and trams. Sweden has more Pride festivals per capita than any other country and is the largest Pride celebration in the Nordic region, but the Stockholm event is by far the biggest.  

The Pride Parade, which usually attracts around 50,000 participants in a normal year, will be broadcast digitally from Södra Teatern on August 7th on Stockholm Pride’s website and social media. The two-hour broadcast will be led by tenor and debater Rickard Söderberg.

The two major venues of the festival are Pride House, located this year at the Clarion Hotel Stockholm at Skanstull in Södermalm, and Pride Stage, which is at Södra Teatern near Slussen.

“We are super happy with the layout and think it feels good for us as an organisation to slowly return to normal. There are so many who have longed for it,” chairperson of Stockholm Pride, Vix Herjeryd, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

Tickets are required for all indoor events at Södra Teatern to limit the number of people indoors according to pandemic restrictions. But the entire stage programme will also be streamed on a big screen open air on Mosebacketerassen, which doesn’t require a ticket.  

You can read more about this year’s Pride programme on the Stockholm Pride website (in Swedish).