Malmö: A decade with the Öresund bridge

The Öresund bridge celebrates its 10th birthday this week. The Local's Peter Vinthagen Simpson takes a look at how the link has changed Sweden's third city and its relations to its neighbours.

Malmö: A decade with the Öresund bridge


When Malmö launched its Malmö Festival around 20 years ago, local daily Sydsvenska Dagbladet printed up t-shirts that said: “If you have seen Malmö, you have seen the world.”

Soon after, neighbouring Lund launched its riposte: “If you have seen Lund, you don’t need to see Malmö.”

This little anecdote tells you something of the challenges facing Malmö at the end of the last millennium as the raw port city struggled to find its feet at the dawn of its post-industrial era, blighted by high rates of unemployment and industrial decline.

The opening of the Öresund road-rail link on July 2nd, 2000 tied the Scandinavian peninsula to the continent in perpetuity and helped to kickstart a dramatic change in the fortunes and image of the city, home to almost 300,000 people.

“The bridge manifested primarily a mental change. Physically, it is like an isthmus that connects us to the continent. We had always felt close to Denmark, but the bridge was like a pointer – symbolically, it showed the way forward,” Malmö resident Björn Hofvander tells The Local.

The Öresund Bridge, officially known as the Øresund bridge to reflect a combination of the Swedish and Danish spellings (Öresundsbron and Øresundsbroen), cost 30.1 billion Danish kronor ($4 billion in 2000 figures) to build and consists of a 7.85-kilometre bridge and 4.05-kilometre tunnel via the artificial island of Peberholmen.

The project was forecast to recoup its costs by 2035 and would be entirely user-financed, but perhaps due to initially prohibitively high costs, the bridge got off to a relatively slow start. However, since 2005, traffic has steadily increased and there are now few who question its success.

The completion of the bridge was followed closely by the start of the development of Västra Hamnen – an area long associated with perhaps the most prominent symbol of the city’s industrial past, the Kockums shipyard crane.

Much like the festival slogan revisited above, the city’s attachment to the long-redundant dockyard crane was shaped by a tangible self-deprecating humour that visitors to the city can soon testify to. Its removal was not without controversy and the crane’s silhouette can still occasionally be spotted on t-shirts worn by Malmö’s more fashionable and heritage-savvy parents.

“To the older generation, the crane symbolised a safe old employer. They could remember when the dockworkers moved around the area. For the young, it was a landmark – a visual symbol,” Hofvander says.

While Malmö is a city that looks proudly on its industrial past, the development of Västra Hamnen, and the Turning Torso skyscraper at its heart, served to send a message that Malmö’s focus had shifted and it was looking forward to the future with optimism and self-belief.

“You could say that the Turning Torso has replaced the Kockums crane as a symbol of the city. It has made an impression and everyone has a relation to it one way or the other,” Hofvander says.

Västra Hamnen, with its penthouse-style apartments and sea views accompanied by hitherto unheard of prices, signified that Malmö was a city to be lived in again after decades of middle-class suburban flight. Hofvander, who moved back into the city with his family in 2008 after an eight-year hiatus, points out that the new area of the city has become a popular meeting place.

“I think people feel that it is an exciting area. It has expanded the city and they have succeeded in creating accessibility, things happen there that are open for all.”

Many of the newcomers to the city during the 2000s were Danes who found that their money went considerably further in Sweden, with the completion of the bridge rendering a cross-Öresund commute a viable alternative.

According to Öresund Bridge Consortium statistics, 16,000 people commute to work across the bridge-tunnel link. One of them is Martin Palmer, who works at Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport and remembers commuting across the sound when the sea route was the only option.

“I save almost two hours by commuting across the bridge,” he says. “It is very convenient, just about the only thing I miss is the banter with your colleagues on the boat back on Friday afternoon. That was nice.”

Starting in 2001, the number of Danes moving to Malmö gradually increased, with the influx peaking at 1,329 in 2007. There are currently 9,174 Danish-born residents of Malmö, according to Statistics Sweden figures for 2010, up from 3,393 in 2000.

“Most of the commuter traffic goes from Sweden to Denmark. But it has benefitted Sweden too in the number of Danes coming over to shop and some of whom stay to live,” Palmer says, adding that access to the much larger labour market of Denmark’s capital has been of particular benefit to new Swedes and young people.

“The Swedish labour market is notoriously hard for young people and immigrants. In Denmark, it is easier to find entry-level work,” he says.

Malmö is a popular destination for immigrants to Sweden and integration remains one of the key challenges facing the city, where over a third of the population is foreign-born. The issue remains sensitive, as was illustrated recently when comments made by Mayor Ilmar Reepalu were taken to indicate an ambivalence to the problems experienced by the city’s Jewish community.

Loose talk aside, Social Democrat Reepalu’s role in helping to transform the city from one of high unemployment and past industrial glory into a thriving multi-cultural and enterprising knowledge-based city is widely recognised by the Malmö electorate, who have stayed loyal to the party throughout the decade.

One of the key developments under Reepalu’s tenure is the establishment of Malmö University in 1998. Malmö had identified education, alongside arts and culture, as one of its key growth areas and the university was an audacious attempt to challenge the regional educational hegemony of nearby Lund.

“Malmö University realizes that it can not compete with Lund’s tradition and history. We have to attract the students that don’t go to Lund for whatever reason and offer something different,” says Malin McGlinn, a course coordinator at the university, to The Local.

The university’s main campus is located in another area of the former docklands and those arriving at the central station can’t help but notice the audacious confluence of buildings across the lock to the south.

In its 12 years of operation, the university has grown from an initial student body of 5,000 with a predominant focus on teacher training to Sweden’s ninth-largest seat of learning and overall biggest university college, offering a full range of study and research alternatives to its 23,000-strong student body.

While 62 percent of the students come from Skåne, the university works hard to profile its international perspective and Öresund identity.

“We have close cooperation with Copenhagen and Roskilde universities and many of our students attend exchange programmes there,” McGlinn says. “The university also works hard to attract students with non-Swedish backgrounds who need to acquire the qualifications required to enter the Swedish labour market.”

The 650 kilometres to Sweden’s capital Stockholm means that ambitious Malmö residents are as likely to look to Copenhagen, Brussels, London or Frankfurt when seeking career advancement. The completion of the bridge has served only to further reinforce the oft-quoted feeling that Malmö is “closer to the continent.”

Malmö was founded around 1275 and originally known as Malmhaug or “Gravel pile”, it was long Denmark’s second city. While some would argue that it remains so, one thing is for certain – the city no longer resembles a pile of crushed rock, and while the bridge has made it significantly easier to get away, it has also helped to make Malmö well worth a stopover, even for those who have seen Lund first.


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How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans

After long months of lockdowns and curfews Europeans are looking forward to jetting off for a bit of sun and sand -- only to find that their long awaited holiday plans go awry due to a shortage of rental cars.

How a rental car shortage in Europe could scupper summer holiday plans
Tourists wait outside of rental car agencies in Corsica. Photo: PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

In many areas popular with tourists cars are simply not available or subcompacts are going for a stiff €500 euros.

Car rental comparison websites show just how expensive renting a vehicle has become for tourists this summer.

According to Carigami, renting a car for a week this summer will set tourists back an average of 364 euros compared to 277 euros two years ago.

For Italy, the figure is 407 euros this summer compared to 250 euros in 2019. In Spain, the average cost has jumped to 263 euros from 185 euros.

According to another website, Liligo, daily rental costs have nearly doubled on the French island of Corsica. At the resort city of Palma on the Spanish island of Mallorca, rental prices have nearly tripled.

Today’s problem is a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Faced with near absence of clients, selling off vehicles to raise cash made a lot of sense for car rental firms struggling to survive.

“Everyone drastically reduced their fleet,” said the head of Europcar, Caroline Parot.

Until the spring, most companies still had fleets roughly a third smaller than in 2019, she said.

Car rental firms are used to regularly selling their vehicles and replacing them, so rebuilding their inventory should not have been a problem.

Except the pandemic sent demand for consumer electronics surging, creating a shortage of semiconductors, or chips, that are used not only in computers but increasingly in cars.

“A key contributor to the challenge right now is the global chip shortage, which has impacted new vehicle availability across the industry at a time when demand is already high,” said a spokesman for Enterprise.

It said it was working to acquire new vehicles but that in the mean time it is shifting cars around in order to better meet demand.

No cars, try a van

“We’ve begun to warn people: if you want to come to Italy, which is finally reopening, plan and reserve ahead,” said the head of the association of Italian car rental firms, Massimiliano Archiapatti.

He said they were working hard to meet the surge in demand at vacation spots.

“But we’ve got two big islands that are major international tourism destinations,” he said, which makes it difficult to move cars around,
especially as the trip to Sardinia takes half a day.

“The ferries are already full with people bringing their cars,” he added.

“Given the law of supply and demand, there is a risk it will impact on prices,” Archiapatti said.

The increase in demand is also being seen for rentals between individuals.

GetAround, a web platform that organises such rentals, said it has seen “a sharp increases in searches and rentals” in European markets.

Since May more than 90 percent of cars available on the platform have been rented on weekends, and many have already been booked for much of the summer.

GetAround has used the surge in demand to expand the number of cities it serves.

For some, their arrival can’t come fast enough.

Bruno Riondet, a 51-year-old aeronautics technician, rents cars to attend matches of his favourite British football club, Brighton.

“Before, to rent a car I was paying between 25 and 30 euros per day. Today, it’s more than 90 euros, that’s three times more expensive,” he said.

In the United States, where prices shot higher during the spring, tourists visiting Hawaii turned to renting vans.

In France, there are still cars, according to Jean-Philippe Doyen, who handles shared mobility at the National Council of Automobile Professionals.

“Clients have a tendency to reserve at the last minute, even more so in the still somewhat uncertain situation,” he said.

They will often wait until just a few days before their trip, which means car rental firms don’t have a complete overview of upcoming demand, he added.

He said business is recovering but that revenue has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels as travel is not yet completely unfettered.

SEE ALSO: British drivers will no longer need an insurance ‘green card’ to visit Europe, EU rules