OR SWEDEN AT ITS SOUTHERNMOST
12.10.2004 - 14.10.2004
SWEDEN AT ITS SOUTHERNMOST
An amazing fact about Malmö is that it is closer to Florence in Italy than to Kiruna, which is Sweden’s northernmost town. I guess it shows quite well how deep south Malmö is, and how close to non-Scandinavian Europe. Unlike other big urban centres of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Malmö doesn’t feel like a remote island. This feeling is especially true now, after the construction of the Öresund Bridge, which links Malmö with Copenhagen. Hamburg and Berlin are, respectively, a mere four and six hours away by car.
The Öresund Bridge has already brought, and will continue to do so, many opportunities and challenges to Malmö. In an attempt to avoid becoming an over-the-bridge suburb of Copenhagen, overlooked on the way from Denmark to Norway or Stockholm, Malmö is trying to redefine itself as an attractive, livable and visitable city. A newly built skyscraper called Turning Torso proves that this redefinition has begun for good.
There’s no doubt that Turning Torso hit the bull’s eye. It is considered one of the most beautiful new high-rise buildings in the world. Together with the Öresund Bridge, Turning Torso put Malmö on the map of European cities which you must visit if you are a modern architecture admirer. This is a very new quality for Malmö, which until recently was “the sick man of Scandinavia”, known mostly for its shipbuilding industry and troubled by unemployment. As a consequence, hardly anybody considered Malmö a serious, autonomous tourist destination. It was just a bleak and rather forgettable addition to a visit to Copenhagen.
Fortunately for Malmö, these times seem to be over.
Photo: Architecture of the historical centre of Malmö
City Hall Square a.k.a. the Big Square (Stortorget)
Stortorget, surrounded by picturesque Renaissance buildings, is Malmö’s main square. For quite a long time it was the biggest square in Northern Europe. I found it more beautiful and likeable than the Town Hall Square in Copenhagen, although less monumental. In the midst of Stortorget stands the equestrian statue of King Karl X Gustav of Sweden, who took Malmö back from the Danes. The white stuccoed building next to the City Hall is called Residence (Residenset).
Photo: Stortorget with Residence building on the left
Malmö City Hall (Malmö rådhus)
The City Hall, located in the eastern part of Stortorget, is definitely the most beautiful historical building in Malmö. Its Dutch Renaissance façade is ornate and colourful. It looks especially beautiful at night.
Photo: Malmö City Hall
The Little Square (Lilla Torg)
The existence of the Big Square suggests that there must be also something called the Little Square in Malmö. The suggestion is correct. The Little Square, located next to Stortorget, is considered by many to be the most charming square in town. But I found its famous half-timbered houses rather unremarkable and somewhat depressing, especially in contrast to the flamboyant and joyful architecture of Stortorget. In summer Lilla Torg, filled with outdoor cafés and restaurants, is a must-see for bar hoppers. In winter it becomes an outdoor skating rink.
St Peter’s Church (Sankt Petri kyrka)
The majestic St Peter's Church, built in the Baltic Gothic style, is said to be the oldest building in Malmö and one of Sweden’s most important churches. Somewhat gloomy on the outside, it is white and airy inside. Its elegant spire, which is 105 m high, overlooks the historical centre of Malmö.
Photo: The spire of St Peter’s Church (on the right)
Malmöhus Castle (Malmöhus slott)
Malmöhus, which is the oldest Renaissance castle in Scandinavia, is a massive 16th century fortress located in the centre of Malmö. It used to be a residence of Danish kings, a prison and a Swedish stronghold. Nowadays it is a must-visit for avid museum goers (which I am not, so I saw it only from the outside). It houses the City Museum (Malmö Museum), the Art Museum (Malmö Konstmuseum), the Natural History Museum, the Aquarium and the Tropicarium. Beside Malmöhus is the Technology and Naval Museum (Teknikens och Sjöfartens hus).
Photo: Malmöhus Castle
Turning Torso, which is a 190m tower consisting of nine cubes twisting as they rise, was designed by the renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It is an absolutely breathtaking example of modern architecture and a brand new architectural symbol of Malmö (the old one was a gigantic and dismal shipbuilding crane called Kockumskranen, dismantled without much regret in 2002). Turning Torso is located in the Western Harbour (Västra hamnen), which is Malmö’s new posh residential area. Upon completion in 2005 Turning Torso was the second tallest residential building in Europe. I saw it in October 2004, when it was still in the making. Unfortunately, Turning Torso is closed for visitors, so you can admire it only from the outside. Unless you have friends living in it or can afford spending a night in one of its premium suites. What’s the price? Well, I don’t know, but if you are thinking about it seriously, surely the price is not something you care about.
Photo: Turning Torso in the making. This is a historical photo now.
The Öresund Bridge (Öresundsbron in Swedish/Øresundsbroen in Danish)
The Öresund Bridge, opened in 2000, provides a fast road and rail link between Copenhagen and Sweden. Actually, the Öresund Bridge is not just a bridge. It comprises a 4-km immersed tunnel, a 4-km long artificial island called Peberholm (both on the Danish side of the strait) and an 8-km suspension bridge (on the Swedish side). The bridge’s pylons are over 200 m high. It is truly a marvellous piece of engineering. You can get a distant view of the bridge from Copenhagen, but the view from Malmö is incomparably better. If you want to get nice views of the bridge while crossing it, choose car or bus instead of train. There is almost no view of the bridge from the train.
Photo: The Öresund Bridge as seen from Västra hamnen (Malmö's posh residential area)
Apart from the fact that it is Sweden's third biggest city and the capital of the province of Scania, I didn't know much about Malmö. I chose it as a one-day side trip destination from Copenhagen because I wanted to cross the Öresund Bridge. So it was a very nice surprise to discover such an interesting place, which is much more than the Öresund Bridge and Turning Torso. Its historical centre is not big but immediately likeable and nice. The City Hall reminded me of the City Hall in Antwerp and (to a lesser extent) Palacio Municipal in A Coruña. St Peter’s Church is quite similar to St Mary’s Church in Lübeck (the same brick Baltic Gothic style). The history of the Western Harbour (Västra hamnen), formerly a drab and neglected industrial area, now an upmarket housing area featuring modern, functional and ecological architecture, reminded me of the history of the creation of Parque das Nações in Lisbon. Compared to rather dense urban area of central Copenhagen, Malmö feels much more airy and spacious (numerous green areas and parks add to this impression).
To sum up, I must say that Malmö proved to be for me an indispensable addition to a visit to Copenhagen and a much more enjoyable tourist destination than Gothenburg, Sweden’s second biggest city.
SURROUNDINGS OF MALMÖ:
Ystad (60 km east of Malmö)
The tiny town of Ystad is the second southernmost municipality in Sweden, after Trelleborg. Hardly anybody, except for Swedes and Poles, has ever heard of Ystad. For Swedes it has always been one of the most picturesque little towns in Sweden, famous for its well-preserved half-timbered houses. For Poles it has always been the destination for ferries arriving from Poland, and, as such, the principal gateway to Sweden (now, owing to the joys of low-cost air travel, it has changed). Being a Pole, I too had heard of Ystad only as a transportation hub. So it was a nice and eye-opening experience to visit Ystad and see that it is not a huge and boisterous ferry terminal as I had imagined, but instead a charming little town. I spent all afternoon strolling along its picturesque streets and admiring rustic provincial beauty of its half-timbered houses.
Photo: The spire of St Mary's Church (S:ta Maria kyrka) reflected in the window of one of Ystad's half-timbered houses
Helsingborg (65 km north of Malmö)
No other Swedish town is as close to Denmark as Helsingborg. It is here where the Öresund Strait, which separates the Scandinavian Peninsula from Denmark, is the narrowest. Helsingør, which is the Danish counterpart of Helsingborg, is a mere 5 km away by sea. Compared to Helsingør, Helsingborg is bigger, more lively, but in my opinion less beautiful. The architectonical symbol of Helsingborg is a medieval fortress tower called Kärnan, but I found it so unexciting that I didn't even took any photographs of it. Still, I found some things I liked in Helsingborg. First of all, its neo-Gothic Town Hall. Adorned with numerous turrets and pinnacles, it is a very handsome and impressive building. I also liked the wooden architecture of a music club and concert venue called The Tivoli, located by the harbour. A handful of streets in the centre of Helsingborg are also quite enjoyable.
Photo: Helsingborg Town Hall
The 20-minute ferry travel from Helsingborg to Helsingør is an interesting cultural experience. Many passengers are Swedish alcohol-tourists, who go to Denmark to buy huge amounts of beer and other alcoholic beverages taking advantage of cheaper alcohol prices in Denmark.
Photo: The Tivoli Music Club is the first sight you come upon after arrival in Helsingborg by ferry
MOVIES SHOT ON LOCATION IN MALMÖ:
1. Raven’s End (Kvarteret Korpen) – Sweden 1970, dir. Bo Widerberg
2. Where The Rainbow Ends (Där Regnbågen Slutar) - Sweden 1999, dir. Richard Hobert
3. Shake It (En Kort En Lang) – Sweden/Germany 2001, dir. Hella Joof
4. All Things Fair (Lust Och Fägring Stor) – Denmark/Sweden 1995, dir. Bo Widerberg
5. Lilja 4-ever – Sweden/Denmark 2002, dir. Lukas Moodysson