A dull and hopelessly grey city. That’s how William Burroughs describes Malmö in a short passage in Naked Lunch. This was in the 1950s. At that time, Malmö was a prosperous industrial city and one of the world’s largest shipyards, Kockums, was the main employer. But that wasn’t quite what Burroughs was looking for. When he wasn’t served any liquor on his arrival in the morning, he took the next boat back to Copenhagen.
When I grew up in the 1980’s, in the neighbouring university town of Lund, the constant joke about Malmö was that the best thing about the city was its boat to Copenhagen. That wasn’t just some silly, intercity rivalry talk. At this time Malmö was in a deeply depressing state of unemployment and crisis. The recession in the 1970s had struck hard, and the pride of the city — the shipyard — was closed. My memories of Malmö in the 1980s resemble Burroughs’ from the 50s (except for the part about being unable to find any liquor).
But since the mid 90s, Malmö has managed to change, and is adapting to the post-industrial society. The focus is now on education and culture, and for the last ten years there’s been a university located in the old shipyard area. Malmö is now actually considered quite hip, a city with lots of immigrants and a cosmopolitan feel. I think William Burroughs might have liked it, and, even if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have to wait for the next boat. There’s a bridge to Copenhagen now, and he could just get in a cab and be there in no time. After all, one thing still hasn’t changed: the liquor is still more plentiful in Denmark.
Tags: Malmö, Then and Now