February 18th, 2007

Malmö, Hopelessly Grey Yet Quite Colourful

Posted in Europe, History by Olga Schlyter

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.

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  1. Ken Gildner says:

    Malmö doesn’t look very bland to me, Olga. Burroughs was too junked out to make a fair judgement of your lovely city!

    – Ken

    February 19th, 2007 at 1:30 pm

  2. Donal Hanley says:

    I have visited Malmo twice, once as an add on to a trip to Copenhagen (where I took the train over to Malmo for breakfast because…I could!) and once to visit business colleagues there. It has a great charm, well captured in your photographs. I was struck by the rivalry between it and Lund, a matter I am sure you know more about than I do. I also understand it is ethnically more diverse, largely as a result of many immigrants having to leave Denmark, with its restrictive laws even for foreigners marrying citizens, for still more welcoming Sweden. I also understnad many people live in Copenhagen but work in Malmo or vice versa – working and living not only in two cities but in two countries. Growing up in Ireland, we could (politics aside) never simply drive to another country…..

    February 23rd, 2007 at 5:39 pm

  3. Patrick Donovan says:

    I actually preferred smaller Malmo to Copenhagen. It seemed more ethnically diverse than the city across the bridge, and had more going for it at night. I was also encouraged by the fact that people in Malmo jaywalked, which was strangely comforting after being yelled at in Copenhagen. Alcohol in Sweden may be more expensive, but they make a really good pear cider. And Malmo has trashy atmospheric places like Stippes, with its screaming Eastern European owner and obnoxious drunks.

    February 25th, 2007 at 12:01 am

  4. Olga Schlyter says:

    ^ Aahh ha ha, Stippes – that’s classic. You haven’t really experienced this city until you’ve been there a late night. :)

    @donal: You’re right about immigrants from Denmark. Lot’s of Danes live here, aswell as people from other countries who move here from Denmark. You hear Danish on the street almost every day. One reason is the immigration laws in Denmark that you mentioned. Another reason is the lower real estate prices in Malmö compared to the Copenhagen area. With the bridge there are no problems to commute. I’ve even heard of young Danes who go to college in Malmö, because we have courses here that aren’t found in Denmark.

    February 25th, 2007 at 8:42 am

  5. Patrik Karlsson Nyed says:

    Hej Olga!
    Jag heter Patrik Karlsson Nyed och är ledamot av Brf Solhus i Malmö (Kapellg/Nicolaig vid S:t Johannes). Genom rekommendationer från två oberoende håll har ditt namn dykt upp. Du sägs vara en fena på fasader i Malmö. Husen i vår brf har eternitplattor, men vi planerar att restaurera vår fasad till orginalskick. I maj har vi stämma och en tanke från styrelsen är att det då vore kul att få veta lite mer om fasader i Malmö och kanske något som vi kanske inte känner till om våra egna hus. Om du tycker det låter intressant får du gärna höra av dig via mejl.



    February 26th, 2007 at 5:56 pm

  6. Christopher DeWolf says:

    From what I’ve seen Malmo looks quite charming—and the proximity to Copenhagen is certainly a plus.

    Was there any particular catalyst for the change from depressed industrial town to vibrant postindustrial hub?

    February 26th, 2007 at 6:02 pm

  7. Olga Schlyter says:

    In the late 1980’s the city made a great effort to become a more cultural city, putting big money in theaters and so on. By then that was a bit contorversial cause it felt out of place in the depressed post-industrial city Malmö was by then. I don’t really know what importance it had later on, but maybe some effect. Of more importance was the bridge to Denmark (finished in 2000) and the university (founded in 1998). Almost all Swedish cities that are on their way down tries to fix it with a university. In Malmö it worked fine, probably in combination with the bridge and a more general economical growth.

    @Patrik: Jag skulle gärna mejla dig om jag hade din adress. Du får mejla till mig istället. Du hittar min adress här.

    February 27th, 2007 at 11:23 am