“Ah its Malmö, they aren’t really Swedish are they.”
“People from Malmö sound have a weird accent.”
“They still have too much Danish in them, that’s why they are a little stupid.”
All these are obviously said in jest about Malmö however the jokes are telling – more than 300 years after Skåne moves from Danish to Swedish control, the people in Skåne and the biggest cities in Skåne are still considered just that bit different from other Swedes.
Malmö is the centre (with Copenhagen to its west and Lund to its east) of what is considered the Greater Copenhagen area, connected by the Oresund Bridge where people live in one of these cities and work in another.
Malmö is perhaps the wiser choice for someone working in the area – larger and more lively than Lund on a daily basis, much cheaper than Copenhagen, barely 30 minutes away from the other two cities. This small city (by my standards anyway) of 300,000 is both bustling yet calm, crowded yet quiet, Swedish yet Danish. It’s a city of contrasts and it certainly bears that out when you explore.
Despite all the above, there was more than a slight tone of concern from some when they heard I wanted to check out Malmö.
In any discussion of crime and safety in Sweden, Malmö tends to come out at the front of concerns. It is portrayed in media as being overrun by refugees and immigrants, crime and violence ridden and a cesspool of problems. Do a youtube search of Malmö and what will greet you is a collection of videos about the problems in Malmö. In fact, Malmö was front and centre of the “Last Night in Sweden” comment that President Donald Trump made in 2017 during a rally, a comment which was lampooned by the majority of mainstream media and comedy channels,
While certain media outlets would want to decry all the critical comments on Malmö (and Sweden by extension) as those of right-wing extremists, or neo-Nazi sympathizers while those critical of Sweden’s current crime issues as the effect of brainwashed liberals, the truth is always somewhere in the middle. It’s no paradise, but it’s not the 50 most violent cities in the world either (things do seem worse to many though, it’s all based on relative perspective – no surprise that the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats is the dominant political party in Skane after the last election – but more on that in another post).
A series of videos done by award-winning independent journalist Tim Pool (you know he is doing something correct when both ends of the political spectrum critisise him for being too biased to the other side), perhaps gives most in-depth analysis around when he investigated the Harlem of Malmö, known colloquially as Ground Zero of the problems in Sweden – Rosengård.
I am no Tim Pool, but having done some freelance reporting in my previous incarnation, I wanted to get a sense of proportion and a vibe, if a very short one of this city. What I would find is a city of contrasts, with its fair share of problems and its potential. With aspects of hope as well as parts of despair, many worlds separate from each other, but more than anything I would find a Swedish city with Danish vibe and a Danish city packed with Swedes.
The contrasts of Malmö
Malmö is a city of contrasts and one that perhaps only came to its own in the last century, while its first written history dates back to 1275 it had always lived in the shadow of the older and more important Lund and Copenhagen. The city was originally established a fortified ferry berth for the Archbishop of Lund and later developed a trading and fishing industry thanks to the waters around it. Malmö’s history has been intimately tied with water, a majority of its economic boom periods have coincided with growth in water-based industries. In 1840, Frans Kockum founding a shipyard which eventually developed into one of the largest shipyards in the world.
A railway line connecting Malmö to Stockholm (the Southern Main Line) was completed only in 1874 led to a boom in manufacturing industries in Malmö. The following century was heady for Malmö.
Then it all came crashing down in the 1970s.
A massive recession hit Sweden (a recession is a part of the business cycle where there is a slowdown of economic activity and with it a drop in income, loss of jobs etc), the manufacturing and shipping industries in Malmö were hit hard and the fallout continued into the 1980s. There was no respite however when Sweden faced another massive financial crisis in the 1990s.
The nadir of the 1990s was soon met with an uptick led by the then mayor Estonia-born Ilmar Reepalu who led the transformation of Malmö from a shipping and manufacturing city into the culture and knowledge-based industry. Symbolically, the cranes of Kockums were removed and in its place a new structure, the only real skyscraper in all Scandinavia – the Turning Torso was completed in 2005.
This marked a new Malmö, a Malmö that is driven by culture, tech and other industries, a Malmö for the middle and upper classes.
With this has come a food revolution in Malmö, which already had its own distinct Swedish-Danish food tradition, as the Swedish gateway of global cuisine.
While things have begun to look up for the city once more, the benefits of the new economy have not trickled down to the lower-income classes living in ‘economically depressed’ areas, described by other media sources as “no-go zones”. Walk out 10 minutes from the city centre and that becomes apparent.
Malmö is a city of very stark contrasts, one that also lives with perhaps too many myths around it. It has become a bellwether of the increasingly polarised politics in Sweden. So what is Malmö? Join me as I try to demystify this city, warts and all.