Despite the commonality of practically everything in our times, bridges still seem to have an effect that has retained its element since the time men learnt to cross boundaries.
“I think like a Dane but live like a Swede,” Lars summoned his identity when I enquired. I was sitting across him in the train. Outside, the rain drops moulded into intricate veins over the glass window of the racing train. We were crossing the Baltic Sea and were somewhere between Sweden and Denmark. It was during those 17 minutes that it takes to cross the two countries, that we had started talking.
“I am an Öresund citizen”, he said. The Öresund region comprises the western part of Denmark (Zealand mostly) and southern part of Sweden (Skåne), and is signified by the Copenhagen-Malmö axis. Until 1658, the Skåne region of Sweden was under Danish rule, when following a heavy defeat in the second Northern War, Denmark had to concede it to Sweden.
“The bridge has expanded the job market considerably. We can now live in Sweden and work in Denmark. The Öresund region now contributes 25-27 per cent of Denmark’s and Sweden’s GDP. Danes can now access the cheap housing on the Swedish side,” said Lars.
He insisted that the global economics has shaped a new identity for people of the two nations. This transformation had been brought about by the Öresund Bridge over which we were coursing. In informal political circles, it is referred to as the ‘bridge of reconciliation’.
The 7.8 kilometers-long Öresund Bridge connects the southern tip of Sweden to Denmark. The bridge is partially under water on the Danish side, the inflexion taking place at the artificial island of Pebeholm. In an untypical sense of good humour, the Danes named this island as the “pepper island” to complement the natural island of Saltholm (Salt Island) to its North.
Three considerations favoured a part of the Öresund Bridge to be held under the sea towards the Danish side: firstly, the Kastrup International Airport is quite close (the first station on the Danish side) and an overland structure might have interfered with the landing and takeoff of the airplanes. Secondly, the free waterway allows the ships and vessels to cross the Öresund Strait. Thirdly, the Danes are particular about maintaining a flat city. In any case, the part-over and part-under bridge has captivated the world with its engineering and appearance.
I often cross the Öresund Bridge when on my way to work in Copenhagen. The decision to build this bridge took literally a lifetime, and building it took another eight years. From its inception in 1900, the determination to lay the bridge diluted often, and many a times, the “to be” Öresund citizens would give up hope. It was constantly debated whether such a construction, which is half under water and half over it, would impact the marine life.
Eventually in the 1990s, the governments decided to lay the foundation, and all turned out to be good, at least it seems so at the end of the first decade. Besides freeing up the labour market, recently conducted studies show that marine life has actually improved in the shallow water between Sweden and Denmark. The concrete base pillars over which the bridge stands have actually turned into artificial reefs.
The bridge is much more than a sea link, as I found out during my quest to understand the social mutation that it caused. “They call us love refugees in Denmark”, answered Carsten when I asked him what it means for him to cross the bridge daily. Carsten is a Dane but lives in south Malmö with his wife — a Pakistani lady.
It turned out that when Carsten decided to marry a woman from outside Denmark, she was not given a residence permit. Refusing to leave either his country or his wife, Carsten shifted to the other side of the bridge with his family, though he continued work in his motherland, Denmark. Thus, he became a “love refugee”.
The Danish government has peculiar rules around immigration — one being that if a Dane marries a woman from outside EU, especially from a developing country, then it is extremely difficult for the newly-wed to get the residence permit. So Malmö has become a nest for thousands of such Danish “love refugees”. Invariably, the bridge has been a consequential character in all their love stories.
When I cross the bridge now, I often marvel the fact that without the Öresund Bridge none of us would have come together, nor would I have penned this tale of a people birthed by a bridge. And in doing so, I have transformed into an Öresund citizen.
(Nitin Chaudhary is a freelance writer based in Malmo, Sweden)