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Bridging the gap

In linking two countries, the partly underwater Oresund Bridge has also shaped the destinies of "Oresund citizens" who work in Denmark but have to live in Sweden

travel Updated: Mar 27, 2010 18:25 IST

Bridges initiate a kind of metamorphosis -- an evolution foretold by the courage to cross frontiers. Despite the commonality of everything in our times, bridges still seem to cast an effect that has perhaps retained its element since the time men learned to cross boundaries.
"I think like a Dane but live like a Swede." In one crisp line, Lars summoned his identity when I asked him about it as we sat facing each other in the train. Outside, the rain drops moulded into intricate veins over the glass window of the racing train. We were crossing a slice of the Baltic Sea and were somewhere in between the two countries of Sweden and Denmark. It was during one of the 17 minutes that its takes to cross from a country to another that we started talking.
"I am an Öresund citizen", Lars ended with a smile. The Öresund region comprises the eastern 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. What else, Danes now can access the cheap housing on the Swedish side." Lars persisted that the global economics has shaped a new identity for peoples of the two nations. The concrete and steel form factor that had brought upon this transformation was the Öresund Bridge over which we were coursing, and which was often, in informal political circles, referred to as the bridge of reconciliation.
The 7.8 kilometre-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.

Lifetime to build a bridge
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, Danes are quite particular about maintaining a flat city to the extent possible. Hardly could you call a building "skyscraper" in this country. No wonder that the spectacular and towering Turning Torso also found itself on the Swedish side, even though it was originally planned to be raised in Denmark. The local architecture is a reflection of the homogeneity and low profile that Danes prefer to maintain. In any case, the part-over and part-under bridge has captivated the world with its engineering grasp and inspiring 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 a construction, which is half under water and half over it, would impact 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.
In addition to the obvious benefit of freeing up the labour market, the recently conducted studies showed that marine life has actually improved in the shallow water between Sweden and Denmark. The concrete base pillars over which the bridge stands has actually turned into artificial reefs thus evolving the otherwise consistent natural habitat.
Often while travelling in the train, besides watch the ladies fix their makeup and men pore over their laptops, I look out of the train window and see the spread-out wind farm in the middle of the Öresund Strait. These wind mills are the governments' effort to source energy from the natural wind tunnel between the land masses. The wind mills move perpetually, in sync with its most wondrous and natural environs, as if creating, and not harnessing, the clean energy by itself. Amidst all this, the Öresund Bridge rises like a mythical structure.

More than a sea link
The Öresund 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 to work in Denmark.
Carsten is a Dane but lives in south Malmö with his wife -- a Pakistani lady. "Love Refugee" was an interesting word to come across; was it inspired by a Bob Marley's song, I wondered. It turned out that Carsten's wife was not given a residence permit in Denmark. Stumped by the treatment and refusing to leave either his country or his wife, Carsten shifted to the other side of the bridge with his family though he continued to work in his motherland, Denmark. Thus, he became a "love refugee".

Destinies cross paths
The Danish government has peculiar rules around immigration -- one being that if a Dane marries a woman from outside EU, especially from some developing country, then it is extremely difficult for the newlywed to get the residence permit. It is hence no surprise that Malmö has become a nest for thousands of such Danish "love refugees" and the Öresund Bridge has been a consequential character in their love stories.
When I cross the bridge now, I look around in the compartment as much as I look outside -- attempting to read the sleepy, engrossed or lost faces around me. I often marvel at the chance setting, for without the Öresund Bridge none of us would have come together, and nor would I have penned down this unique tale of a people birthed by a bridge. And in doing so, I have transformed into an Öresund
Nitin considers himself an Öresund citizen and is a freelance writer based out of Malmö, Sweden

Getting there
The Oresund Bridge connects Malmo in Sweden to Copenhagen in Denmark.
By air: Lufthansa, British Airways and Air France has several flights between Mumbai and Copenhagen, Denmark. Alternatively, you can also take a flight between Mumbai and Stockholm, Sweden and then take a connecting flight to Malmo, in Sweden.
About the Oresund Bridge
The Öresund Bridge is a two-track rail and four-lane road bridge-tunnel across the Öresund strait. It is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe and connects the two metropolitan areas of the Öresund Region: the Danish capital of Copenhagen and the Swedish city of Malmö.

First Published: Mar 27, 2010 18:25 IST