Jul i Skåne—A Swedish Christmas

Sydkraft

During my time in Malmö I worked for an electricity company called Sydkraft. Now owned by Eon, they were the regional electricity company for the southern one-third of Sweden.

sydkraft
The Sydkraft building (now Eon Sverige)

My Swedish colleagues were extremely friendly and I remember that once a week we would go to lunch in the nearby Kronprinsen shopping centre and eat fläskpankakor med lingonsylt—bacon pancakes with lingonberry jam. Delicious! On another occasion, we went to a public bath where you alternate between sweltering in a hot sauna and plunging into the icy sea. I remember we got told off for drinking beer in the sauna.

On Saint Lucia’s Day, 13th December, we had an unexpected treat when a group of beautiful young women came into the canteen at lunchtime and sang Lucia carols, while we ate ginger biscuits and special buns called lussekatter.

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Saint Lucia singers, Sydkraft, December 2001

Skåne

I had weekends free, so I took the opportunity to travel around the local region and further afield. Near Ystad on the south coast of Skåne, I visited a stone circle or “stone ship” called Ales stenar (Ale’s stones), magnificently situated on a clifftop looking out to sea. Fans of Wallander may recognise this as the spot where Wallander brought Annette Brolin for a romantic picnic.

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Ales stenar, near Ystad, Sweden

Yuko and I also visited the nearby university city of Lund, where the cathedral has a wonderfully complicated mediaeval astronomical clock.

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Horologium mirabile Lundense

Malmö

Nowadays, Malmö’s outstanding landmark is the Turning Torso building by Santiago Calatrava, the tallest building in Scandinavia, towering above what remains otherwise a low-rise city. But when we were there in 2001, it did not exist, and the city’s tallest building was still the Kronprinsen—or possibly the tower of St Peter’s Church.

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Sankt Petri Kyrka, Malmö (14th-century Gothic)
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This fine building is the old city hall in Stortorget.
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Saluhallen (a covered market with restaurants) in Lillatorget
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Also in Lillatorget was this fine old telephone box

Christmas

For our Christmas dinner in Sweden, we went Swedish style, including smoked reindeer. If you examine the packaging closely, you’ll be pleased to see that Rudolf has, in fact, been allowed to join in the reindeer games.

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Can you spot Rudolf?
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Christmas dinner, with glögg

We bought these “triangle lights” in Sweden and still use them in our window every Christmas. In the picture, you can see lights like these in each of the windows across the courtyard.

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God Jul!
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Nu kommer vintern—Öland, southern Sweden, winter 2001

In the southernmost counties of Sweden, winter arrives later than in the rest of the country. But when it arrives, it definitely arrives. One day in mid-December, the snow starts to fall, nor does it cease to fall until it has covered the world in a thick white blanket that remains until spring.

Yuko and I had just got married before I left for Sweden, and in December she came to visit me there. Together we drove across the southern part of the country from Malmö to the Hanseatic city of Kalmar and onto the island of Öland. Over 6 km long, the Öland bridge was the longest in Europe when it was built, and is still an impressive sight. We had fitted snow tyres to the car at the start of December, as required by law, and were amazed at how effective they are, although driving in falling snow at night can be tiring.

It was a lot colder on that side of the country than in Malmö. The daytime temperature was below -10°C, which at that time was the coldest I had ever experienced, and the biting wind meant that ordinary clothes were inadequate to prevent you from getting chilled within a few minutes.

Here are some photos Yuko took in Öland that convey some of the bleak majesty of the place in winter.

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Windmill and stone circle, Öland
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Dara at the ruin of St Knut’s chapel, Gråborg, Öland.
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Ponies in Öland. We really felt sorry for these guys as it was bitterly cold.
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Windmill silhouetted against the sunset sky

Bron—the bridge

Fourteen years ago, in the winter of 2001, I was living and working in the city of Malmö, near the southern tip of Sweden.

The previous year, in June 2000, the Öresund link (bridge and tunnel) between Sweden and Denmark had been opened to the public. My apartment, in the suburb of Limhamn, was close to the Swedish landfall of the bridge.

apartment
My apartment building in Limhamn

I was awed by the scale and beauty of the bridge, by the conceit of building such a structure across the sea between the two countries, bringing Malmö and Copenhagen together. Thanks to the bridge, I could be in Nørreport Station in the heart of Copenhagen in half an hour, or Copenhagen Airport in 15 minutes.

On the dark winter evenings after work, I would go for a run along the coast to a viewing point near where this incredible structure launched itself high overhead, curving off into the distance towards Copenhagen. It was always just “The Bridge”; no other name was needed.

Øresund bridge sunset 440

 

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The third series of the Danish/Swedish crime thriller Bron/Broen (“The Bridge”) has recently started showing on Saturday nights on BBC4. I am a huge fan of this stylish series and find myself excitedly looking forward to the next instalment.

bron III

Take a minute to watch the opening credits on YouTube here, with its beautiful night-time time-lapse photography and haunting theme song by Choir of Young Believers:

The bridge itself is at the heart of the programme, and I always feel a little thrill of affection when it appears.

The Bridge is bilingual. The Danish and the Swedish characters each speak their own language, and they understand each other perfectly. This may seem improbable, but is not so far from reality; the Danish and Swedish languages are very close, especially the variety of Swedish spoken in Skåne, which is very close to Copenhagen and was once part of the Kingdom of Denmark. However, Danish is famously not enunciated as clearly as Swedish, so I think in reality there would be more effort required to communicate, more requests for repetition, and more misunderstandings than appear in the show.

The employees of the company that operates the bridge speak Danish and Swedish in the course of their work, and the official name of the bridge “Øresundsbron” is a nice compromise between the Danish “Øresundsbroen” and the Swedish “Öresundsbron”.

logo-oresundsbron

As the logo suggests, the bridge forms only half of the link between the two countries, covering the first 8 km from the Swedish coast, before landing on an artificial island at the midway point (named Peberholm, as a companion to the nearby Saltholm) and dipping underground to form a tunnel for the remainder of the crossing to Denmark.

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In this satellite image, the curve of the bridge can be seen like a thread strung between Sweden and Peberholm

 

 

Note: the above photos of the bridge are not mine – they are pictures I found on various websites. I was surprised, when preparing this post, to discover how few photos I seem to have from my time in Sweden, although it is only 14 years ago. However I did come across this picture; it’s on a different bridge between two islands in Denmark. A truck had jack-knifed in front of us in icy conditions, blocking the bridge completely and leaving us temporarily stranded.

lorry