The last stop on my brief but thorough trip through the regions of West Sweden and the Skåne was Malmö, a city I was a little nervous to visit. I was nervous because I made the mistake of listening to what others thought of the city before I experienced it for myself, a cardinal error. I was told that it was dirty, scary and even worthless; a harsh epithet if there ever was one. I’d been told that before about other cities though and these warnings have so far never proven true, so I kept an open mind about Malmö and I’m so glad that I did.
I was in Sweden as part of a special promotion highlighting Volvo’s program that allows overseas buyers to receive complimentary tickets to Sweden and to drive their new car around before Volvo ships it home for them. They’re also running a sweepstakes right now that will give one lucky winner and guest the opportunity to experience the Road Trip of a Lifetime in Sweden just like I did.
I was led around Malmö by an expert guide, Catharina, who specializes not just in the history of the city, but its cultural legacy as well. In a city like Malmö this is an important quality in a guide. Almost immediately the beauty of the downtown area struck me; centuries old buildings morphed into cafes and restaurants as in so many other great cities of Europe. It was a beautiful day; the sun was shining brightly and the locals were streaming out of their homes to enjoy the first glimmer of summer. In a country that can be dark and cold for so much of the year, summer is an important time to recharge the soul. The expansive parks were green with blooms and families were enjoying picnics and pick-up soccer games in the meadows. In short, it was idyllic. Where was the dangerous Malmö I had been warned about?
Talking with Catharina I began to understand where this bias originated. Like many former industrial towns around the world, the 1970s and ‘80s were not kind to Malmö. People left the city center and there simply wasn’t a lot of life in the streets; the same ones that today boast crowds almost every evening. Catharina told me that back then she once told herself there was nothing that could make her live in Malmö. A lot had obviously changed.
In the 1990s proactive governments actively tried to turn things around, loosening certain laws, encouraging new business and transforming the economy from industrial to knowledge based. That wasn’t the only change Malmö has witnessed in recent years though. After the Øresund Bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark opened, Malmö became the first port of entry for arriving immigrants. The city grew rapidly and today a significant percentage of residents in the city were not born in Sweden. This is a huge demographic and cultural shift that happened fast, very fast. As with any shift like this there have been and continue to be some growing pains, but on the whole Malmö is dealing with them pretty well; or at least it seemed that way to me.
Nothing on the tour was sugar coated; we walked from the beautiful historic core to the more up-and-coming neighborhoods and saw how things even there are changing. Organic hairdressers, unusual coffee ships and people from every corner of the world all live side by side. Sure these areas didn’t have the raw beauty of the parks and medieval houses, but it was good to see the ‘real’ Malmö and learn what life is like there today and not three hundred years ago.
Overall I really enjoyed my very brief time in Malmö and am eager to return and see even more of the city. More than simple sightseeing though, I’m excited to experience it again and to really start to understand what makes this diverse and dynamic city tick.