In July 2000, a bridge of 8km length between two countries was opened. After centuries of separation by sea, the Øresund Bridge made it possible to drive between Denmark and Sweden by car. Jakob from Denmark shares how this impacted his family.
A Bridge Between Two Old Rivals
The small stripe of water had always seperated the two countries. Suddenly, in the year 2000, the sound of Øresund became a crucial connecting point for Scandinavia. It cut down the travel time in between the land areas, not only making it faster but also easier to cross the ‘Sound’. Since this symbolic day, any car driver can take the bridge – or the underground route to cross the Øresund.
The Meeting of a Young Couple
However, I myself am proof of a special bond and close relationship between the Nordic countries. Because more than half a century before the bridge was opened, two young people from Sweden and Denmark met and fell in love: my grandparents. Though I start my story way back before that.
A Love-Hate Relationship
The relationship between Denmark and Sweden has not always been peaceful. The long on-and-off rivalry between the two countries dates back more than 700 years. Border conflicts, wars of succession and other tensions between the two raged on for centuries. Thereby, especially the southern parts of Sweden called Scania (Skåne), Halland, and Blekinge were causes for conflicts. These provinces once belonged to Denmark. During the Second Northern War, Frederick III had to concede the provinces to Sweden during the Treaty of Roskilde. The conflicts between the two countries slowly died out around the 19th century – since then, the two countries fortunately haven’t been at war with each other. Nowadays the somewhat more peaceful neighboring rivalry only comes to light when a football match is afoot or in the form of jokes and banter. Generally, many Danes tend to go across the bridge to either shop, for work or to visit relatives and/or holiday homes. Likewise, the Swedes living in the area tend to travel to, work or even study in Copenhagen. The connection between the two countries is therefore still being kept alive. And after all the two languages are still very closely related.
Our Shared Connection
As a student of history, I am always fascinated by the stories of rivalry turned into friendship between nations such as Denmark and Sweden. My grandparents’ meeting and their marriage mark a reminder for me that the relationship between the two nations has gone through ups and downs. It also shows me the importance of keeping a certain bond across our border – at least a mental one. I remember talking about my Swedish and Danish ancestors with my grandpa and enjoying the close bond with the neighboring country. Throughout the time, our family inherited many items and furniture from both countries. I’ve sat for example in a rocking chair from my great-great grandfather since I can remember. Or a cabinet dating back to the early 1800’s. There we keep most of our more modern souvenirs, or even hand-made towels made by several of the women in my family dating back to my great-great grandmother
So our family history dates back way before the construction of the Øresund Bridge. However to understand how this bond between the countries was founded, I will sketch the story of my grandparents almost 80 years ago.
The First Meeting
March 1946: After World War II, young teachers from the Town of Lund in Scania visited Copenhagen through a Christian Teacher Association with ties to YMCA/YWCA. Amongst these was a young 20-year-old woman called Margareta. At the same time a 21-year-old man named Arne was also present at the capital. He was a member of the Danish part of the association. The moment my grandparents – my Swedish grandmother and my Danish grandfather – met. Both of them have later written the story about this meeting in their memoirs on my grandfather’s computer.
My Grandmother’s Memory
My grandmother has recalled and wrote about her trip from Skåne to Copenhagen. This is what my grandmother later recalled when remembering her thoughts from her journey to Copenhagen: “We sailed with the new and pretty ‘Malmöhus’, we sang national anthems and folksongs and we all cheered when we reached the ferry berth. A lot was different in Denmark then: dark trains and people in old clothes. We stayed at private lodgings and the first night I struggled with a duvet – coming from Sweden I was not familiar with such a thing. But the next day I tried ‘breakfast rolls’ for the first time and a Danish lunch pack later that day – that was an experience!
THEN IT HAPPENED! A young man was sitting on my right side who said his name was Arne. So, we started talking – it just so happened he had studied Swedish at his teacher’s college, and well shortly speaking, it just clicked.
My Grandfather’s Memory
My grandfather also recalls this meeting in their shared memoires:
On the way to the convention I went inside an open sandwich shop by the Liberty Memorial as it said in the program we were to bring our own lunch. Then we started this first meeting between Danish and Swedish trainee teachers – I don’t really recall much of what was said, only this; that the Danish organizers had encouraged us to make contact with the visitors from Lund, and when lunch commenced, we sat amongst some lively girls who chatted about all sorts of things – they were evidently classmates – and when the last of them – Margareta – joined, our lives changed – No doubt, it was love at first sight – hence why 030346 is still the most important date of our lives.
In a later diary my grandfather tells how he afterwards showed my grandmother around Copenhagen and served as a personal guide. He must have shown her a lot and talked a whole bunch, because my grandmother later recalls having thought to herself: “Don’t they ever eat here in Denmark?”. This sounds rather familiar. I must say it might run in the family of wanting to teach and about all sorts of things talk for ages. So, no wonder my grandfather won my grandmother over.
Feeling Connected to the two Countries
When I read the memoires of my grandparents about this story, I’ve been told many times in my life, I tend to feel near me the close connection between the two neighboring countries. My grandmother later moved to Denmark, and they settled down in the southern part of the country. However, the Swedish connection still held up strongly. As my great-grandmother still lives in Sweden, we visit her several times. Years later, my grandparents bought a holiday cottage in Sweden which our family still visits many times a year. Many Danes tend to buy a holiday cottage in Sweden (perhaps opposed to buying a holiday home on the West Coast of Jutland) as sort of a ’rustic’ place of relaxation when on vacation.
Our Family Holiday Cottage
Our house or cottage has been in the family for more than 50 years. It is a of special value to me as it has been with us for so long. It is a physical ‘monument’ to our close connection to Sweden. Going to this cottage several times a year reminds me how my family has sometimes been influenced by the closeness of the two countries despite the border between them. Especially in the later years after the construction of the Oresund Bridge a it has become way faster to travel between the countries and to our family cottage.
Going to this cottage several times a year, I’ve made a lot of memories over time. For example sitting and watching Swedish kids movies, taking long walks in the surrounding forests or just sitting at the dinner table eating some of the delicious Swedish and Danish food mixed together. I often tend to have a lot of Swedish food and drinks in my fridge at my dorm in Copenhagen. For me, it is a fun way of keeping the taste of Sweden in my Danish home. Food and drinks such as Kalles Kaviar (a type of condiment for stuff you put on bread), perhaps also a Sockerdricka (basically just a sweet type of soda) or just generally some meat-spread for bread bought in Sweden like ham, sausage or liver paté.
A Special Bond
When thinking about the once violent history between Denmark and Sweden, I feel a certain common Nordic connection. In contrast to the history is a our family a living proof of the close connection between the two neighbors. The opening of the bridge across the Sound in 2000 proves how the once enemy countries can be united physically and geographically. But even before, a love story gave evidence that creating a special mental bond across borders is possible.
At Christmas we usually have a mix of traditions between the countries. We usually decorate with a variety of both Danish as well as Swedish Christmas decorations amongst other things the ‘Christmas Tree Cracker’ (or Julgranskaramell in Swedish). As tradition would have it in Denmark, we dance around the Christmas tree. We both sing Swedish and Danish songs. At Easter my grandmother brings a certain tradition of coloring eggs before smashing them together as a sort of competition before eating them. I don’t remember having celebrated Christmas or Easter in Sweden. However many of the traditions surrounding the holidays is a lovely image of our heritage from both countries.
An Everlasting Connection Between The Two Countries
Growing up I have therefore felt the presence of the mix of Danish and Swedish culture. It’s been founded through our bond between the countries by the meeting of my grandparents. I watched Swedish movies as well as Danish as a child. I also always enjoyed talking to my grandfather about the history of the two countries. My grandparents have both sadly passed away by now. However their meeting almost 80 years ago and the bond created between their countries still stand tall in our family. I will keep my fondness of this bond alive through the traditions I’ve learned and through the many visits across the border.