The iconic dockyard crane has been replaced by a soaring work of livable art; the slipway has been turned into a world-class skateboard park; and a new national museum of modern art is on the way. Malmö’s transformation, from a center of heavy industry into Sweden’s coolest city, is complete.
The Malmö skyline, once clouded by heavy industry, is now punctuated by works of art. Photos: Close-up: Gerry Johansson/Linkimage. Turning Torso: Peter Westrup/Folio.
Just 15 years ago visitors to Malmö, which occupies the southern tip of Sweden across the Öresund Strait from Copenhagen, would have observed a proud working class city laboring under the loss of its heavy industry. A quarter of the population was out of work, the city center was increasingly rundown, and to add insult to injury its soccer team had been relegated from the top division.
Today Sweden’s third city is buzzing. Rakel Chukri, culture editor at Sydsvenskan, Malmö’s main newspaper, says: “This is the most interesting region in Sweden right now. There are still a lot of people in Sweden who are a bit afraid of Malmö; they think of it as a gang city. But more and more of my journalist colleagues in Stockholm are saying that Malmö is the city to live in. It’s got a reputation for being the Swedish version of Berlin.”
While Stockholm has the best-known art galleries and attracts the big-name pop stars, Malmö is the capital of cutting-edge art and culture. “Last Friday, I was at a street party in an old factory where they used to produce sausage skin,” Chukri says. “Every month they have a street battle with hundreds of people there, drinking cheap beer, listening to hip-hop and watching street artists battling each other on the walls. These underground, alternative things are integrated in the cultural life of Malmö. Like when you go to Berlin or Hamburg or Barcelona, it is the mix of the establishment and the alternative that is so fascinating.”
The establishment has also given its seal of approval to Malmö. Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which is home to works by Picasso, Dalí and Matisse, among others, is to open a “second” national museum of modern art in Malmö, which will put the city firmly on the international culture map.
Artist Ulf Hedetoft says the Malmö art scene is unmatched in Sweden. Photo: Ulf Hedetoft
The transformation from an industrial city past its best to a hip post-industrial center of culture started when Malmö University opened in 1998. Ilmar Reepalu, Malmö’s mayor and a driving force behind its renaissance, says: “The most important thing was to get young people into the city. They created the base for a new life in the city with new cafés, theaters and music. We needed these 20,000 students in the city center to change the image and atmosphere of the city.”
Thanks to the university, Malmö has gone from being one of the oldest Swedish cities in terms of population to one of the youngest, with half its 285,000-strong population under-35.
Then there is Turning Torso, the stunning residential skyscraper designed by Spanish architect and sculptor Santiago Calatrava, and arguably the largest work of art of Scandinavia. It fills the hole in the skyline left when the Kockums crane, which towered over the city for decades, was dismantled and shipped to South Korea. Reepalu says: “That was a symbol of a very competitive industrial city, but it has been replaced by a new icon for the city that is 100 percent fueled by renewable energy.”
"City for the future"
Artist Ulf Hedetoft lives in the shadow of Turning Torso at Västra Hamnen (Western Harbor). “When I was young, Malmö was a soundless city. If you were in the main square on a Saturday you could hear your voice echoing. It’s very different today — now the whole city is alive.”
The Turning Torso skyscraper is 100 percent fueled by renewable energy. Photo: Johnér Bildbyrå AB/Platform
Hedetoft says the Malmö art scene is unmatched in Sweden, and he also draws comparisons with Berlin. “Stockholm, of course, has the big galleries, but the culture here is growing and changing like nowhere else. Maybe people here are hungrier.
“Turning Torso is a great work of art,” he says, glancing out the window at the white tower twisting into the sky. “It is a statement. It says, ‘You will see, we are going somewhere. This is a city for the future.’ ”
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David Wiles is an English journalist living in southern Sweden. He likes the sound of sausage skin factory hip-hop parties, but struggles to find a babysitter on Friday nights.
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
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