There are many bridges in the Danish city of Copenhagen and the Swedish city of Malmö. But there is only one Bridge. If the Bridge is mentioned in either city, everyone knows precisely which one is being referred to. It requires no further elaboration. It’s this one, the Øresund Bridge:
The Øresund Bridge opened in 2000 after years of planning, not to mention the difficulties of constructing a huge bridge in tidal waters in a climate which gets very cold during winter. And it really is huge, measuring just over 200m tall at the two pylons which support the bridge deck. It was designed by Danish engineering company COWI.
It’s a cable-stayed bridge, in which massive diagonal cables tie the bridge deck directly to the pylons, rather than a suspension bridge, in which the pylons support two suspension cables, from which vertical ties or rods are connected to the bridge deck. The Øresund Bridge’s diagonal cable stays draw the eye naturally to the pylons, and when driving across the bridge they set up a repeating visual pattern in which, thanks to a trick of perspective, each cable appears to move outwards from the cables behind it.
The Bridge’s deck supports a dual two-lane motorway, but the deck itself is a deep girder, and within the girder, underneath the roadway, a second level carries a two-track railway line. Trains run on the right hand track, per Danish practice, and have to swap onto the left hand side, per Swedish practice, just past Malmö, meaning that within Malmö itself, the Danish running standard is used.
The Bridge, though, is only half the story of the complete Øresund Link. The road and railway are carried for five miles over the Øresund Strait by piers from Malmo to the Bridge proper, and then on more piers from the Bridge to Peberholm (Pepper Island), an artificial island named to complement the neighbouring natural island, Saltholm, in an example of dry Nordic humour. Here, the Øresund Link dives underground into the Drogden Tunnel for the final 2.5 mile leg to Copenhagen. The tunnel section ensures that large ships can continue to pass through the Øresund Strait (the Bridge has a clearance of 57m under its central span although it is rarely used as a shipping route), as well as keeping the Strait ice free in the winter by allowing currents in the water to flow freely. It does mean, however, that the Øresund Link is less immediate a physical presence for Copenhagen than it is for Malmö.
Connecting not just two cities, but two countries, the Øresund Link has revolutionised travel between Denmark and Sweden. In some ways it mirrors the effect of the Channel Tunnel in connecting France and England. Yet the Channel Tunnel is largely hidden infrastructure, and even its tunnel portals are anonymous to the point of boredom, with none of the drama of the Bridge. Travel across the Øresund Link is essentially free-flow, without passport and customs checks, as is typical at many borders within mainland Europe. The Channel Tunnel, however, embodies British insularity and border security paranoia, and is impossible to traverse without tedious airport-style security checks and queues.
Thanks to its ease of use, the Øresund Link has tied together northern Denmark and southern Sweden in a way the Channel Tunnel has completely failed to do for its respective countries. As well as the constant flow of road traffic, there’s a well-developed local and intercity train service across the Bridge (not to mention freight trains). There’s no regional train service through the Channel Tunnel, despite occasional proposals for a Transmanche Metro linking Kent and Nord Pas de Calais, because the border checks it would require would make it wholly impractical. Thanks to the Øresund Link though, many people who work in Copenhagen live in southern Sweden, because the house prices are lower, and they commute internationally across the Bridge every day. The Bridge has taken two countries and turned them into a single travel-to-work area.
The Bridge broods on Malmö’s horizon, impassive and aloof, yet an enabler of massive social change, bringing a mixing of two peoples who were previously near neighbours, but who were divided by a lengthy and awkward ferry service which took about 90 minutes compared to the Bridge’s 20 minute journey time. It’s perhaps unsurprising, therefore, that the Bridge has had a cultural impact just as dramatic as its social impact.
It is the eponymous star of Danish/Swedish television co-production The Bridge (or Bron in Swedish, Broen in Danish). A crime thriller, the first series opens with the Bridge’s electronic systems hacked and its lights turned off. When they turn on again, there is a dead body on the Bridge, placed precisely across the Swedish/Danish border, bringing together officers from the police services in both countries to investigate the murder. Denmark is represented by bluff, gruff, ladies’ man Martin Rohde (robustly played by Kim Bodnia), content to do whatever needs to be done to catch the killer, even if it means bending a few rules along the way. Sweden’s assigned officer is Saga Norén, one of the all-time great television characters. Though it’s never explicitly defined, she’s high-functioning autistic, brilliant at her work, naïve about human relationships and the feelings of those she works with or comes into contact with through her work. It’s a mesmerisingly nuanced performance by Sofia Helin, enabling the viewer to understand the frustration of working with someone who has little empathy with her colleagues’ emotions, but clearly illustrating why she is capable of inspiring the most intense loyalty amongst her friends.
Before long, the investigation takes a very personal turn as it becomes clear that the murderer has a long-standing grudge against Rohde, and the series finishes back where it started, on the Øresund Bridge, with the killer trying to goad Rohde into shooting him. It is one of the best crime thrillers you will ever see on television, cleverly plotted, convincingly acted, and perfectly structured to crank up the tension throughout the series until its shocking conclusion.
Though the murder plot is the main driver, much of the subtext of the series is about the mixing of Swedes and Danes, and their relationships, work and personal, across what has become an almost notional border thanks to the opening of the Øresund Bridge. The Swedish and Danish authorities have to cooperate closely as the investigation moves back and forth over the Bridge between Sweden and Denmark, time after time, usually in Noren’s vintage Porsche. There are lighter moments to the new realities of cross-border policing. One of the jokes is the Swedes’ inability to pronounce Rohde’s surname correctly. Although Swedes and Danes can generally understand each other’s language, many words are different or vary in pronounciation. To English ears it’s hard to hear the difference between the correct and incorrect pronounciations of Rohde’s name, lending the joke an extra degree of amusement.
The second series of The Bridge sees Rohde and Noren reunited as a ship crashes into the Øresund Bridge. The only cargo is corpses carrying a plague virus, and Rohde and Noren are soon in a race against time to avert a bioterrorism plot, while Rohde struggles with the personal aftermath of series one.
Throughout both series, the Bridge looms in the background, a non-speaking but vital character in the unfolding dramas. Nowhere is that presence more notable than in the title sequence. In series one, the accompanying visuals are a mixture of shots of the Bridge, interspersed with images of the urban environment of Copenhagen and Malmö. By series two the star quality of the Bridge has been recognised, and the title sequence is 75 seconds of virtually uninterrupted Bridge porn. It’s shot from near, far, below, on deck, above while swooping across one of the main pylons, and from the side, following a freight train along the lower deck, all married perfectly to Choir of Young Believers’ song Hollow Talk.
The Bridge has been an international success, to the extent that it has been remade in America with the action shifted to the US/Mexican border, and as a Franco-British co-production called The Tunnel. But the problem with The Tunnel is the problem of the actual tunnel. Its visual anonymity means it doesn’t have the character status of the Bridge in The Bridge, and while the Bridge has significantly unified southern Sweden and northern Denmark, France and England remain as divided as ever thanks to the practical difficulties in getting through the Channel Tunnel, and two mutually incomprehensible languages.
The Øresund Link is the perfect Nordic project, at least in my experience of those countries. It’s stylish and efficient, integrated and effective, and draws people together rather than manifesting a barrier. It is both transport project and cultural phenomenon. And how many other pieces of transport infrastructure can make that claim?
How to find the Øresund Link
Bibliography and further reading
COWI’s project page on the Øresund Link, here
The official website of the Øresund Link, here
roadtraffic-technology.com page on the Øresund Link, here