Andrew Osborn

 

 

Chief Russia Correspondent

 

Deputy Bureau Chief Russia/CIS

 

Reuters

 

 

Steel and irony unite the Norse.

The Guardian, 1st July 2000 17:15

By Andrew Osborn in Copenhagen.

Two identical trains - one Swedish, one Danish - will speed towards each other today and stop 30 metres apart on an artificial island in the middle of the Baltic Sea.

In four minutes they will be coupled together on this symbolic patch of land, and in that time Sweden will be directly joined to Denmark and continental Europe for the first time in 7,000 years.

Road traffic will begin to cross the #1.8bn bridge which stitches the two countries together later this evening.

The Oresundsbron is quietly impressive in a typically Scandinavian way. It carries a four-lane motorway and double track railway from the centre of the Danish capital Copenhagen to the heart of Sweden's third city, Malmo.

The bridge spans most of the 10-mile gap: the specially built island and a road and rail tunnel do the rest.

The Oresundsbron, built in four years to last 100, is expected to carry up to 13,000 vehicles a day - 3m a year. It is jointly owned by the Danish and Swedish governments, who will recoup the building costs over 30 years from road tolls and rail charges.

A one-way crossing in a car will cost #20, a single rail ticket just over #5.

The project, it is said, will regenerate southern Sweden, create a dynamic economic area of 3.5m people to rival other European powerhouses, and will bring together 11 universities and 130,000 students.

"The Swedes need a metropolis since their own capital is 600km [375 miles] away," said Henrik Koster, the manager of the bridge exhibition centre on the Danish side.

"We want to be good competitors with Hamburg and Amsterdam, and if we link the two together we can have something good. It's funny that we are one of the smallest countries in the world and that we have built this."

Enthusiasm for the project has so far been much greater on the Swedish side. Pensioners and tourists are flocking to a visitor centre in Lernacken to gaze at the bridge as it dips gently towards Denmark.

The proud Danes, used to seeing hoards of Swedes make the 45-minute ferry crossing to stock up on cheap beer in Copenhagen, believe that the traffic will all be one way.

"Until now we haven't had much to do with them, apart from selling them cheap beer," a sceptical Copenhagen resident said.

"The Swedes have a stiff upper lip like the Brits. Why would we want to go over there? Everything is expensive in Sweden, you can't drink, the Swedes are boring and there's nothing to do."

But Sven-Eric Soder of the Swedish foreign ministry says the bridge will bring benefits to both countries.

"The consumer will be the winner, because it will be easier to travel. Clothes and shoes are cheaper in Denmark and it's cheaper to buy a car there. But it's cheaper to go to the dentist's in Sweden.

"Fifty years ago it took three hours to cross Oresund. Today it takes three quarters of an hour, and now it will take just 10 minutes. I think the bridge is wonderful and beautiful. It looks like it has always been there."

There is a certain irony in the project, which has not been lost on the Danes. Southern Sweden, or Scania, once belonged to Denmark and only became part of Sweden in 1658 after a bloody battle.