Fixed Link

American newspapers generally pay scant attention to Denmark and Sweden, but the opening of the new Øresund Fixed Link between Copenhagen and Malmö has produced a tiny flurry of excitement in the Travel Sections of some newspapers. A few misconceptions about the Fixed Link need to be dispelled.

First of all, despite the suspicions of many, I am in no way responsible for this new bridge. It is rather part of a program to expand the international sales of Danish beer, which heretofore had to be carried eastward to Sweden by boat.

The search for beer has obsessed the Swedes for millennia, and is what brought Beowulf, prince of the Geats, across the Øresund to the court of the Danish king Hrothgar. Nowadays, he and his fellow Geats would have only to jump into their sporty Saab and drive across the Fixed Link in the morning, leaving plenty of time to polish off Grendel and his mother in between cases of Tuborg, before driving back in the evening.

Unfortunately, American newspapers provide little of the region's history, for which the reader must refer to the recent "Letter from Skåne" in RALPH. Even there, certain matters were left out. Your estimable RALPH correspondent neglected to explain that the entire Northern War between Denmark and Sweden (most of the 16th and 17th centuries) was fought, basically, over which country would be burdened with the Cathedral and University town of Lund, in the heart of Geat territory on what is now the Swedish side of the new bridge.

The Danes, fed up with noisy, drunken students and the endless, petty faculty feuds amongst their mentors, wanted Sweden to take Lund off their hands. The Swedes, for their part, fought like demons in order to force Denmark to keep it. Finally, after 200 years of war, the Swedes lost and had to take possession of Lund. But, as a consolation, they also got the rest of Skåne, and the handsome seaport of Malmö.

The latter looks rather like Copenhagen and has a somewhat similar layout. In fact, the official city map of Copenhagen for some reason has a map of Malmö on its backside. I didn't realize this until the end of my stay, and half the time used the map of Malmö to find my way around in Copenhagen, and vice-versa. This seemed to work as well as anything else. The Fixed Link will add to this confusion because foreigners will often lose track of which place they are in.

The natives, however, are very clear about which is which. Copenhagen residents, in particular, are charmingly sniffy about Sweden. One Copenhagener was quoted in a newspaper as follows: "The prices are high, the Swedes are boring, and there is nothing to do." He obviously didn't know about the mini-zoo in the basement of the Malmö city museum, a worthwhile destination, at least if you have nothing else to do. It has a nocturnal mammal exhibit with two Slow Lorises that are actually fast. They are perhaps the fastest Slow Lorises in captivity, and certainly the fastest I have ever seen. I guess this amazing attraction is one Sweden's better-kept secrets.

My mildly retarded daughter Joanna, who has never been to Europe before, even liked Lund. She liked Malmö even more, and was absolutely enchanted by Copenhagen. She noticed two things right off which I could not explain. One is the fact that whenever the doors of municipal buses open at stops, their headlights go off. And the headlights go back on when the doors close. Hmmm, interesting; there must be a logical explanation, as they used to say in the old science-fiction B-movies.

The other, of course, was the topological paradox of Tivoli. Inside, Tivoli has an endless profusion of paths, gardens, attractions, theaters, cafes, restaurants, rides, even a small lake with a square-rigged sailing ship (now a restaurant, of course) moored at a dock. As one treks around inside Tivoli, one supposes that the place must be several square miles in area. From the outside, however, it seems to be within a single, large city block: you can walk around the outside of Tivoli in five minutes. This is utterly mysterious.

A Danish friend explained to me that Tivoli's design employs five or possibly six or seven dimensions, and had something to do with the Niels Bohr Institute. My guess is that it takes a lot of power to maintain this dimensional warp inside Tivoli. Maybe it comes from the electricity diverted from the buses when they dim their headlights at stops. Keen observers report that whenever there is traffic congestion in central Copenhagen, so that buses are delayed in reaching their stops, everything inside Tivoli tends to blur and flicker, ever so slightly.

Denmark has a long history of doing much with little. The country's only natural resources are seaweed and bird-droppings, which provided the Danes' staple diet until King Christian the Potato introduced his favorite vegetable during the Renaissance. Before that, surplus Danes were exported across the North Sea to the west. There, they found a land of cheerful weather conditions (balmy by comparison with what they had left), invigorating rugby riots, double-decker buses, and exciting food like bangers or bubble-and-squeak. So they stayed and turned into the English. In the 10th century, in fact, the Danish king Canute ruled an empire that included Angleland as well as all of Scandinavia.

Denmark has been shrinking ever since then, and nowadays Danish schoolchildren learn a little song which goes: "Once we were great, but now we are small." Nonetheless, they maintain a vigorous export commerce, sending overpriced (recall the term "Danegeld") butter and bacon to their kinsmen in England, Tuborg beer to their kinsmen in Sweden, and Legos to everybody else. These operations, plus the manufacture of high-tech windmills and an enormous variety of little open-faced sandwiches, is all that appears to sustain the thriving Danish economy. Economists throw up their hands in bewilderment trying to explain it. One has to suspect that extra dimensions are at work.

--- Jon Gallant
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