How cult TV has made new icons of Scan­di­navia’s city land­marks

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Icaught my first glimpse of the bridge while com­ing in to land at Copen­hagen air­port. We were still quite high but there was no mistaking it stretch­ing out across the ex­panse of rip­pling blue wa­ter sep­a­rat­ing Den­mark from Swe­den. I had dreamed of this mo­ment; I’d had night­mares about it. For the bridge in question – a feat of engi­neer­ing that is al­most 7.5 miles (12km) long and in­cor­po­rates a stretch that dips into a tun­nel – is the one that fea­tures so promi­nently in the bril­liant Scandi noir crime se­ries The Bridge.

I al­lowed my­self a gasp. OMG. There it was in all its glory, glit­ter­ing in the bright light of a sunny day, the bridge that had made an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion on my con­scious­ness dur­ing the course of nu­mer­ous dark win­ter evenings back home spent watch­ing episode af­ter episode of ut­terly thrilling (al­beit chill­ing) tele­vi­sion.

I wanted to see that bridge, fea­tured in the very first episode of se­ries one as the place where a body, cut in two, was placed right on the line mark­ing the in­ter­na­tional bor­der be­tween Swe­den and Den­mark. I wanted to cross it by train and by road; to see it from above and be­low. I wanted to breathe in the sea air sur­round­ing it. And I wanted to touch the strange di­chotomised world of The Bridge by tak­ing tours of both Malmo and Copen­hagen in which, in­stead of the con­ven­tional tourist sites, the fo­cal points would be places de­picted in the drama. Af­ter all, I told my­self, as an afi­cionado, if I was com­ing all this way, it would be a crime not to…

I’d hoped my tour of Malmo might be in the olive green Porsche 911 that is the dis­tinc­tive trade­mark of Saga Noren (played by Sofia Helin) – the be­witch­ingly dys­func­tional de­tec­tive who, with her Dan­ish coun­ter­parts, is charged with solv­ing a string of in­ter­twined mur­der plots that span both sides of the in­ter­na­tional di­vide, and reach into the very dark­est re­cesses of the hu­man psy­che.

As it was, my in­tro­duc­tion to Swe­den’s third largest city was on two wheels, tak­ing the form of a two-hour cy­cling tour led by a cheery Anna Toorn, who dis­played real pas­sion for her adopted home (she was orig­i­nally from the far north), and cel­e­brated the fact it had shot to star­dom on the back of some pretty dark drama.

“I con­fess that in the past no guide would have stopped at this build­ing,” she said, as we brought our bikes to a halt down a street con­tain­ing an unattrac­tive post-war block that served as Malmo’s po­lice sta­tion in the drama. The build­ing – a pal­lia­tive care cen­tre in real life – had the gritty look that char­ac­terised much of what was seen in The Bridge, most of which was shot on the Malmo side.

“When they were film­ing, this street would be closed off and Saga would park her Porsche right here,” said Anna. “Those days were such fun!”

As a for­mer cen­tre of the her­ring and ship­build­ing in­dus­tries fallen on hard times, Malmo has more than its fair share of grit and it was this side which was de­picted to such telling effect in the se­ries. “Malmo can look bleak. In Jan­uary, it is dark and grey – per­fect!” ex­claimed Anna.

The city has its pret­tier sides too. Dur­ing the course of our tour, we passed through the cob­bled streets of the me­dieval cen­tre, com­plete with grand build­ings dat­ing back to the mid-17th cen­tury that tes­ti­fied to times of Swedish and, in­deed, Dan­ish power (for a long time this part of Swe­den was un­der the con­trol of Copen­hagen).

In­dus­trial de­cline has sparked a new cre­ativ­ity, Anna ex­plained, as we passed a choco­late fac­tory that is now a thriv­ing cul­tural cen­tre. A new univer­sity speaks of Malmo’s rein­ven­tion as a “city of learn­ing”, and the souk-like buzz of the Moll­e­vangstor­get mar­ket was colour­ful tes­ti­mony to the fact that, fol­low­ing a surge in ar­rivals from the Mid­dle East and Africa, this is now a very mul­ti­cul­tural city.

“There are chal­lenges,” con­ceded Anna. “But per­son­ally I love the fact this is a place in which more than 150 lan­guages are spo­ken. So vi­brant. And as for the falafel… it’s in­cred­i­ble.”

We didn’t see it on the tour, but in se­ries two it was from the Jalla Jalla falafel store that Saga’s boyfriend called to end their re­la­tion­ship, and re­ceived the mem­o­rable re­ply: “OK, but can we con­tinue hav­ing sex?”

What we did see, though, was the mod­ern West Har­bour district where Saga had her flat, and in which the defin­ing struc­ture is the “Turn­ing Torso” build­ing de­signed by Span­ish ar­chi­tect San­ti­ago Cala­trava. Cy­cling here, we passed a stretch of beach – the “Malmo Copaca­bana” – on which peo­ple lin­gered in the sun, and the Ribers­borgs Kall­bad­hus (cold bath house) in which in real life Sofia Helin is said to en­joy brac­ing swims.

And it was from the West Har­bour that, at last, we got a spec­tac­u­lar view of the bridge. Ah yes, the bridge. I asked about cross­ing it and was told that by car there was a €50 (£44) toll; by taxi I’d need to shell out al­most dou­ble that; and that there were buses. The quick­est way was by train but, with the track run­ning di­rectly be­neath the road, as I had al­ready dis­cov­ered, you don’t see a great deal if you cross the Ore­sund Strait that way.

I took the bus early the next day. De­spite the dis­trac­tion of fel­low pas­sen­gers click­ing away all around me, it was still a pinch-me mo­ment. I wasn’t just look­ing at the bridge, I was on it – right there, fol­low­ing in Saga’s tyre tracks. Isn’t it for ex­pe­ri­ences like these that we travel?

The bus jour­ney led me to Copen­hagen’s main sta­tion and a ren­dezvous nearby with Chris­tine, my guide for a walk­ing tour that was to lead to the plush Radis­son ho­tel that fea­tured in se­ries two, the for­mer meat­pack­ing district (a use­ful spot to con­ceal a body sev­ered in two) and the Twen­ties build­ing recog­nis­able as the bru­tal­ist po­lice sta­tion from which the Dan­ish de­tec­tives set forth.

Chris­tine was an ex­pert on all mat­ters con­cern­ing Nordic noir and, as we walked, she talked me through the leg­ends of the genre – Kurt Wal­lan­der, Sarah Lund (from the ear­lier Scandi noir hit, The Killing), and, of course, Saga her­self.

“Nordic noir is full of dys­func­tional anti-he­roes,” she said. “But Danes don’t re­ally see Saga as some­one on the spec­trum. They see her sim­ply as a Swede: no so­cial skills, straight to the point, a leather-wear­ing, Porsche-driv­ing Swede. The Danes are more laid back, easy-go­ing, shabby even.”

At the height of the ma­nia for The Bridge and The Killing, Chris­tine was lead­ing sev­eral tours a week, and said that many of the Bri­tish vis­i­tors were geek­ily fa­mil­iar with ev­ery as­pect of the cult se­ries.

With the con­clu­sion this year of the fi­nal se­ries of The Bridge, in­ter­est was wan­ing, but there were still plenty of peo­ple – like me – who wanted to get a grip on the cities that have been the back­drop to some of the best crime thriller TV of all time.

And what now? Al­though The Bridge ap­pears to have run its course – in the fi­nal episode Saga throws her po­lice badge into the Ore­sund Strait and in the au­tumn that much-cov­eted Porsche was sold at auc­tion at Good­wood – it is in­con­ceiv­able there will not be more in one form or an­other.

“I don’t know how we will carry on with­out Saga,” Anna had mused in Malmo. “No, I’m sure they will do an­other one.”

Mys­tery to the end. It’s mur­der.

STRAIT TALK Clock­wise from main: Ore­sund Bridge; on tour in Copen­hagen; Adrian in Malmo; the city’s old cen­tre

PURE PORSCHE Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) with her iconic clas­sic car

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