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EU > Denmark > Esbjerg

Regional variety

Esbjerg, DK (View on map)

Most countries that partly consist of islands will have most of their economic activity on the mainland, preferably in a capital which is centrally located. Denmark is a bit different from that. The Danish economy revolves around the islands Sealand and Fynn. The Danish `mainland` is called Jutland. It is the only part of Denmark that shares a land border with Germany. In history, however, Jutland used to be the poorest and least developed part of the country. Today`s article describes the differences between Denmark`s various regions.

Troels (30):

`Until the 19th century, Jutland did not have much importance compared to Copenhagen`
Denmark is composed of several hundreds of islands. Most of the population lives spread out over only a couple of them. Sealand is the most populated one, having capital city Copenhagen on its territory. East of Sealand is the somewhat isolated island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea. West of Sealand lies the island of Fynn, while Jutland is the only part that is connected to mainland Europe in a natural way. Connections between the different islands used to be assured by ferries, but huge bridge/tunnel combinations now allow people to hop from one island to the other without the slightest inconvenience. Or it must be the price of the crossings, which can amount to more than 50 euros for a one-way ticket.

While Danish history proves that the Danes are not afraid of water, the natural separation between the different parts of the kingdom still allowed for the regions to develop at unequal speeds. For a very long time, Copenhagen saw Jutland as a forgotten province. Its use as an region for agricultural production only struck Copenhagen`s attention in the 19th century. Back then, the central government decided that Jutland should be given a railway system, while its villages were to be developed to bigger cities.

Troels (30, photo) suggests that the colonization of Jutland shows similarities with the way Western America was gradually taken over. `When the railroad was constructed, people started to settle along it. Cities were partly artificially developed. When Denmark lost the southern chunk of Jutland to Germany after World War I, it was decided that we should build new harbours to replace the ones that had gone lost. Denmark had lots of trade with England, and Esbjerg was one of the cities that was appointed to accommodate the shipping industry.`

Troels explains that Esbjerg is still a trading town, but business has fallen during the last decades. `Most of the activity now is related to oil extraction in the North Sea. For a long time, Esbjerg had a flourishing fishing industry, but there is hardly anything left of that. A few years ago, Esbjerg opened its first university, which initially looked like it would be a success. Nowadays, they are struggling to survive. It`s hard to get professors to come over here, and many of the students are more than happy to move to bigger students cities anyway. Esbjerg is part of what is sometimes referred to as the Rotten Banana, a curved zone that runs from the North-West of Jutland towards the islands South of Sealand. The rotten banana has higher unemployment, economic development below the national average as well as lower education levels and salaries.`

Mikkel (24) confirms that many young people move away from Esbjerg: `Studying gives them a good reason to head for Aalborg, Aarhus, Odense or Copenhagen. I think about half of the people who move away do not come back when they finish their studies. There are more jobs in the centre of Denmark: roughly the area between Odense and Copenhagen. Salaries are a lot higher there too, but so are prices for rent or daily groceries.`

Informing Danes about any similarity they share with either Germans or Swedes is barely advisable. Still, the South of Jutland has much more exposure to German influences than Copenhagen does. Tourists from Germany come to Jutland to enjoy the seemingly endless beaches, while Jutlanders head for border shops to get bargain-priced alcohol and other articles that are overpriced in Denmark. The cost of traveling also plays a role: trips from Esbjerg to Copenhagen are more expensive then tickets to Hamburg.

Copenhagen, on the other hand, sighs under the daily influx of Swedes who come to work in the Danish hospitality sector. Local dialects in Jutland will incline towards German. People living in Copenhagen are more likely to understand Swedish, although the urban character of the area makes the mixture of rural accents a lot less likely. Only people living on Bornholm speak an accent that actually resembles Swedish.

`Religion is not regionally defined`, says Ane (25). It`s not about one city or island being clearly more religious than others. The difference is mainly countryside versus city, with people living on the countryside usually paying more attention to religion than city-dwellers do. Traditions are not very different either. Wherever in Denmark you are, people will observe similar rituals for Christmas or Midsummer. We are also exposed to the same TV and radio stations and most Danes who live in cities will feel attached to Denmark before feeling emotionally committed to their own region. Outside the cities, it may be the other way around, depending on who you ask.`

Regional pride
Pia (25) tells that most of the cultural events are taking place in Copenhagen, which means that many young people from Jutland will frequently head for Sealand. But the balance is tilting to our advantage. Last year, we had Elton John and Madonna coming over and it looks like more and more bands and pop stars are including Jutland in their trips. The bigger cities Aarhus and Aalborg are already quite well-served when it comes to that. It`s nice not to have to travel all the way to Copenhagen, or even Hamburg, to make it to the concerts.`

Pia thinks that people from Copenhagen tend to look down on Jutland, even though many Copenhageners never even make it to Jutland. `They think of us as farmers, while we think about them as snobs. If people from Sealand come over to Jutland, it`s mostly families spending their summer holidays here. Jutland has lots of space and life is pleasantly un-hectic.`

Karoline (25) says that the opposite, Jutlanders who have never been to Copenhagen, will be a lot harder to find: `Elementary schools across the country organise trips to Copenhagen. The capital city is also home to most of the `tangible national pride`: museums, palaces and art work.`

Dennis (25) thinks that traffic in Copenhagen is a lot more stressful than on Jutland. `In Copenhagen, car drivers are always in a hurry, which is funny because we tend to think of them as lazy compared to us. Whenever I was working with people from Copenhagen in the past, I always noticed how they only could never finish anything within one day. It would always take them a little more time. They typically have more money to spend, which makes them more willing to pay for things, or less greedy, whichever way you put it. Unfortunately, they are also more individualistic and often more lonely. I think they spend most of the extra money simply on themselves.`

Inhabitants of Esbjerg take pride in their way of dealing with each other, which is said to be less formal and more merit-based than in Copenhagen. It`s not education that matters, it`s skills. Esbjerg has many small, independent enterprises, especially when compared to the mass-scale operations of some companies from Fynn or Sealand. Local companies from Esbjerg are less dependent on elegant financial earning models, and the more so on their own hard work, sometimes trading rather than simply selling services or products. That is also the atmosphere Esbjerg breathes: working hard without complaining.

People in the streets of Esbjerg look remarkably similar to inhabitants of smaller cities in the North East of England. Which may actually not be as much of a surprise as it seems to be. After all, many of the first settlers in England originally came from current-day Jutland.

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