This last Saturday I was with some friends of mine for a few hours in Helsingborg. Helsingborg is situated on the Scanian west-coast at the eastern side of the most narrow part of Öresund/The Strait between the Peninsulas. The city’s nickname is The Pearl of the Strait. Helsingborg is Swedens’ eighth largest city and has the second largest container port, after Göteborg/Gothenburg. I like Helsingborg and was working there in 1998-1999. The harbour is big and modern with sailing vessels, boats driven with heavy motors, but also ro-ro-ferries taking people to the other side of Öresund, Denmark. There you e.g. find Kronborg Castle, (called Elsinore Castle in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”). It’s only four kilometres between Helsingör in Denmark and Helsingborg in Scania, Sweden. In the photo which I start this text with you see the Town Hall to the left, a statue of Magnus Stenbock, (1663-1717) who was governor of Scania between 1705 and 1713. In the background on a hill you see Kärnan/The Core which is the only remnant of Helsingborg Castle, a fortress which also has given part of the name to the city. When you walk along the main streets close to the water the houses are fairly large, modern from ca 1850 until today. In 1999 a new area with high-tech houses along the harbour was built, called H99. Since I was working in Helsingborg then I remember when it was completed. A few years earlier, in 1991, a new port for the ro-ro-ferries was ready, and also a new central station for busses and trains, called Knutpunkten/The Hub. In 2002 a culture house, Dunkers Kulturhus, was ready to take on visitors. You see it in one of the pictures below. You also see a couple of pictures from the harbour.
Helsingborg is a beautiful site. Just a few meters from the shore the ground is going upwards in slopes and just a little bit in to the east you have a marvellous view of Öresund, Denmark and large parts of town. In the northwest there’s a long beach which is popular for swimming and sun-bathing in the summer-time. North of the city you find Pålsjö Forest, a wood mainly containing beeches, birch-tress, elms and other leaf-trees. In that part you also find Sofiero Castle which now is a museum and luxuary restaurant, and also famous for its rose-garden. Parts of Helsingborg is built on and near some ravines which were shaped during the last Ice Age. The city has many attractions, and I can’t count them all, but the city is well worth more than a visit. Since the second half of the 19th century Helsingborg has grown enormously in number of citizens, companies etc. There some tiny companies have grown over the years, like IKEA which has its main office there. Ramlösa, named after a suburb south of town, make bottles with carbonated water since 1912, and in 1886 the Italian immigrant Carlos Zoéga founded the coffee-making company Zoégas which has become another famous institution in Helsingborg.
The city of Helsingborg is from the Viking Era. The name Helsingborg is made of two parts, helsing + borg. Since this is the most narrow part of the strait it’s called a “hals” or “hels”, meaning “neck”. Those who lived on each side of that neck were called “helsings”/neckings. On the western shore of the strait Kronborg Castle is built on a tiny peninsula/ör, hence the name “Helsingör”. On the Scanian side a fortress was built, hence the name “Helsingborg”. The most important merchant sites in the Viking Era were Råå and Köping, later called Ramlösa, and Helsingborg was then less significant. But then something happened. In 1070 the German monk Adam of Bremen wrote: “There’s a short passage at the Baltic Sea at Helsingborg, from where Zeeland can be seen from Scania, a common lair for Vikings”. A few years later, on May 21st 1085, the Danish king Canute the Holy wrote a letter of city recognition for “Helsingaburg” to the Archbishopric of Lund. This date, May 21st 1085 is seen as the formal “birth” of the city. During the 11th century three wooden churches were built on the beach, Saint Clemens, Saint Petri/Peter and Saint Olai. During the 1200’s those churches were rebuilt in stone. On a hill a little east of the beach where the settlement was situated a round fortress had been built. Around the main tower a wall, 180 meters long, a gate to the east and Saint Michael’s Chapel built into the wall to the west. Here the sheriff could controll the trade routes from the north and also guard the Danish border to what later would be called Sweden. During the 13th century the settlement and trading grew, Saint Mary Church was built and in 1313 king Erik Menved had a new main tower of the fort built in square-shape, six floors high and with four meter thick walls. This is the tower we still see today, even though the ringwall around it is long gone.
In 1310 Erik Menved held a peace-meeting at Helsingborg Castle. His son-in-law, the Swedish king Birger Magnusson who was married to Erik’s daughter Margarethe, had a quarrel with his brothers, the dukes Erik and Valdemar. They had in 1307 captured and jailed king Birger and his queen at Håtuna Estate, but the royal couple had later been released. Erik Menved made a peace-treaty between them in Helsingborg, but just a few years later a new trauma. In December 1317 king Birger Magnusson took his brothers captive at a Christmas banquet at Nyköping Castle, had them jailed and starved to death. In the Spring of 1318 the Dukes’ allies put a siege on Nyköping and Birger and Margarethe had to flee to Erik Menved at Helsingborg Castle. (Read more in my December text “A December intrigue with fatal consequenses”). After the battle of Mjölkalånga Helsingborg was put under siege again. Erik Menved died in 1319 and Count Johan of Holstein in Germany got Scania, Halland, Blekinge, Lolland and most of Zeeland as a pledge. Count Johan became unpopular in Scania and the Scanians asked the Swedish king Magnus Eriksson, son of the killed duke Erik, if he could help them. In 1332 Helsingborg was put under a new siege and the Swedish king took over the pledge for 34 000 mark. For 28 years Scania was ruled by the Swedish crown.
In 1361 the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag/New Day, attacked and sacked Visby on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. On his way there he reclaimed Scania in 1360. Two years later and also in 1368 the new Swedish king Albrecht of Mecklenburg tried to reclaim it again, but failed. However 1370 – 1385 Helsingborg was ruled by the German merchant corporation Hansan. Then the Danish queen Margarethe took it back. She founded the Kalmar union between Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In 1400 her relative Erik of Pommern which she had made new king had his coming-of-age-celebration in Helsingborg. In 1440 the city was taken by the next Danish king, Kristoffer I who died there a few years later. By 1452 the Swedish leader Karl Knutsson Bonde had attacked Helsingborg with 20 canons and destroyed the city walls, and burned many houses.
83 years later, in 1535, the so called Count Feud was going on in Denmark and Helsingborg was drawn into it. Helsingborg’s castle-lord then, Tage Krabbe, was attacked by besiegers from German Lübeck and the city of Malmoe led by Jörgen Kock. Tage Krabbe decided though to change his allegiances, put the fire on the defenders of the city and let the attackers in.
In 1644 the Swedish general Gustav Horn attacked Scania/Skåne and on February 17th he took Helsingborg, let his men steal the inhabitants’ grain and cattle, and tear down houses to make bonfires. The year after the peace-treaty of Brömsebro between Denmark and Sweden became a harsh blow for the Danish crown and for the inhabitants of Helsingborg. In 1654-1658 the town was strengthened with new fortifications, but that year – 1658 – at the peace-treaty at Roskilde Cathedral Denmark had to give up Scania to Sweden. (Read more in my piece “Sweden’s Super-Power Era 1611-1718”). Scania was suddenly Swedish, but the Swedization process was long, cruel and harsh. Scanian partisans, The Snapphane movement, resisted and many Scanians still felt allegiance to the Danes. On June 29th 1676 1500 Danish soldiers appeared outside the city and fought 310 defenders. The Danes took Helsingborg Castle that winter, but the Swedish king Carl XI retaliated, took it back and sacked the city, since he didn’t trust the Scanians. This happened just weeks after the battle of Lund, which had become one of the bloodiest in Scandinavian history. In 1678 Carl XI put the nobleman Carl Hård as governor of Scania at the castle. The last attempt to take Scania back by the Danes was made in 1709-1710. On November 2d 1709 a new Danish army put a siege on Helsingborg. The Swedish army had lost the battle of Poltava in Ukraine, and the Danish king seized the opportunity. The new Swedish governor though, Magnus Stenbock, (the man in the statue above) who ruled Scania 1705-1713, had too weak soldiers and retreated to Småland. The citizens of Helsingborg visited the Danish king Frederik IV and asked him to protect the city against the Swedes, and in late November 1709 he was pronounced king in Helsingborg too. In February 1710 Magnus Stenbock came back with new forces and sourrounded the city. A battle was fought on February 28th which the Swedes won. The Danish army fled back inside the city. First on March 5th 1710 they had to surrender and left.Before they did so they killed all the horses and destroyed the crops. The Danes had lost.The dead horses infected the city and plague was a lethal disease here in 1710-1711.
During the 1700’s Helsingborg didn’t have a very large population and lost most of its former glory. All the wars and plundering had put its mark on the city. Also during the first part of the 19th century Helsingborg was quite unsignificant. However, in 1832 a real harbour was built, a harbour which grew and grew. In 1799 Erik Ruuth had founded factories for clay vessel making and construction of iron tools. With the industrial revolution new companies started, such as Zoégas for instance. The population also grew rapidly. In the 1870’s the population in Helsingborg increased three times as fast as Malmoe and Ystad. In 1850 Helsingborg had 4140 inhabitants, in 1900 24 670 – 1950 there were ca 80 000 and in 1970 100 000 people. Between 1835 and 1850 the export of grain was doubled. In the late 1800’s the rail-road appeared and in 1919 the Chocolate factory was founded. Significant mercantile moguls like Petter Olsson and Nils Persson became famous local celebrities. In October 1943 during World War II the Nazis wanted to send Denmark’s Jews to concentration and death camps. But they were warned and almost all of them managed to escape the Nazis in boats over Öresund and taken to Malmoe and Helsingborg. Many Jewish refugees were put in rooms at the Town Hall and later also Ramlösa Brunnshotell. In August 1973 our former king, (our present king’s grandfather), Gustav VI Adolf became mortally ill at Sofiero Castle and passed away at the hospital.
Helsingborg has a rich and long history, many beautiful sites, nice places to spend time, a strong attraction, a vivid mercantile structure and different forms of culture. As I walked back along the harbour this last Saturday evening after having had dinner with my friends nearby I strolled along the shore, watching the night sky, the many different boats and houses. I walked to Knutpunkten to take the train back to Malmoe. Helsingborg is nice, just like Malmoe. I love this place, Scania, where I was born. There are many things here too that I don’t like either, but that is another story. Anyway… Helsingborg is worthwile.
Anders Moberg, August 21st 2013