On Öland people orient themselves after the sun’s journey across the sky. That is why you frequently hear islanders use the compass points to indicate where things are, for instance in sentences such as “may I have the salt south of the potted plant” or “the car is parked west of the church”.
When Pav Johnsson drives across the bridge in the mornings, he goes east, in the opposite direction of most of the traffic. He lives in Karlstad and works on Öland, and the tailback is a clear signal that it is the other way round for most people.
On Öland they are proud of the bridge, which was the longest in Sweden until the Oresund Bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö was built. Today it stretches like huge, lazy armadillo, arching its back towards the mainland and flicking its tail in the direction of the town of Färgestadt. This was where the ferry docked until 1972, when Öland lost its status as genuine island community and the fixed connection meant that isolation no longer was the name of the game.
But Öland still feels like an island – bridge or not. For Pav this meant that he chose to move to Karlstadt after a few years, as the Öland winters made him “a wee bit crazy” and gave him “the blues”, as he also calls it. But even though he does not live here anymore, everybody knows him.
Eva Paradis does not feel any major differences on the island between before and after the bridge.
“We’re like any other islanders,” she says. “Everything comes from outside.”
The inside of the island has characterized its its inhabitants for generations. On the eastern coasts people were fishermen, and in the western parts the soil was rich, so people were farmers here, growing wheat, brown beans, and potatoes. The regional signature dish, kroppskaka, a kind of ball made from grated potato, pork, onion, and spices tells an unambiguous tale of the produce available on Öland.
“They don’t look very appetizing, but you learn to like them,” says Eva. “They’re especially good when they’re served in the traditional way with cranberry preserve, melted butter, and thick, yellow cream.”