Even on a foggy winter’s day, the view from Esbjerg’s East Dock over the city is impressive. Gigantic wind turbines are laid out along the quay ready to be shipped as a symbol of a green future, according to the former Port Director, whilst the power station chimney towers in the background, perhaps as a symbol of the past.
“This is the view that Esbjerg should be most proud of. It represents the green transition that the city has been a particular powerhouse for, creating growth, jobs and internationalisation right here. Just over 10 years ago, this was the seabed,” says Ole Ingrisch, as he shows me around the dock area specifically built for the wind turbine industry, with a price tag of over DKK 1.5 billion in construction costs.
An accidental city
As you drive along the 12 km of quays that now comprise the Port of Esbjerg, it’s hard to imagine that its creation was something of an accident. Jørgen Dieckmann, head of the city archives, takes up the story of the building of a 250 metre-long quay, completed in 1874:
“After the 1864 war, when Denmark lost Schleswig-Holstein, a new port had to be built on the west coast. Esbjerg was selected because the seabed quickly shelved downwards here, which was important at a time when construction machinery consisted of shovels, spades, wheelbarrows and horse-drawn carts. There was a village here at that time with just 23 inhabitants, and the building of the port meant the coming of the railway, able to transport livestock for export by sea. But the reformation of the farming industry in 1879 meant an additional boost for the new port, for imports as well as exports. Esbjerg became a major exporter of bacon, butter and eggs to Great Britain. Meanwhile, commercial fishing rose to prominence as an industry, and by 1901, there were over 13,000 people living in Esbjerg, which had become a real borough with inhabitants from the USA, Sweden, Norway and Germany.”
“This is the view that Esbjerg should be most proud of. It represents the green transition that the city has been a particular powerhouse for, creating growth, jobs and internationalisation right here.”
Former CEO, Port og Esbjerg
Rapid expansion in the late 1800s and early 1900s gave Esbjerg the reputation of being Denmark’s Chicago.
“Esbjerg became known as the city of opportunity: if you had a good idea, it could be realised here. Esbjerg was an alternative for some people to the long and risky journey over the Atlantic, whilst others ended up staying here on their way to America. When vast stocks of plaice were found to exist on Horns Reef, fishermen also moved to the area. That meant that Esbjerg had become one of the most important fishing ports in Europe by the 1960s,” explains Morten Hahn-Pedersen, an author, researcher and former Director of the Fisheries and Maritime Museum,
Esbjerg, concerning the next spurt in the growth of business and industry that heavily influenced the city:
“The city spread, and several of the small, outlying villages were absorbed, where housing areas, suburbs and industrial estates were also appearing. But Esbjerg remained a maritime and
fishing port. The city only really began to change when oil exploration took off, with the opening of the huge oil fields in the 1980s, and massive expansion in the 1990s, followed by yet another wave when green offshore and offshore wind turbines started to appear in the 00s. The growing needs of the offshore industry for highly-educated personnel made it necessary to build a concert hall and other arts institutions. Over a period of about 20 years, Esbjerg was transformed from a fishing port to a fully-fledged city with all the amenities we have come to
expect,” concludes Morten.
Global internet hub
In parallel with Esbjerg’s progress within offshore industries, the fifthbiggest city in Denmark has also become a Nordic hub for data traffic. The subsea COBRA cable links Esbjerg and Holland, while the Havfrue (mermaid) – a 7,000 km transatlantic fibre cable stretching between Esbjerg and New Jersey – has made global internet giants consider the city for investments.
“Apart from the physical port, we have also become an ‘internet port’, linking Esbjerg with the rest of the world. The interest shown by the big internet companies in investing billions here only serves to emphasise the city’s role in the digital infrastructure. Esbjerg has really made its mark on the digital map,” claims Karsten Rieder, Head of Business at Business Esbjerg. He calls developments within digital communications in the area over the last few years Esbjerg’s ‘major new business opportunity’.
“IT companies are not the only ones who need good data links. Any business that needs to have data in the cloud, such as global corporations, web hosting providers and app developers, benefits from the close proximity of an internet hub able to ensure the best quality connections. That’s why we expect a solid boost for local businesses and employment figures for many years to come,” he explains.
An Esbjerger’s DNA
“Despite consistent expansion and the many transformations Esbjerg has been through as a port and a city, Esbjergers have always had one thing in common,” says Jørgen Dieckmann Rasmussen:
The DNA of Esbjergers. They’ve always been flexible, robust, stuck together and maintained an open attitude towards the world at large. Ever since the port was built, the city has lived on its dealings with other countries, and that’s still something that can be seen today.” Jørgen himself relocated here from Copenhagen, and could not fail to notice that DNA.
“You can still feel the entrepreneurial and pioneer spirit of the people who came here 150 years ago. Esbjergers are willing to take risks, they are entrepreneurial, hard-working and yet modest. In fact, I believe that many of the things that made fishing a success here, such as their toughness and being able to work in all weathers, still play a role in the city’s current success,”
believes Ole Ingrisch. His opinions are shared by Morten Hahn-Pedersen:
“Anything is possible in Esbjerg. The impossible is simply something that takes a bit longer,” he states with a smile.