Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Helsinki (Finland)


What do I know about Finland? Lapland, reindeer, Nokia and a world beating education system. I can’t name a single famous Finn (Santa doesn’t count). So off we set across the Baltic to Helsinki, not without trepidation, as the previous day we had come across a monument in Tallinn to the nearly 900 people who died in 1994 in a Tallinn ferry disaster. It was as calm as a monk but Gil still preferred to stay on the top deck. The ferry had a quirky duty free selling Vodka laced with gold leaf, Japanese whisky, Liquorice Pipes, Fisherman’s Friends and a huge range of beer and spirits. Some passengers bought ENORMOUS amounts of alcohol. Some even had a palette when they disembarked.
Art Nouveau
For me, this was a chance to see another fine Art Nouveau city. I have a penchant for Art Nouveau architecture as I like buildings that put on a show, that wear their character like their best clothes. Art Nouveau does this but without the predictability of Neo-classical or pomposity of Baroque. It’s enormous doors, reliefs, balconies and decorations are designed to do nothing but make the structure look interesting. It’s also great fun, as it gave the architects the chance to let their creativity rip. Many more people will see a building from the outside than live in it, so why put all of the expense on the inside? This is especially true in cities, where the buildings are a public spectacle.
Helsinki railway station is a great example, with its huge arched entrance, flanked by huge figures holding lamps. It’s this sense of ‘entrance’ that Art Nouveau embraced. Inside it has a huge entrance hall with fantastic candelabras. If there’s one buildi8ng in a city that needs to be done well it’s the railway station.
On the left, the ticket office must be the nicest of any railway station in the world, with its lamps and wooden desks. It’s like entering a high class hotel. None of the officious glass windows and severity of other ticket offices.
On the right, a café with a central, circular serving bar. It’s big, it’s bold and has these wonderful vertical, orange lights. Every station needs a fine café and this is as fine as it gets.
The Kallia Church, which looks down a long boulevard from a hill some way out of the centre, is worth the walk. It’s the centrepiece of a whole district of Art Nouveau apartment blocks.
Ate some small fried fresh water fish, salmon and potatoes near the docks where we met some Australians, who worked in mining. The whole city is really a set of small peninsulas, so you’re never far from water.
In the centre is the rough hewn P building with its bears, wolves and owls. This rustic look is a feature of a number of the Art Nouveau buildings in Helsinki and harks back to the fortified buildings of rural Finland.
What I really liked was the warrior image on the corner tower. Look closely and you’ll see the helmet and eyes. Macintosh used the same idea in Glasgow.
The door is flanked by pairs of grotesque faces with three toes. A door is rarely a door in Art Nouveau. It’s a statement, often a grand statement, even out of proportion with the rest of the building. Again, it’s this external messaging.
Art gallery
Went to the Gallery of Modern Art where there was an exhibition by the Russian Art Collective AES+F, all about the end of ideology. The images are full of references to old masters, computer gaming, fashion photography. Happy End? was the other show, less impressive but a lively set of manga figures, images of school shooters and brand commentary.
City of the north

This is a city of the north, with lots of light, surrounded by water but it’s not a beautiful place, more functional. The ferry back was more sedate, as there was less mass purchasing of alcohol. Internet access on ferry, as there was on every bus, café, terminal and hotel. No passwords, just lots of open access.

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