#21: Take a deep breath in a mental hospital from 1841.

All year, Coffee/Tea, Culture, Darkness, Helsinki, History, Housing, Indoors, Parks, Spooky, Walk

Within a stone’s throw from the heart of Helsinki (by which I’m referring to Kamppi, sadly) you can find Helsinki’s asylum. A rather unique place, and recently an exceptionally busy one.

Lapinlahden mielisairaala (Lapinlahti mental hospital) is located next to the Hietaniemi cemetery, about 800m from Kamppi and 500m from Ruoholahti.

When I first visited the area in 2014 I was thrilled. The area stood abandoned and frequented by occasional dogwalkers, bike commuters and the misfortunate and looked like this:

Lapinlahden_sairaalan_portti.jpg(source: Wikipedia.org)

And squirrels popping from the nearby chestnut trees. It read on multiple signs that I’m currently entering hospital and daycare premises, but there were no signs of life around. Just imagine, an abandoned mental hospital, you simply cannot resist and have to walk around. Stare. Absorb the atmosphere. Look out for ironbars in the window. Imagine what kind of people have been kept here – and what for.

dsc_4163

dsc_4159

dsc_4157

dsc_4152

And then, in the section facing the sea, you will see this:

dsc_4171dsc_4161

And your heartbeat speeds up. Nowadays, though, the views are not half that bad. The back yard has been cleared of walls and fences and looks like an ordinary park:

miu_4186

Only several meters of anti-climbing tall fence reveals what once was going on in there. Actually for a long time, the hospital closed only around 2006 and was moved to Töölö (to a rather ugly  building, yet closer to the central hospital I guess). The same old story I’m afraid: costs, some minor water damage and mildew, etc.

So – what happened after the closure? Nothing at first. Only about three years ago Lapinlahden lähde and Pro Lapinlahti associations (or movements?) were put together with the goal to revive the once-so important site, and with the help of many a volunteer and with some strings pulled the site is back to life. It serves as a social and cultural centre promoting mental wellbeing, as place of business of many organisations dealing with mental health issues, a part of it rooms an art gallery, a café with a little handicraft shop, oh and one wing is hired to various businesses. Also, there is a public sauna (for 7€ per head) almost every day and many cultural, educational and social activities (most of them free of charge) all year round.

The hospital was built around the Lapinlahden lähde, the well of Lapinlahti (hence the name of the above-mentioned associations), with exceptionally clear and high quality fresh water. In the old days the water was used among others by the famous Hartwall factory or by many of Helsinki’s pharmacies.

miu_4161miu_4155img_0582

Today a patch of land speckled with urban gardens is situated between the well and the cemetery and is apparently very popular among young families living in central Helsinki. Renting queues are long. The garden area served mostly for therapeutic purposes about a century ago

The building itself is, well, so typical for mid 19th century: white, symmetric site, clean lines and a lot of (planted) greenery – sounds like a neat place for an asylum. Just off the sea and overlooking busy Länsiväylä, close enough to the city, but far enough as well. Far enough not to disturb the possible nearby inhabitants.

We actually joined a guided tour with Green cap tours on Saturday in order to learn more about the history of the site and explore the inside without getting strange looks. And in this respect it succeeded and I can recommend doing the same to anyone who would like to know more about the place, its famous visitors and/or interested in the history of treatment of ill mental health. It was not as fancy as exploring an abandoned hospital, and to be fair the guide lacked some spark and confidence and did not share his sense of humour with us that much, but it was informative.

And we walked along those long corridors.

And visited the (overly staged 😦 ) room of Aleksis Kivi, probably the most famous patient in the hospital’s history.

img_0591img_0593

And the gallery, aka the former apartment of the senior psychiatrist.

And were sorry that the place does not give you the chills as it used to a couple of years ago but glad at the same time that the building is serving a good purpose again.

More info: www.lapinlahdenlahde.fi, the address is Lapinlahdentie 1, 00180 Helsinki. Can be reached by tram no. 8, stop 8: Marian sairaala (Maria’s hospital, a nearby hospital again closed for business. This only happened a year or two ago, I have actually made it twice to there before it closed… a pity, it was conveniently central and had much more soul than those modern monstrous buildings in Meilahti).

#9: Take a break at Cafe Regatta

All year, Coffee/Tea, Indoors, Outdoors

You know those kind of eateries famous for serving a certain home-made product, the best in town? Well, at Cafe Regatta you get delicious cinnamon buns, definitely among top 5 in Helsinki, average Finnish coffee, pretty good hot juice and… you get to enjoy the atmosphere.

DSC_9123

While taking that Saturday walk along the harbour area in Töölö, the Hietaniemi sand beach (or the thing closest to the beach you will find in Finland) or taking pictures of the Sibelius monument from the bottom you will notice a cosy fairy-tale cottage surrounded by a surprising number of tables and a bunch of people of all sorts (parents with kids, tourists, sitting by them at any time of the day, sipping on their beverages, talking, reading – and generally staring less on their miniscreens than usual.

There is a little open fireplace for general use outside, it is like a heaven’s sent in central Helsinki – imagine sitting by the fire (warm) wrapped up in a blanket (provided) with a view over the sea and waiting for when your sausage is ready – yes, if the climate allows bring your own sausages (or marshmallows) and stuff! (ICE you can buy sausages from the cafe – no idea about the quality or price though).

It is a refuge from the everyday. The buns are great. Watching birds scavenging crumbs is priceless. It is outdoors so you don’t really mind the abundance of babies, toddlers, tourists and dogs, it is still tranquil enough. The view over the harbour calms you down. I have nothing else to add.

As you can see from the pictures, the inside seating is limited, but it is not impossible to get seated. Amount of trinkets and decorations is vast. But it somehow works.

More info: Cafe Regatta Facebook

#7: Go for a cup of tea in the City Winter Garden

All year, Architecture, Coffee/Tea, Helsinki, Indoors, Outdoors, Parks, Walk

A stone’s throw from the city centre and just off the Olympic Stadium, this is a paradise for those who are seeking a refuge from cold weather or who just took a walk around Töölönlahti (and/or for those who need to spend a penny;) and would like to, well, sit down and relax.

Helsingin Talvipuutarha(Picture: Yle)

The winter garden (19th century)  is a piece of art itself with its ornamented iron&glass construction, shining bright form a mile away yet in juxtaposition to the 1950s architecture. Around the actual winter garden, or this “social greenhouse”, you will find a little rose garden. What is inside the building is hardly surprising: cacti, succulents, koi carps and a little fountain. But it is the whole experience that counts.

Yes, I know you’ve been to greenhouses or tropical gardens or whatever you dress it like before, but this one is so lovely. Partly because it is so lovely and random – all those (sub)tropic plants, all located in the city centre in Finland, I mean, you surely see all the contrasts (I do recommend visiting the winter garden in winter for the extra intense experience!)? Maybe because it is always so unbelievably peaceful, although you will find local families here as well as Russian tourists. Maybe because I’m just being sentimental and I like the Eiffel-like architecture of the late 19th century. Maybe because this is one of those few public places I can actually read a book at without getting disturbed. Maybe because that omnipresent yet very silent white noise combined with the sweet jingle of the indoor fountain make me happy. Maybe because I don’t feel press to read or to work when I’m there but it comes naturally.

There is usually a little café open in the left wing: I cannot recommend the coffee (same goes for 95% of all cups of coffee in Finland), but the tea should be relatively safe. The right wing is dedicated to cacti and contemporary art/local artist exhibitions – I’ve seen two, I did not like them, I thought they were really weird and really not fitting the location, but hey.

DSC_7512

DSC_7540

DSC_7518

DSC_7515

DSC_7536

DSC_7532

DSC_7528

DSC_7524

DSC_7523

Address: Hammarskjöldintie 1; number 8 tram stop “Kaupunginpuutarha”

More information incl. opening hours: click here  (the link is too long and too annoying to copy). In general the garden is open to public every afternoon.

If you are a real botanics enthusiast, try to get in touch with one of the guides who will give you a tour and will be able to tell you more about the plant species!