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