#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:

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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).

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#17: Learn to cope with death at the Pet cemetery (Eläinten hautausmaa)

All year, Cemetery, Darkness, Helsinki, Spooky, Uncategorized, Walk

This is a spot which I would recommend not only to cemetery enthusiasts – it is situated in the heart of Central Park (a 10 sq km stripe of park area stretching from Töölönlahti Bay to the border of Helsinki and Vantaa), therefore visiting it can be connected with a refreshing walk and wild herb picking. It is not too well know to the locals, so again you will be the smart pants in the gang…

… and most importantly, it is a place taking an unusual and incredibly human stance on the topics of death and mourning.

Pet cemeteries in general are often considered childish products of emotionally immature mind. For me they are the most sincere and personal tangible representations of mourning in Western culture.

When a beloved pet (a valid member of the family) passes away, the bereaved are not tied by any kind of social or religious conventions – with an exception of the fact that they chose to bury the pets in a cemetery and not just anywhere. The tombs come all kinds of shapes, materials and sizes, and most of them are somehow home-made. What you would not dare to do in “normal” cemeteries you are much free’er to do here; it’s exactly the personal touch what makes this space so moving. I’d say this is a great starting point when you want to teach your kids (and yourself, to be honest) about death. How natural it is. How the being who passed away continues living in our hearts, in us, how its presence on Earth shaped us…

Graves are generally very well decorated with a lot of effort: freshly cut flowers, little flowerpots and vases, candles, but unlike human graves you will find pets’ “personal” belongings. Toys. Collars. Balls.

And dogs have their heroes too!

Last note of this post: see you soon, Ideal Idol? Please don’t haunt my dreams.

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Contact: Metsäläntie 9 (about). Bus stop Haaga Metsäläntie.

#13: Visit the mystical Island of Worms (Matosaari)

All year, Architecture, Helsinki, History, Sea, Spooky

This island just off Jollas (just after Lauttasaari) – or a peninsula, as it has been connected to the mainland sometime in late 19th century – has one heavily loaded karma. Atmosphere. Genius loci. Tiny in size and not attracting crowds of tourists, green, quiet and unwelcoming (compare to for example Kivinokka or relatively nearby Korkeasaari).

On the way to the island… 

When Finland was still a part of Russian empire, the island served as a part of the coastal fortification, during the Crimean War (1853-1856) a fort was raised there to protect the Grand Duchy from attackers. After the island has become a peninsula it was sold for civilian use. First land owner, K.H. Lindh built a lovely villa on the island – the house is still standing nowadays and is owned and used by by Helsingin meripelastus (Helsinki Lifeboat Association). In the 1920s, a certain Uno Björklund built another fancy villa on the island. Garden architect Paul Olsson was appointed to re-design the house’s surroundings in 1928; in his plans he included the remains of the fort as well as natural stone walls. The plan, however, was never carried out since in 1963 the villa was destroyed in fire, all what is left nowadays includes piles of stones and beams in the middle of island overgrown with grass and lichen. It gives shivers.

Walking around the island among the ruins.

Some views from the island. Note Hamina island in the third picture serving as military training facility.

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Location: 00850 Helsinki. If you are travelling by car I recommend parking next to Jollas Institute (Jollasvägen 89) and continue on foot. Alternatively, take bus number 85 from Herttoniemi (direction Jollas) to Kellaripellonpolku and walk from there.

More information (in Finnish): http://www.kysy.fi/kysymys/mista-voisin-saada-tietoa-laajasalon-matosaaren-historiastaneuvosta 

 

#5: Take a walk in Hietaniemi Cemetery (particurally recommended for October 31st)

All year, Autumn, Cemetery, Darkness, Helsinki, Outdoors, Parks, Spooky, Walk

Meh, of course you could see this one coming on the All Saints Day. It is a bit of a cheat, too, I’m sorry, because as you know cemeteries are indeed exciting all over the world.

The Hietaniemi Cemetery is the cemetery of choice in Finland if you are famous and/or rich. It is located very close to the centre (about 10-15 min walk from Kamppi), on the seashore and just off the Hietaniemi Sand Beach. It is calm, park-like, full of tall beautiful trees and squirrels (including Esko, the sweetest of all) – a perfect place for reading books, eating your packed lunch (I have no shame), contemplating and watching sunsets! It is the place of rest of Tove Jansson, Alvar Aalto and many other internationally famous people and even more nationally famous people – all those presidents, opera singers, etc.

Before you set off for a walk download this map of famous graves. Not many people know about it, but it makes life and searching for that Edelfelt grave much easier. And bring some nuts for Helsinkis cheekiest squirrels!

IMG_20151031_203536Tove Jansson’s grave.

IMG_20151031_190957All Saints’ Day – aka how the atmosphere cannot be captured.

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Esko the squirrel…IMG_20150829_185432-1… and a little bit of the cemetery in early autumn. Behind Esko.