#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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#15: Climb the highest point of Helsinki

All year, Helsinki, Outdoors, Parks, Walk

The highest point in Helsinki lies in staggering 91m above sea level: on top of Malminkartanonhuippu hill located in Malminkartano (yes.). Adjacent to one of Vantaa’s rougher neighbourhoods, Myyrmäki. Well you know, rough in Finnish sense, which for anyone at least partly cosmopolitan means quirky yet laughably safe.

Malminkartanonhuippu is not a common hill (that would be geologically quite interesting in fact). It is an artificial hill. It was “created” over about 20 years in 1970-90s. It was built from rubbish – electric waste, tyres, etc. – and put together with help of dirt and sand and a lot of will power. I was just waiting for the moment when the Earth would shake a bit and a three-eyed fish would appear above the dirt/ice surface…

… nah, the hill is (apparently) pretty green and decent. Situated in a park (well, a common maybe), it is a popular spot for cross-country runners and other sport freaks (I mean enthusiasts), dog-walkers, families – and to my ardour for adult hobby sleighers! Yay!

There are several possible ways to reach the hill; as I came from Myyrmäki (where I was to check out the new museum) I chose to take the stairs. The stairs with 10cm thick layer of ice on them.

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Fortunately the boxing classes have payed off and I sort of pulled my weigh up the hill. If you are visiting in winter, I cannot recommend decent winter boots (or shoe spike) enough.

The weather was not as bad as it looks in the pictures (it did not rain or snow and there were a few rays of light), but a wool coat, slim jeans and boots with thin slippery sole were bad. I could hardly move anywhere, and I could not walk/slide down the hill either, it was simply too icy – and I did not have my pink bob-sleigh with me.

In summer I would recommend bringing packed lunch with you. And/or try to run up the stairs, apparently there is an annual race in that very discipline. And/or bring your MTB with you.

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And some February views? Not as impressive as from the Olympic Stadium tower, one is simply too far away from the centre, but truly Finnish: flat, forested land with occasional water tower or a housing project/shopping mall.

Address: Naapuripellontie, 00410 Malminkartano.

Bus 39N, 49, 51 (Neulastie); Marminkartano and Myyrmäki train stations are both a 15-20 min walk away.

#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 

 

#11: Take a walk around Kivinokka recreation area

All year, Helsinki, Outdoors, Sea, Uncategorized, Walk

Kivinokka is a recreational area located a few hundred metres from Kulosaari metro station. It is, again, positively bizarre spot: today we are talking about a collection of several hundred summer cabins, some of which date back to early 20th century. The idea was quite clear: to provide city dwellers with a place not too far from their homes where they can spend their precious free time in close proximity of nature. Nowadays Kivinokka is located pretty much in the centre of Helsinki, but hundred years ago it must have been a true paradise: beaches, forest, blueberries, bird-watching tower and a little shop/café for the more social ones.

The following applies to pretty much entire Finland: if you want to make the most out of visiting a place of choice in Finland, do make an extra effort and visit it both in winter and in summer. Summer charms are indisputable, the colours, the light, those wild flowers, sea, wind, ice-cream and birches. Winter (or any time between September and April), on the other hand, converts most areas into quasi-ghost towns. The tranquility is further accentuated by the wintery silence, lack of people and colours and other disturbing factors.

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And that is what happened in Kivinokka one late autumn afternoon. The seasonal frolics just went, like migratory birds, and what was left was just a memory, or a collection of happy stories and memories, and an assuring yet somehow volatile promise of another summer coming next year. Cabins prepared for winter. Deserted beach. Empty café. Ah, I loved every single second of it, and have to come back. I loved it so much I decided not to complain that I had left my gloves and hat in the car and was freezing badly.

This is the 1930s functionalist kiosk/café. One of very few places in Kivinokka with electricity. Apparently someone showed their disapproval with the actions of the (female) owners of the kiosk. Who knows why.

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Kivinokka’s story gets actually pretty exciting: in 2013 – or 2014? – the local authority decided to tear down a substantial part of the area and upscale it: yeah, you are right, that means building yet another mini housing estate with Vuosaari-style flats selling at a price out of range for middle class. Fortunately, a group of active citizens expressed their dissent and started nurturing the local community. Nowadays, a wide range of social and cultural events take place in Kivinokka throughout the summer part of the year. It has been making some headlines, and it is definitely a place worth a visit in the summer – for all attractions Kivinokka can offer, check out this map and this link.

More information: http://kivinokka.fi/

Contact: Kipparlahden silmukka, 00810 Helsinki