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Helsinki

Submitted by on June 12, 2012 – 8:05 pmNo Comment

Helsinki was alright. A city untouched by saturation bombing or property developers. Art Nouveau buildings decorate street after street. You can’t help but point and stare. An amazing explosion of creative functional design. The fact that these wonderful buildings still stand and are still used for their original purpose seems to me nothing short of a miracle. But I’m used to the slash and burn approach to architecture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these ‘if it’s old it must be good’, because I hate the Victorian bollocks screaming its pomp and world dominance.

Helsinki is a city that keeps it simple, keeps it functional, keeps it beautiful. Bronze-framed doors, impossibly heavy and hard to open, welcome you into corner shops, hotels, apartments and train stations.

Finns approach life saying, if it works and it’s well designed why change it? An old polished wooden-cased valve wireless sits alongside an iPad and QR code. The old is not discarded because it is old but because it is crap. The new is not used because it is new but because it’s lovely and usable.

How can a country as small as Finland become one of the wealthiest and strongest economies in the world? They managed to sidestep the diabolical onslaught of Thatcherite economic destruction, preferring the sanity of cooperation and social responsibility. The minority British ruling elite took its usual stance and claimed that the financial pressures on UK PLC warranted price rises and wage cuts. Whereas the Finnish ruling class took a more balanced view and continued on course with the social contract. Which puts paid to the Tory lie that a modern developed economy cannot have a manufacturing base, as the Finns are one of the world’s leading ship manufacturers and the world’s leading paper manufacturer.

State intervention in the economy and investment led Finland into a world-leading hi-tech country. Nokia, Finnish. Call Dublin from Manchester, your call is routed via Finland. The strong left current within the Finnish working class holds the balance in order.

However, the Finns appear to have an over-liking for ladders. Everywhere you look there are ladders, up things, on top of things and alongside things. Saunas materialise in the strangest of places. In a pub and you can pop into the sauna, take your washing to the laundrette and yes you can have a sauna. Eating a meal in a restaurant and there on the menu is the sauna price. Cafes have saunas, shops have saunas, flats have saunas. I was disappointed that the trains didn’t have saunas, but they do have a cubicle where you can talk on your phone.

One-armed bandits are also a favourite pastime, you can’t drink but you can pour money into a gambling machine at any time, any where, any how.

Live music on the tram, a blues band plays and sings in English ‘I’m gonna leave old Durham Town’. A bus stop in a small town, a rock band plays to an audience of six friends and the drummer’s mum. A park has a twenty-odd jazz band playing, people watch, applaud, smile and wander on. A mid-day meal is accompanied by a Maradona lookalike playing country and western. Visit a church dug from a solid rock and an inspirational pianist plays inspirationally.

The Olympic Stadium in Helsinki is the most beautiful Art Deco building. Not used until 1952, due to war. This striking monument of grace and simplicity overwhelms your sense of otherness and embraces your being so that you feel in tune with light and space.

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