My Western Civ classes of old and my travels in 1970 familiarized me with the history of most of the Baltic states, but Finland was never on the radar screen. So I was quite fascinated to learn about its past.
Finland was a part of Sweden from 1100-1809 when they lost it to Russia following the Napoleonic Wars. Russia ruled it from 1809 until 1917. The Russians had their hands full with the revolution and couldn't be bothered ruling another country. The Fins kept their independence but it was threatened during WW II. The Russians tried to invade and, unfortunately, the Fins had to join forces with the Germans to keep the Russians out. You know "the enemy of my enemy is my friend."
Of course, we know how the war ended and Finland had to give Russia 12% of its land bordering the country, which included some copper mines and its port with access to the Arctic Sea. The entire Karelian area of 400,000 people came under Russian control. The people were given 24 hours to decide to stay or go and 99% left. The rest of Finland took them in and our guide's grandmother-in-law remembers taking in a family.
In addition, Russia demanded, in today's dollars, $4 billion in reparations - and not in money but goods - like ice breakers and industrial machines. Russia also denied Marshall Aid to Finland, which even Germany received.
To its credit, Finland paid it all back by 1952. The silver lining was that Russia liked their goods and became a major trading partner.
Today Finland is 300,000 sq. miles and has a population of 6.5 million people, 600,000 of whom live in Helsinki. It currently shares an 850 mile long border with Russia, which is a consideration in many political decisions. Thus, they are a member of the EU, but not NATO. The latter would militarize their border and they like their peace.
Our tour started at the heart of the city, Senate Square where we saw the massive Helsinki Luthern Cathedral
In spite of being ruled by Swedes and Russians, most (95%) of the people are still Fins. However, street signs are often in all 3 languages.
Our tour continued to Market Square along the waterfront where people were selling produce and other items.
There we saw city hall and the famous Havis Amanda fountain of a nude woman.
We walked along the Esplanade Park
If this city stands out from other cities we have visited, it is because of its famous 20th century and now 21st century architecture. Over 70 buildings were designed by Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen and here are just a few.
(A side note - he and his family immigrated to the U.S. in the 20s. His son Eriol became a famous mid-century modern architect and did a building in Columbus, IN.)
This tour included a wonderful coffee break, complete with blueberry cake. The Fins drink more coffee per capita than anyone else in the world, and it is delicious.
Then we proceeded walking across more boulevards and parks and came to Finlandia music hall, an ultra modern building with a beautiful sculpture of a string instrument hanging from the ceiling.
Inside we could see the organ pipes suspended on the walls and 180 windows that provide natural light.
We continued on a very long walk through the city and out to Sibelius Park. There is a sculpture there honoring Jean Sibelius, Finland's greatest composer.