Friday, September 18, 2015

Helsinki, Finland - Day 7

Tuesday, September 15, 2015
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
and the Senate Building.
It should be noted that Helsinki is the only city we visited that had no medieval past. It was pretty much a fishing village and then became a port city in the 1500s by the Swedes. But when the Russians took over, they built many of the buildings. Czar Alexander I gave the country a lot of autonomy and the people liked him enough to put a statue in the square. The cathedral, completed in 1852, and the other buildings on the square were designed by German architect Carl Engel.
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.
I say famous because originally she created quite a scandal but now people love her.
We walked along the Esplanade Park
and Boulevard and passed Cafe Kapelli, a famous 19th century hangout.
It is also a big shopping street where I saw a Marimekko store, made famous by Jackie Kennedy.
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.)

One of Eliel's most famous is the train station, built between 1880 and 1916.
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.
From here a short walk to the world famous Rock Church, or Church on Temple Square.  It was built by two brothers in 1969 by blasting a giant granite rock from the inside out. Then they covered it with a copper dome (currently under restoration.)
They did it all for 600,000 Euros. (1969 valuation)
Inside we could see the organ pipes  suspended on the walls and 180 windows that provide natural light.

It is used for both religious services (Luthern) and concerts. 
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.
The sculpture is composed of 600 steel pipes and is 120 ft. high. Impressive.

Then we took the bus back to the ship, had a late lunch and lounged around. Tonight we had dinner in the Signatures restaurant, which was French. The food here was even more amazing than in the others. The show tonight was a clarinetist, and afterwards we went to a lounge to hear a very good 4-piece combo. Another nice evening,

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