Now is your last chance. Your last chance to travel to Helsinki, the 2012 World Design Capital, before the snow arrives. Go 729 kilometers northeast from Göteborg and you will end up in the center of everything. And by everything I mean literally everything.
Helsinki is booming. I am not quite sure what has gotten into the local people of my home city but during the last two years something has happened. Helsinkians have realized that they live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And trust me, it is not usual for Finnish people to brag about what they have. Or say it out loud. Even Bertolt Brecht said that the Finns, whose official languages are both Finnish and Swedish, were the only people in the world who were “silent in two languages”.
What was it that happened two years ago that changed everything? It was a change of attitude. Locals started doing things themselves in order to make Helsinki the best place in the world. The snowball started rolling and it has not stopped ever since. In the spring of 2011 three Helsinki-dudes came up with the coolest idea: a restaurant day. A day when anyone, for one day, can open a restaurant. It can be in their home, in the park or even in the street. On the fifth restaurant day last August 732 pop-up restaurants opened around the world.
When in Helsinki, it is possible to see this new type of city culture. And that is what makes the place so special. Instead of visiting the center of Helsinki and walking in a circle around the big white church, you should stop a local looking person and insist him or her to tell you where Kallio is. You might get lucky and run into a person who can actually talk.
The city consists of different neighborhoods or more like villages. There is the Kallio-district, Punavuori, Töölö and Vallila for example. Weird Finnish names but all these areas have their own special places and character to them. Most of the hoods have an active neigborhood-movement which organises events and once a year a big “village party”, like the one in Kallio called Kallio Block Party.
In the beginning of the 20th century Kallio used to be a rough working class area but it now hosts the best ethnic restaurants in Helsinki and the cheapest beer. Go for an afternoon beer in a bar called Siltanen (the bartenders are awfully good-looking), stroll among the artists and drunks and start the weekend with some wine in one of the apartments of local Kallio-people. If you try hard enough someone will always open the door (Aksa, Karolina, Nea?).
My favourite hood is the one of Töölö, since I lived there last summer myself. And I can say, it was the best summer ever. Why? Because Töölö is beautiful. Start your Helsinki-Sunday by jogging around Töölö-bay, then check out the amazing architecture of the Finlandia concert hall (created by the wavy vase designer Alvar Aalto), the Operahouse and the Sibelius-monument. Afterwards you can walk to the seaside and enjoy a finnish delicacy, a sweet bun called “korvapuusti” and coffee at the nicest cafe in Helsinki, Cafe Regatta. In the evening you can always find a gig or art show and interesting people at the culture factory called Korjaamo.
Oh, and Punavuori. There is no way not to mention Punavuori, the Södermalm of Helsinki, the center of Helsinki-style and the place now officially branded as Design District. If you have only one day in Helsinki, just spend it in Punavuori and you will get it all at once. Start the day from Hietalahti flea market and enjoy lunch in the best falafel-place in town called Fafa’s on the groovy walking street of Iso-Roba. You can easily spend the afternoon at the Design Museum and get to the basics of it all. Have a look at a gallery, have your fourth cup of coffee of the day (Finland just passed Sweden as the country with most coffee drinkers in the world) and be proud if you have managed to made friends with a Finn. Even though the start has not probably been the easiest one, once you become friends, you stay friends for a long time.
Text: Reetta Heiskanen