Reflections on Strolling the streets of Helsinki

The Baltic city of Helsinki tells its history vividly with a lucid calm. Several hundred years of Swedish rule followed by long intense Russian control give the city its most distinct characteristics – survival and a quest for identity. Though the older buildings in the city are profoundly reminiscent of those in St. Petersburg and even Moscow, the Finnish ethos is quick to dismiss its subjugate past, emphasizing instead on its unique standing or attempt thereto. Many of the newer buildings, cafes, boutiques and bars are in keeping with an architectural style referred to as National Romanticism where designers turn to prehistoric and medieval architecture to create spaces that reflect the inherent character of the nation and its need to move beyond its years of subservience to its aggressive neighbor on the east. Interestingly, Finnish writing and poetry, too, seek systematically to break away from any Russian literary influences. I must mention the city’s famous artist and architect Alvar Aalto who has wonderfully used design to improve social, cultural and economic life, addressing issues ranging from sustainability to education through his art. What is truly heart warming is that the city streets are made for walking and that the compact metropolis of 1.2 million people has no building taller that eight stories. The streets of Helsinki tell the saga of a city at crossroads, seeking technological advances, cherishing its EU membership for the solidarity that it offers while all along being alarmingly vigilant of Russia’s reemerging influence in the world. Most of all, I think everything in the city from its magnificent buildings and exceptionally stylish and good looking people sparkles as though in the brilliant colors of the Aurora Borealis, those dazzling northern lights that magically transform the ordinary into mythical. The trip is over, but I will be dreaming of Helsinki!

 

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