by Dirk Baumgartl
Just before midnight it finally takes place: sunset. You’ve often heard about it, but could not imagine how it feels. Anyone travelling far noth in Europe in early summer can experience a phenomenon that is celebrated as “White Nights” in Saint Petersburg, only 300 kilometres distant. A large part of the night becomes day as dusk turns into dawn without hardly any darkness in between at this time of year. Citizens of Helsinki one knows how to use this time of year – in return for long dark winter days. It does come as no surprise that life in the Finnish capital is spent outdoors in summer.
Summer, sun and the smell of the Baltic Sea. If you walk down the large Esplanade boulevard, coming from the city cenre, you can find all major flagship stores full of design goods. When you stroll towards the harbour you see Helsinki at its best. The somewhat old-fashioned word “promenade” probably best describes it. Flanked by buildings and streets there is a wide pedestrian esplanade featuring green spaces, fountains, a small music pavilion and cafés where you enjoy the sun an watch the passers-by.
Fresh strawberries dominate the displays of the stalls in a nearby market. It takes less than half an hour for the ferry to take you from the bustling Esplanade to Suomenlinna. The nearby island and its UNESCO World Heritage-listed fortress are a popular destination for city dwellers, whether for walks, a swim in the sea or picnic with friends.
Pihlajasaari, another archipelago, is famous for its nude beach, popular with gays. Helsinki is a unique mixture of Northern and Eastern Europe, Russia and Scandinavia. This is reflected in such impressive buildings as the Finnish Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral as well as in the love of design and individualistic fashion. A stroll through the Design District, which is best started in the Design Forum Finland, makes it particularly clear how much creativity there is in this city. Whether it’s a rather classy boutique for fashion or jewellery, a colourful second-hand shop or a studio for handicrafts. A stroll around Dianapuisto park can turn into a real voyage of discovery. It is for good reason that Helsinki will be World Design Capital in 2012. Various exhibitions and congresses had already announced a year earlier that the city was seriously preparing for the title.
Its unique position as the largest and most important city in a large but sparsely populated country makes Helsinki the most attractive place for gay Finns. Thegay scene is certainly as diverse as anywhere else in Europe, but gays and lesbians stick closer together than perhaps in Paris, Berlin or London. In many bars and clubs, like the very popular Vatican (formerly Jenny Woo), male and female homosexuals usually party and drink together.
Drinking alcohol can be frustrating in Finland due to high prices and the fact that when a cocktail is prepared the booze is measured exactly to the inch. More amusing is a visit to Bear Park, a small square in the Kallio district, where a few alternative gays have set up a small kiosk called Bear Park Café. From here it is just a stone’s throw to the Kotiharjun sauna, one of Helsinki’s oldest public saunas still fired with wood. If a sauna session with heterosexual Finns in this Helsinki institution is a little too authentic for you, best move on to Saunasaari.
On the small island off Helsinki you can rent your private sauna cabin and have the tradition of Finnish sauna culture explained by professional guides. Going for a sweat together is also an imminent part of the supporting programme of Gay Pride, which takes place in June.
Besides cultural and party events, the central event is a parade that leads from classicist Senate Square past Stockmann department store and the railway station to a park near the opera house. This is where the very political demonstration terminates and leads into a large open-air festival. It lasts until late in the evening – but it is still finished well before sunset.
Official homepage of Helsinki tourism with a lot of information on sights, restaurants, shopping and event calendar. Designated information for gay visitors in the English version under the heading ‘For You’.
Comprehensive homepage on Finland and its regions. www.guys.fi The Finish dating website also offers a current gay guide for Helsinki and other cities in Finland.
HOW TO GET THERE
Blue1 of SAS Group offers daily flights to Helsinki from Munich and Berlin. Return flights are available from 120 Euros. Lufthansa serves Helsinki up to 4 times daily from Frankfurt, return tickets start at 150 Euros.
Klaus K (Bulevardi 2–4) The privately-owned design hotel is centrally located and is one of the best in town. Large breakfast buffet offering regional products, www.klauskhotel.com
Hotel Haven (Unioninkatu 17 ) Part of „Small Luxury Hotels of the World“ by the port, offering 77 rooms and 3 restaurants, www.hotelhaven.fi
Juuri (Korkeavuorenkatu 27) Modern Finnish cuisine and famous for its „Sapas“-appetisers, www.juuri.fi
Bellevue (Rahapajankatu 3) Traditional Russian Restaurant, www.restaurantbellevue.com
Bear Park Café (Karhupuisto Kallio) Only open in good weather, www.bearparkcafe.net
A21 Cocktail Lounge (Annankatu 21) Best cocktail bar in Finland at present, www.a21.fi
Hugo’s Room (Iso Roobertinkatu 3) Popular gay bar and cocktail lounge, www.hugosroom.fi
DTM (Iso Roobertinkatu 28) Biggest gay club in Scandinavia, www.dtm.fi
World Design Capital 2012
Helsinki was awarded the tile World Design Capital 2012 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design ICSID).
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