Magnificent wooden design sex toys made in Lapland are the pride of Rovaniemi

Picture: Teatiamo Industries Oy

Rovaniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus was in the spotlight at the travel fair held in Helsinki a few days ago. It was possible to admire at the stand of the Arctic Design Shop many Lappish handicraft products such as jewelry or textiles. One of them had especially caught my eye.

It was a very elegant wooden object with the rainbow colors. I did not understand right away what it was, but soon I got a clue after reading the name of the product: “Arctic Anal“.

Working in the stand, a tall woman with dark hair and infectious laugh confirmed to me that it was a sex toy. “They are anal plugs made of birch wood and they are manufactured in Lapland in Rovaniemi. I design them myself and they are quite popular”, she told me with a big smile giving her business card.

Picture: Marc Helfer

It was Tea Latvala, the manager of Rovaniemi’s Arctic Design Shop. Tea runs also her own brand called “Teatiamo ” for which she creates and commercializes luxurious wooden dildos. All pieces are handcrafted and really look like works of art.

Tea’s unusual calling to become a dildo designer began a few years ago in 2015 in Miami.  At that time she was 37 years old, had just broke up with her ex boyfriend after a long-term relationship and was looking for new directions in her professional life.

I met a medium in Miami; she became my coach and helped me to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. One day during a meditation session, she told me suddenly: I see dildos in beautiful boxes”, reveals Latvala.

Picture: Marc Helfer

This prediction had at first confused the designer who had a Master of Arts from the Helsinki School of Arts, Design and Architecture and worked for several years in fashion as an art director. She had never imagined that one day she would become a sex toy creator.

A few months later back in Finland, Tea began to draw shapes of dildos. She wanted to create something new, sensual and elegant objects that would be sold in interior decoration and design stores rather than in sex shops.

I wanted to create something that had nothing to do with usual silicone dildos. They are extremely ugly and the materials used are often toxic and can cause allergies. I really wanted to design an object so beautiful that it could be left on a table or bookshelves. You would not need to hide it in a drawer or to be ashamed that someone might see it”, explains the designer.

Teatiamo ja Arctic Design Shop yrittäjä Tea Latvala.
Picture: Jouni Porsanger

To design pleasure toys, Tea Latvala got inspiration from Finnish nature and handicraft tradition and decided to use wood. She has a very strong relationship with this material as she spent her childhood in Kurikka, a small city located in the Pohjanmaa region. Both her parents worked there in a wood refinement factory.

Wood is a very challenging material. The development of each dildo prototype required a lot of tests. Dildo had to be beautiful but also functional, so I had to think about both its design and aerodynamic shape. Finishing process was also important, to give to the sex toy a shiny and silky shape…”, tells Tea.

Every single piece is handmade and polished with varnish. Tea uses organic varnishes whose components have been analyzed and certified for their safety and wear resistance. The designer uses for each product specific shape different wood types, such as birch, cherry, acacia, nut tree, ash tree or rosewood…

Picture: Petri Teppo

Well kept, my dildos are totally safe and they can last a lifetime. And of course, you won’t get any splinters using them!”, specifies Latvala with a laugh.

When the designer founded her company in January 2016, she faced a lot of controversies. “At first many people tried to stain my reputation, I received a lot of criticism, dirty pictures and tasteless jokes. I was often associated with pornography. Finding investors and manufacturers was not easy”, remembers Latvala.

However, Tea did not give up; she wanted to prove that her project could succeed. With a lot of perseverance, she launched a crowdfunding campaign and found some investors to market her brand.

Picture: Marc Helfer

Latvala received also support from “Business Finland”, the Finnish State Innovation Center. This organization is funding new innovations to help Finnish brands to get global. They saw in Latvala’s project a great opportunity to export Finnish wooden design products.

Just in a short time attitudes changed a lot, and the designer received a lot of publicity in the Finnish media. Suddenly Teatiamo products began to have success. Last year, the company made a turnover of €100 000.

In 2018 the biggest part of the Teatimo market was in Finland, but Latvala’s brand could rise soon internationally.  “My products have been exhibited in art galleries and showrooms in Miami and in California. Teatiamo designs are already on sale in Tom of Finland stores in the USA and I started to market my brand also in Germany, England and Japan”, tells Tea.

Teatiamo ja Arctic Design Shop yrittäjä Tea Latvala.
Tea Latvala. Picture: Jouni Porsanger

The designer is very happy of what she achieved in a few years time. She also got married and moved with her husband to Lapland in Rovaniemi a year and a half ago.

In Rovaniemi people are very proud of my Arctic Anals products. They are entirely manufactured there. Some dildos are still manufactured in Poland but I wish to transfer all the production cycle in Rovaniemi. It will offer work and benefit local artisans”, declares Latvala.

Tea is a talented designer but also an amazing businesswoman. She uses a lot of humor to market and advertise her products. Her business card is quite funny with this catch phrase: Art up your ass. She organized a contest to find the name of her latest butt plug on social media. It was her sister who  found the name : Arctic Anal. Someone else suggested also this savory name: Born under Analis Borealis.

Picture: Teatiamo Industries Oy

Humor is essential in my work.  The product description in merchandising must be funny. People find it easier to approach that kind of objects laughing ”,  says Tea.

Finland is always well ranked as one of the most innovative countries in the world. Many Finnish brands are globally known such as Nokia, Fiskars, Kone, Marimeko or Rovio (Angry Birds). So be ready for Teatiamo, Tea’s wooden design products may soon invade the world.

And the next time you visit Finland, get yourself a great souvenir of Lapland. Even if you don’t use it, it will still be a magnificent piece of art that you can always display at home as an interior design accessory next to an Alvar Aalto glass vase.

Some are singing in the rain, in Helsinki they sing swimming in ice water

Picture: Marc Helfer

In Finland, the craziest ideas often lead to great things. The country is well known for many surrealist events and contests like the Nakukymppi, a 10 kilometer naked marathon in Padasjoki or the world cell phone throwing championships of Savonlinna.

A very weird choir founded in Oulu in 1987 has become one of the finest symbols of Finnish eccentricity all over the world. The choir called Huutajat (The Screamers) is composed of 20 to 40 men. They don’t sing at all, they just scream.

There is also in Helsinki a new rather unusual vocal ensemble. It is called “Avantokuoro” (The Ice Swimming Choir) and it was founded a few weeks ago at the Munkkiniemi winter swimming association. The choir combines singing with ice swimming which is a very popular outdoor activity in Finland.

Avantokuoro aalto IMG_1107
Picture : Kirsti Sysipuro-Pirinen

During wintertime there is nothing like to start the day in Helsinki with some ice swimming. There are a dozen of winter swimming places in the city where you can usually go to sauna and swim in a very cold water hole.

The Munkkiniemi winter swimming place doesn’t have any sauna. The club members go straight to swim without warming up themselves. They are not masochists in need of extreme thrills but they are all experienced swimmers used to cold water.

These Finns are crazy!, tend to say scared tourists. The thought of swimming in icy water repels a lot of them, but winter swimming has many benefits.

It releases pain-relieving and well being hormones like endorphins,  helps to relax, boosts the immune system and if you can sing at the same time it certainly gives a lot more fun and energizing feelings.

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Picture: Kannisto Väinö, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

The artist Anna Koho had the crazy idea of this choir. She has been practicing ice swimming for a few years and she joined the winter swimming association of her district last autumn.

The club has about 200 swimmers, 150 women and fifty men. The artist spoke about her project last October during a meeting of the association.

I didn’t really know anyone in the association and I was convinced that everyone would reject it and take me for a nutcase. But the answer was positive and unanimous and they asked me when do we start?, remembers Anna Koho.

Anna talvi rajattu IMG_1140
Anna Koho. Picture: Anna Koho

Very quickly the choir had dozens of eager participants for its first training sessions. The training took place with fun and without any stress, but singing in icy water is not an obvious activity because it imposes strict limits on body resistance to cold.

We try to develop our duration of resistance to cold. For now we could sing together about 30 seconds, it is our record. With some optimism, we will be able after good training to sing in icy water for several minutes, tells Anna Koho.

The Ice Swimming Choir of Munkkiniemi doesn’t really try to sing like an ordinary vocal ensemble. Its members actually don’t need to have a good voice or even any singing techniques.

Picture: Marc Helfer

They just need the will and the endurance to create different things together in cold water. Everyone in the choir can sing, recite, shout, improvise or create freely any sound expressions that are related to ice swimming.

The choir had their first performance on Finnish Independence Day, December 6. The sun was shining and the sky was blue when six women appeared in front of the shower booths of Munkkiniemi winter swimming place.

They were in swimsuits and had all banners in the colors of the Finnish flag. They had a few meters to walk on a bridge to take a ladder down that led them into a water hole. Their performance was brief and they proclaimed their hymn: The Ice Swimming Choir melts the ice!

Picture: Marc Helfer

The choir has now about twenty members and Anna Koho has great plans for the future. She would like the choir to participate at the Finnish national ice swimming championship. It will take place next year in February in Turku.

I contacted the coordinator of the championship and he seemed to be very positive when I spoke about our choir. We will maybe present something there. We are all quite excited about it and it will incite us to rehearse more and better, tells the artist.

The choir must therefore develop a program in the near future. Right now the participants experience and improvise all kinds of sounds while they are swimming. They work together above all to find the joy and the energy to transcend their limits in cold water. The next trainings to come should soon define the shape that will take the vocal ensemble.

Picture: Marc Helfer

The members of the choir will maybe enter the water in different order. The people who have the most endurance to the cold will enter first and others will come later and some will maybe sing also outside. They will also alternate in water. With organization we should have singing good continuity, explains Anna Koho.

The Ice Swimming Choir is not only a crazy project to do something original, funny and different. Its creator who is an artist deeply connected to nature wanted also to give a meaning on global warming issues and it is certainly no coincidence that the logo of the Munkkiniemi winter swimmers association shows a polar bear swimming in a water hole.

Polar bears may no longer have habitat in the future. Ice swimming may also be endangered in Nordic countries. Global warming threatens ice swimming and it may be that one day we won’t be able to practice it anymore”, tells Anna Koho.

Picture: Marc Helfer

Yes, Finns are crazy, they always have a kind of positive inner madness that often brings joy and good vibes and sometimes it can also make you think.




The legendary Helsinki photographer Signe Brander was a very secretive woman. She died totally forgotten and was buried anonymously in a forest cemetery

Signe Brander. Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

The Finnish photographer Signe Viola Brander (1869-1942) is a true legend in her country. She is without a doubt the most famous Helsinki photographer. Between 1907 and 1913, she did an impressive documentation work and took more than 900 pictures around the city.

With Brander’s pictures, you can make a real time travel and discover how Helsinki looked like in the beginning of the 20th century. Nowadays many artists, photographers, architects and even cartoonists like Timo Mäkelä refer to her photos in their works.

Signe Brander had a long career as a photographer until the 1930s. But the woman behind the camera was quite a mystery and researchers working on her pictures know actually very little about her.

Signe Brander’s family. Signe is on the left and was 10 years old when this pictures was taken. Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

In a Finskt Museum’s publication “Signe Brander. Kulturhistorisk fotograf” published in 1973, Valborg Stockmann-Lindholm evokes the photographer’s family. Her great grandfather was the headmaster of a school in Pori and also a member of the Aurora Society. This literary society had a important role in the birth of Finnish nationalism in the 1800s. Her grandfather was an officer of justice and worked as the chairman of the Court of appeal in Vaasa.

Her father Ernst Albert Gustaf Brander (1827-1891) married a Swedish woman Jenny Amanda Karolina Rääf (1828-1916). The couple had 7 children and Signe who was born on April 15, 1869 in Parkano, was the fifth. The large family moved in Kokkola in 1873, where Ernst Albert owned a farm and worked as a customs officer.

After her father’s death in 1891, Signe moved with her mother to Helsinki where she graduated to become a drawing teacher. However, she never worked as a teacher and eventually became a photographer. Nobody knows how and when she discovered photography.

Signe Brander. Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.

Photography was a booming art at the end of the 19th century and it was a common hobby among many women in the upper classes. At that time, it was not rare that women worked in photographic studios, but they were mainly doing portraits, explains Tuomas Myrén, a researcher at the Helsinki City Museum.

Between 1892 and 1895, Signe worked in Daniel Nyblin’s studio. Daniel Nyblin (1856-1923) was one of the most famous photographers in Finland during the turn of the 19th century.

More than twenty people used to work in Nyblin’s studio among them many women. Signe Brander probably acquired her photographic technique during this period.

Daniel Nyblin at his desk. Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

Nyblin was like a mentor. He shared his knowledge and professional skills with his assistants. He was certainly a model for Signe. In addition to portraits, he did also a lot of landscapes and townscapes, tells Tuomas Myrén.

Between 1896 and 1898, Brander owned a photographic studio named Atelier Olofsbad in Savonlinna. Ads published in local newspapers reveal that she was doing groups, landscapes and buildings pictures.

In Helsinki between 1904 and 1906, she had a photographic studio called Helikon. It was located at Pohjoisesplanadi 37, not far from her apartment in Luotsikatu 13 in the district of Katajanoka. The photographer became quickly well known for her townscape pictures.

Signe Brander. Atelier Olofsbad. Museovirasto – Musketti

At the beginning of the 20th century Helsinki was growing fast. In 1902, the population of the city reached 100,000, having tripled since 1870. The industrialized city and its factories attracted more and more people.

Helsinki needed apartments and urbanization caused radical changes in the town. The empire-style wooden houses that had been built in the 1800s were destroyed and replaced by larger stone buildings.

In 1906 the city council founded a Board of Antiquities that became later The Helsinki City Museum. One of its tasks was to record and document with photos the changing cityscapes and the old wooden buildings before their demolition.

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The Board had eminent members including the famous historian and archivist Reinhold Hausen, art historian Karl Konrad Meinander and Gustaf Nyström, the architect who designed the covered market, the winter garden and the botanical garden in Helsinki.

The Board of Antiquities hired Signe Brander at the end of 1906. She was 37 years old and the first woman to be commissioned at that time for such a work. Her documentary sessions began in the beginning of 1907.

Her work was carefully planned in advance. On Sundays, Signe and Board’s members were taking long walks in the city and took notes on the buildings that needed to be photographed.

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–  During the week, Brander was going on the chosen spots and waited for the best light to take pictures. She was also waiting for people to be in the frame of the camera and sometimes she asked people to pose for her, indicates Myrén.

Brander did not just document on old wooden houses; she also captured streets scenes and the everyday life of Helsinki people. In her pictures, you can often see many children posing in the yard in front of their homes.

Large families with a lot of children were really a common phenomenon at that time. They were usually living in the same room in very small houses or apartments, tells the museum researcher.

Signe Brander. Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

Many Brander’s pictures reflect her interest in ordinary people. On the streets she photographed passersby, merchants, fishermen. Groups of firefighters, postmen, soldiers and workers did also pose for her.

She went from time to time indoors and took pictures of pupils at school, Helsinki train station clerks, public sauna workers as well as employees and customers of the legendary Ekberg café.

Her work was very challenging. Camera equipment made Signe’s job physically arduous. Sometimes she climbed intrepidly on the top of church towers to make impressive panoramic views of the city. She used a field camera and glass plate negatives that were very heavy.

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The size of a glass plate negative was 18 x 24 cm and its weight was about 170 grams. Brander had long work days that started early in the morning and could last until the beginning of the evening. She always had to plan enough glass plate negatives for the day and she had to use horse-drawn carriages to transport her equipment from place to place, explains Myrén.

Signe Brander was a truly exceptional photographer. She was a master in using a huge amount of light and to shoot to get a deep depth of field. Her pictures were amazingly sharp and their recent digitization at the Helsinki City Museum reveals all kinds of fascinating details.

In the picture bellow, people are posing in a yard in front of their house. If you zoom in, you will see also in the background the face of a woman staring at the photographer behind a small window.

Signe Brander. Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

On the next picture, you can discover in the background of the May Day parade in Helsinki, three dogs sniffing each other’s butts.

Signe Brander. Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.

The Board of Antiquities paid the photographer 5 Finnish markka for each negative plate and a print. That was quite a suitable salary for the time. Brander’s photos bore her name and the year they were taken. The photographer’s copyrights were protected for a period of 5 years. In 1909, 400 of her pictures were shown in a big exhibition in Helsinki.

The exhibition brought her certain notoriety. Brander had a very good reputation in the 1910s in some circles for being a photographer capable of taking beautiful and sharp pictures outdoors in difficult conditions, mentions Myrén.

She got however fired in 1913, a record book indicates that the Board’s members were no longer satisfied with her work and that they decided to use another photographer. Several years later someone wrote on the margin of this record book: “A stupid decision”.

Signe Brander. Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

–  We don’t know the reasons of the disagreements between the Board and the photographer. In 1912 Signe made some of her best photos of Helsinki. The quality of her work cannot be questioned. There may have been some personal issues as a new director took office between 1912 and 1913, speculates Myrén.

Apart from her documentation work on Helsinki, Signe Brander also worked on two other photography projects.  In 1907, she traveled in Finland and took photos of old battlefields for a centenary memorial book of the 1808 -1809 Finnish War.

In 1910, she started working on another huge project that lasted 20 years. She traveled all around Finland and took 2000 pictures of mansions.

Signe Brander. Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.

Signe Brander dedicated her life to photography. She never married and lived alone.

–  I have a feeling that she was perhaps a little shy and enjoyed to be on her own, speculated Riitta Pakarinen, a previous research manager at the Helsinki City Museum in an interview .

In her Finskt Museum’s article,  Valborg Stockmann-Lindholm, wrote that Signe was strong minded, very talkative and she had a good sense of humor. It seems that she was also quite abrupt and unshakable.

Signe Brander. Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

From her years working at Daniel Nyblin’s studio, remained a souvenir of an incident that took place in the dark chamber. A male colleague made an inappropriate advance towards her. Signe replied to him angrily: We need light here! By turning on the light in the room, she destroyed the pictures she was working on.

The last years of her life were tragic. In the 1930s, she had to give up photography. Her right eye blinded completely because of a cataract and her left eyesight weakened too. She suffered also from hearing problems.

In 1941 Brander’s condition deteriorated and she was hospitalized at the Kivelä Hospital in Helsinki. When the Continuation War broke out between Finland and Soviet Union, Helsinki was bombed and all Kivelä’s patients were transferred outside the city to the mental hospital of Nikkilä in Sipoo.

Signe Brander. Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

In 1942, more than a hundred patients died of starvation in this hospital. The photographer probably also died of hunger on May 17. A small forest cemetery was created near the hospital, because the church of Sipoo refused patients from the mental hospital on its burying ground. 715 Nikkilä patients who were residents of Helsinki were buried anonymously in this forest cemetery between 1922 and 1951 in row tombs. Signe Brander was buried there without a gravestone.

Signe Brander’s work achieved great popularity in Finland since the 1970s. Books, documentary films and many exhibitions were devoted to her photos. Researchers working on Brander wonder what happened to her belongings after her death. No documents, no diaries, no correspondence,  nor personal notes on her work seem to have preserved.

It is also not known what happened to her cameras. Nobody seems to have a clue of what she was doing during the Finnish Civil War in 1918.

Signe Brander. Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

–  Signe Brander was in Helsinki during the Civil War, but we don’t know if she took any pictures. Permissions for taking photos were very limited during this period. If she took pictures of these events, none survived, declares Myrén.

It is quite surprising that Brander who is now so famous, left finally so few personal documents about her. There are very few portraits of her, even though she was herself a photographer.

Almost nothing is known about her private life. She unfortunately did not have children to talk about her and to say what kind of woman she was. We do not have much information  about her relationship with her family either. It is really difficult to approach such a secretive woman, when we have so little information about her, tells Tuomas Myrén.


The pictures that Signe Brander took in Helsinki between 1907 and 1913 have been digitalised and can be seen on the website of the Helsinki City Museum.

3 photo books are also available in Finland:

Signe Brander: Panoraamoja- Panoramavyer by Jan Alanco, Tuomas Myrén, Riitta Pakarinen, Aki Pohjankyrö. (2016) Publisher: Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo

Foto Signe Brander by Jan Alanco and Riitta Pakarinen (2009) Publisher: Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo

Signe Brander Suomen Kartanoissa by Irma Lounatvuori and Sirkku Dölle (2008) Publisher: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura. Museovirasto

Timo Mäkelä’s comic book: Neiti Brander (2018)  Publisher: Arktinen Banaani

Helsinki walls take youthful colors


Remembering a dream by Guildo Van Helten in Vallila. Photo by Marc Helfer

Located 3 kilometers from the city center, the district of Pasila with its grey concrete towers seems to wake up from a depressive torpor. A touch of poesy has indeed  changed the neighborhood last summer into a real street art district. Several Finnish and international artists have created magnificent works of art all around East Pasila.

Passers-by and photographers are hanging out there to admire these paintings and stencils. Nowadays the area attracts locals, tourists and even school art classes from the city center.

It’s really funny, because Pasila is not really a place where tourists go, when they visit Helsinki. People usually do not go to the outskirts of the city to observe graffiti and murals, tells with a big smile Jaakko Blomberg, one of the founders of Helsinki Urban Art, the association that initiated this project.

Stencil work by Jana & JS. Photo by Marc Helfer

Jaakko defines himself as an urban activist and event producer. He has been these past few years at the origin of many major alternative urban happenings in Helsinki, like Cleaning Day, Dinner under the Sky and Helsinki Sauna Day.  Few years ago, he started a project called More Street Art in Helsinki.

The association wanted to promote street art in the city and also to involve district communities in different projects. In the beginning of 2017, Jaakko founded Helsinki Urban Art with some visual artists to continue to develop and bring art in the urban space.

Helsinki Urban Art members from left to right: Maikki Rantanen, Maija Pulkkinen, Jaakko Blomberg, Essi Ruuskanen, Sara Multanen. Image source: Helsinki Urban Art.

In less than a year, Helsinki urban Art has already carried out many projects and brought joyful colors to several Helsinki districts. One happened in Merihaka. The association was contacted by a resident of the district who was interested in having a mural in a courtyard surrounded by very grey buildings.

We had meetings with the people living there and they could give their opinions about the colors  and the themes they wanted for the mural. We always work together with the residents to create pieces of art that meet their expectations and needs, explains Jaakko Blomberg.

A 80 meter long mural was made last august on the walls of the courtyard. It was created by  the Finnish street artists Essi Ruuskanen and Jukka Hakanen who is famous for a large mural made in 2015 in the district of Arabia.


Helsinki Urban Art has also enlightened last june the district of Sörnäinen. The artist Laura Lehtinen has produced a piece called Party By The Sea  that covers the whole Piritori square located next to the metro station. Residents of the district took also part on the project.

–  We first asked to the people what kind of themes they would like to see for the square. We had 3 artists who made proposals and sketches and residents voted for the one they wanted to have there. They also took part in the workshops and in the painting of the piece,  indicates Jaakko.

Piritori square. Photo by Marc Helfer
Piritori square. Photo by Marc Helfer

Helsinki Urban Art main project happened last summer in Pasila. Street art artists came from many countries as well as Sweden, The USA, Germany, France, Austria,  Poland or Hungary, to collaborate on the project. Some of them were renowned international street art artists, like the Estonian Edward von Lõngus.

Nobody knows who is really hiding behind this mysterious pseudonym. The stencil artist from Tartu usually works at night and never shows his face. His real identity remains a secret and he is often compared to Banksy.

Edward von Lõngus did use the same stencils of Estonian characters all over Europe, in Paris, Berlin, Rome and Brussels. The stencils in black and white, are inspired by old photos of Estonians people taken one hundred years ago. In Pasila, you can  interact with Lõngus creations, by downloading the (R)estart Reality appliccation. You can see on your smartphone some of these characters take life again.


All the artists left their marks in Pasila on a lot of concrete surfaces, mainly on walls, staircases, underpasses, doors, ramps and bridges. There are all public walls owned by the city.

Pasila is the only place in Helsinki where we could have paint many walls, without having to show any sketches in advance. It really facilitated the realization of the project, because usually it’s a lot more complicated, tells Jaakko.

The Helsinki Urban Art project in Pasila has not been funded by the city. The association managed to get support from Taike, the Arts Promotion Centre Finland and from different embassies and international cultural institutions. The budget was really small for such a project.

– We really had to be creative, we had a lot of volunteer workers and all the artists came also for free. It was really a community project, explains Jaakko.


In Pasila, among the most beautiful street art works, you can see the creations of Jana & JS, a French-Austrian artist duo. There is a magnificent stencil of a couple in love on a column of the Opastinsilta bridge. You can also admire some strange rabbits painted by the Belgian artist Pso Man. They seem to come straight out of an Enki Bilal comic book.

People living in Pasila are now very proud to have street art works in their district.

Some old people told us that they were waiting for this in their neighborhood since 1970s. We had a lot of positive feedback. People told us that the murals were beautiful and that Pasila became nicer. The artists were also very enthusiastic, notifying that there is still a lot of surfaces to paint there. Pasila Street Art District project will continue this year between May and June, reveals Jaakko.


There has been a tremendous boom of legal commissioned street art in recent years in Finland. Attitudes have changed radically in Helsinki, knowing that for a long time there has been zero tolerance for street art in the city. In Finland, illegal graffiti paintings, stickers and stencils were considered malicious damage under criminal law and everything was removed straight away from the walls.

The changes haves been really big here. Graffiti culture had disappeared more or less in Helsinki during the zero tolerance era between 1998 and 2008. In 2009 the city opened its first authorized graffiti wall in Suvilahti, it was extended the following year in Kalasatama. It took few years to get more street art in Helsinki and the amount has increased a lot very fast these last three years, explains the founder of Helsinki Urban Art.


Now Helsinki’s street art scene is getting quite exciting. Large murals appeared on buildings facades in many districts and in the suburbs. Painted electric boxes first appeared in Kallio few years ago and they have been spreading now in town.

For the last two years, the Upeart festival has invited Finnish and international artists to create murals in many cities in Finland. In 2017 twenty large mural pieces were performed in 13 cities.


Bringing street art in Helsinki became more easier, but it was a very complicated task when Jaakko Blomberg started to develop his first projects.

– When I began to organize urban events in 2012, it was quite hard and we had to struggle a lot. It took a lot of negotiation and positive thinking to convince the city administration. It was the same with street art a few years later. First the attitude was often negative and murals were seen more as something for buildings that were going to be destroyed. Now the city has a street art board to promote those events, remembers the urban activist.


Helsinki Urban Art association wants also to bring street art into a next level and  new environments, like parking halls, schools and hospitals.

– I don’t think that we should limit ourselves to create art pieces only outdoors. If you think how much time children spend at school and how often school buildings are horrible. We should spread art inside the buildings too, explains Jaakko Blomberg.

Now sociologists talk about beautification in Helsinki. These works of urban art are all legal and have been commissioned for the most part. They bring poetry and beautify areas of the city that are usually grey and ugly. At the same time, illegal graffiti paintings and stencils that sometimes have social and political messages and that can be seen in other European cities, are non-existent in Helsinki.


In many European cities such as London, Paris and Berlin, the works of street artists like Banksy or Space Invader led to the gentrification of the areas where they are located. Will the same phenomenon happen in Helsinki? Can commissioned street art works be used to promote the sale and rental of apartments?

We painted one wall in a yard in Kallio in Helsinginkatu. It was funny, because few weeks after, we noticed some renting announcements with “a house with a mural” and they were pictures of the mural. I think it’s something that can’t be avoided, because after all our idea is also to make the city a better and more interesting place to live with the help of art. In some cases it may also have influence in the prices and attract investors, as we have seen for example in Berlin, but I don’t think it’s something to be worried here, tells Jaakko Blomberg.

If you visit Helsinki and if you want to see street art, go to Pasila! It takes only 5 minutes by train from the city center and you will discover great works of art. If the weather is nice you can also experience street art in Kallio. Of course if it freezing or raining like hell, you can always go to see modern art in Kiasma.


The fate of the oldest wooden villa in Helsinki is in our hands. Let’s save the Villa Annala


Photo by Marc Helfer

On december 6th, Finland was celebrating 100 years of independence, but it was also a very special day for the friends of the Villa Annala.  The Association of Useful Plants (Hyötykasviyhdistys ry) that manages this historic site of gardening culture in Helsinki, organized a fundraising event to save the place.

The association needs 100 000 euros before the end of december to buy back from the city of Helsinki this mansion which is the oldest wooden villa in town. Located in Hämeentie 154,  in the district of Vanhakaupunki, the Villa Annala is now badly worn-out and needs important renovation.

In 1826, the businessman Gustaf Otto Wasenius (1789–1852) made the best offer during an auction, to get the lease of this land in order to build a summer villa. The wooden mansion was built in a classicism style in 1832. At that time, this area was in the countryside and far away of the city center.

Gustaf Otto Wasenius at the end of the 1840s. Picture: Museovirasto – Musketti

Gustaf Otto Wasenius was an active entrepreneur. He was a bookseller, but also a publisher, the newspaper that he published “Helsingfors Tidningar” was very popular. In the 1840s, he sold his bookshop and his printing company and he acquired a tobacco factory. He was also a very important farmer.

The origin of the villa’s name is a funny story. “Gustaf Otto Wasenius asked his future wife Charlotta Meisner (1805-1837) if he could call her Anna, it was the name of one of his previous lover. Charlotta agreed to please her husband, and she became Anna Charlotta Wasenius. The villa took also Anna’s name. I don’t believe that any woman would accept that kind of request nowadays“,  tells amused Anu Ranta the former manager of the Association of Useful Plants.

The Villa Annalla in the 1940s.  Unknown author:  Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

In the 1820s , Gustaf Otto Wasenius beautified the landscape around the villa. Many oaks were planted, some are still alive today. He developed the land  around the villa into a very important place for gardening with a lot of vegetables and useful plants.

Wasenius always experimented new and exotic varieties of plants. In the 1820s, the first association of gardeners in Finland was created in Turku, and got quickly 500 members, Wasenius was one of them. He exchanged information about plants by mail with other gardeners and imported seedlings from St Petersburg , Stockholm and Germany.

The Villa Annalla. Unknown author:  Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

We know from Wasenius archives, that he was experimenting a lot of sensitive plants that he kept warm during winter in an orangery greenhouse. He had 703 pots of plants including melons, orange and lemon trees. He produced a lot of vegetables and some years he stored in his cellars 500 kilos of carrots and parsnips” explains Anu Ranta.

The entrepreneur  had also  contracts with pharmacies to sell medicinal leeches that he raised in some ponds of the park near the summer villa.

The Villa Annalla. Unknown author:  Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

The Wasenius family kept the lease of the Villa Annala for many generations. But the ownership of the mansion was transferred back to the City of Helsinki in 1938. During world war II,  the Mannerheim League for Children’s Welfare used the Villa Annala as a home for the children refugees evacuated from Karelia.

“For the children, it was nice to live here. The mansion looked  like a big farm. There were cows, chickens and horses in the stables, and there were food, milk, eggs and vegetables to eat, mentions Anu Ranta.

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The Villa Annalla (1940-1956). Unknown author:  Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

After the war, in the 1950s, the villa was rented out over decades for apartments and its cultivation lands for commercial gardening. At the end of the 1990s, the Annala’s park and allotments were renovated and the villa’s gardens regained their splendor. The Association of Useful Plants has been renting the place since 1999.

The association organizes there garden related thematic events, exhibitions and gardening courses. The Villa Annala area which has been designated as a center of garden culture in Finland is however in danger. Last year Helsinki city decided to sell the villa and planned also to divide separately allotments out of its yard.

Picture by Marc Helfer

Helsinki municipality’s actual policy is to reduce the number of the properties that the city owns and that doesn’t need for it own use. The city wants to get rid of old buildings and doesn’t want to pay anything for their renovations“, deplores Anu Ranta.

It’s quite an aberration to see that the city of Helsinki doesn’t have any clue of the  historical heritage significance of this place. The Association of Useful Plants and its members organized a crowdfunding campaign and many different fundraising events to try to save the villa.

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On independence day the singer Marjo Leinonen gave a concert at the Villa Annala. To see the smiles on the faces of the members of the association, you could almost believe that the villa was saved. The Villa Annala’s friends have so far raised more than 36 000  euros. They still need more money.

The funds raised are already sufficient to take a loan with a bank, so yes we are going to  buy the villa back from the city of Helsinki. We are going to save it. We will have there a cafeteria,  we will organize seminars, concerts, exhibitions, courses and gardening workshops. The Villa Annala will become a real gardening cultural center“, tells the former manager of the Association.

Photo by Marc Helfer

The crowdfunding campaign goes on until December 21st and the association need more funding for the villa’s renovation expenses. So for Christmas make a present to help the Villa Annala’s friends. This place concerns all Helsinki’s residents.

It’s not only for us that we want to save the Villa Annala,  it’s also for the future generations. The villa and it’s gardening tradition have been here for almost two hundred years, let’s hope it will still be here in the next century“, says Anu Ranta.




Saturday hobby reindeer’s fever in Porvoo

Photo by Marc Helfer

Studying at Perho Liiketalousopisto can sometimes be fun. We had today a special guided tour in the medevial city of Porvoo with Minna Frondelius-Nuccio and she’s a really amazing guide. She was waiting for us dressed like a Christmas elf with a little basket filled with objects  that aroused my curiosity.

She can really capture your attention on Finland’s history with funny stories like for instance the codes of seduction and communication that women used with their hand fans during balls between 1700 and 1800.

Photo by Marc Helfer

Her special interests are history and gardening. And i’m wondering if she’s having also a guided tour about private yards and gardens in Porvoo. If so, it must be a really fascinating one. Anyway  this guided tour was too short and could have easily lasted one or two hours more. I would definitely take an other guided tour in Porvoo with her but maybe in summer with a better weather.

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The outstanding climax of the day was the visit of the hotel Haikko manor and spa. This luxurious mansion is located a few kilometers from Porvoo, and it is remarkable of  history since 1362. Haikko hosted  very prestigious people like the painter Albert Edelfelt and the grand duke Kirill Vladimirovich who escaped the russian revolution in 1917 to Finland and found first shelter in Haikko manor.

Photo by Marc Helfer

The event that was  absolutely eyes catching was a race of hobby reindeers  in the mansion. Timo Repo and his wife Arja who are nature guides, but also  students like me this year at Perho Liiketalousopisto, walked all day long with a hobby reindeer in Porvoo. Passers-by in the streets were clearly intrigued and amused.

In Haikko, Timo took with him a dozen of hobby reindeers. Almost every student of our group did pause for a session of photographs and video on the stairs of the prestigious hotel. The  scene became surreal when they descended the stairs riding their hobby reindeers. Hotel staff and some guests were treated with a surprising show. When i tell you that Finns are totally crazy…

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Sauna Arla in the hipster district of Kallio is one of the best public saunas of Helsinki. When you open the magnificent iron door of the building located at number 15 of Kaarlenkatu’s street, you can discover some paintings made by the finnish rock and blues singer Marjo Leinonen. They tell some nostalgic and funny stories of Kallio’s life during the last century, when it was still a working class district.

Sauna Arla was founded in 1929, at that time in the city, very few apartments had hot water and showers. Factory workers in the neighborhood of Kallio and Sörnäinen were washing themselves at public saunas. There used to be more than 100 of them in Helsinki between the 1920s and the 1950s.


Those days, public saunas were part of Helsinki’s life. They were opened from Tuesday until Saturday, and people were using them one or two time a week. Arla is one of the two oldest historic public saunas remaining from the 1920s in Helsinki. The other one, Sauna Kotiharju located in the neighborhood at Harjutorinkatu’s street, was founded in 1928.

Both saunas were heated by wood at that time, Kotiharju is the last traditional wooden-heated sauna remaining in Helsinki, Arla is now heated by natural gas. The building that were housing sauna Arla, had in 1929 about a hundred apartments, but also many offices and factories. There was among them a shoe factory called Kevyt-Kenkä Oy. The name of the factory had at that period a double meaning, it could mean light shoes but also women of easy virtue…


Photo by Marc Helfer

When Kimmo Helisto bought Arla in 2006, the place was totally forgotten and worn out. Helisto who lived in Kallio, had met by chance in the street at the end the 1990s, the former owner of the place Jorma Grönlund, who owned also since 1971 another sauna in Pietari’s street. Before managing saunas for nearly 35 years, Grönlund worked as a graphic designer in advertising. He also painted nameplates for companies.


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In the 1990s Kimmo Helisto worked in film and music production. He also worked at Radio City since the mid-1980s. His interest in saunas goes back to this period.

Radio City was located in a squat called Lepakko in the district of Ruoholahti in Helsinki. There was a sauna in Lepakko and with Tixa a colleague of mine, we were creating every week an event called: Höyry-klubi (steam club) with musicians, artists and poets. I understood at that time that sauna was a very unique and attractive place to create special events that bring people together”, explains Kimmo Helisto.

Photo by Marc Helfer

When Lepakko was destroyed in 1999, Kimmo continued to create sauna-related events around the world, including New York on the roof of the Gershwin hotel in Manhattan, but also in Germany and in the Netherlands. When he saw Arla for the first time, he felt in love straight away with the place.

One of the reasons I felt in love with Arla, was that it was still old and authentic”, tells the owner of the sauna.

The place is carrying a lot of charm. Arla is like a real time capsule of Helsinki between the 1920s and the 1950s. Kimmo didn’t make any big renovations. He kept most of the sauna equipment, its doors and hanging wardrobes to maintain the aesthetic of the past.



In Helsinki real estate developers often tend to destroy everything that is old to build something new. Helsinki and especially Finland’s cities are cities without any history. Everything is always new and shinny”, deplores Kimmo.

In the women’s dressing room, there’s a small back room where you can see some old relics of a former hairdressing salon. Originally, there was a hairdresser few days a week for the women that came to the sauna.

I wanted to keep it that way. After the sauna session, women can put some makeup and comb their hair”, tells Kimmo Helisto.


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Although Mannerheim never went to sauna Arla, you can find his portrait near the men’s dressing room. It’s a personal tribute to the Marshal, because Kimmo and him were born the same day on June 4th.

Arla is not only a place where you can relax and sweat. It’s also a place where you can occasionally participate to social debates, or see photography exhibitions, concerts, performances and stand-up artists.



From time to time, you can also see in Arla, groups of Iraqi and Syrian refugees. Volunteer workers of the Finnish red cross organize this event. In Karleenkatu’s street, there’s a refugee center and the Red Cross wanted to take refugees to the sauna.

“It is more a local district activity, rather than a politic statement. We show to the foreigners how a public sauna works and they come for free. I didn’t want to charge the Red Cross for this marginal event”, explains Arla’s owner.


In Arla you can get also some massage service upon request and also cupping. Cupping is an old finnish tradition of alternative treatment in which a therapist puts small cups on the skin usually on the back and the neck for a few minutes to create suctions. Sanna Kaisa Ilmarinen is the masseuse who lays cupping.

Photo by Marc Helfer

Most of Arla’s customers are from the district of Kallio, but some come also from other districts. Many foreigners living in Helsinki visit this popular public sauna as well as tourists coming from the States, Japan, Europe or China.

“They come here to live a unique experience of sociability. Public sauna is the place where Finns will discuss with foreigners. Finns will ask first: Have you ever been to a sauna before? Then they will ask you: Where do you come from? And after, they will speak with you about anything”, tells with fun Kimmo Helisto.


Finns become very social and talkative when they are in sauna. They don’t have any longer mobile phones or news papers in their hands. So if you are nearby, visit sauna Arla. It’s a place where you will really meet authentic residents from Helsinki and discover finnish contemporary culture. It’s an experience that you will remember for a long time.