The Cold War was interesting period of time in Finland: the country was balancing between east and west for over four decades. Moscow had some influence on Finland’s politics but at the same time Finland integrated economically to the west. Dive in to the history of the Cold War period with some of the most interesting sights of Helsinki!
The first place to visit is Tamminiemi museum. The villa was home to Urho Kekkonen, Finland’s president between the years 1956 and 1981. Kekkonen was by far the most influential man in Finland and his office in Tamminiemi was the nerve center of Finland’s political life.
A guided tour (available also in English) is an excellent way to learn more of Finland’s history during the 20th century. Kekkonen was not the only statesman who lived here: president Mannerheim used to go riding from Tamminiemi towards Helsinki’s Central Park and president Risto Ryti met here with Foreign Minister Germany Joachim von Ribbentrop during the Second World War.
In addition to Kekkonen’s office the sauna of Tamminiemi is a famous place. Many important figures such as the First Secretary Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev and Prince Philip of the United Kingdom have been to sauna here with Kekkonen. During the guided tour you will see for example cigars given to Kekkonen as a birthday gift by Fidel Castro as well as some of Kekkonen’s most favourite Finnish design. In the former garage you can get a cup of coffee from a nice little café called Adjutantti.
Urho Kekkonen museum, Seurasaarentie 15, http://www.kansallismuseo.fi/en/tamminiemi
Finlandia Hall is one of the most important works of architect Alvar Aalto as well as one of the most popular sights in Helsinki. In 1975 the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe was held here bringing Gerald Ford, Leonid Brezhnev and every European leader to the Finnish capital. The Helsinki Final Act signed in the conference was one of the main highlights of the détente period.
There are guided tours every now and then in Finlandia Hall but you can take a look of the building on your own. Café Veranda is a great spot to take a break during your Cold War day and grab a lunch salad or eat a piece of cake made in Finlandia Hall’s kitchen.
Finlandia Hall, Mannerheimintie 13 e, https://www.finlandiatalo.fi/en
The Soviet embassy (nowadays the embassy of the Russian Federation) on Tehtaankatu street had a part to play in the Cold War-era politics of Finland. Despite the liturgy of good relations between Finland and the Soviet Union the Kremlin tried to influence the Finnish politics in many ways. The most famous example of this was the excluding of the right-wing National Coalition Party outside of the government between 1945 and 1987. Many Finnish politicians also had an own “home Russian” – a contact person in the Soviet embassy, usually working for the KGB.
The Kaivopuisto area by the sea is a great place to go for a walk. The Russian embassy is a unique example of Stalinist architecture in Finland. The original Soviet embassy on Bulevardi street was destroyed in Soviet air raids in 1944.
The last spot on the Cold War tour is the Hotel Torni (Tower). Built in 1931 it was the first skyscraper in Helsinki – if you can call a 14-floor building a skyscraper. After the peace agreement between the Soviet Union and Finland in 1944 the Allied Commission consisting of Brits and Russians was stationed in the hotel. The commission kept an eye on Finnish politics until the signing of the Paris Peace Treaties in 1947.
The Ateljé Bar definitely has one of the best views in Helsinki. No wonder it is very a popular place to have drinks and usually a bit crowded. Paying a couple of euros more for your drink is acceptable when it comes with a 360-degree view over the roofs of Helsinki.
Ateljée Bar, Yrjönkatu 26, https://www.raflaamo.fi/fi/helsinki/atelje-bar
Written by Ilmar Metsalo.