What to do on a rainy day in Rovaniemi – Arktikum and Korundi

Even if I seem to point out that the weather conditions in Rovaniemi are always nice, I have to admit there are days in the spring time when the sun is not shining….. A nice weather condition for me is sun shine, no hard wind and no rain. The temperature is not so important to me; I like really cold weather as well as warmer weather. The eight seasons of Lapland have all their own weather conditions; both good and bad. People born in Lapland tell me the weather in spring time, in May-June, are the worst with melting snow and rain; everything looks dirty. This winter I think the wind has been stronger than earlier years, with several stormy days and milder temperatures.

Days when you do not want to go skiing, on a hike or otherwise spend outdoor, can be museum visiting days. In Rovaniemi there are the Arktikum museum and the Culture Center Korundi with the Art Museum; both worth a visit.

The Arktikum is a museum as well as a science center. Arktikum opened to the public on 6 December 1992, the 75th anniversary of Finland’s independence. It was designed by Danish architect group Birch-Bonderup & Thorup-Waade. The crescent-shaped new annex was designed by Bonderup and Lehtipalo, and it was completed in autumn 1997.

Local natural materials have been used in the building: the floors are made from Perttaus granite – the hardest type available in Finland – and from lime-washed Lappish pine. The chairs are made from birch and reindeer hide.

The most visible part of the museum, its glass corridor, is 172 metres long. The tube serves as the “Gateway to the North”, as the entrance is at the southern end and guests head north when coming in. As you walk in the glass corridor, there are exhibitions behind doors on both side of the corridor as well as along the walls in the corridor.

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Two separate actors use at Arktikum: the Arctic Centre and the Regional Museum of Lapland.

The Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland is a national and international centre of expertise on Arctic issues. It conducts locally and regionally oriented research, the high standard of these researches is recognized internationally. The Arctic Centre also provides education on Arctic issues as well as disseminates knowledge about the region and related research.

The Arctic Centre exhibition “Arctic in Change” introduces the people and animals of the Arctic as well as details the ongoing changes that are affecting the region. The exhibition showcases the Arctic Centre’s research findings, which deal with issues like climate change and life today in the Arctic region. Some of the pictures are a bit scaring when you see what the climate change already has done to the earth and the nature.

The Regional Museum of Lapland is owned by the City of Rovaniemi. It was established in 1975 and together with the Rovaniemi Art Museum it forms the municipal museum function.

The Regional Museum of Lapland is an expert on Lappish culture, prehistory, history, building heritage and nature. The Museum produces content on the North for use in education, travel and its other cooperation networks. The Museum is also an active participant in research on questions related to these things.

The Regional Museum’s permanent exhibition “Northern Ways” leads guests into the history and culture of Finnish Lapland. The exhibition is a real experience that provides an introduction to the stories behind the houses of old Rovaniemi before the war as well as to popular beliefs and superstitions about the brown bear and the Eurasian elk.

Temporary exhibitions display different related topics about Northern and Arctic life. This spring there are temporary exhibitions about the Geres – the Sámi sled; how they were made and used in old days.

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The Geres were like small boats “floating” on the snow behind a running reindeer. The Sami had different types of sleds for different purposes. There was also regional variation in different areas of Lapland. A driving sled, a decorated church sled was used for important trips to the church or courting trips. Goods sleds or caravan sleds could be either with a backboard, then called a backboard sled, or without one which was more common. Backboard sleds were used mostly by theSkolt Sámi. Those sleds suited well for transporting smaller objects and on the annual migration trips, which the Sámi used to make. Small children and small animals, such as sheep, were transported in goods sleds.

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A lockable sled, or a lid sled, was bigger than the other sleds; it could be 2,5 metres long and had a convex wooden lid. The lockable sled was used for transporting the most valuable things, provisions, alcohol and the best clothes. A caravan sled could also have a loose lid that was fastened to the sled only when needed.

Sleds were treated with tar to make them more durable and to prevent the wood from rotting. The bottoms were tarred once a year. From the early 1900s people started to paint their driving sleds in bright colors and patterns.

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This year the Lapland war is exposed in many different ways all over Lapland (70 years after the peace) and the Regional Museum of Lapland arranges an exhibition called “Wir waren Freunde – We were friends” about Germans in Lapland during 1940-1944.

A beautiful exhibition is the one about the Nature Photographs of the Year. Arktikum presents the winner of the Nature Photographs of the Year Competition. The winner photograph is “Dance of the Seagulls” by Matti Pukki. All photos are amazing!

Dance of the seagulls

The Art Museum and the Cultural Centre Korundi is situated in the centre of Rovaniemi. Korundi is easy to find as it is situated in the massive former post bus depot, built of red bricks in 1933. This iconic building is one of the few historical buildings that had survived the Second World War in Rovaniemi.

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Rovaniemi Art Museum sets its main focus on Finnish contemporary art and Northern art. In its yearly exhibition program the museum introduces works from artists who either work in the North or are born there. The exhibition program also includes exhibitions from the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation Collection as well as some interesting insights into Finnish and international contemporary art.

On Art Thursdays Korundi is open from 11am to 8pm with free entrance to the art exhibitions from 6pm to 8pm.

So, earlier this winter I went one Thursday night to look at the exhibitions from Petri Eskelinen’s mechanical pieces of art. The embracing machine “Mechanics of Embrace” was very impressive. Could be in use on the yearly “Hugging Day” on January 21st. When you move the former arms of the machine, the machine embraces you with arms around your back. Nice.

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On the second floor there was the exhibition “Crazy Forest” with Finnish contemporary art; all of them with inspiration from the forest. Artists have always been inspired by forest. For Finns, forest is a very important part of nature. Our wintry forest is full of snow. Hares are white and so is Pekka Jylhä’s “Bearer of Light”. This piece of art made me laugh as I entered the exhibition.

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Wir waren Freunde – exhibition at Arktikum museum

In the autumn of 1940, soldiers speaking foreign languages began to be seen at railway stations in Lapland and along the highway leading north to the Arctic Ocean. The local people looked in wonder at handsome German soldiers who appeared in their home regions and gradually began to take buildings and sport grounds into use. This marked the beginning of a four-year period of coexistence between Finns and Germans, which ended dramatically with the destruction of Lapland in the autumn of 1944 when the Germans withdraw from Finland and burned almost all buildings in Lapland behind them.

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This year Finland and especially Lapland celebrates 70 years since the Lapland War ended and the museum Arktikum has put together a nice little exhibition about the Germans in Lapland between 1940-1944. The exhibition is on show at Arktikum until January 10, 2016.

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From the day I came to Rovaniemi I have always heard about the Germans and their impact on Rovaniemi and Lapland because they almost completely burned Rovaniemi down when they left. I never found “the old Rovaniemi” as you usually find in every town. That is because there is no old Rovaniemi; the buildings are all built after 1945.

I little by little learned the history of how the Finns were forced to drive the Germans out of Finland by order from the Soviet Union. This was one of the conditions there would finally be peace between Finland and the Soviet Union after WWII. This started the Lapland War between Finland and Germany. I understood the Finns actually did not want to fight the Germans and the operation did take longer than Soviet Union had demanded, but Finland got the peace. But Lapland was to pay the price as the angry leaving Germans lit everything on fire. The Lapland War lasted between September 28, 1944 and April 27, 1945.

There were some 220 000 Germans in Lapland, about 6 000 of them in Rovaniemi area between 1940 and 1944. That is almost as many as the local population of Lapland in those days. (Today we say there are 200 000 people and 200 000 reindeer in Lapland). The amount of Germans were divided into 4 000 officers, 22 000 non-commissioned officers, 113 000 army soldiers, 21 000 SS soldiers and 30 000 air force soldiers.

As I visited the exhibition I finally got the answer why the Germans were here in the first place, which my history lessons at school had forgotten to mention….

In September 1940, Finland and Sweden signed transit agreements with Germany permitting troops and material required by the Germans occupying Northern

Norway to pass through their territory. As a result, the railways and roads of the north were filled with German troops and munitions in growing numbers. A wide range of active contacts that last for several years evolved in the region between the Finns and the Germans.

The second Wold War (WWII) was going on in Europe. Finnish-German military cooperation made North Finland a war zone for Germany troops from 1941 to 1944, but Finnish Lapland was not occupied by the Germans.

Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. Three days later, Finnish towns were bombed by Soviet aircraft, and Finland now considered itself to be in the Continuation War against Soviet Union, fighting alongside Germany. The headquarters of the Finnish Army, under Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim gave the war zone of North Finland over to the Germans, with the Sixth Division of the Finnish Army under German command. There were two German army corps in Finnish territory; one in Petsamo and the other in the Salla region. Their supreme command was originally in Oslo in Norway, but the headquarters of the 20th Gebirgsarmee founded in January 1942, was located in Rovaniemi. The army’s task was to defend North Finland, attack Murmansk and cut off the railway leading south from Murmansk.

The Finns in Lapland considered the Germans to be handsome, had good bearing and sang cheerfully. In Rovaniemi the soldiers were enthusiastic to look after their appearance and one reason for that, was that barbers in Finland were women, unlike back home in Germany, where the barbers were only men.

By the autumn of 1941, there were over 630  German accommodation- and storehouse barracks in the Rovaniemi area. The various services of German information and cultural institutions such as theater, bookstore, artists’ residence and radio station in Rovaniemi were also enjoyed by local residents. In particular, the cultural facility know as “Haus der Kameradschaft”, completed in 1943, was an impressive building with 350 seats and a large stage. Finnish and German entertainers performed there, and the most popular events were screenings of films and concerts. The Germans would often give free tickets to their Finnish neighbors and friends.

 

The Germans in Lapland provided work for the Finns, too. Approximately 12 000 Finns were employed in the Province of Lapland by the Germans by February 1944. It also turned out that the Germans paid considerably higher wages than Finnish employers and many workers moved from one work site to another in search of better pay. Women were offered employment working as nurses, clerical staff, washerwoman, cleaners and casual laborers. Young people also had an opportunity to earn good wages at German work sites.

The Germans had a lot of professional skills that were not to be found in the outlying regions of Lapland. There were doctors, dentists or veterinarians among the Germans. I have read the interesting book in Finnish written by doctor Emil Conzelmann about his work in Rovaniemi during these years (Tohtori Conzelmannin sotavuodet Lapissa). The Germans also carried out a great deal of electrical and repair work for local people. (Which however they destroyed as they left Rovaniemi.)

Any Finn with the slightest knowledge of German was asked to be an interpreter.

The arrival of the German troops marked the beginning of a boom period for retailers in Lapland. Shops in Finland offered goods that were not easily found in Germany in those days, such as radio receivers, fur coats, women’s underwear and wristwatches. You can easily understand there was a boom in business as the amount of inhabitants grew by 100%. The Germans had Finnish money and they bought a lot of things.

Finnish women and German soldiers could come into contact with each other in many different situations. German soldiers on leave held small soireés and parties in their barracks. During the war, these were of course a welcome change and entertainment for everyone. According to newspapers, some thirty Finnish-German weddings took place between 1940 and 1944. According to estimates, some 250 Finnish women followed their German loved ones to their new country in the last stages of the war and afterwards. A sad story is about the woman, who had to return back to Finland again, after she was not found suitable to marry a German. She did not have the Arian look, that was considered ideal at that time in Germany.

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The exhibition tells about love stories between German men and Finnish women. You can spend a long time there reading love letters. In a chest there is something connected to the German period in every drawer for you to find out. There is also a desk with interesting documents and newspapers from the period.

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It is estimated that there are less than a thousand people in Finland who were born out-of-wedlock to Germans. Between 1943 and 1945, 264 children were born out of marriage in the township of Rovaniemi The children of Germans were a banned subject of conversation for many years, and even the mothers did not want to tell their children of what had happened.

 

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The Germans were friendly to children in Rovaniemi and could often give them sweets, chocolate and bread. As the soldiers had to spend a long time in a foreign country away from home they missed their families and children. The Germans also held Christmas parties and gave Christmas presents for young Finnish children. In smaller villages all the children and their mothers were invited, while in larger communities only poor families were invited.

Finns showed their hospitality by inviting Germans to the sauna, and it was impolite to turn down such an invitation. The Germans gradually learned that the sauna was not a health risk and they began to enjoy it. For Germans, the first time in the sauna was often a memorable event. They even started to call themselves “Saunisten”.

There are many stories about Generaloberst Dietl, the commander of the 20th Mountain Army during the invasion of Norway. He was regarded as pleasant and also described as a friend of Finland with a sense of humor. He required his troops to be friendly to Finns and also set a good example in this respect.

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After 1945 bitterness among the Finns against the former “comrades-in-arms” that was caused by the Lapland War led to decades of suspicion of all German things. Returning soldiers, who came to visit their brides and children left in Finland, were victims of repeated vandalism and German tourists would hear catcalls.

In Norvajärvi in Rovaniemi German organizations financed the building of a mausoleum in 1963 at the cemetery for the German war dead. On the opening day of the cemetery, local communists staged a demonstration with over 300 participants. Public opinion, however, seemed to take the view that the last resting place of the dead must be respected: “You can’t hate dead bodies”.

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If you visit this exhibition you will also learn there is an app you can get from AppStore or GooglePlay called “Kuvat eläväksi”. If you download that (it is for free; found under “Lapin maakuntamuseo”) to your iPad or IPhone you can, by pointing the camera function on the device towards the pictures marked with a red ring, get the picture alive and the person on the picture starts to tell you a story based on memories and stories from that time. Unfortunately only in Finnish for now. But it was quite surprising to see the people in the picture start moving. There are three such pictures in the exhibition. Ask the staff for help, if you do not get it to work.

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Some interesting places in Rovaniemi to start with

Rovaniemi and its sights

A good start when you want to explore Lapland is to visit Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland. That was the way I started. After I first arrived I started strolling around along the streets in the city center, visited parks and walked along the riverside of Kemijoki. Kemijoki is the river flowing down from the northeast of Lapland and it joins together with Ounasjoki; the river that flows down to Rovaniemi from the northwest. Kemijoki river flows right through the city of Rovaniemi and the riversides of Kemijoki are often objects to happenings in Rovaniemi.

I am not going to deeper describe where Rovaniemi is and what is called Lapland in the land of Finland. I presume the information about these facts are found on other web pages. I am simply going to describe to you how to get along in Rovaniemi and other places i Lapland. I am going to tell you about my excursions and visits and the things I have been doing here. As I have lived here for about 7 years now I think I am very well capable of doing that to you.

In the center of Rovaniemi you can visit the magnificent Museum Arktikum; the Lapland history museum, which is also an Arctic Science Center. As a newcomer in Rovaniemi and Lapland you find a lot of useful information there. It is a good place to start. The history of Rovaniemi is amazing. Not the least the fact it was burned down by the Germans in the end of WW II. After visiting Arktikum you know a lot more why the city of Rovaniemi has become what it is today. In the museum there is a map of the city showing how it looked like before and after the second world war.

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The big bridge that joins the city of Rovaniemi to the east part of the city where the Ounasvaara hill is situated, is called the “Lumberjack Candle Bridge”. It symbolizes the workers who used to work hard in the forests many years ago. The light highest up on the bridge symbolizes the fire the lumberjacks used to keep to warm them up and give them light in the forest camps.

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Close to Arktikum you fin also Pilke; a center for northern forest science. Rovaniemi and Lapland have a long history with forest industries and lumber jacks. The exhibition in Pilke is really interesting, and there is something for everyone and for every age! You can even sing karaoke in there and play with small cars or pretend you are a hunter and shoot down birds and animals in the wood.

Did you know the city plan of Rovaniemi is named the “reindeer antler plan”? The famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto made the reconstruction plan for the city after it was destroyed by the Germans in 1944-45. The plan has a shape of a reindeer’s head with its horns. I do not know of any other city plan that is that interesting and exclusive!

The Art Museum of Rovaniemi you find in the Korundi house of Culture on Lapinkävijäntie 4 in the city center. In the art museum there are changing interesting exhibitions and the culture house offers all kinds of concerts and there is always some upcoming event to look forward to. Check out the event calendar on the home page of Korundi.

Rovaniemi is also called the official home town of Santa Claus. Outside the city center, along road nr 4, on the Arctic circle, on your way towards north and Ivalo, you find the Santa Claus Village. There you can visit Santa every single day during the year, get a photo together with Santa and also listen to Christmas carols and shop for Christmas decorations all the year round. During winter season you can also see reindeer there and go for reindeer and husky rides around in the village. Nearby Santa’s office is also the Santa Claus Post office, where all the letters from children all over the world arrive. The letters are sorted by the elves according to from which country they are sent and Santa himself answers the letters.

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Within walking distance from Santa Claus Village is SantaPark. The amazing amusement park down in a cave is open during winter from the end of November to the middle of January. During the summer season it is open for visitors from the end of June to the middle of August. This video from inside SantaPark shows you a little of what to expect of your visit there. Definitely worth a visit! You will get the real Christmas spirit and forget about all the other world outside the cave. The elves will take you for a fairytale trip you never will forget.

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