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Midsummer in the city: Sauna, mölkky and not many tourists

This year, Helsinki was not as empty as in Midsummers past.

Mies laskee mölkkypisteitä.
Mitch Gibbs counts up the mölkky scores in Mustikkamaa. In the background are Matt Scanlan (left), Katja Novitsky and Johanna Mähönen. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Yle News

The whole spring has been quiet, but on Midsummer Eve there are more people about than on a usual weekday. Tourists, however, are nowhere to be found in Helsinki's Market Square.

The stalls selling tourist souvenirs are also much fewer than usual: tents offering coffee and berries are a clear majority.

Florist Mervi Kaalinen has decorated her stall with traditional Midsummer birch branches. She says that there will soon be Finnish berries on sale, and they usually sell well — especially to Chinese tourists.

"This summer they won't be coming," says Kaalinen.

On the afternoon of Midsummer Eve the square is in any case pretty busy. The queues were especially long for cruises round the Helsinki archipelago.

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Mervi Kaalinen myy kukkia Kauppatorilla.
It's been a slow spring for market trader Mervi Kaalinen, with few tourists and nearby officed closed in downtown Helsinki. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Harri Heiskanen, Eeki Nikulainen, Eeva Kukila ja Simo Brusila juhlivat juhannusra Allas Sea Poolin kattoterassilla
Harri Heiskanen (on the left), Eeki Nikulainen, Eeva Kukila and Simo Brusila spent Midsummer Eve on the terrace at Allas Sea Pool. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

At the roof terrace of Allas Sea Pool, right on the harbour, Simo Brusila, Harri Heiskanen, Eeva Kukula and Eeki Nikulainen have just finished their boat trip.

Kukila and Nikulainen got to know Brusila and Heiskanen on the cruise, and moved on together to the terrace to continue their Midsummer evening.

Kukila said she was spending her Midsummer in the city for the first time.

"I was surprised that there are so many people in the city," said Kukila. "It used to be that tourists always came to an empty Helsinki and wondered where everyone had disappeared to."

"We took the train for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak started," chimed in Nikulainen. "This makes a nice change."

Brusila and Heiskanen say they are regulars at the Allas terrace. After a long spell of remote working, they were keen to come to town and see other people.

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UimareitaAllas Sea Poolin altaassa.
Allas Sea Pool was a fine place to be in the warm weather. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Lapsi leikkii mattolaiturilla Merihaassa.
Juho Mähkä came to the shore to wash rugs with a water pistol. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Lapsi pesee mattoa vesipyssyllä mattolaiturilla Merihaassa.
Seven-year-old Juho Mähkä washes rugs at the rug-washing jetty in Merihaka. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Mölkky, swimming and Midsummer magic

Music booms out on the Leblon restaurant terrace to the east of the city centre. There's an outdoor gym on-site and beats to go with the weather.

"Today I'm playing tropical sounds," says DJ Magic Sam, also known as Sami Mannerheimo. "I can't remember it ever being this hot at Midsummer."

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Dj. Magic Sam soittaa levyjä Merihaan Leblonissa.
DJ Magic Sam at Leblon. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

The terrace is still half-empty. The DJ says that although bars close early because of the coronavirus restrictions, people have not yet learnt to arrive a little earlier. They tend to turn up around 8pm or 9pm, and bars have to close soon after that.

People are passing the restaurant on foot, bikes and electric scooters. City bikes are also heading towards Mustikkamaa, a popular island just south-east of the city centre where the shores are starting to fill with people enjoying the Midsummer weather.

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 Ayaan Koivisto ja Magdalena Koponen
Ayaan Koivisto and Magdalena Koponen building up their courage for a dip in the sea at Mustikkamaa. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Ayaan Koivisto and Magdelena Koponen have come here to swim. Neither has any fixed Midsummer traditions. Sometimes they go to a cottage in the countryside, sometimes they stay in the city.

"It would have been nice to see a Midsummer bonfire," said Koivisto.

Koponen says that she sometimes makes floral garlands to celebrate the summer. The pair are planning to head to Helsinki's 'guerilla sauna' at Sompasaari, known as Sompasauna.

The mölkky game has begun. Johanna Mähönen, Katja Novitsky, Mitch Gibbs and Matt Scanlan have gathered to throw lumps of wood at other lumps of wood, supporting each other as they test their skills.

The men are from Britain and they have both lived in Finland for eighteen months. They have not been able to travel to their home country in the spring because of the coronavirus restrictions, and their original Midsummer plans were also derailed.

None of the quartet has a summer cottage to go to, and they were unable to rent anything much.

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Kaveriporukka pelaa mölkkyä Mustikkamaalla.
Mitch Gibbs (left) and Matt Scanlan get mölkky tips from Katja Novitsky and Johanna Mähönen. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

"We've been in a kind of limbo all spring," says Gibbs, who says he knows a bit about Midsummer traditions of going to the cottage and having a sauna.

"The Midsummer pole is more of a Swedish thing," says Scanlan.

Novitsky says they will have to teach the men 'Midsummer magic', the multitude of ways Finnish women are supposed to have their future husbands revealed to them at Midsummer.

Sauna heats up

Sompasauna is thronged with swimmers and sauna-goers. The free, unofficial sauna is located near the new neighbourhood of Kalasatama. The original shack of a sauna has now been replaced with three small saunas, and the 'illegal' sauna has become something of a renowned centre of urban culture. It's open to everyone and free of charge, and maintained by the Sompasaunaseura association. Soon, however, it will have to make way for new blocks of flats.

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Koira pissaa ruohopuskaan Mustikkamaalla.
Toivo the dog paddles on the beach and pees in a thicket at Mustikkamaa. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Uimareita Mustikkamaalla
Toivo ponders whether or not to go for a swim. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

Milla Nurmi, Eeva Jylhä-Ollila, Sofia Erman, Karoliina Hiittu, Sanni Jussila and Siiri Westerberg have come to the sauna for a swim.

Some of the group just moved to Helsinki, some have travelled in from Hämeenlinna.

During the pandemic they have not had much chance to relax, but Midsummer gave them the chance to enjoy summer in the city.

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Uimareita Sompasaaressa.
People swim on Midsummer Eve next to Sompasauna in Helsinki. This year there was no Midsummer bonfire because of the hot, dry weather. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Kaverukset uivat Sompasaaressa.
The waters off Sompasauna were warm. Milla Nurmi, Eeva Jylhä-Ollila, Sofia Erman, Karoliina Hiittu, Sanni Jussila and Siiri Westerberg had come to enjoy the swimming. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Nuoret viettävät juhannusta Helsingin Sompasaaressa.
In the warm weather there wasn't necessarily any need for a sauna. Milla Nurmi, Eeva Jylhä-Ollila and Karoliina Hiittu after their second dip in the sea. Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

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