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Helsinki "ghetto sauna" and cafe threatened by development project

Construction at Helsinki’s Kalasatama is spreading at a fast pace, leaving question marks over the fate of the Sompasaari community space.

Among the concrete construction that is currently underway in Sompasaari, in Helsinki’s Kalasatama, lies little community hot spots such as the Sompa-sauna and Ihana cafe.

The island of Sompasaari is currently the location of a large-scale development project to build housing in the area. In 2009 the unused asphalt plane towards the southern end of the island was opened up for the use of city-dwellers in plans to revitalize the area.

During the summer the island has been used as a temporary location for a variety of concerts and gigs. Now it’s time is slowly coming up as the construction site spreads along the island.

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Sompasauna ulkoa taustalla Helenin hiilivoimala
Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

In addition to a makeshift cafe operating out of a shipping container, the island has also been home to two saunas. One is assumed to have been intentionally burned down during May Day's Vappu celebrations this year, but is currently being rebuilt. The other is a rickety little shack with the title 'ghetto sauna' proudly hanging above the door.

While the sauna might not be much to look at, it does attract a loyal fan base which includes British Martin Bot and Mexican Aleksi Mejenes.

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Video: Sompasaaren ja kalasataman työmaat
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Kalasatama-Sompasaari ilmasta käsin katsottuna Video: Antti Kolppo / Yle

Sompa-sauna provides a getaway from Mejenes’ restaurant work as he says he frequents the spot sometimes twice a week.

”It is one of my favorite places in Helsinki. The sauna is free and people really talk to each other here. It’s a great place to make new friends.”

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Sompasauna ulkoa
Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

Finland's cool weather suits Mejenes as he does not miss the warmth of Mexico, and the Sompa-sauna is just as cosy as his homeland's temazcal sweatlodge counterpart. Only after soaking in the hot steam for a long time does Mejenes climb down the stairs for a refreshing dip in the Nordic sea.

Summer cafe still up and running

Since 2011 a temporary summer cafe called Ihana, ’wonderful’ in Finnish, has been up and running. To get there one must venture through a literal construction site, but the experience, views, and seaside location are worth it.

Cafe worker Aura Latva-Somppi is working at the cafe for the third year, but fears for it’s future.

”Every year it is said that this might be the last year, and now this year again might be the last. But there is no saying for sure, we’ve been here for seven years now.”

This year more than 1,000 apartments are being constructed in Kalasatama.

”The construction going on at Kalatasatama right now is more than it has ever been, and ever will be. There are a lot of sites going on right now,” said Hannu Asikainen, Kalasatama project manager for the city of Helsinki.

The future of Sompa-sauna

Construction will still take a few years before it reaches the sauna located on the very tip of the island.

”The sauna can remain in place for a few years yet. We won’t reach that far for a while,” said Asikainen.

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Ihana kahvila Sompasaaressa
Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

The second sauna of Sompasaari that was burned down is already being rebuilt, but as a mobile version so that it can be moved when the time comes.

Tuomas Tanner, a member of the Sompa-sauna association thinks the new sauna will be ready for July, but that does not ensure a permanent future for the sauna.

”When the area is full of fancy apartments, our style might be a little too much for the residents. We’ve already scouted out a few possible future locations along the nearby waterfront.”

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