The life of D.E.D. Europaeus, who was born in Savitaipale 200 years ago, was full of curiosities. Photo: Museovirasto

This strange man came up with dozens of words that you use every day, and without him, Tolkien’s world-famous fantasy classic might not have been born
Europaeus, who was born on 1 December 1820, introduced over 200 words into the Finnish language and one of its most famous characters to the Kalevala
Petri Kivimäki
30 November 2020

It’s a miracle if you’ve ever heard the name David Emmanuel Daniel Europaeus.

It’s also a miracle if you have never heard or used the words eduskunta (“parliament”), harrastus (“hobby”), ilmansuunta (“compass point, direction”), mielikuvitus (“imagination”), johtaja (“manager”), tilavuus (“volume”), keräilijä (“collector”), kunta (“municipality”) or varasto (“stockpile, warehouse”).

All of these words were coined by Europaeus, or at least he published them for the first time in the history of the Finnish language.

Europaeus left us over 200 words that we still use.

Despite his strange-sounding surname, D.E.D. Europaeus was 100% Finnish. He was born 200 years ago on 1 December 1820 in a rural farmhouse in Savitaipale, South Karelia, about 40 km from Lappeenranta.

Without Europaeus, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, would never have written The Story of Kullervo, nor would Jean Sibelius have composed his symphonic suite Kullervo. Elias Lönnrot’s Kalevala would be thinner.

The Swedish-Finnish dictionary compiled by Europaeus is on display at the Europaeus Museum. On the left is a list of words that Europaeus used for the first time in the history of the Finnish language. Photo: Petri Kivimäki/Yle

It is impossible to describe Europaeus briefly. He was a man of many hats and involved in everything: he was a Finnish-language advocate, newspaperman, pro-Finnish activist, archaeologist, teacher at a school for the deaf, lexicographer, and mathematician. He was an animal welfare officer for decades before any animal welfare society had even been established.

A man who grew up in a small country village 200 years ago, and whose impact is still audible in our lives every day, Europaeus is almost unknown.

Excited about everything
With a population of 3,400, the town center of Savitaipale looks quite similar to many other Finnish towns. There are a couple of grocery stores, a restaurant, several small businesses, a library, a fire department, and a town hall.

The handsome Olkkola estate is located a few hundred meters from the center. It was once the site of the old mansion building where Europaeus was born. His father was the vicar of Savitaipale, and his mother, the cattle girl at the vicarage.

Finnish was spoken at home, and there was a lot of multilingual literature, which Europaeus read voraciously as a boy.

There is now a small Europaeus museum next to the Olkkola estate. Inside, a big display case contains textbooks written by Europaeus, as well as copies of the magazine Suometar, which he published. On the walls, there are maps and reminiscences from his long research expeditions.

The museum is near Europaeus’s birthplace. Photo: Petri Kivimäki/Yle

A display case next to the back wall contains two human skulls found by Europaeus, which my guide has promised to tell me about soon.

A chart hung on a nail next to the skulls was used to teach the sounds of the Finnish language.

“This picture was used to teach the deaf the positions the mouth must assume to produce a certain sound,” says Eila Kajanus-Jurvanen, president of the Savitaipale Local Heritage Association.

This chart, developed by Europaeus, was used to teach the deaf to speak. Photo: Petri Kivimäki/Yle

Devised by Europaeus in 1857, the illustrated phonetic diagram was unique in Finland, because before Europaeus, no attempt had been made to teach the deaf to speak.

In his own time, Europaeus received no praise for the chart even though it enabled countless deaf people to get a toehold in the language. The chart was in use for decades: its replacement was published more than 100 years later.

“Europaeus was a special person in that he was always excited about everything new. However, his staying power in completing work was not always very good,” says Kajanus-Jurvanen.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s inspiration
When Europaeus was inspired by folklore, he naturally sought out Elias Lönnrot. Lönnrot, who was 18 years older than Europaeus, was no longer able to travel and collect oral folk poetry, but he set an enthusiastic Europaeus on the task.

Ultimately, Europaeus collected 53,000 verses on his five trips, which was far more than Lönnrot did on his dozen-some collecting trips. The Kalevala contains more poems collected by Europaeus than by Lönnrot himself.

Sculptor Viljo Savikurki’s bas-relief portrait of Europaeus was unveiled in Savitaipale in 1971. Photo: Petri Kivimäki/Yle

Lönnrot’s so-called Old Kalevala was published in 1835. Lönnrot then planned a new, larger edition. Europaeus sent a message to Lönnrot that the new edition of the Kalevala should be delayed, because he believed there was still a lot of unique poetry to be found in Ingria, the area around St. Petersburg.

That same year, Europaeus went on his fourth collecting trip to Ingria, during which he made a discovery.

“Lönnrot had never been there, and he did not think there would be any Finnish poetry there. Nevertheless, that’s where Europaeus found all the Kullervo poems. It is thanks to Europaeus that the Kullervo poems are now in the Kalevala,” says Kajanus-Jurvanen.

The Kullervo poems recorded by Europaeus ended up in the so-called New Kalevala, which was published in 1849. It is the same work that we read today as the Kalevala.

The Savitaipale elementary school is named after Europaeus. Photo: Kare Lehtonen/Yle

Kullervo has inspired many artists to create masterpieces. One of them was the writer J.R.R. Tolkien, whose Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have spread across the globe.

Tolkien was extremely interested in the Finnish language. He read the Kalevala in English, but he didn’t like it. So he learned the Finnish language by reading the Kalevala in the original. Tolkien was so enlightened by this episode that its effect began to appear immediately in his works.

Tolkien wrote his first prose piece The Story of Kullervo in 1914. It tells the tale of a young man who is sold into slavery and vows revenge on a magician who killed his father.

The Story of Kullervo was published in Finnish in 2016 under the title Kullervon tarina.

Tolkien also used mythological elements drawn from the Kalevala in his other works, both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Pölkäre and pyörö
In Europaeus’s day in the 19th century, there was still very little Finnish literature. Even as a child, he wanted Finnish literature and textbooks to be available to Finns.

When he started studying at the University of Helsinki, he took it upon himself to translate a geometry textbook into Finnish. Such things did not exist yet.

For The Geometry Book (Mittauden Oppi-kirja), published in 1847, Europaeus had to invent a whole set of Finnish words. Such words as kehä (“circumference”), suunnikas (“parallelogram”), tilavuus (“volume”), and parillinen (“even”) are still in use today.

However, not all the words have survived. Europaeus translated the word “circle” (ympyrä in modern Finnish) as pyörö (suggesting a “wheel”). Lävistäjä (“diagonal”) became keskeinen (which means “central” or “pivotal” in modern Finnish), and kuutio (“cube”) became pölkäre (suggesting a “block”).

Eila Kajanus-Jurvanen knows every object in the Europaeus Museum. Photo: Petri Kivimäki/Yle

Europaeus had to develop even more new words for his Swedish–Finnish dictionary. Although perhaps not all of them were personally coined by Europaeus, he brought them to light for the first time in the history of the Finnish language.

They include enemmistö (“majority”), harrastus (“hobby”), johtokunta (“committee”), vety (“hydrogen”), osoite (“address”), pätevä (“qualified, competent, valid”), ulkomaalainen (“foreigner”), valokuvaaja (“photographer”), viehättävä (“attractive, charming”), väitöskirja (“dissertation”), yhdyssana (“compound word”) and äänenkannattaja (“organ,” i.e., an official magazine, newsletter, or similar publication of an organization)

It is estimated that Europaeus introduced over 200 new words into the Finnish language.

Human bone collector
There is a sight in a display case at the Europaeus Museum that causes many museum visitors to pause for at least a moment: two real human skulls.

They harken back to the period when Europaeus was inspired by archaeology. After collecting folk poetry, he made seven archaeological expeditions, the first of them at the age of 51 in 1872, mainly to the northern shores of Lake Ladoga.

He is still the only Finn to have explored the southeastern parts of Ladoga.

During his travels he found objects in burial mounds that are now in museums around the world.

But Europaeus was not so much interested in objects as in bones and especially skulls. In keeping with the spirit of the times, he believed that they could be used to elucidate the history of European and Russian settlement.

Europaeus apparently found these two skulls near Ladoga. The Finnish National Museum has donated them to the Europaeus Museum. Photo: Petri Kivimäki/Yle

In one of his letters, Europaeus said that he had four skulls retrieved from the Savitaipale cemetery. Later, after his research trips, he wrote that he had all the skulls he needed.

“At the time, craniometry was in vogue. It was used to determine whether people were long-skulled or short-skulled. And then this was used to determine their origins,” says Kajanus-Jurvanen.

On the basis of his skull research, Europaeus concluded that Africa was humanity’s original home.

“That idea was laughed at, and all that was said was, ‘What a strange opinion,'” says Kajanus-Jurvanen.

No fame
In the 19th century, D.E.D. Europaeus was considered a peculiar vagabond, even a ragamuffin. In his own time, he was never approved, and he is still not famous.

“Europaeus was modest and did not promote himself,” says Pertti Jurvanen, a local heritage councilor who was involved in founding the D.E.D. Europaeus society.

Juha Nirkko, an archivist at the Finnish Literature Society, also explains how Europaeus was not well liked in his own time

“Lönnrot, for example, was a respected cholera doctor and was recognized for it. Poor Europaeus, on the other hand, was considered a cholera transmitter and well poisoner. Some people can’t get a break,” says Nirkoo.

A photograph of Europaeus taken by N.I. Snellman in the mid-1870s. Photo: Museovirasto

According to Nirkko, Europaeus was a telecommuter and temp worker of his day and age. He had no family and wandered around the country in search of work.

“He enrolled at university, but his studies never progressed,” says Nirkko.

Nirkko emphasizes how much Europaeus differed from his contemporaries. He was an anarchist of his time.

“He just couldn’t adhere to the norms and conventions of his time. He was not held back by the borders of countries, continents or cultures. Europaeus was not a limited thinker. Maybe he was too unrestrained and uncontrollable,” argues Nirkko.

Europaeus’s grave is in the old section of Hietaniemi Cemetery in Helsinki. The surname was subsequently Fennicized as Äyräpää, as seen on the tombstone to the left. Photo: Rudolph Bülow/Yle

After leaving Savitaipale to pursue his education, Europeaus was, at different times, a teacher, collected place names in St. Petersburg, and went on poetry collecting trips. He may have been a private tutor in Heinävesi, and studied in Viipuri and Helsinki. In Germany, he attended political rallies.

But he often returned to his native region on holiday. There he wrote, among other things, the Swedish–Finnish dictionary and met his sister Charlotta, who was also an avid collector of folk poetry.

In the spring of 1884 Europaeus went to St. Petersburg, where in the autumn of the same year he died at the age of 63.

Europaeus was buried in St. Petersburg. After a few weeks his remains were exhumed and brought to Helsinki, where on 4 December 1884 he was laid to rest in Hietaniemi Cemetery with other great men and women.

The peace of death has been attained by one wanderer of the world whose whole life was spent in tireless searching, restless acquisition and amateur pursuits. He lived like a bird without thinking about tomorrow’s needs.
—Excerpt from an article about Europaeus’s death, published in Uusi-Suometar on 23 October 1884

Europaeus’s date of death is marked on his tombstone as 15 October 1884, which, according to archivist Juha Nirkko, is at least quite close to the correct date. Some sources claim that Europaeus died in May 1884. Photo: Rudolph Bülow/Yle

Modest celebrations
Tuesday 1 December 2020 marks 200 years since the birth of D.E.D. Europaeus. The municipality of Savitaipale had planned a variety of events for the jubilee year, but most of them have been cancelled due to the coronavirus.

A small memorial event will take place at the Europaeus monument at 12:00 p.m. on first December.

On Thursday 3 December 2020 at 6:00 p.m. in the courtyard of the Europaeus School, excerpts from the play Europaeus, which was to be performed this year, will be presented. In addition, there will be a program by schoolchildren and a light show.

Thanks to Tiina Pasanen for the invaluable heads-up. Translated by Living in FIN

The Imatra Sling

imatra sling.JPGThe Imatra Sling. Photo by Living in FIN

“Supreme Court rules in favor of baker who would not make wedding cake for gay couple.”

That is why they call it the Supreme Court, because, historically and episodically, it has reinforced racial, class, gender and sexual supremacy in the so-called United States.

Incidentally, I would never eat a cake made by a baker who would not make a wedding cake for a gay couple, not for political reasons, but because a cook or baker who has so much hatred in his soul inevitably infuses his dishes, cakes, pies, and cupcakes with the same hatred.

So, I have never understood the appeal of televised cooking competition programs in which hatred, anger, jealousy, and the spirit of cutthroat rivalry prevail. Having watched Gordon Ramsay in his calmer moments, I realize he actually is a terrific cook, but the atmosphere he cultivates in most of the TV programs he presents seems bound to produce tasteless, even harmful food.

I just made the first chicken mole in my life. I cannot even remember how exactly I made it and what I put in the mole sauce. I was winging it. But it turned out tasty, because I enjoyed making it, and I always enjoy improvising.

It was improvisation that led me to invent the cocktail I have dubbed the Imatra Sling, which consists of lots of ice in a tumbler glass, a heaping helping of ginger beer poured over the ice, whatever garnishes come to hand (tonight, it was a fresh basil leaf and an orange slice), and three-star Finnish jaloviina, a so-called cut brandy that has its own peculiar history, dating back to the two wars Finland fought against the Soviet Union in the 1940s.

Since I have tested the Imatra Sling on actual people who like alcoholic cocktails, I know it is a winner, but for the time being I won’t be going public with my profoundly random chicken mole sauce.

The happiest place I have ever been in my life was the café next to the flat where my longtime friend K. lived in the Castro after graduating from college and moving to San Francisco. Every morning, the cafe was chockablock with beautiful, happy gay men living in a community where it would have been unthinkable to hate them. In fact, it was easy to love so many handsome, happy men.

This post is going in way too many directions, just like my mole sauce, but I wanted to say the so-called United States will not have much of a future if its highest court reverts to the low road of defending the New Jim Crow, segregation, and homophobia. I thought we had been through all that pure evil before, at great cost to our country and a great loss of life, but, apparently, we will have to go through it all over again. // LIF

Eeva Kilpi, “The Forest Is Joy”


Metsä on iloa.
Siksi jätän teille kallioita, poikani,
ja metsää niiden ympärillä.
Kallioilta näkee Karjalaan
ja sinne, kuusenlatvojen taakse
voi kuvitella äidin lapsuuden
ja mummin ja vaarin lapsuuden
sinne voi kuvitella
myös teidän lastenlastenne lapsuuden,
se on luvallista
se on sallittua
se on mahdollista
“ei silmä ossaa ota”
ja vaikka ottaisikin
se olisi oikein.
Siellä ovät teidän vaarinne metsät
äitinne rannat
ja rantapolut
laitumet joilla hän paimensi lehmiä,
lähde jonne nappuri upotti mehupullot
ja ne säilyivät siellä yli talvisodan,
yli välirauhan ja uuden sodan.
Ja kun hän kolme vuotta myöhemmin
kesällä neljäkymmentäkaksi
palasi ja upotti kätensä lähteeseen
ne tervehtivät häntä ehjinä, sileinä, raikkaina
kuin kärsivällisesti odottaneet
piilotetut lapset.
Ja mehu oli hyvää.

The forest is joy.
I shall thus leave you the rocks and crags, my boys,
and the forest in their midst.
Karelia can be seen from the cliffs
and there, beyond the tops of the firs,
you can picture Mother’s childhood
and Grandma and Grandpa’s childhood.
You can picture
your grandchildren’s childhood as well.
It is legal,
it is permissible,
it is possible.
“It’s not the eye that takes part.”
Even if it did take,
it would be right.
Your grandpa’s forests are there,
your mother’s beaches,
the shoreline paths
where she herded cows to pasture,
and the spring where the neighbor submerged juice bottles.
They were preserved there over the Winter War,
over the truce and the new war.
When, three years later,
in the summer of forty-three,
he returned and plunged his hand into the spring,
they greeted him intact, smooth, and fresh,
like hidden children who had been waiting patiently.
The juice was good.

Source: Eeva Kilpi, Perhonen ylittää tien (WSOY, 2000), p. 451. Photo and translation by Living in FIN

For the Union Dead

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
—Robert Lowell, “For the Union Dead”

On her always surprising blog Found in Translation, Kate Sotejeff-Wilson, a translator based in Finland, has recently reviewed Tiina Lintunen’s Punaisten naisten tiet (Red Women’s Paths).

Ms. Lintunen has traced the lives of women in the Pori area who fought for the Reds during Finland’s brief civil war (1918) and the aftermaths of their decisions.

As Ms. Sotejeff-Wilson writes in her conclusion, Ms. Lintunen’s book seems to be a perfect candidate for translation into English, especially in this centennial year. (Finland is celebrating 100 years of independence this year.)

“The immediate consequence was often months of waiting—if not dying—in near-starvation conditions in prison camps before their case went to court. The daughter of one woman, Katri, remembers the story of how her mother stole fresh bread from her own mother’s kitchen and was hysterical when her little sister wanted to leave the house with red ribbons in her hair. Katri was sure that her sister would be arrested for openly supporting the Reds. Another woman remembers her teacher knocking a boy’s head against a brick wall for taking 1 May, the international workers’ day, off school.”

In my adopted semi-hometown of Imatra, there is a war memorial, seemingly leftist in its aesthetic, and twelve headstones at the city’s cemetery. They sit cheek by jowl with the clearly delineated, amply identified part of the cemetery where the “real” Finnish war heroes lie, i.e., men who died fighting the Soviet Union in the Winter War and the Continuation War.

“Leftist” memorial and gravestones to twelve “non-heroes” of the Finnish Civil War, Tainionkoski Cemetery, Imatra
The section where those who fought and died against the Soviet Union lie in rest is much better looked after and more clearly identified.  Tainionkoski Cemetery, Imatra

Until quite recently, all the names and dates of the dead and brief details of their deaths were listed on large laminated sheets of paper, hung behind glass in a information stand situated midway between the two memorials.

“Tainionkoski [Cemetery] War Graves.” This schematic is keyed to the lists of the war dead, most of them local soldiers and officers who fought in one of the two wars against the Soviet Union from 1939 to 1944. The twelve graves situated perpendicularly and at a distance from the main mass of war graves are marked on this schematic, but the men and one woman who lie in those graves are no longer listed on the information stand, although only a few years ago they, too, were deemed worthy of inclusion in the list of war heroes.
All the local men who perished the Winter War and Continuation War are still listed on the information stand, as are their dates of birth and death, as well as their exact location in the “heroes” section of Imatra’s Tainionkoski Cemetery. But you will find no information about the war dead buried nearby, eleven men and one woman, who were most likely executed by the Whites during the waning days of the Finnish Civil War.

Then, about a year or two ago, the names of the twelve—who most likely were Finnish Reds executed during late April and early May 1918 at Ruokolahti, near present-day Imatra, if my memory serves me as to what was written on the old lists—were mysteriously removed from the stand.

When I last visited the cemetery again, a week or two ago, the graves of the twelve “traitors” seemed to have been spruced up a bit. The names and dates engraved on the headstones had been outlined in white to make them more legible, but their bearers were still absent from the laminated list of heroes in the information stand, and there was nothing but the memorial behind them that would suggest to anyone who they were and what side they could have fought on.

This is all Imatra’s Tainionkoski Cemetery has to tell us about Amanda Knutars, who was, I seem to remember, executed near Ruokolahti (which in the administrative toponymy of that era, before Imatra and Ruokolahti were incorporated as full-fledged municipalities, could have been almost literally down the street). It also strikes me as odd that the modest headstones of her and eleven companions in death are marked with crosses. Were they Reds or Whites? Or is the current generation too modest to tell us plainly, passing off Reds shamefacedly as “good Christians”?
Meanwhile, nearly all the gravestones marking the final resting places of the “real” heroes bear traces of the German Junker aesthetic that has been all too prominent in the insignia and symbolism of the Finnish Army, even to this day.

I am sure the memorial to the twelve, by the way, is no longer legible to the younger generation, i.e., people born after 1991, just as the motto etched on its base, something about “brotherly sacrifice” has long been overgrown with moss.


The only real clue to their identities is the fact that members of the Finnish Social Democratic Party march to the Tainionkoski Cemetery very early in the morning every May first and place a wreath at the memorial before going to have their Mayday coffee and roll. Next year, I am marching with them.

Update (14 April 2020). Today, quite by chance, I happened upon a useful website, Punaisten Muistomerkkit (“Red Memorials”), which has an entry on this particular memorial. Designed by Veikko Jalava, it was erected in the 1960s by the local Social Democrats when the paper and pulp manufacturer Enso Gutzeit (now known as Stora Enso) decided to build a new plant near the site of the former Harakka sawmill lumberyard, where the twelve had been buried. Their remains were dug up and transferred to the Tainionkoski Cemetery.

Text and photos by Living in FIN

Ultra Bra, “Ken Saro-Wiwa Is Dead”

Ultra Bra. Photo courtesy of 375 Humanists

I’ve always found the wildly popular 1990s Finnish group Ultra Bra slightly baffling albeit intensely interesting.

Only Ultra Bra were capable of packaging trenchant, politically progressive lyrics in musical and vocal arrangements that wouldn’t be out of place on the TV series Glee.

Here’s a great example, “Ken Saro-Wiwa Is Dead,” a wildly upbeat song about a horrible miscarriage of justice.

The lyrics are partly based on the text of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s final statement in court, which, apparently, was never heard by the judges who sentenced him to death.


Ken Saro-Wiwa Is Dead

I’m a man of peace, of ideas
And I am angered
By the devastation
Of my people’s land
The oil is burning
Just this he once said to them
Ken Saro-Wiwa

The man who dared open his mouth thus
Let him finally leave
For such speeches
The electric chair
Or the guillotine
He cannot live after this
Ken Saro-Wiwa

We all stand before history
I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial
Shell is here on trial as well
And crimes are punished according to merit
And a crime is punished

The man who dared open his mouth thus
Let him finally leave
For such speeches
The electric chair
Or the guillotine
He cannot live after this
Ken Saro-Wiwa
Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa
Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa


Herra tuomari
olen rauhan ja aatteen mies
ja olen vihainen
kansani maan
öljy palaa
vain tämän heille sanoi kerran
Ken Saro-Wiwa

Herra tuomari
kuinka uskalsi avata suunsa tuo mies
korjatkoon luunsa
tuollaisista puheista
tai giljotiini
tämän jälkeen ei saa elää
Ken Saro-Wiwa

Me olemme täällä kaikki historian tuomittavina
minä ja kollegani emme ole ainoita syytettyjä
myös Shell on täällä tuomiolla
ja tehdyt rikokset rangaistaan ansionsa mukaan
ja tehty rikos ansionsa mukaan

Herra tuomari
kuinka uskalsi avata suunsa tuo mies
korjatkoon luunsa
tuollaisista puheista
tai giljotiini
tämän jälkeen ei saa elää
Ken Saro-Wiwa

Ken Saro-Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa
Ken Saro Wiwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa

—Ultra Bra, “Ken Saro-Wiwa on kuollut” (Vapaaherran elämää LP, 1996); source:

The Women’s Caucus

naisliiton eduskuntaryhmä 1907 v.

The first women’s caucus in the unicameral Finnish parliament, 1907. The caucus was actually larger, as six female MPs from the SDP were not included in this picture.

Women occupy 43% of the seats in the current Finnish parliament, putting the country in seventh place in the world rankings behind Rwanda, Bolivia, Andorra, Cuba, Sweden, and Seychelles.

The US is tied at 19% with Burkina Faso, Estonia, Kenya, Mauritius, Panama, and Slovakia, while Russia is tied at 14% with Fiji, Guinea-Bissau, Malta, Romania, Somalia, and Turkey.

Information courtesy of The Telegraph; photo courtesy of Uutisvuoksi

Soft Pretzel Baking in the Lappeenranta Countryside

Making Viipuri soft pretzels is tough, demanding manual labor. Photo courtesy of Pyry Sarkiola/Yle

The Recipe Won’t Be Uttered Even on the Deathbed
Is a Favorite Delicacy Threatened with Remaining a Prisoner of the Past?

Petri Kivimäki
October 4, 2016

Viipuri soft pretzels [viipurinrinkeleitä] have been made in small home bakeries in the Lappeenranta region for centuries. Back in the day, they were taken to the Viipuri (Vyborg) market to be sold, among other places. The pretzels are still produced, but the customer base is thinning and the number of bakeries dwindling.

It is up and early in the Lappeenranta village of Hanhijärvi on Monday morning. At half past two, Risto Helkala arrives in the back room of a single-family house that doubles as a bakery.

“I make two batches of dough so they can get right down to baking at five-thirty.”

Helkala first pours sugar into the bottom of a large dough mixing bowl. Then a couple of buckets of water, cardamom, and other spices. The yeast is the size of a brick. There is a tubful of butter.

“I don’t know many liters of dough will come out, but 60 kilos of flour go in,” says Helkala.

A big mixer begins mixing the dough in the metallic dough bowl.

Risto Halkala puts 60 kg of flour into the dough. Photo courtesy of Petri Kivimäki/Yle

Centuries-Old Roots

Juho Pulli Bakery is in an ordinary looking single-family house in Hanhijärvi, in the Lappeenranta countryside. 86-year-old Ritva Helkala lives in the house. As a little girl, she would go to the markets with her father, Juho Pulli.

“I was selling pretzels on the market on Red Square in Viipuri (Vybog) when I was six. Father and mother would go somewhere and leave me to sell the pretzels.”

In the 1930s, the trips from ranged from Lappeenranta to as far away as Joensuu, Hiitola, Lahdenpoja, Värtsilä, and Suistamo. They traveled by horse or train.

“A ledger book from 1880 has been preserved which shows that 19 trays of pretzels were produced. Pretzels have been made here for a long time,” says Ritva Helkala.

Secret Recipe

Nowadays, there are a dozen pretzel bakeries in Lappeenranta and the neighboring municipality of Lemi. Each bakery’s pretzels taste different, and the recipes are secret.

“I make grandfather’s recipe, and he said he was making his grandmother’s recipe,” says Risto Helkala at the bakery.

The dough has been rising for just over an hour. It is time for the dough to be kneaded.

“Here we batten the dough down to get the air out of it.”

According to new laws, the dough’s ingredients must be listed, but how much of what is used is a carefully guarded secret.

“A Viipuri pretzel baker would not reveal the recipe even on his death bed,” says Ritva Helkala.

Dozens of pretzels awaiting buttering and bank. Photo courtesy of Pyry Sarkiola/Yle

Ingredient Shortages during the War Years

Although the Viipuri pretzel has been made for centuries, the war years of 1939-1945 and their aftermath led to a serious disruption in production.

“There were ten years when pretzels could not be baked. There were no ingredients, and there were no markets.”

Then, when the war ended, pretzels were a bit peculiar. Not all the ingredients could be obtained.

“They were made with the spices that could be spared. Then, after the wars, cardamom became available. When restrictions on the sale of sugar were removed, production took off again,” recalls Ritva Helkala.

Her son Risto has rolled out the dough. He is making a stick a meter long and thick as an arm.

“It’s like a snake. It’s called an anaconda,” Risto says with a laugh.

There are five women in the bakery besides Risto.

“Get ready. The pretzel-making is beginning,” Risto exclaims.

The pretzels are moistened with egg mixture. Photo courtesy of Pyry Sarkiola/Yle

Pure Craftsmanship

In an adjoining room, Risto’s mother Ritva sits in an armchair. She still drops by to check the pretzels from time to time.

“In the 1930s, fifty kilos of pretzel dough would be made totally by hand.”

Helkala’s memory is sharp as steel, and her voice is firm.

“The dough was kneaded by hand. Two women would stand next to each other and knead the dough to finger thickness first.”

After this, the surface of the dough would be rubbed with butter. Then the stick would be put in a pile, and they would began again to knead the dough into a long bar.

“I remember when my arms would be swollen below here,” recalls Ritva.

Doughs were tougher in the 1930s and 1940s than now. According to Ritva Helkala, the pretzels had to withstand long journeys. They stood quite upright in the basket.

Three Different Sizes

At the Juho Pulli Bakery, everything is ready for making pretzels. Risto Helkala is cutting the dough stick into small pieces about a hundred grams in size.

“We’re making small pretzels now. There are also large and medium-sized pretzels. The biggest ones are the most popular,” Risto explains.

Two bakers grab the familiar pieces. Hanna-Riikka Nykänen snatches a bun-sized piece of dough and kneads it into a long, thin rod.

“I have been pretzel baking for a year. I learned it fairly quickly, since I have a baker’s education.”

Nykänen takes the rod at both ends and, in three seconds, spins it into something that looks like a pretzel. She already has a new piece of dough in her hand.

Sirpa Helkala packing the pretzels. Photo courtesy of Pyry Sarkiola/Yle

Several Bakeries

There are currently a dozen Viipuri pretzel bakeries in the Lappeenranta region. The bakeries usually operate out of single-famiy houses. Pretzel production is rarely their main livelihood. The Helkala family also owns an electrical installation company.

Twenty years ago, there were twice as many Viipuri pretzel bakeries in the Lappeenranta vicinity as there are now.

“The customer base is thinning, and marketing is pretty nonexistent,” says Sanna Lento-Kemppi of Southern Finland Farm Women and Homemakers.

Lento-Kemppi has been tracking rural entrepreneurship for years, particularly in the Lappeenranta region.

“The problem is that people don’t know where and when to get Viipuri pretzels.”

Lento-Kemppi’s surmise is easily confirmed by a quick search on the Internet. None of the Viipuri pretzel bakeries have their own Internet or Facebook pages.

“People really count on the fact that pretzels have always been sold at markets and they get them at markets.”

A new generation that doesn’t go to markets has grown up in Finland. At the same time, Viipuri pretzel buyers have also become less numerous. In Lento-Kemppi’s view, Viipuri pretzels missed out on modernization in terms of both marketing and product development.

In Lappeenranta, yet another Viipuri pretzel bakery closed last year, nor do all the existing bakeries necessarily have a successor on the horizon.

One reason for the decrease in pretzel-making is that manufacturing and selling pretzels requires persistence. One must be in good physical shape to do manual labor, and selling pretzels in the winter frost or sleet is not something everyone finds enticing.

Hot Conditions

It is +36 degrees Celsius on the thermometer in the Juho Pulli Bakery. The large wood burning stove in the corner radiates heat.

Arja Laukas lifts the large baking trays onto a perch.

“When the unbaked Viipuri pretzels have raised to the right point, they are buttered or brushed with beaten egg mixture.”

Kirsi Kostiainen, standing nearby, peeks into the oven.

“The color appears when they are done.”

One more tray goes into the oven. A motor rotates the trays in the oven’s heat. When the door opens, the soft, glowing warmth pours over Kirsi’s face. In spite of the heat and bustle, the work in the bakery flows with army-like precision.

“I’ve been doing this almost three years,” says Kirsi.

Over the years, a light spot, a spot not darkened by the ovens, has been left on the old baking trays. The spot is pretzel-shaped.

Ritva Helkala watches as her son Risto makes the dough. Photo courtesy of Pyry Sarkiola/Yle

The Craft of Baking Still Exists

Traditionally, Viipuri soft pretzel recipes and the craft of making them have been handed down from one generation to the next. In the 1930s, there were several bakeries in the village of Hanhijärvi. Their employees could go into business themselves.

“There were women at work in them who noticed that you could earn well this way,” Ritva Helkala laughs.

Her daughter-in-law, her son Risto’s wife Sirpa Helkala knows all the steps of making pretzels. She and Risto went into business in the early 2000s when the bakery changed hands generationally. Sirpa takes care of pretzel-making, as well as the company’s accounting and payroll.

“Viipuri pretzels have a good future. The business is doing well, and both young and old still like soft pretzels,” says Sirpa Helkala.

The finished pretzels are packed into bags. These are going to the market in Kuopio.

In the living room, Ritva Helkala rises from her chair and walks to the bakery side of the house. Everything seems to be alright. The new generation has taken over pretzel-making nicely.

Translated by Living in FIN. Thanks to TP for the heads-up

Queens of the Stone Age

During the Stone Age, Finnish contemporary art looked something like this.


And it was exhibited in site-specific installations such as this.



Since the Stone Age, Finnish contemporary art has gone downhill. Like everything else in Finland. And like everywhere else.

The Kolmiköytisienvuori rock painting is located in Ruokolahti commune in the eastern part of the southern Lake Saimaa region. The painting consists of a single densely painted area on a rock outcropping that is visible far out into the lake. The painting has been dated to the early New Stone Age. The site is signposted before the turn on the road from Savilahti to Sapola on Äitsaari Island.

The painting was discovered in 1977 by Timo Miettinen, who is also listed as the painting’s inventory curator. Miettinen inventoried the painting in 1994, and Minna Kähtävä-Marttinen, in 1996. About two kilometers to the west of Kolmiköytyisienvuori, a typical Comb Ware period dwelling site has been found on Korosniemi Cape. Based on its location and height, the rock painting has been dated to around 3,000 BCE.






Text, translation, and photos by Living in FIN

The Death of Einonkatu 6

The merciless of human beings towards the natural environment, the built environment, and each other is going to catch up with them soon, I’m afraid.

The latest victim is a handsome apartment block in Imatrankoski, Imatra, built before the war (if I’m not mistaken) by Jalmari Lankinen, the then-head architect of Finland’s thriving second city, Viipuri (Vyborg).

Einonkatu 6
Einonkatu 6 in Imatra bites the dust. April 26, 2016. Photo courtesy of Inka Nordlund and Uutisvuoksi.

I still haven’t figured out why this building had to go, even though I’ve read several incoherent explanations by city planners and developers in the local daily rag over the past year.

Most everywhere in the world, city planning and the construction business are rackets and mafias, and the real reason they knock things down is just to build something else in their place, almost always uglier, taller, needlessly expensive, and much less functional.

Lankinen is one of the most victimized architects from the glorious heyday of funkis (Finnish functionalism). Out in a gorgeous spot on the Lake Saimaa shore called Tiuruniemi, which is technically part of Greater Lappeenranta but is geographically part of Greater Imatra, Lankinen built an absolutely lovely tuberculosis hospital right before the Winter War, which then served as field hospital once the war started.

Tiuru Hospital. Photo by Living in FIN

Not so long ago, Tiuru Hospital served as the asylum seeker and refugee reception center for this part of Finland, but when developers decided to turn the nearby Rauha psychiatric asylum (another place with lots of good architecture, including some fine exemplars of funkis) into Holiday Club Saimaa, a retreat for bourgeois Russians flush with cash from the “prosperity” of the era of Putin 2.0, the asylum seekers were moved to a recently closed prison south of Joutseno, out of sight and mostly out of mind.

Holiday Club Saimaa and the Lappeenranta authorities had some vague plans to do something with Tiuru Hospital, but when the Russian and Finnish economies tanked, those plans came to naught, and the hospital has been sitting unoccupied in the woods for many years now. Recently, the Lappeenranta authorities made the Solomonic decision to stop heating the building, allegedly, because it was costing them too much. So now its degradation will proceed apace, although it is a listed building, supposedly protected by the Museovirasto or some such government agency.

When the refugee crisis struck, it occurred to me it would be a perfect opportunity to fix up Tiuru Hospital and fill it with life again, but inexplicably the Finnish Red Cross and the immigration authorities chose a hotel in Imatra that had fallen on hard times to accommodate its tiny quota of refugees.

Actually, there are so many empty spaces in Imatra and other parts of South Karelia, you could probably easily house all the inhabitants of a small Syrian city here without anyone noticing.

But instead we get absolutely meaningless “renovation” and “urban renewal,” as pictured above, instead of an exciting experiment in learning to live together with perfect strangers and redefining Finnishness (and Europeanness).

Who needs it?