Souvenirs of Helsinki - variations on a theme of reindeer
But where are the Espoo and Vantaa mementoes?
By Riku Jokinen
There's a decent crowd thronging around the leather stall on Helsinki's Market Square. On sale are leather key-holders, bookmarks, and fly-swatters. The items have "Suomi-Finland" and "Helsinki" texts stamped on them, along with images of a reindeer, an elk, or a ship.
The stamps have not just been added any old way, mind you.
"The Helsinki ones don't have a reindeer on them, only an elk", points out Leena Erkkilä as she packs up four fly-swatters for a man who is paying in dollars.
The souvenirs of Helsinki on sale in the market are quite startling in their diversity and the imagination that has gone into them. Mass-produced cheapo items take a back seat when the handicrafts stalls show off their wares.
In addition to a leather fly-swat from Helsinki, the casual tourist can admire such items as a cheese slicer with a reindeer antler handle, or a toothpick holder carved out of birch. Despite the ongoing July heatwave, reindeer hides are also on sale.
The standard motifs for Helsinki souvenirs are the reindeer, the elk, and the white Lutheran Cathedral that looms behind the Market Square.
"I guess it is worth coming here to set up the stall. As soon as the snow starts to fall, things get a good deal quieter", says Izi Provialer, who is selling her father's hand-made birch products.
Everything on the Provialer stall is made of wood. As well as Helsinki pencils, mugs, and elk-motif fridge magnets, there is a nifty elk-clock-pen combination. Nestled next to it is a nativity scene with the baby Jesus in his manger-cradle. The "Suomi-Finland" stamp has been put on the base.
Helsinki items by Finnish designers are also on show at the Design Forum in Erottaja. One curiosity perhaps worth mentioning are the bikinis made in the style of old travel pennants - in addition to Helsinki (the top half of the garment), there is a design from Kuopio and the city's rounded landmark hill, Puijo.
Also on sale at a hefty EUR 1,700 is Osuma Design's contoured glass platter depicting the topography of Töölönlahti Bay.
But what about visitors to Espoo or Vantaa? What can they take home from their vacation? There are precious few Espoo or Vantaa themed souvenirs on offer.
A gift shop named Valkea Kuulas in the Iso Omena ("Big Apple") shopping mall in Espoo's Matinkylä saves the day. The place has an item in felt with a design by Heli Arvilommi depicting the medieval church (now a cathedral) in Espoon Keskus.
"I've suggested to my kids that they should put together a serties of Espoo cards and postcards", says Ritva Volama, who runs the shop.
In the museum store attached to the Espoo City Museum in Tapiola, they are selling UNICEF T-shirts with the Espoo name on (this year Espoo was selected as a partner city by the Finnish national committee for UNICEF), and illustrated books about the place. Espoo has also arranged for the production of business gifts promoting the country's second-largest city, but they are not on general sale.
At the branch of Stockmann's department store in the huge Jumbo shopping mall in Vantaa, any tourist who strolls in is likely to be left scratching his head. There are no Vantaa souvenirs to be had, and it is not as if customers have actually been asking after them, either.
What you can find instead are shelves of souvenirs and mementoes of the neighbouring burg Helsinki: shot glasses, plates, door-chimes, and porcelain mugs.
The Heureka Science Centre in Tikkurila does at least have a picture book of Vantaa in its shop, and a "Greetings from Vantaa" postcard with a pull-off sticker. The Heureka cards (the building is quite impressive) cost EUR 0.80, but the Vantaa card can be had for just 50 cents.
"I last sold one earlier today, or was it yesterday", says the sales assistant.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 29.7.2006
Design Forum Finland
Osuma Design: Töölö
Espoo City Museum
RIKU JOKINEN / Helsingin Sanomat