International House Helsinki

Now there are no excuses! It’s easy, simple and quick. Everything you need to know for your new life in Finland.

Under one roof

The bureaucrats have come up with a brand new idea which is brilliant. If you’ve just moved to this country and you’re totally confused as to jobs, registering, taxes, pensions, whatever the case may be, just pop over to the Magistrate’s Office at Albertinkatu 25 where you’ll find International House Helsinki. All the services you need to make a smooth transition into society, are here, under one roof.

A friendly face to answer your immigration questions

No more stuffy government office

The staff are friendly and seem like polyglots with the number of languages they speak. The atmosphere is fun, colourful and so simply laid out that even a monkey can find its way around the procedure. Services that are covered include:

Multilingual information and counselling

Advisory and counselling for employers

Registration, personal identity code and change of address

Tax card/number and tax info

Social security and benefits

General info about TE (employment)

Registering as a job seeker

Pension insurance and A1 certificate from abroad

Employee rights advice

Where to learn Finnish

Step by step instructions to get you through the process

App

Use the app to make an appointment and find out what documents you will need to bring along. Go to App Store and look for Service Advisor App.

Moving at the best of times is a stressful operation and moving from one country to another can test your limits. With help like this, you are assured of the fact that everything is in order and that you’re doing the right thing. Relocating to Finland’s a breeze, if you can stand the weather.

Link:

International House Helsinki

California – the Exhibition

The shiny signs show the way to the various sections that this exhibition has been divided into at the Design Museum in Helsinki. Every part points to design in some form or another, not the type of design that one might imagine in the shape of a beautiful object, or a clever tool, but rather ideas and innovations that have influenced our lives in a way that sets us free, that makes our lives easier. While this utopian ideal is admirable, it did and does not always turn out the way the designer intended it to and can enslave as much as liberate the user. Whichever way you look at it, it arouses our curiosity and spurs us on to usage and experimentation.

Go Where You Want dominates the thinking of every over-50 year old male on the brink of fearful decline, with a high-barred Harley Davidson, the speedy, outdoor, La-Z-Boy object of potency. The chopper expresses so much more than a form of transport encompassing the freedom of the surfing culture, in spite of the difficulty of carrying a surfboard while driving one. Going where you want is about motorcycles, but it’s also about lying on the sofa and cruising the world with Google Maps, or finding roads with GPS systems leading you to hideaways to far-flung spots that would have remain hidden or at least, been hard to find in days gone by.

Captain America chopper – Easy Rider

See What You Want plunges us into a world of psychedelics and fantasy. Make-believe is the essence of some of the ordinary objects on display including LSD blotting paper, tiny tabs with decorative pictures, used to administer small quantities of potent trips to Strawberry Fields and other pop-song destinations. It transports you to alternative realities, California’s favourite place, and guides the brush strokes of Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin in sweeps of colour that brighten up the brightest of days. Disney World and Hollywood had their origins in Los Angeles, sparking our imagination in movies as well as video games, the earliest forms of which can be seen and sniggered at compared with today’s sleeker versions, no doubt to be smirked at by later generations.

LSD blotting paper – designer unknown
Victor Moscoso’s psychedelic art

Say What You Want rebels against the hackneyed memes of the establishment that triggers thoughts, shocks a little and often amuses a lot. The poster of Boston & Boston: Equal Opportunity Designers has a black man dressed up in Ku Klux Klan garb defying the onlooker in a threatening stance. Free speech exceeds all boundaries in the work of Sheila de Bretteville’s centrefold in the feminist Everywoman newspaper with the single word ‘cunt’ spread across it. Wired magazine first published in 1993, stares you in the face with a cacophony of typefaces set on the background of wild, acid-trip-like scenes while giving us the opportunity to make sense of the crazy speed at which technology is overtaking our lives.

Archie Boston Graphic Design Studio, Los Angeles

Make What You Want brings to life the start-up culture of Silicon Valley where a DIY project, conceived in a garage, can whip through the globe and turn into a multi-billion dollar industry within a terrifyingly short period of time. Presenting the Apple 1 computer, a boxy, grey object with no aesthetic appeal. With a keyboard and a television set, we suddenly became masters of communication, writing and publishing, marketing gurus of our own personal brands, super-efficient robots accomplishing tasks that would have seemed impossible only a few years back.

The dumpy box-like early Mac
Wooden skateboards dating back to 1951 – designer unknown

Join Who You Want started with communes, a cess pools of sexual freedom and drug-taking, or so my mother used to think. Motorcycle gangs, the Gay-In held at Griffith Park in San Franciso, the Merry Pranksters spreading the gospel of LSD with author Ken Kesey and research pioneer Timothy Leary across America, offered a smorgasbord of choices for people on the fringes and wanna-bes alike.

Join who you want

Togetherness and community are words bandied about in acceptable current narratives and social media is the way we do it while real experiences of engaging with your buddies and others happen at festivals as in Burning Man or massive events like the Olympic Games. Symbols, posters and objects of design display these trending ideologies.

California is an exhibition that takes you through a journey of fairly ordinary objects that you look at and think so what? Some are even ugly and distasteful. But there is a ‘but’ coming up – you can’t help but marvel at the innovation of it all, the meander down memory lane for those of us who remember, the ultimate pleasure in knowing that daily living has become a whole lot easier if not simpler and that we can relish the unstoppability of what’s to come.

California: Designing Freedom is on until 4 March 2018 at the Design Museum in Helsinki.

On a walk with Kristupas through Vilnius’ Old Town

We’re lucky. The weather has been dripping and drizzling while the clouds have masked the sunlight. But on this Saturday afternoon, some rays catch us unawares and we wander through the streets of Vilnius’ Old Town with our guide. His name is Kristupas and he could be a reincarnation of a medieval scholar with his leather coat and his dramatic turn of phrase.

Kristupas our guide from Go Vilnius

Vilnius’ Old Town or Sena Miestas as it is known in Lithuanian, distinguishes itself from other Baltic old towns in that it is the largest, locates on a river with hills surrounding it. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994, it has a rich architectural history spanning many cultural transformations from gothic, through renaissance and baroque to neoclassical. Renovation has been carefully observed and the streets are spotless.

Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas

We stop at one of the many churches in Vilnius. This one’s the Russian Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas with a legendary history of fires and changes in styles of architecture. It is now a Byzantine shrine without having lost its original gothic influence.

Literatu Street

On Literatu Street, the walls are covered in what one might call memorabilia or artworks paying tribute to literature workers including writers, poets, translators, many of international fame. It’s a private initiative and all the works are donated for free by the artists. All the plaques are the same size but come in all kinds of shapes made of ceramics, wooden, metal and glass.

Rooftops of Vilnius’ Old Town

Amber, Nordic gold, is beautifully displayed in the museum-gallery called Gintaro Muziejus-Galerija. In the cellar, we learn that amber is a light-weight substance which often traps insects inside the sticky resin it’s made of. How to test whether it’s real or plastic? Rub it hard in two hands and if the smell of pine hits your nostrils, Bob’s your uncle. Floating in saline water is another indicator but few of us walk around carrying a pouch of salty liquid just in case we come across a pair of amber earrings we can’t live without.

Yellow amber at the Amber Museum-Gallery

Kristupas tells us of the Republic of Uzupis created by twelve Lithuanian artists who created their own constitution with that tongue-in-cheek humour so typical of the Lithuanians. Its motto: Don’t fight, don’t win, don’t surrender. On 1 April every year, everyone entering the area across the River Vilnelé, has to show his/her passport. On the next day, everything returns back to normal.

We go past the Shakespeare Hotel and even our amusing guide cannot think of a reason why it would be called that. He’s pretty sure though that it’s owned by an American chain.

Since he’s an historian, we have to stop by the History Department of the University. He tells us that this subject was over-subscribed in years gone by but no longer, the reason being that the professor and students alike would swig away at bottles of hooch ‘hidden’ under desks, everybody would giggle and have a good time and it became the most popular subject to study. Then drinking in lecture halls was banned and its popularity diminished to a handful of studious types. He was of the former ilk, needless to say.

It’s people like Kristupas and the artists of Uzupis that give you a hint of what Lithuanians are like. They love to laugh, at themselves and at others and they don’t mince their words when politics or the Russians are the topics of discussion. Strong opinions, that’s what these people have, and they’re not afraid to express them.

Links:

Go Vilnius

 

OlutExpo 2017 does it right

From the time you pick up the lanyard with credit card attached to the time you drop it off and get reimbursed for the balance left on it, you know these guys have done it right. It’s pro, it’s efficient, the queues are shorter at the entrance and you leave knowing that nobody’s tried to rip you off, you got what you paid for. If you so wish, you could muster up an even warmer fuzzier sense of goodness when you leave the balance to one of the charities they support.

Fat Lizard Brewery from Finland

A whole string of local micro breweries have come up with selections of beer that speak of real craftsmanship, each one with its own specific punch line and story. Fat Lizard has a sense of humour as in their ‘No crap on tap’ slogan. Topi Kairenius, brewmaster, explains their take on what makes them stand out,“We like American style APAs and IPAs and use mostly American hops. Except for Rib Tickler which contains New Zeland hops.”Their products come in funky cans and are all of a lighter, drinkable style, a hint of their own laid-back approach to life.

The intrepid couple from Pien

 Pien meaning ‘small’ deserves a mention. This couple are bold if nothing else. They have two small shops: one behind Ateneum Art Museum on Ateneumkuja and another one in Iso Omena Shopping Centre. Their products are hand-and heart-selected and they’re selling some unique beers and other goodies from their stores. Because of the monopoly Alko, they have to stick to anything under 4.7% alcohol but whatever they have to sacrifice is made up for by big flavours and choice ingredients. They’re the exclusive importer of Brewski, an outfit in Helsingborg, Sweden, that bottle in small sizes using labels designed by a kick-ass artist. The contents are pretty good too.

Pekka Montin, importer and veteran of the beer scene

From Estonia comes Tanker Brewery. Everything’s unfiltered and only American hops is used since 50% of the business belongs to Graham Suske, American himself and the other half by Jaanis Tammela. The Ketser will creep into the corners of your gob and squinch up your cheeks with the sourness it brings with it while Pretty Hard has a touch of raspberry to soften the blow. The latter’s label is pink with a speech bubble for the lady, ‘ It’s so hard to be pretty’. At 7% you’re likely to forget the make-up and get the party started.

Cider has its place at this festival and it’s the elegance of the logo of Kuura Cider that catches my eye. They’re from the little town of Fiskars, about a 60 minute drive from Helsinki. With a still and a sparkling product, their focus is on ripe, local, cooking apples rather than cider ones. Minimum intervention leaves it unfiltered but with an elegance and complexity that put it in a class of its own.

Also from the famous artist/artisan town of Fiskars is Ägräs Distillery. Infused with nettles and fennel is their greenish coloured Long Drink, the freshest hit of herbal delight you can possibly imagine with no hint of sugar but pleasantly accessible. Their Akvavit is also made from foraged nettles and wild herbs and is aged in American oak, a smooth, golden-coloured, velvety drink that caresses your tongue as it slides around the furthest recesses of your mouth.

Food is the focus at Malmgård Brewery where they use their own spelt, wheat, grains to make their products including bread. They’re located in the countryside near Loviisa at a manor house owned by a count.

From the far-flung island of Jura in the Scottish Hebrides, the whisky that comes from there is user-friendly. No heavy peat, no heavy smoke just something easy to drink, terribly enjoyable and made for the market. Their 16 year-old Jura Diurachs’ Own is the whisky of choice for the islanders and you know why when your taste buds get a hint of apricot, marmalade and toffee, a mouthful of rounded goodness.

End your taste tour at Helsinki Distilling Company where their brand new rye whiskey comes with a kick but no aggression. Applejack can only be described as light Calvados, a pleasant apéritif or a less powerful digestif.

In the spite of the archaic alcohol laws in Finland, OlutExpo has managed to put together a thought-through, well organised event, represented by both local and international brands without a single moment of unruly behaviour and plenty of class and luxury in which to spoil yourself.

A Celebration of the Art of Åke and Karin Hellman – Suomi 100/Finland 100

There are not that many people that can boast about being 100 years old and many of those cannot claim to be artists, especially artists of such renown as Åke Hellman (born 1915). A Shared Atelier is an exhibition at Kunsthalle Helsinki that takes you on a journey through his life with his cherished wife Karin Hellman (née Wisuri, 1915 – 2004). She wasn’t lucky enough to reach her husband’s ripe old age.

Karin Hellman – a pioneer of collage

A wide scope of genres is represented by the works of this couple that lived in Porvoo, a small town east of Helsinki. Their children Åsa and Karl-Johan are still alive to give some insight into this exhibition of over 150 pieces stretching from the 1930s to the 2000s. We also get a glimpse of what it was like to live with them. Åsa explains,

“Father was quite analytical and cool and loved to discuss and talk about art while Mother was very much in tune with nature and could be described as an earth mother.”

Mother Karin and daughter Åsa – Clay Medals (1980)

Massive collages line the walls of the museum depicting abstract images and shapes, some colourful, others in ‘black and white’, as it were with fine dark thread sewn onto cream fabric. Themes range from trees to emotional outbursts as in ‘Scream’, prompted by the disproportionately small snake, fear detectable in the eyes of the by-standers. ‘Clay Medals’ show a series of ceramic buttons created by Åsa, a collaboration between mother and daughter. Karin’s paintings too span a range of eras and styles.

‘Scream’ – collage – Karin Hellman

Portraitist of his time, Åke Hellman has painted many of his contemporaries. The President’s wives Sylvi Kekkonen (1978) and Tellervo Koivisto (1990), bishops, professors, doctors and others have sat in his studio to be immortalised. There’s a distinct change of technique from the 50s to his later paintings. When I ask Åsa about the ‘stick figures’ in some, she explains that one must keep in mind that he was a Professor of Art at the University, that he was teaching art and hence, probably the simplification. It’s extraordinary to compare these naïve, but yet beautiful, works with the more voluptuous nudes which are striking in their maturity. Then he delves into cubism and then into surrealism, a wide palette indeed, not only of colour but of variety too.

Winter Venus – Åke Hellman (1985)

A Shared Atelier is on exhibit at Kunsthalle Helsinki from 21 October 2017 until 19 November 2017.

It’s Sustainable, it’s Australian and it’s Wine

Let’s talk about eye-openers, those you look forward to with great excitement before the drop and the palate have said hello. Here in Helsinki, we’re rubbing our palms together, salivating at the thought, allowing our minds to run wild with what they’ve come up with this time. It’s the Australian Wine Tasting Event with a Master Class lead by Mark Davidson and the subject is Sustainability.

Vine of the Riesling

Call it trendy, call it hip but don’t you ever call it a passing fad because we all know where we’re heading as far as this planet is concerned. The numbers are too scary for words: species die out between 1000 and 10 000 times higher than their natural rate; CO2 levels are rising consistently; the planet’s average surface temperature has increased by 1.1° C turning 2016 into the warmest year ever recorded.

What happens to wine in this bad-case scenario and how do winemakers get those labels with that magic word ‘organic’ or ‘biodynamic’ printed on them? Strange as it may sound, hard-earned capital leads the way: money is what it takes to use methods that are minimal and money is what is required to get official authorisation. And not just a one-off payment but a year-by-year commitment to stick to your principles no matter what. The maze of organisations out there with recognised authenticity to declare a winery sustainable is in itself a hard task to sift through. But when you’ve got it, you make the best of it even when the odds are stacked against you.

Organically grown and treated Rieslings from Australia

Pewsey Vale ‘The Contours’ Eden Valley Riesling 2011 is one such wine. Louisa Rose and her crew went biodynamic in 2011 and even through it was a wet, cold, challenging period they pushed on, risked failure and came up with this superb example of Riesling. It tingles on the tongue, mingles toasty brioche with citrus fruit and leaves you with a long, lemongrass flavour for pure savouring or cutting the grease in a leg of roast duck.

Grenache in a blend, Grenache on its own – organic and purely delightful

Drought makes us all sit up and place bricks in our toilet cisterns. Australia reminds its citizens every day of conservation and recycling of this valuable asset, a commodity the wine industry cannot do without. When aquifers are used, they are kept at replenishable levels. Mulching is common practice on organic farms and grey water is pumped for irrigation. Grenache is the most widely planted red wine grape in the world. It’s hardy, it’s not too thirsty and it outperforms its siblings on yields. Australians have recognised these facts and made good use of this versatile varietal. John Duval’s Annexus 2015 is a new venture with a delightful floral character and savoury spice. Tannins caress your tongue in the finish with long brush strokes of velvet.

New innovations

Where do they go from here? The thing is, Australian winemakers are already pushing the envelope with the varietals that we all expect from them so why not fool around with a Touriga Nacional for instance, or a Graciano, so popular in Spanish blends? The latter used on its own is the edgy path Paxton McLaren Vale Graciano 2016 follows. It presents you with a plate of nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices with a touch of oak to keep those flavours lingering.

Organic or biodynamic, irrigated or dry, Australian winemakers who chase the elusive star of purity without sacrificing taste, are on a trail-blazing track to that point of excellence.

Sharpen your knives, cross your swords – make way for Kungfu Kitchen

Let’s leave the generic sweet and sour tastes behind and move onto the umamis – Kungfu Kitchen fuses the best of Finnish ingredients with a strong slash of Asia thrown in.

Miro Kurvinen – Finnish Master Chef and innovator

The octopus is slightly charred but picked up with the sweetness of the mango, imported sadly and not as sweet as I, as a South African, am used to it. But the octopus ink mayo sheds a whole new shadow on this dish complementing the smoke of the main ingredient. Salmon is so soft it can be severed with a chopstick and sweet with a nutty dash of sesame oil. I love tartar, any form of it and this one is made with Finnish beef and Kimchi mayo that looks like two perfectly formed egg yolks on the side. It makes your mouth tingle especially with the Brandt Riesling from Pfalz, Germany that teases out the flavour of the parsley garnish for some strange reason. It’s a delightful combo.

Charred octopus with a bite of chili on top

Can’t say much for the shiitake mushroom dumplings or the hoisin duck banh bao, those fluffy buns from Vietnam, since both lack punch. More acidity perhaps? The Frank Massard Mas Amor Rosé tends to dominate the delicate flavours. I look forward to the marbled beef Yakiniku and especially the Nebbiolo d’Alba and there it is, a simple, no-nonsense dish with a lighter style of this typically big wine, filling in the edges to complete the main course.

Sweet, soft salmon
Tartar with Kimchee mayo

The concept of this restaurant is tight, the wine list is well chosen and ambience can be found around every nook and cranny with new details to be discovered in the upholstery, lighting and seating. Oh, and don’t forget to see the Zen-type garden in the courtyard. It too, oozes elegance.

Marbled beef Yakiniku

Link:

Kungfu Kitchen