I, a South African, always dreamt of living in a pink building and although this one’s more salmon than pink, it’s Jugend Style, has masses of character and is run by a fantastic housing company who keep it looking good. It’s when I look out my window that I see the fairy lights adorning the doorway across the road where sex is plentiful and dreams are short lived. So while my building is upmarket, the surroundings suggest something different.
I love it. Right next door to the massage parlour called Amatsoonit (draw your own conclusions), there’s Dionysus Film Studio. On the other corner there’s Refugee Law. Down the road, some Jordanian guys are busily snipping away at men’s hair at Newroz the cheapest charge in town, only €12 and across from there there’s HumHum (details below). It’s owned by a young Egyptian student who has big dreams and makes even bigger shwarma sandwiches which are stuffed to overflowing. Everything, except the lettuce, is made by him. He opens at 1 pm not because he sleeps late but because he attends college in the mornings. His spirit will not be quenched by red tape, questioning authorities or health inspectors. Like the Jordanians, he’s determined to survive in these cold climes.
Vaasankatu is the closest you’ll come to a red light district and sex shops, dancers and masseuse abound. At last count there were 11 bars along the same street. But then, there are these special gems stuck in amongst the rough diamonds like Café Pequeño. The guy from Argentina shares the space with a beauty parlour and a hairdresser and they all work side by side in an atmosphere of cutesy calm. His contribution to the usual cinnamon buns and croissants are seriously delicious carrot cup cakes and empanadas, a delightful little meat pie from his home country. The music swings too. Solmu pub has its own special brand of beer; Molotov bar is filled with students and lovely people from across the globe. And there’s a thing, the drinks are cheap, for Helsinki that is.
While town is full of Thai restaurants, one as mediocre as the other, there are two that catch my fancy, Tuk-Tuk on Vaasankatu and Pinto B’Staurant on Vilhovuorenkatu. Fresh is the password, spicy and crisp, every dish is distinct and both have authentic Thai chefs in the kitchen. Then there’s Kombo run by a friendly Spaniard and his Finnish partner. They serve tapas made with care and heart and really good wines.
The sauna on Harjukatu is from times gone by. Heated the old fashioned way, by wood, makes the löyly (steam) soft and healing, the dressing room is well, retro. You can even find a lady who will wash you, men and women alike, although the facilities are separate. At Arla Sauna, cupping or the release of bad blood by small incisions in the skin, is a draw card.
Talk about rich, this area is as rich as it gets when it comes to people of different cultures all rubbing shoulders together. What makes it different is that we all feel that we’re in the same boat together and that survival is our only hope in this cold country. Survival with a good dollop of cream on top, that is.
HumHum – Helsinginkatu 4 a, 00500 Helsinki; +358 44 2511292
Molotov Pub – Vaasankatu 29, 00550 Helsinki