Helsinki City Museum, making people fall in love with Helsinki

Helsinki, Finland,



The Helsinki City Museum is on a mission to get people to fall in love with Helsinki. The campus consists of five historical buildings in the oldest part of Finland’s capital, very close to Senate Square. It’s not easy to tell the story of a city and its people, but they’ve made a success of it in Helsinki!

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Helsinki City Museum, making people fall in love with Helsinki When you want to get to know a city, a great place to start is its history. But let’s be honest, who wants to read long dissertations about historical figures, when it’s much more meaningful to understand how ordinary people live and lived? This explains the success of many museums dedicated to the so-called ‘minor arts’, or everyday life, where we can pore over objects and memories of the past to appreciate that in one way or another we still have the same concerns.
Helsinki City Museum (Helsingin kaupunginmuseo), which sets the backdrop for the Kasvattamo (link) project, delivers precisely this experience, in a campus consisting of five historical buildings located in the old heart of the capital of Finland. A nation established as an independent republic only as recently as 1917, while the museum opened five years earlier, in 1912. Although a personal visit is out of the question right now, with restrictions on movements and travel, the museum allows us to get to know the local history, highlighting personal experiences and objects, by featuring a lot of its collection online.
The task of the city museum is to record and study Helsinki and life in the city. The museum collections feature objects as diverse as plastic bags and square pianos, business cards and trams, works of art and building parts – plus a treasure trove of a million photographs from Helsinki, showcasing more than 1.5 million items. Each of the items in the collections says something about the history of Helsinki and its residents and the changing urban environment.
Only a small part of the collection can be presented in exhibitions. For this reason, pandemic or not, items in the collections are available for browsing online in the Finna search service (https://hkm.finna.fi/), High-resolution photographs, on the other hand, can be viewed through the helsinkiphotos.fi service.
It’s interesting to know that the collections do not include old items alone, since documenting the present day is just as important. Indeed, the Helsinki City Museum began from a project to document the present day in 1906, when the Helsinki City Board of Antiquities hired photographer Signe Brander to record the changing city and life in it. That work continues today, with the museum researchers and photographers recording everything that’s happening in the present day, and objects that appear, change and disappear again. It also puts a lot of emphasis on urban planning, documenting the new city districts Jätkäsaari and Kalasatama, which we’ve already discussed. It’s no surprise then that one of the City Museum tasks is to make sure that buildings of different ages, interiors and distinct districts—the shared treasure of Helsinki—are preserved for posterity. Because in addition to the Empire-style centre and art nouveau buildings, there are many important sites in 1950s suburbs and even 1980s shopping centres that have their own place in the city’s fabric and history.
So, until we can get there in person, we can still explore the commonplace history and discover that by doing that “everyone has the opportunity to fall in love with Helsinki”, as the museum, which also operates as the regional museum for the Central Uusimaa region claims on its website.

Christiane Bürklein

Helsinki City Museum
Find out more: https://www.helsinginkaupunginmuseo.fi/en
Images: Maija Astikainen