Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

19 August 2013

As I was flying back to London after a great weekend in Helsinki my mind was overloaded with thoughts. After three days of sunshine, one of the best music festivals in Europe, a fair amount of wine and so many good friends, I was wondering whether I should consider returning to my home country.

By the time I flew through Danish airspace I realised that I was still under the spell of the Nordic summer. It’s deceptive going north when the summer is at its best – it is easy to forget that Helsinki does not host some of my favourite international musicians every day, nor is the city about to burst from all the culture and happy people. Not to mention the weather. The cold fact is that despite the Nordic countries’ quality of life, you won’t enjoy being there that much during the winter as everyone tends to spend the freezing nights at home watching television.

It’s such a shame. When living in Finland I would always get a sentimental feeling by the end of August. After a summer packed with outdoor theatres, al fresco cinemas, awkward wife-carrying competitions and strawberry festivals, it would once again be time to calm down and start thinking about something else to do indoors. And indeed, the majority of the nation starts leafing through the television guide. Or so it seems. Who knows, maybe they don’t all watch television – they may also be doing jigsaws or organising stamp collections. What they certainly don’t do is spend any time out on the town after work or during the weekend.

It is absurd that most Finnish cities seem to have been built for those three months of the year when the weather is nice. Just go and see all the oversized market squares, pedestrian streets and terraced areas for restaurants; they are mostly unused and covered with snow during the winter.

I don’t know if it’s tradition, health-and-safety issues or just a lack of imagination that has lead to such a waste of space. Change may be in the air, though: last winter, Helsinki had a small street-food festival in some of the office-building courtyards in the city centre. Why couldn’t this same ideology be taken further? Why not organise outdoor markets even in the cold weather? Us Finns are masters when it comes to dressing for the cold. With lots of layers and outdoor heaters we could easily visit outdoor cinemas even though it might be snowing. Actually, when I give this more thought, I can’t think of any summer activities that you couldn’t do in the winter with the help of a heat source, some warm clothes and some blankets. And a bit of mulled wine.

With enough of these activities, Helsinki would get attention during the snowiest months, helped by the fact that the airport functions well whatever the weather. And if it was possible to guarantee that there would be something on every winter weekend to get me excited, I may even consider migrating back to my own winter wonderland some day.

Markus Hippi is a presenter and producer on Monocle 24.

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