Men in the sauna: Miesten Vuoro

Not so long ago I watched a Finnish movie/documentary called Miesten Vuoro, produced in the year 2010. In it, different groups of men in the sauna talk about episodes of their own lives. Inside the sauna, naked, they share personal stories.

These groups of men in the sauna were from different parts of Finland. They were of different ages and had different occupations. But all those stories had a common denominator: that Finnish men can open up and talk about what they feel in an place as intimate and Finnish as the sauna.

Men in the sauna: Miesten Vuoro
A moment of the documentary. This, and all the other pics of the post belong to Oktober Oy, the production company of the film, and are shared via the POV docs flickr account.

The Finnish cinema

If you are not from Finland but have seen a Finnish movie, it will probably have been either a Renny Harlin film – the most international Finnish director, who has made blockbuster movies such as Die Hard 2 – or a film by Aki Kaurismäki, the director that has captured “the Finnish way” of a lot of different feelings, and is considered an art film director.

There are other kinds of interesting movies coming out of Finland, such as the horror film “Sauna” (where this quiet place becomes the setting of an unsettling movie). Another horror feature, called “Dark Floors“, features the band members of the monster band “Lordi“, who won Eurovision 2006, which makes this Finnish flick pretty unique. But perhaps “Jadesoturi” (Jade Warrior) is the most one-of-a-kind movie that made it out of Finland: It blends Finnish cinema with motifs out of the Kalevala – the Finnish national epic – and the Chinese epic, with its heavily stylized martial arts-focused type of doing movies. It was a co-production between two countries.

Miesten Vuoro: men in the sauna

Today we talk about a very intimate Finnish documentary. The ingredients are few and simple: men in the sauna, opening up emotionally to one another.

Men in the sauna: without clothes and thick armors.
This movie is called Miesten Vuoro in Finnish language, which translates to something like “men interactions”. Its title in English is “Steam of Life“.

The idea that the Sauna is a special place for Finnish people – where they used to be born, where they used to die, and where they can be themselves – is a powerful one.

The film tells us exactly that. Once the clothes are off and the water is being poured over the hot stones, the men in the sauna can be themselves, without a thick armor protecting their feelings. Finnish people – the ones that spent a sizable amount of time living in Finland – are sometimes reserved, and it can be hard to establish relationships with them. But in this case, once the men in the sauna are naked, they reveal themselves emotionally as well.

The stories, most of them very sad, are told by their protagonists: there are no actors. The stories they tell are of life, death, loneliness and togetherness. About the men: some of them are military, others blue-collar workers, there are some joulupukkis (the Finnish word for Father Christmas) and also vagabonds. Either in the fields, in little villages, or in bigger or smaller cities, they all go to the sauna and they open up.

Men in the sauna, naked.

The film also shows us many different saunas, some of them quite picturesque, such as a sauna built inside a phone booth (as you can see in the trailer below), or built into the trailer of a wagon. All these different saunas, as all these different naked men pouring out their feelings, show us a wide range of emotions, people and locations unique to Finland.

This, below, is the favorite part of all the people I have spoken to about Miesten Vuoro. In this segment, the protagonist adopts an orphan that… well, it is better for you to see it for yourself.

I did like this movie, because of its themes and production values. It is very Finnish. Have you seen it? What did you think of it if so? But if not, what Finnish movie or documentary can you recommend to us?



Ateljee Bar & the toilet with the best view of Helsinki

Seeing cities from above always has a je-ne-sais-quoi feeling. That’s why parties on terraces and in penthouses have this aura of being the coolest.

In Berlin, for instance, you can get a view of the city from above (and for free) in the Reichstag and (for an entry fee) from the Fernsehturm – the TV tower. And they are two of the most visited spots of the city. In Stockholm I also went to the Gondolen Restaurant, an attic-bar, to check out the city from above – don’t forget to try its cocktails. But what about Helsinki? You go to the Ateljee Bar… and its toilets.

The Torni Hotel
The Torni Hotel as seen from the street. Source (CC: by-sa)

The Ateljee Bar in Helsinki, in the Torni Hotel

The first time I heard a Finn talking about the Ateljee Bar he mentioned – besides its location – specifically its toilets. But I will talk about that later. Let me tell you about the bar first.

The Ateljee Bar is on the uppermost floor of the Torni Hotel (street Yrjönkatu 26) in the center of Helsinki. It is a hotel that belongs to the well known Nordic hotel chain Sokos. What makes this hotel stand out is their bar on the 12th floor: the Ateljee bar.

The top floor of the Torni Hotel
The top floor of the Torni Hotel contains the Ateljee Bar. Source(CC:by-nd).

One thing that I like about this bar and hotel is the words in Finnish they used to name it. “Torni” is the Finnish word for “Tower”, and it is a tower indeed and for many years (1931-1976) it was the highest building in all of Finland. “Ateljee” means “Atelier”, a workshop.

The Ateljee Bar (Official Website) is divided into two rooftops that each have a panoramic view of Helsinki. This photo has been taken there and you can see a lot of Helsinki from it; for instance, the iconic White Cathedral of Helsinki.

Panorama from the rooftop of the Torni Hotel
See in different sizes. Source (CC: by-sa).

The bar is the place where Helsinkians and tourist alike meet to see the city from above and have some Finnish beer, a Lonkero (a long drink composed of grapefruit lemonade and gin), some Finnish cider or even some Koskenkorva hard liquor (or whatever they choose).

The Atelje Bar
From the ’30s until now: Ateljee Bar. Source (CC: by)

The toilets at the Ateljee Bar: the best view in town

A bar on a rooftop must have some restrooms for its guests. We do know that once we have had some beers, we are prompted to go to the toilet, and the toilets at the Ateljee Bar are famous throughout all Helsinki as the best in town: The view can’t be outmatched.

They have some panoramic windows that allow guests to attend the call of nature without the need to stop enjoying the view: If you like scenery, the hotel designers must have thought – you must take that everywhere. Chapeau.

These are the photos of the toilets for ladies and gentlemen in the Ateljee Bar. Try guessing which one is which, and I leave you the answer below both photos. These toilets are, unlike many public bathrooms in Helsinki, free to use.

Women's bathrooms in the Ateljee bar
Source (CC: by).

Men toilets in the Ateljer Bar.
Source (CC: by)

That’s right: The first photo is taken in the women’s bathroom. The wall you can’t see in the photo, to the left, is also a giant window. It makes sense: women mostly sit while using the restroom and this way they can enjoy the view while doing so. Also, the seat is down.

The second photo shows us the restrooms for men. You can see that the seat is up and a condom machine. The bad thing is that the view can be distracting and the aim might be affected.

Have you ever visited the Torni Hotel and/or the Ateljer Bar? Will you do it in the future if not?



Kallio: Helsinki’s hipster neighborhood

Each city has a signature neighborhood where the people are young, good looking, and dress in the most fashionista way. You can see some Helsinki street styles on a page called Hel Looks, and you can find all the relevant boutiques in a single district, called the Design District of Helsinki. But all these hipsters reside, and have their shops, cheap bars and cool cafés in another part of Helsinki: the Kallio neighborhood.

Kallio's park
A “Restaurant Day” in Kallio. Source (CC: by-sa)

Preface: hipsters

I don’t like the word “hipster” very much, I don’t know why. Residing currently in Berlin, I’m confronted with it constantly, which is quite tiresome, especially when heard from tourists who came here attracted by things that they read online. They are the “post-hipster pack”, the followers. The pioneers came here between 2005 and 2007 when the word “hipster” was unheard of and it was better that way.

Hipsters in Helsinki
This is a photo that shows up when you look in Flickr for “Helsinki Hipsters”. Source (CC: by-sa)

The Kallio neighborhood in Helsinki

We suggest you start your exploration of the Kallio are where Google Maps puts its’ center and get lost in the area to find your most beloved corner by yourself. Google says the center is in the Suonionkatu street, next to the iconic Kallio church, and we believe it to be true.


See Kallio, Helsinki on a bigger Map

Gentrification happened to Kallio as it did to other blue-collard working class neighborhoods fairly close to the city centers.

It attracted students, designers and young artists (we are not sure how starving), that were in dire need of cheap bars and flats. These people brought onto themselves the carefully designed cool cafés and the young entrepreneurs and professionals, that had some money but still wanted to feel cool. Finally, all these people stay and start growing old, accumulating more money, and thus making the cafés become more expensive, the beers even more expensive, and the rents out of hand for most people.

Kallio, seen from the water.
Kallio, as seen from the water. Source(CC: by-sa)

It is “Ley de vida” (Law of Life) in the cities and the only thing you can do about it is to start looking for the next cool neighborhood or pay more. A process that ends when the city is expensive, everything is overdesigned and you can’t find a mom-and-pop style store anywhere. I have seen this happen in front of my eyes, and I am the “moving to the next neighborhood” kind of guy. So far.

Kallio isn’t that far into this process, luckily. It is near the city center and is accessible with the “touristic” tram (the one that passes through all the places that you must see in Helsinki), and thus it is one more stop for those who want to know the city center, in its widest meaning.

I’m not going to suggest a list of bars and restaurants to check out. The best is to get lost in the area and go into the places that attract you by their look and atmosphere. There are no “must-see” places in Kallio, in my opinion, but there is so much diversity in terms of bars, restaurants, stores, boutiques, and thrift stores, that it is better to see and choose in the moment.

A restaurant in Kallio
Pic of the restaurant “Rytmi”, in Kallio. Source (CC: by)

Two specific tips, if this is what you are looking for. An iconic store called “Made in Kallio” (street: Vaasankatu 14), that combines a bar & café and a design shop; and also the Finnish saunas in the area to relax: They are called Arla (in the street Kaarlenkatu 15) and Kotiharju (Harjutorinkatu 1).

The hipster neighborhoods of other capitals in the Nordic Countries

If you are interested in the hipster ‘hood of other Nordic (or Scandinavian) countries, they are Södermalm in Stockholm, Nørrebro in Copenhague, Grünerløkka in Oslo.

Södermalm, in Estocolmo
Södermalm in Stockholm: filled with hipsters.

Do you like to go to the hipster neighborhood of a city you visit? It is usually a synonym of good cafés and good looking people, something that I can’t possibly object to.



House slippers in Finland: the Reino

We know that Finns remove their shoes and footwear when they enter a house. Like this, they avoid bringing snow into the house that will eventually turn into dirty water puddles. This mere practical thing turned into a habit with time, and now they feel more comfortable without street footwear when they are indoors. But that doesn’t mean that they go barefoot or with socks, necessarily: They also use house slippers or home shoes.

Taking off the shoes when entering a house is polite
All shoes remain by the door.

The cold floors and the house slippers

One of the Finnish customs is to remove one’s shoes when entering a house. But anyone who has done that during a time of the year that wasn’t summer in Finland knows that your feet can get cold very fast.

In order to avoid that, you can do plenty of different things: fill your house with rags or carpet, or wear thick socks – for instance made out of wool – over your normal socks. You can also have a different pair of footwear for indoors (that’s my preferred solution: Because in Spain there is no tradition of taking the shoes off, I just wore different ones when I was home and the snow could melt by the door, over some paper towels). Or you can wear house slippers.

There is also a “business version”, which is wearing leather sandals over the socks. This can be seen widely in Finland. For instance, when I was going to the uni in my Erasmus year, plenty of teachers took off the street footwear and put on the leather sandals. Sandals over socks: a pretty big “no-go” in Spain that in the North of Europe is accepted as formal.

Leather sandals with white socks
Formalwear? May God have mercy on our souls. Source (CC: by-sa)

Jokes aside, “who cares what people think, who cares what people say”. Being cold in Winter is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone. And with a winter that can reach -32 degrees Celsius (my personal record), it is something not to be taken lightly.

The Finnish hipster alternative to house slippers

Reino is the brand that is on top of this interesting market – who knew – of Finnish house slippers. It is the modern, hipster choice in Finland.

The Reino slippers have been produced since 1932 in Tampere, keeping their original style since then. The house slippers brand has since then resisted wars, economic depression, crisis and globalization, up to today.

At some point in their history, they even took their entire production to third-world countries to reduce costs. But one given day the management decided to sell the company due to low sales and the workers bought it. They restored the machines and started the production again in Finland.

Nowadays this brand is back as a hipster, iconic way to dress your feet for the home. I am pretty sure that its grandpa-look, sitting on the sofa with a robe, smoking pipe and newspaper had a lot to do with its success.

You can find these house shoes in many shops specially in Helsinki but also throughout Finland. You will recognize them, they look like this:

House shoes. Brand: Reino from Finlandia
Being at home doesn’t meant not being elegant. Not anymore. Source (CC: by)

This is their Online Shop, if you want to join and wear some house shoes that seem to say “homey, but elegant”. Also worn in a totally ironic way.

They are so popular in the country that even the beer brand Olvi made a special edition of its beer with the classic pattern of the Reino shoes. The name: “Olvi Reino”. You can see it here: en este enlace. Classic. Long-lasting.

What do you wear on your feet in Finland, when you are home? Did you know the Reino house shoes brand?



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