The Mental Landscape and the View from the Window – Visiting the Karelian Summer Home Salmela on a grey August Day
The Karelian people evacuated from the areas extradited to the Soviet Union during the Second World War lost a lot, but most of all they lost a landscape. Nature is the core element in reminiscing childhood, and the “key scenery” of your life is both part of your identity and a link to the previous generation. When the landscape is lost, that connection is in a way also broken.
The key element of the Karelian landscape was water. The mighty lifeline of the ancestors, river Vuoksi, the mystical, stormy but often gentle and much loved Lake Ladoga and the beaches and summer paradises along the coast of the Baltic Sea – not to mention numerous other lakes, ponds, rivers and puddles left in the hearts of the Karelian refugees. The mythical, almost stereotypical image of Karelia is a person standing on a higher place, cliff, rock or an esker (harju) with the wind in their hair looking at a wide landscape consisting of water and islands.
These were some of the thoughts in my mind when I visited the Karelian Summer Home Villa Salmela located in a former island in eastern Helsinki on a cloudy August day after being reading oral history documents of the former Karelian refugees all week.
We came with my son and my husband from the seaside to the boat dock by our friends 1950’s wooden fisher boat, so it felt like an authentic way to arrive in a summer villa in Jollas. My son was very eager to explore the slippery rocks on the seaside and was especially interested in the small patch of sand next to the water, “the beach”, as he called it as he was hustling away regretting he hadn’t taken his toy boats with him. Before we could catch up with him he was in the water almost to the waistline and was naturally soaking wet.
Luckily for us this little swimming accident was a great way to break the ice and feel the generosity and warm welcome in the villa. When we came in, there was a cosy fire burning in the stove, and the five-year-old was immediately seated next to the fire. Then the personnel went to get an ironing board and an iron, and we managed to dry up the wet socks and pants – meanwhile the boy was sitting in his underwear by the fireplace drinking juice and eating Karelian pies with a teddy bear they had also fetched for him.
After enjoying the treats from the little café – including delicious mint leaf tea – we went to explore the house. According to the website of Villa Salmela the beautiful wooden house, originally Villa Bergsund, was built in 1886 and has been rented to the Karelian associations after the city of Helsinki bought it in 1969. Although a bit shabby the villa had a very nostalgic atmosphere with old furniture, crochet blankets and different memorabilia from Karelia.
The lost “Karelian landscape” mentioned above I found upstairs in a little summer room or a balcony with large windows to the sea. Also the flowers in the garden reminded me of the detailed descriptions of blossoming Karelia in the biographies I had been reading. Downstairs we met an older woman, originally from Räisälä, who was asking about our roots and recommending getting a membership in the Karelian associations, whose membership count has been diminishing with time.
We were warmly welcomed again with a request to stay over night and use the sauna next time – the rooms upstairs can be rented, and you can use the sauna and the grill for a small fee. I can imagine the waterfront would be amazing in a warm summer day, and you could easily spend a couple of days just enjoying the nature and the scenery. The season is unfortunately closing for this year, and the villa and the café will be opened again next May.
We said goodbyes to the villa and continued our way home via Tammisalo canal. We had the luxury to dock the boat in Hakaniemi and cycle back home from Tokoinlahti to Alppila alongside the good smelling railroad tracks and through the green Alppipuisto Park. We could reach the landscape of our hearts in real life, while many people in today’s world can reach it only in their dreams. Be kind. People are anchored in places, and everyone carries the landscape of their childhood with them for the rest of their lives.
More information about the Karelian summer home see: