What I love most about Helsinki is the sea.
For dance artist and choreographer Tero Saarinen, the best things about Helsinki are its peace, cleanliness and straightforwardness.
“Straightforwardness applies to all of the city’s functions, such as its excellent transport connections. In addition to public transport, it’s great to be able to get about on foot and by bike – almost all year round.”
Having toured the world, Saarinen describes Helsinki as an international and friendly city that has good karma. They all add up to a European capital that is easy to grasp.
What Saarinen loves most about Helsinki is the sea. The proximity of the sea gives the city volume and a feeling of infinity: staring at the horizon is very soothing and provides perspective.
“Whenever I’m in a city that is not by the sea, I miss it.”
The artist suspects that his longing for the sea comes from his childhood. Saarinen moved to Helsinki from the west coast of Finland when he was 17.
“I spent my childhood by the sea in Pori and at our summer cottage in Eurajoki.”
These days, Saarinen lives in the Töölö district of Helsinki and enjoys walks along the shoreline there.
The sea has never been far away in any of the places he has lived in Helsinki. Before Töölö, Saarinen lived in Kruununhaka and before that in Punavuori.
The Tero Saarinen Company dance group turned 26 in February 2022. The same month saw the opening of Finland’s first event and performance space dedicated to dance, Dance House Helsinki, which will serve as the home stage of the dance group. The opening season will take place in the 700-seat Erkko Hall in March-April 2022.
Saarinen has always been very busy, and plans to remain so in the future, which is why he likes to spend his free time in Helsinki with as few distractions as possible.
“I visit galleries, museums and concerts. I meet with friends, take saunas and go swimming in summertime. It’s even possible to go ice swimming, which I find intriguing – perhaps next winter!”
There is one address in Helsinki where a diverse range of dance is performed. It is nationally and internationally significant. In addition, it is connected to both the Theatre Museum and the Finnish Museum of Photography! It’s great how the Kaapelitehdas cultural centre brings together artists and highlights the artistic work itself and how the art is created. I especially like the steeply rising auditorium at Dance House Helsinki, as it democratises the viewing experience. The bird’s-eye view also provides a unique opportunity to appreciate the lighting design, the light and the shadows.
I travel a lot in pursuit of art and architecture. One of the great places to do this in Helsinki itself is the Munkkiniemi district, just a tram ride away from the city centre. There you will find, for example, Aalto House, the unique home of the iconic Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. My absolute favourite place in the neighbourhood, however, has to be the Hollantilaisentie street, which is like a mecca for me. It has a really unique milieu and features architecture by the likes of Eliel Saarinen.
The modern complex formed by the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki Music Centre and Helsinki Central Library Oodi, especially the Kansalaistori Square between the last two, is lovely. Sometimes I just stand there in the middle of the square and think, wow, this was really a success. One time I was performing at the then new Oslo Opera House in Norway, and young people were skateboarding on the roof. I remember pondering how nicely the different energies combined. The same thing can be felt in Kansalaistori Square, where young people do everything. High culture and subcultures interact, eliminating unnecessary prejudices and lowering the threshold to experience either.
Old trees, a lovely garden, a cemetery, a historic sanatorium and the shoreline – Lapinlahti is an intriguing combination of tranquillity and wildness. Older generations shake hands fondly with the youth who are active in the area today. The Venetsia building in Lapinlahti is charming, and Café Metsäpaahtimo serves the best buns in Helsinki. You can enjoy them while sitting on the rocks and watching the sunset on the horizon.
Helsinki has many excellent small galleries, of which Gallery Halmetoja is one of my favourites. The exhibitions there are very well curated, and it’s also situated in the city centre, so it’s easy to get to. Even when it’s closed, you can appreciate the art by peering inside through the large windows or viewing the 3D virtual presentations on the gallery’s website.
In summertime, I like to take my bike with me on the metro and get off in Vuosaari, where there are good cycling routes. For example, you can cycle along the shoreline through fine forest trails towards the “lagoons” of Uutela, relax at Café Kampela or hike along the nature trails. You can also spend hours cycling through the stunning scenery in Vuosaari, but there are lots of shorter cycling routes to choose from too.