The Scandinavian Countries

 

Introduction         

Lila and I just returned from a trip to the capitals of the four Scandinavian countries…well at least we thought there were four Scandinavian countries.  There are only three countries that consider themselves to be Scandinavian …they are Denmark, Norway and Sweden, at least that is what these countries believe to be the case.  Finland on the other hand did not seem concerned that they were not in that “club”.  The trip was organized by a group called Scandinavian Seminars, which itself is sponsored by Elderhostel.  While Lila and I have participated in many Elderhostel programs before, this was the first international Elderhostel that we had planned.

             What this means is that a group of senior citizens…yes, I am beginning to include myself in this grouping…. take part in the program.  I say program rather than trip because the schedule involves not just a short introduction to the city and/or the country, but rather a comprehensive learning experience.  The program was planned to include five days in each capital, with two overnight cruise ship/ferry rides between Copenhagen and Oslo and between Stockholm and Helsinki.  We traveled by bus between Oslo and Stockholm. 

             Let me tell you first about the people that comprised our group.  We were about thirty-five people from all over the United States; predominantly teachers and all were professionals who want to learn in some depth about the country, the people, the culture (now that leaves me out), music, art, politics, lifestyles, history, and many other fundamentals of the Nordic society.  Our group probably had a medium age of about seventy, but I was pleasurably surprised at the stamina, the intelligence and friendliness of every individual involved.  We all got along extremely well, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company, which was in fact quite important in that from early morning through each meal to late in the evening we were continually engaged in the program…together. 

            As I just indicated our program required us to be ready between 8:30am and 9:00am each day (weekends as well, …this was harder than working) for lectures, then a visit to a museum, castle or some other point of interest, lunch, more lectures or scheduled visits and if we were fortunate, we would have about forty-five minutes to change and/or freshen up before dinner.  Often we had events scheduled in the evening such as a folk music recital in Oslo, a classical recital in Stockholm at a magnificent old church and a modern dance performance in Helsinki.  In Copenhagen we went to the world famous Tivoli Gardens for dinner and then left to our own devices to stroll through the gardens, listen to music and to watch people in play on the many rides.

             I will not give you a step by step itinerary of our visit to each country as that would be as tiring for you to read as it was for us to participate.  But rather I will highlight many of the topics that we learned and try to put them in some context as we visited places of interest and gathered pertinent facts about the country.  In past trips, my reports just had to deal with the meals and an excursion to a particular sight.  But this trip was a constant learning experience giving me much more information than I am equipped to deal with, let alone even remember.  In other words, it was work…concentrating on fact after fact, detail after detail…and here I was prepared for a casual trip and lots of rest.   Well, that is what Elderhostel is all about and this group of seniors walked and walked all over town all day long to complete the program.

             We left Washington on Sunday arriving in Copenhagen on Monday morning early.  We were the first of our group to arrive and so we had much of the day to get acclimated to the change in the time and even walk around the area adjacent to our hotel, which was in the center of town.  That evening we all met for the first time at dinner and had to introduce one individual, which we had been asked to interview.  That was where the honeymoon stopped, for our first lecture the following morning was at a school across the street at 8:30am. 

            Surprisingly I had expected the weather to be quite cool in Scandinavia and for the first five or six days we had temperatures in the high 70s or low 80s.  Not having sufficient clothes for this warm weather I had to buy more shorts and light shirts.  There was this one guy who constantly complained about the weather, but I think I was justified in that the hotels, buses and the restaurants are not air-conditioned.  After that I wore shorts every day for the three-week duration of the trip. 

Copenhagen

            Our hotel as I indicated was in the center of town as were all the hotels, which were arranged for the group.  The hotel in Copenhagen was the oldest, with the smallest room and extremely warm.  We kept the window opened and they did get me a little electric fan...and it was little.  The bathroom had a shower, but when you showered the whole bathroom was wet as the shower curtains were not very efficient.  We were supposed to have a squeegee, to remove some of the water, but we were not that fortunate.   Therefore, we had to schedule our bathroom usage to minimize the water…who wants to use a wet toilet.  And it was not too convenient to have to go to the bathroom during the night with your shoes on.  But that is the flavor of Europe and in this instance. …Denmark. 

             With that said, let me add that wherever we went, in all the countries there were always huge numbers of people out enjoying the warm weather and extremely long days.   At 4:30am the sky was already starting to get light and by 5:30am, daylight was with us until about 10:00pm each night.  At midnight there was the last reminder of daylight.  The streets in all the cities were packed with outdoor cafes serving coffee; cappuccino or beer and they were always filled with people.  One must remember that come winter time, the available daylight is very short and the cold temperatures, wind and snow unbearable, …well that is how the locals refer to the long dark night.  So, when possible these stouthearted men and women engage this warmer weather and longer day with the fervor of a Viking warrior. 

             We had a Group Leader, Kelly who traveled with us for the entire adventure, but in each country we were assigned a site coordinator.  In Copenhagen it was Anne Andresén, (an American lady married to a Dane) who had enormous energy and a great knowledge of history and the country today.  Anne told us that many of our English words have a Danish origin, e.g. Thor for Thursday and Fri for Friday.  The alphabet has twenty-eight letters …with the Danish, Norwegian and Swedish languages being somewhat similar.   The country has about 5.3 million people and the city of Copenhagen has a population of about 1.3 million people.  It is a country based on a constitutional monarchy with a past where Denmark, now the smallest in size, once owned Norway until it lost that part of the country to Sweden in a war.  The monarchy yields a list of many kings but their names would generally be either Christian or Frederick.  I would imagine that they liked to name the future king by a name that meant something to them. 

             Christian IV, who reigned from 1588 to 1648, had built up the country with many programs that were quite significant for their time.  For example he set up the postal system, an important part of any society.  His legacy remains in many portraits and statues to his memory throughout Denmark, and even in Norway where he was also the King for a time.  The people of Scandinavia feel extremely close to their royal families and the families in turn have readily adapted to life within the country and not on the throne.  Today the Danes love their Queen Margrethe, a 61-year-old chain smoking outspoken monarch.  She is also a dress and costume designer for theatrical events.   In all the Scandinavian countries, the Crown Prince or Princess is one that is extremely attractive, well educated, including study at first-rate American universities, very active in outdoor sports, and an excellent marital prospect.

            Copenhagen burned down twice, once in 1728 and again in 1795 leaving a history that postdates those periods.  We did visit an open-air museum, Frilandsmuseet, where there were over 100 buildings from many rural regions of Denmark, …including cottages, manor homes, windmills, watermills, and poor houses.  It’s intent was to depict how farmers and small landholders lived during the 1700s and the 1800s.  It was quite warm that day and we were scheduled to have a typical Christmas dinner that evening in a restaurant that was not air-conditioned.  It must have been at least 90 degrees in the restaurant, but we ate with all the trimmings.  I could readily understand why they usually wait until Christmas time of the year to savor such a meal.

            The Danes are truly are very homogeneous group with essentially all of the people enjoying the same language, religion, looks and they are a generally pragmatic people.  They are willing to discuss issues, but not readily oriented to making a decision.  Denmark is a welfare state, where five percent of the people are foreigners.  This has come to pass, as Denmark has needed the assistance of additional work force personnel to support agricultural and other lesser jobs and they invited “guest workers” into their country. 

            The reference to “guest workers” leaves one with the impression that they are segregated physically as well as culturally and that is in fact true.  Of the five percent, 2.7% are from Turkey, Pakistan, Hungary, Eastern Europe and generally other “dark haired” people.  They live in ghettos and have great difficulty attempting to assimilate into Danish life.  They are taught in their local language further restricting their ability to become a part of the Danish people and culture.  The other 2.3% are Europeans who look like the Danes and can more readily “fit in”. 

             Eighty-seven percent of the people in Denmark are Lutheran.  A child is born Lutheran, unless the parents declare another religion at the time of birth.  The Danes like the other countries of the region do not regularly attend church (only three percent attend services), but because the government sponsors a state religion and funds the church accordingly, there are many registered Lutherans.  Because of the guest workers, Islam is the second largest religion, but there cannot be a mosque in Denmark with a minaret…”because it would disturb the Danish landscape”.  Imagine trying that in the Untied States. 

             The Danes are not the fighting force they once were...I guess they have lost too many times.  In fact one of the political parties wants to do away with the Defense establishment and just have an answering machine that says, “We surrender”.  This attitude offers us the Danes mindset toward life.   As I indicated earlier, Denmark is a welfare state where the people are taxed highly, paid lower wages, but are generally provided for in all aspects of life by the state.   Education is totally free, as is health care and prescriptions, religion is supported by the state, and a retirement pension is provided.  Parents are also given a stipend for each child in school; college students receive money for expenses while they are attending college and retired people receive money while being supported with housing and healthcare in their later years.

             Taxes can reach fifty one percent of the income and the Value Added Tax (VAT) is about 25% on most purchases, but the people still live well…for they are taken care of by the state.  Fifty percent of all people own their own home…house or condominium apartment.  Fifty three percent of all people live in cities or towns and a surprising forty three percent continue to smoke…seems like a lot more.  Paperless marriages are an accepted fact with one-third of marriages ending in divorce.  In fact there are divorce trains operated on weekends, which are designed to let children visit the other parent.  Child support money is predefined according to the child’s age and is paid to the government, who in turn pays it to the other parent.  Gay marriages are permitted civilly and abortions are free. 

             More useful information…the Queen is the nominal head of the Lutheran Church, there is on average 1.7 births for a Danish couple, but 5 births for a Moslem couple…now here is a problem of concern to the Danes.  In about five hundred years the Moslems could take over the country if the Danes would let them know where the “keys” to government are held.   Pregnant women are given four weeks of pre maternity leave and twenty-six weeks of post birth leave at full pay and then fifty-two weeks of parental leave (either parent) at 80% of salary.  All workers get six weeks of paid vacation.  So life there is not too bad at all…the government is taking care of you. 

          Most people, I am told, eat out only two or three times a month, use a bicycle and public transportation to get around…a few families may have one car.  There is nine years of compulsory education for children, the Lutheran religion is taught in the public schools, and most students go on to university.  Retirement is at the age of 65 years or one can retire early at 62 years of age and get 80% of their salary until they reach age 65.  Retirement pensions equivalent to our Social Security is $12,000 for a single person or $15,000 for a couple.  The inheritance tax is set at 43%

             While in Copenhagen we did walking tours of the old city, Christianhaven, toured Christianborg Palace and Tivoli Gardens where we had dinner and watched the fireworks.  We also went to Kronborg Castle, which was the setting for William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, that he based on Danish mythology’s Amleth (move the “h” to the beginning of the word and hence, Hamlet).  As a group we visited Louisiana a quite large modern art museum with beautiful grounds surrounding the buildings and overlooking the river.  This picture shows a tapestry from their collection.  We also toured a number of other churches and buildings where the royal family has lived since 1784.  There are many canals running off the river and through Copenhagen providing it with a shoreline for cafes and restaurants.   We had a boat ride through the canals and the river where there is a 1913 statute of the Little Mermaid, made infamous by one of Denmark’s favorite sons, Hans Christian Anderson. 

             The Jewish population today in Denmark is about 8,000 people. We did try to visit the Synagogue but were told that the Rabbi and the Secretary were away and there would be nobody to let us in.  We did get an opportunity to see the outside of the Synagogue as we toured through the city.  During World War Ii there were about 7,000 Jews in Denmark and upon the German invasion and occupation of Denmark, 6,200 Jews were hidden in Sweden.  Of those Jews that remained in Denmark, only a handful survived death at the hands of the Nazis.  

             Denmark is quite small, about one-third size of Maine, and at the closest point is only two miles from Sweden.  Today there is a bridge between Copenhagen and Malmo in Sweden enabling the people of both countries to visit regularly.  Denmark though has an extensive shoreline but is home to no wild animals.  Greenland and the FAROES Islands also belong to Denmark.  For a very personal touch, we were invited to have lunch one afternoon at the home of our site coordinator, Anne Andresén’s home, which she shares with her husband Arne, who had also given us a lecture about Denmark. 

The Cruise Ship Ferry

            With all the Scandinavian countries being relatively small and somewhat remote from each other there is an extensive set of ferries transporting people along with cars and trucks.  The most sophisticated is certainly the cruise ship ferry, which provides all the comfort of a cruise ship for an overnight trip from Copenhagen to Oslo.  Later in the trip we would once again board a cruise ship ferry to travel from Stockholm to Helsinki.  These ships carry about 2,500 passengers, boarding people and vehicles at around 4:00pm with a scheduled departure of 5:00pm.  On our approach to Oslo we passed fiords and some striking scenery, but certainly not what is along the west coast of Norway.

            We each had a private cabin (not like the one on our last cruise, but good for one night) and carried along an overnight bag (we were advised to leave our regular luggage in container bins as the rooms are small and getting on and off the ship would be more cumbersome).  On the ship is an extensive selection of restaurants, cafes, wine bars, nightclub, and shops selling every conceivable tax-free article.  Both times the ship was quite full, but the service never suffered.  In the morning we had breakfast and by 9:00am we had arrived at our port of debarkation.  It was a great way to make the trip and a bit of fun as well.  I enjoyed it because for a few hours there was no site coordinator and I could just sit back and relax…. no lectures or trips to take.  Did it sound like I needed a rest?

 Oslo

            Marit Lund, our Norwegian site coordinator, met us on the dock in Oslo as we disembarked the ship.  Collecting our luggage, we all boarded the bus, toured around the city of Oslo before going to Vigeland Park.  Vigeland Park contains many sculptures of Gustav Vigeland, who began his work in 1921 and worked through World War II and the German occupation.   It is a magnificent park with a centerpiece that is a 470-ton monolith with a hundred supporting sculptures that depict the varied stages and forms of human life.  This is the picture of the most beloved statue of a baby crying and scrunching his face in fury: a statue that has been painted red, parodied’ and even  stolen from the park.

             We also visited an 1892 ski jump that was rebuilt and used during the 1952 Olympics that were held in Oslo.  The 1994 Olympics, however, were held in Lilliehammer, Norway.  We were then taken to the hotel and temporarily released so that we could check in and take our luggage to the room, but without much fanfare we were then directed to a conference room across from the hotel to begin our lecture series (no rest for the Elderhostelers).

             Oslo was called Christiania when it came under Danish rule and it was not until 1924 that it was once again called Oslo.  You all remember King Christian V of Denmark; we sure did … because he kept reappearing in the story of Denmark’s history for his most valuable contributions to the social order.  Norway has a population of 4.5 million and Oslo has approximately 500,000 people.  Norway, like Denmark is a constitutional monarchy and again the Norwegians do care for their royal family.  Norway’s King Harald may be seen as a bore, but he is forever his father’s son.  King Olav V had stood up to the German’s during World War II and history has treated him very well.  Norwegians are now focused on the upcoming marriage of Crown Prince Haakon Magnus.  What makes this marriage so exciting is that he has chosen a single mother who has close ties to Norway’s outlandish 24-hour party people.  And to complicate matters even further for the royal family, the father of her child has a conviction for cocaine possession.  Now, see even the royalty have family issues that need to be resolved.

             As far back as the Viking Age, which lasted during the period 800 to 1066, Norway became a Christian country.  ----Writer’s note: How do they know that the Viking Age ended in 1066 – that must have been one hell of New Years Party --- Okay, all you Vikings have to leave Norway now.  By the way my childhood dream was crushed when I learned that the Vikings did not have horns in their helmets ….my mother bought me a Vikings helmet that had horns – it was my favorite. ----- Now back to the story: In the 1500s (that’s better) the Lutheran religion was introduced into Norway and the Catholic priests had to become Lutheran ministers.  Could have been worse for the Catholic priests…they still had a job.  Now 90% of the population is Lutheran, which is good because it is the state religion and a majority of Parliament has to be Lutheran. 

             Bergen was the capital of Norway before it was moved to Oslo soon after 1250; then a Black Death spread across Europe and economic disaster spread throughout Norway.  In 1380, Norway was in a union with Denmark that lasted about 400 years ago.  After a war between Denmark and Sweden, Norway was then lost to Sweden.  In 1814, Norway setup a constitution and then in 1905 a face off between Norwegian soldiers and Swedish soldiers resulted in Norway breaking away, but a real drama was evolving.  Norway had no King…what were they to do!  Well, they went to Denmark and recruited Prince Carl, who was engaged to be married to a British Princess.  Now you cannot tell me that this is not exciting.    We must however move on!

             The Norwegians were a very homogeneous people until the 1960s when guest workers were introduced into the country.  In 1974, the borders were closed through changes in the immigration laws making it more difficult for foreigners to come in unless they were seeking political asylum.  Well, I am sure that did not sound very reassuring to the guest workers so many of them left to return to their country of origin.  Like Denmark, Norway is a welfare state with income taxes ranging from 38% to 55%, but the country is currently on an economic high as a result of oil discoveries in the North Sea region. 

             In April of 1940, Hitler invaded Norway because he wanted the western coastline…. and the King fled to England and set up a government in exile.  Now an interesting fact: Quisling who was a nazi collaborator in Norway set himself up as a head of government.  Today in the American vernacular “quisling” means collaborator.  Norwegian Nazis helped Germany and after the war thirty-seven of them were convicted of war crimes and executed.  During the war, 767 Jews from Norway were sent off to German concentration camps, only 24 returned.  A like number of Jews were sent to Sweden, where almost all survived and ultimately returned to Norway after the war. 

             We made a visit to a group of museums that were particularly enjoyable for me (No, not because there were less signs to read) because they were associated with Arctic exploration and maritime expeditions.  When I was young, probably the first book I can remember reading was “Kon Tiki” (No it is not true…that I was 35 at the time).  The Kon Toki museum commemorated Thor Heyerdahl’s raft trip from Peru to Polynesia in 1947.  Thor Heyerdahl, who is Norway’s most famous 20th century explorer, made the 5,000-mile journey by raft in 101 days.  He sailed Kon Tiki, a balsa raft along the route he believed the natives traveled, attempting to prove that the Polynesians would have come from Peru many years earlier.

             We also visited a museum, which had preserved Viking ships, some of which were over 1,200 years old.  These ships, as pictured here, were found in some Norwegians fiords and were in fact burial grounds, which not only contained the remains of the Vikings, but servants and all the necessities to support life, should they have returned to life on earth.  The size of the ships also served as an indication of the social status of the person buried. 

             We also went to the FRAM museum; The FRAM was a ship used during three polar expeditions during 1893 through 1912.  The first two trips were to the North Pole and the last trip during the period 1910 to 1912 was to Antarctica and the South Pole with Roald Amundsen.   Roald Amundsen discovered the South Pole arriving just before Britain’s Scott reached the pole. 

             While in Oslo, we also visited a Norwegian Folk Museum, an outdoor museum of 150 buildings from villages and towns located throughout Norway. We visited a stone church from the year 1280 where people stood to pray, since there were no seats.  There was an old farmhouse, which had a section of the home designed to house the animals and even the carriage, all located in just one big room. 

             During our stay in Oslo we also visited the National Museum of Art featuring the paintings of Edvard Munch; a Folk School, where children age 16 years and older go to study as part of an enrichment program; the City Hall and the Resistance Museum.  The Resistance Museum tells an excellent story of the Norwegian resistance against the Nazis during World War II.  It opens with the 1940 invasion by the Germans and goes on through the history of the occupation to the end of the war and the results of the subsequent war crime trials. 

            Lila and I and two other couples visited the Oslo Jewish Synagogue, shown here, an Orthodox synagogue in Norway.  While the synagogue is Orthodox, most of the members are not, though they want to preserve the tradition. The Synagogue is over 100 years old and unbelievably was never disturbed during the war.  A young Jewish woman who detailed much of the history of the congregation and Jewish life in Oslo today escorted us through the synagogue.  There are about 1,100 Jews now living in Norway; 950 in Oslo and approximately 150 in the northern city of Trondheim near the Arctic Circle (the most northern Jewish settlement in the world).

             Well, we learned quite a lot about Norway, its people and culture and it was time to leave and head to Sweden.  Getting up early (which was no different than any other day), we boarded our bus for the ride to Stockholm.  It was a great time to relax and think about what we learned, catch up on some reading (I usually lasted about two pages before I would fall asleep) and watch a few videos that Marit had left on the bus for us.  We did stop at the Norway – Sweden border for a tea and pee break…much appreciated, but the best fun was our stop at a road side rest that had a really neat playground ride for kids.  It was something to see these seniors spinning around and going up and down in and out of the sand (I started it) with the kids looking on in amazement.  Great fun!

Sweden

            The bus pulled into Sweden about 6:00pm and cracked its windshield as it was turning around in a tight location.  I told the driver to blame it on the seniors…you know how combative they are, but he said no.  Kim, our Swedish site coordinator, met us at the hotel.  A Swedish family adopted Kim as a Korean War baby and the only life she knows is as a Swede, but obviously she does not look Swedish.  Only recently has she begun to sense any bias due to her oriental looks. 

             Some facts about Swedish history:  (hang in here it really gets better).

       (1)   ~ 1250 Sweden is known as Sweden apart from Denmark

       (2) ~ 1520 Protestant Reformation and Sweden closes its borders and has no contact with other nations. 

       (3)~ 1780 Sweden starts to open its borders culturally and for trade with other nations.

       (4)~ 1860 increased emigration from Sweden, mostly to United States.

       (5)~ Jews and Catholics were forbidden from being teachers, doctors, nurses; Jewish activities were limited.  As increased immigration of Swedes to the United States occurred (approx one million people), government responded by giving greater legal freedoms. This was followed by an increase in nationalistic feelings focused on retaining people, which then gave birth to Anti-Semitism. 

       (6) ~ 1930 dark era prior to World War II, passive involvement in World War II, collaboration with the Nazis.  During the war, the Lutheran church focused on “solving” the Jewish question…that is they wanted the Jews to leave Europe.  But by 1942 they realized that the German solution was the annihilation of the Jews and the Swedish diplomats started to turn against the Nazis.  In particular, Roald Wallenberg worked to save Swedish Jews from German death camps and is honored in the United States and Israel, as well as other countries for his humanitarian efforts.  Sweden did support the German war effort with products from their factories.

        (7) ~ Today there are nine million people in Sweden of which 16,000 are Jewish.

 Sweden is about the size of California, is a constitutional monarchy like Denmark and Norway.  The Swedes love their unpretentious King Carl XVI Gustaf and his daughter, the very beautiful Victoria Ingrid Alice Désirée.  She is the Crown Princess and heir to the Swedish throne.  The Swedes are described as being private, stiff, industrious, well organized and not opinionated.  Again, like her sister Scandinavian countries Sweden is 87% Lutheran but most members do not attend church.  We were told that the motto of the Swedish people is that “Moderation is Best” or that no one should be better than anyone else.  That actually tells quite a bit about life in Scandinavia.  There is no motivation to excel, to be better than someone else, to push oneself to higher expectations, or to achieve greater rewards in one’s life.  It is a beautiful city that has retained all its original beauty.  This picture depicts buildings in the old part of the city.

The following descriptions were told to us about the three Scandinavian countries and Finland:

Danes would say Swedes are boring:

Swedes would say Danes are party animals:

Swedes would say Norwegians are nationalistic:

Finns have more extreme attitudes, feelings, etc. than Swedes.

What more can I tell you about life in Sweden, that you already do not want to know!!!  Well here goes…birth rate is low, father gets 10 days off when child is born and parents can get up to one year off at 80% of salary (father must take two months of the twelve months).  Each family gets eighty dollars each month for each child through the age of 16 years.  Abortions are legal and state funded.  People from other cultures are finding an increasing bias from Swedes (as our site coordinator is realizing).  Little tidbits of information that tend to show what life is like in Scandinavia…people are protected, taken care of and supported by the state.

          Stockholm is a great city…very modern, filled with wonderful stores, restaurants and cafes.  It is a composite of many islands and lakes, with the old town section being over 750 years old.  The King of Sweden awards the Nobel Prize, each year in this city, except for the Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo.  Alfred Nobel discovered dynamite and made a fortune and left a legacy that funds these awards to deserving recipients each year.  I found the city to be very dynamic and filled with character.  While there we visited the City Hall, the Parliament and had the opportunity to experience excellent food.

          We visited the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, which is built around the ship Vasa, with only the largest masts showing through the roof.  The Vasa, built in 1628, sunk as it sailed away from its berth on its maiden voyage.  It sank right in the harbor, and was forgotten for three hundred years.  It was raised in 1961 with its hull largely intact and is a magnificent looking ship, but poorly designed.  Its center of gravity was too high for its hull design and it just tipped over and sunk.

          Lila and I also toured the grounds of the Stockholm synagogue, but were unable to visit inside the building, which was constructed in 1870.  We were able to view, however, the Memorial of the Holocaust Victims, with 8,500 names engraved on a wall.

          But now it is time to move on to or last country and city…Helsinki, Finland.  I hope that you did not forget all I had to tell you about Copenhagen, Denmark; because by the time we arrived in Finland I thought that our visit there was during an earlier trip.  Once again we board the cruise ship ferry again for our journey from Stockholm to Helsinki.

The Cruise Ship Ferry Again

         This trip was similar to the cruise ship ferry trip from Copenhagen to Oslo, except that when we awoke at 7:00am, the ship was not moving.  I soon found out that the water was not running (or the toilet was not flushing) as well.  A call to the Purser’s desk advised that the ship would be moving again in about fifteen minutes.  That was very assuring since the toilets were not operating.  Sure enough in about twenty minutes the water and came on and a few minutes later the engines started and we were on our way again.  What a relief…no, not that we were moving again, …Well, the bathrooms…oh never mind.  The next day in the newspaper we learned that fish had entered the cooling water intake and clogged the system.  I understand that the ship was going to serve fish that evening for dinner.

Finland

            Are you getting tired yet…I was museum-ed out by this time, but on we went!  I did take some liberties and did not attend each event in Helsinki and in turn just went out and walked through the city enjoying the people and the architecture.  Helsinki has a very compact downtown or central city area.  It is very easy to walk around and see most all the sites.  Figure 11 is a picture of most important Lutheran Church in Helsinki.  We did travel outside the city to see a folk school and to Ainola for a tour of the home of composer, Jean Sibelius.  Nokia, while not a national shrine has certainly put Finland on the economic map.  They are very proud of their “Nokia” and hold it up as a shining example of success.  And success it is, for if only the people in Finland that I saw using a phone were using a Nokia the company would have been a success, but we know that there are Nokia phones used all over the world.

             Even with Nokia in place, unemployment is 11% (i.e. 550,000 people out of work of the 5.2 million people in Finland) or representing almost all the population (567,000 people) in Helsinki.    Shipbuilding is a major industry in Finland, as they build many of the cruise ships now sailing the oceans.  Because of it past history with Sweden, Swedish is the second language of Finland.  Finland was part of Sweden and then in a war with Russia, was lost to the Russians in 1808 only to become independent in 1917.  Their dislike or loathing of Russia is quite pronounced and defines their recent history.

             The history of Finland is defined shortly as follows:

(1) Early history         < 1150AD  Once under glaciers, which later became lakes; Finland is not of Indo European ancestry, but came from the east...the Urals similar to the Hungarians.   Their language is significantly different from the Scandinavian countries and not readily understood by their closest neighbors. 

 (2) Sweden                1155-1809   The Swedes that came to Finland settled along the coast, while the Finns themselves settled around the lakes and the Lapps settling the north.  The Swedes we were told, were brutal...used the Finns as ammunition.  The Swedes did not get along with the Russians and the Russians twice destroyed Finland as they tried to keep the Swedes in check.

 (3) Russia                  1809-1918   Finally, Russia invaded Finland and kept it.  About the time of Alexander I of Russia, Finland was given the opportunity to manage its own affairs.  Things started to get better, there was a growth of national identity through a book of Finnish poems called Kalevala.  In the middle of the 1800s, there was widespread famine and economic times turned very bad, but then in the early 1900s Lenin promised Finland independence.

 (4) Independent         1918> in 1939, Stalin and Hitler agreed to split up Europe, with Russia getting all of Finland.  But then Hitler decided to attack Russia and Finland, because of their hatred for the Russians fought against Russia with Germany but on different fronts.  Finland lost and surrendered in 1944, paying reparations to Russia for many years thereafter.  To this day, they do not refer to World War II…only the Winter War and the Continuing War.

             Finland today is a social welfare state much like Sweden.  They have a woman President and no royalty.  Finns are a private people who protect their space, they do not readily speak to others and very sensitive to facial movements and eye contacts.  Military service is mandatory and lasts six months.  The Lutheran church is the single largest religious denomination with all children studying the religion when they are sixteen years of age.  We did visit the Rock Church, pictured here, in Helsinki, a very modern church built into a rock wall, which is also used for concerts because of its unique acoustics. 

            One morning, a group of us went to the synagogue in Helsinki and had a tour by the principal of their religious school.  The synagogue was built in 1906, it is modern Orthodox and they now have a community center, a religious school and an old age home for fourteen people on the grounds.  There are 1,400 Jews in Helsinki, 150 Jews in Turku and a very small Jewish settlement in Tampere, but there is no synagogue there.  During World War II, Jewish soldiers in Finland fought on the side of the Germans against Russia, but refused to accept the German Cross awarded them by the Germans. 

 Going Home

            Well, the time had come and we were readying ourselves for the journey home.  We had to get up very early, so what is new here, and went to the shopping mall, where they keep the airport.  First flying to Copenhagen and then direct to Washington, D.C. was not quite as bad as I anticipated, but then we were upgraded to business class.  It was a great trip, with wonderful people and an opportunity to learn about that part of the world.  That is what Elderhostel is all about.