Mariehamn is probably – and undeservedly – the least known Nordic capital. The only city of the autonomous Åland Islands, a Swedish-speaking region of Finland, which consists of an archipelago lying in the Baltic Sea, is truly full of astonishing architecture and design.
Mariehamn, founded in 1861, was named after Maria Alexandrovna, the Empress consort of Alexander II of Russia. The city is located on a narrow peninsula between two harbours, one on the western shore and the other on the eastern shore. A beautiful Linden tree lined avenue connects them. Mariehamn is also called “the town of the thousand Linden trees”.
Labelled, Torggatan 15
Torggatan in downtown Mariehamn is a busy cobblestone pedestrian street that offers everything from clothes to art handicrafts. One of the city’s most exciting fashion shops hides in the attic of one of the old wooden houses along Torggatan. In the studio shop Labelled, fashion designer Linda Karlsson creates new clothes and accessories from recycled materials. She opened the store in 2011 after finishing the Master Fashion Designer Programme at Istituto Marangoni in London and working as an intern under Hussein Chalayan at Puma and Alexander McQueen.
“I didn’t like the big fashion production industry”, Linda Karlsson remarks, “So I decided to move back home to Åland to calm down and focus on creating sustainable fashion. With my combined studio and shop I want to inspire people and awe them with creativity. Old seat belts become handbags, a couple of dozen ties become a dress, and an old leather jacket becomes mobile phone cases.”
Bagarstugan, Ekonomigatan 2
Bagarstugan is undoubtedly Mariehamn’s cosiest café. This unique place is located in an old wooden house, with charming rooms where you feel that you have stepped back in time. The best thing about Bagarstugan, besides the friendly staff, is that they simply offer the best homemade Åland pancakes in town. This delicious dish in fact contains porridge and is served with a hearty dash of whipped cream and stewed prunes.
SALT Konsthandverk, Sjökvateret
Guldviva, Sjökvateret & Maxinge, Sparvägen 1
Wooden peasant boats reflected on the water together with log-built boathouses surrounded by the scent of the sea and tar – that’s Mariehamn’s Maritime Quarter. It’s a living marine centre with boat-building activity, a smithy and facilities for traditional handicrafts.
Make sure you don’t miss SALT, a joint venture consisting of five active crafters. The newly built house in the Maritime Quarter is tailored for their purpose: the location combines the working studios and a common store, with the water and vessels as their closest neighbours.
Guldviva jewellery is handcrafted design, inspired by the beautiful, but sometimes harsh, Ålandic nature. Their product Blomman is a symbol for joy and happiness. Each flower is individually shaped and forged. The design is a typical example of the clean, simplistic shape that is signature for Guldviva. There are two Guldviva stores in Mariehamn: one in a red wooden house in the Maritime Quarter and one in the Maxinge shopping mall.
Svalan, Norragatan 1
Jussis Keramik, Nygatan 1
Modehuset Alice, Torggatan 11
Back in central Mariehamn, Svalan is a gold mine for those interested in natural materials. Gunvor Skogberg offers unique textile handicrafts, ecocotton wool, linen and wool clothes. A true highlight is the designer’s blanket with plaids of mohair and wool, a 300-year-old pattern from Åland.
In the downtown area; both Jussis Keramik, where you can buy colourful and well-designed glass products; and Modehuset Alice, which displays the newest fashion from London, Paris and New York, are worth a visit.
Alandica Kultur & Kongres, Strandgatan 33
Despite its small size, Mariehamn is full of architectural gems. One of the most astonishing is the Alandica Culture & Congress Centre, designed by the Danish architects Kjaer & Richter. The building sits on a gently sloping bank, organically following its shape and opens up to the sea. Effortlessly it joins in with the structure of the public buildings and comes to life by merging seamlessly with the environment. Each of Alandica’s three wings, or islands, have its own, distinctive colour: dark grey, white or red. The colouring also serves to distinguish the islands from the vestibule where they meet.
Furniture, fabrics and decor have been chosen in collaboration with the architect to create a consensus that was partly the vision for the building. The simple and fastidious architectural style is harmoniously evident in colours, fabrics and materials.
Local designers have been hired to complete the entity. The Ålandic-British designers Maria Korpi and Adam Gordon are among those. They create patterns for fabrics and utensils used in both public buildings and private homes.
“Alandica is a modern, harmonious landmark in central Mariehamn”, Maria Korpi says. “Through the glass walls facing waterfront small boats can be seen leaving and landing in the marina. The colours of the building itself are inspired by granite, rocks and the sea – colours visible in the Åland archipelago.”
Adam Gordon: “We spend each summer on Kökar, where Maria’s mother is born and raised. We often go by boat to Källskär and the small isles close by. The building has a spacious feeling, just like sitting in a small boat in the archipelago and that’s why we felt that the Archipelago pattern would suit Alandicas interior.”
Fabriksbutiken, Fabriksgatan 4
Fabriksbutiken is an awesome place to explore unique Ålandic design and handicraft. Six local female artisans run it, each with her own unique style and character. The shop is located in Kulturfabriken, a remote place within an old industrial area. Even though it’s a bit off the beaten tracks, make sure to go there. It’s definitely worth it!
Stickstugan, Norråkersvägen 20, Järsö
Due to the flat land and short distances, Åland is a great place to cycle. If you’re staying in Mariehamn, you can do a great bicycle tour southwards, towards the island of Järsö. The path over the water is about 10 km one-way and has bridge embankments and species-rich archipelago habitat to offer. When you arrive, make sure you don’t miss Stickstugans. It is an idyllic café and handicraft shop within beautiful, unspoilt nature.
Dino’s Bar & Grill, Strandgatan 12
Kino Nightclub, Nygatan 3
Admittedly, nightlight options in Mariehamn are limited. However, the Mariehamn people definitely know how to party. Dino’s Bar & Grill is where the alternative crowd of Åland gathers. It is a good place to hang out for a few beers and the burgers are delicious. They often have rock bands playing.
If you prefer to dance to the newest dance music, then Kino Nightclub is the perfect place for you. It appeals to the youngsters of Mariehamn and combines a cosy bar and pizza restaurant on the ground floor.
Text and photos: Stephan Lücke
Tags: finnish, swedish
Stephan fell in love with the Nordic countries, especially the Faroe Islands, when he was a teenager. The 34-year-old German is originally a health care editor and writes about Nordic culture on a freelance basis.
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