Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The Town Hall in Viborg (Viipuri), the multilingual city
Viborg (Viipuri) was a multilingual city almost from the start. Germans in Viborg used to say “Ein echter Wiburger geht auf allen Vieren” (a true Viborg-resident walks on all fours), i.e. speaks four languages. German was the language of commerce in this town embedded for centuries in the wide network of Hansa; Russian was the language of the Czar’s military after 1721; and Swedish the sole language of the administration until 1863 when Finnish was given equal status in the Grand Duchy. Finnish was always the spoken language of most of the town’s population.

In 1870 51 % of the city’s population spoke Finnish, 16 % spoke Swedish, 24 % spoke Russian (mostly Russian military) and 5 % German (Kaj Wahlbeck, Karelen - med kärlek, p. 102). People married over language lines resulting in homes where children spoke German with some aunts and uncles and Russian with others, Finnish with friends, Swedish at school or any other of the many combinations thereof.
Commerce and Industry converse in Viborg
Each summer affluent families from Viborg and St Petersburg moved to their summerhouses on the Isthmus, often around the sea-side resort town of Terijoki (Russian: Zelanogorsk). Two buildings there are symbols of linguistic and cultural integration: Villa Golicke and Villa Penaty. A third building – the Officers’ Casino – symbolizes the opposite: the threat of monolithic dictatorship. We set off in search of these houses. 

Villa Golicke was the summer residence of the Colliander family of St Petersburg. The poet Tito Colliander (1904 -1989) was born in St Petersburg, probably considered Swedish his mother tongue and was of the Greek-Orthodox faith. Like many other Finns, he left St Petersburg with his family during the Russian revolution, returning with a cosmopolitan outlook to the Isthmus, which was now part of independent Finland.

At Villa Golicke, he entertained Finnish poets who wrote in Swedish such as Gunnar Björling, Elmer Diktonius, Rabbe Enkell, Hagar Olsson, the Parland brothers and Edith Södergran. Villa Golicke was a “linguistic cluster” of the relatively few Swedish speaking literati on the Isthmus. There they met not only each other but formed a network with Finnish-language colleagues as well as one with prominent poets from Sweden such as Johannes Edfelt, Gunnar Ekelöf, the 1964 Nobel Laureate Eyvind Johnson and Erik Lindegren. As a multi-lingual and multi-cultural meeting place for artists and writers in the inter-war period, Villa Golicke became the cradle of literary modernism in both Finland and Sweden.
Can this be Villa Golicke?
In awe of Villa Golicke’s role in history, we headed towards Kuokkala, on the Baltic seaside just east of Terijoki, expecting to find there a Pantheon of poets. We entered an overgrown and unattended garden where we discerned a small shack behind wild-grown shrubbery. Had we come to the right place?  

Clearly not, we thought. It was far too small and lacked the glass veranda, famous for its many festive parties. So we admired instead Terijoki’s legendary 35-kilometer long sand beach to which the shack had direct access through a small gate.

Sand as far as the eye can see
Soon an elderly gentleman shuffled towards us from the neighbouring house. He confirmed that this shack was indeed Villa Golicke, of which he was the caretaker. He kindly fetched the keys to the house and allowed us to enter – a bedroom, a living room and a make-shift kitchen downstairs, all small. A bedroom upstairs, really a simple loft, contained a desk with an inspiring view of the beach and bay.
How many wind-sailors can this house sleep?
It was difficult to imagine that this run-down hovel had once been a literary Parnassus. Its pitiful state suggested imminent demolishment and replacement by a luxury waterfront villa. Location is all, as the realtors say. The current owners have saved the house from this fate so far, but not because of its cultural significance. The caretaker informed us that tourists, keen on windsailing in the bay 20 meters away, provide a rental income of 5000 Rubles (some 170 dollars) per night. This is a large amount to pay for the Villa’s low standard, but ridiculously cheap compared with the modern luxury hotels built recently further along the beach.
A more expensive alternative for spending the night 
The poets Elmer Diktonius and Gunnar Ekelöf spent the late summer of 1938 at Villa Golicke. On the train back to Helsingfors (Helsinki) they got off in Raivola to visit the 87 year old mother of Edith Södergran.  Edith’s poetry had been a source of inspiration for both these major poets. Ekelöf noted his surprise to find that culture could flourish in the solitude of nature’s wilderness – a solitude that has increased significantly since then.
The poets Elmer Diktonius and Gunnar Ekelöf (middle) with Edith’s mother in front of the Södergran house one year before it was destroyed.     Photo: Berndt Flygare, Nordiska Museet
The era of linguistic diversity before the Russian revolution, which Villa Golicke once symbolized, was formed by three attitudes. Tolerance allowed each minority group to maintain its own language - the individual’s personal choice of language was respected. Each language group was a minority somewhere. As Henry Parland put it: “Wherever I go I am a foreigner”. When many feel this same way, mutual tolerance is natural. Necessity required minorities to know the dominant language, and different languages were dominant in different functions. Thus, many had an interest in knowing more than one language. The owners of the many manor houses scattered throughout Karelia were often bi- or tri-lingual. Swedish or German may have been spoken in the drawing rooms but outside them knowledge of Finnish was indispensable. Knowledge of Swedish was necessary for those involved in administrative functions of government and of Russian for army officers. Finally, uncertainty as to what the dominant language would be in the future encouraged inhabitants to hedge their bets and know several. The dominance of Swedish, Russian and Finnish shifted over the centuries with the fortunes of war.
The rebuilt Villa Penaty - once a home now a museum for Ilja Repin
A kilometer further down the road in Kuokkala was Villa Penaty, home of the famous Russian painter Ilja Repin (1844-1930). He lived there with Natalia Nordmann, who donated the house on her death in 1914 to the Russian Academy of Art on condition that it would be Ilja Repin’s residence and atelier for life. Nordmann had close ties to Swedish-speaking families in Finland, including the Collianders. Repin stayed on in Terijoki when it became part of independent Finland, continuing the tradition of networked linguistic clusters. This earned him some opprobrium in the USSR. The border to the USSR was now closed breaking an important link in the cultural network and isolating Repin from his Russian connections and roots.
The artist’s study in Villa Penaty
Villa Penaty was destroyed during the wars. However, after 1991 it was rebuilt and Repin was now considered a Russian hero, fit to provide a new name for Kuokkala (Repino). It is a model museum with a good exhibition of his art and supplied with modern museum equipment (ear phones with recorded foreign language tours). Its current demonstrative elegance contrasts with the shabbiness of Villa Golicke. 

From Kuokkala we drove northwest along the sandy coast, feeling as though we were on the Riviera. We entered the town of Terijoki proper and saw to our surprise a well-kept Lutheran Church, right in the middle of it. It was built in 1909 in Jugend Style with Josef Stenbäck as the architect. We felt right at home.
The exceptionally well-kept Lutheran Church in Terijoki
The town was clean and casually elegant. The population was well-dressed. The leisurely spirit contrasted with the grim poverty of Pitkäranta and Sordavala (Sortavala) further north. Obliged to visit the Apothecary on the main street, we were impressed by its clean interior and professional staff.
A life-saving pharmacy in Terijoki
Terijoki is located near St. Petersburg, which explains the tidy upkeep of the town. The long sandy beach, running for miles on either side of town, brings in well-to-do-tourists and contributes to a relative affluence. Buildings from the Stalin era are unusually well kept, as seen below, and cater to the conspicuous consumption of the visitors from St Petersburg.

Large and brackish summerhouses owned by affluent St Petersburgers sprout like mushrooms in the forests and meadows of the Isthmus. You will find no pictures of these in this blog. The closer we came to St Petersburg, the more security cars and gated communities we observed. These pretentious buildings appeared to be grafted on to a foreign body.
Neo-Stalinist architecture is well-preserved
The gravitational pull of St Petersburg on Terijoki was strong already a hundred years ago. Petrus Nordmann, a cousin of Natalie, wrote after travelling to the Repins from Helsingfors (Helsinki) in 1909: “… we travelled through this former Finnish farmers’ village, which during the last twenty years has been transformed into a genuine Russian resort community with many shops, wooden sidewalks, muschikar [Roma street musicians] and ample, pearl-bedecked wet-nurse s.” (Kaj Wahlbeck, Karelen - med kärlek, 1994, s. 76.)

Already in the 1890s, Russia proposed incorporating the increasingly Russian speaking suburbs of Terijoki and Kivinebb (Kivennapa) into St Petersburg’s municipality, but without success. The numerous attempts then to Russify the Grand Duchy, met with strong opposition, including the assassination of the Russian Governor General Nikolaj Bobrikoff in 1904 by Eugen Schaumann. Today, the whole of the Isthmus is incorporated in St Petersburg Oblast. The economic pull from St Petersburg will inevitably incorporate the southern Isthmus even more into Russia, eliminating the last traces of cultural diversity that once characterised it. That era was ended in two steps. First, the Soviet Union closed the border in 1918. Second, it moved the border north in 1944 to include the whole Isthmus in the Soviet. Thereby, it became the dead-end and the provincial backwater that it is today.
The Officers’ Casino in Terijoki – a haunted house 
The third building we visited in Terijoki, the Officers’ Casino, provides a grim reminder of what could have happened to all of Finland. Here Stalin gambled - and lost.  During the Winter War he set up Otto Ville Kuusinen (a leader of the Finnish Reds in the civil war of 1917-1918) as head of a puppet government for all of Finland and housed it in the Casino. 
Otto Kuusinen signing the pact establishing the "People's Democratic Government of Finland"
Kuusinen failed to move his puppet government to Helsingfors and spent the rest of his life in central positions in the Soviet system. This once magnificent building is now abandoned and rapidly deteriorating. Let us hope that it still has a future, although not as a memorial to Otto Ville Kuusinen, who now like Bertrans de Born portrayed by Pound in Near Perigord, wanders headless in purgatory for stirring up strife!
The Casino – utopia restored?
Ralf Parland (1914-1995), yet another Parland brother, said in 1958: “The Isthmus was a bridge between different cultures and world views. Therefore, it appealed to us cultural vagrants, who felt ill at ease in those days of nationalistic slogans and closed borders. The Isthmus was our utopia.”  (Olof Ruin, Dagbok (2008) s 90). Is it possible to restore some of that utopia of cosmopolitan culture and open borders? Villa Penaty now honours Ilja Repin as a Russian nationalist and is an attraction for Russian tourists. Villa Golicke, once a Parnassus for Finnish and Swedish poets, is a forgotten and run-down hovel, which the odd Swede or Finn enters with high hopes and leaves disappointed (unless a sun-tanned windsailing youngster). Could not the Swedish Academy and the two Literary Societies in Finland purchase Villa Golicke and the Officers’ Casino and renovate them tenderly as sanctuaries for poets and other artists? Poetry and art are windsailing for the soul. And in these days of global extremism and intolerance the soul sorely needs some succour. 

Monday, October 17, 2011


Fact fades into fiction (Mural in the heart of Viborg)
Between 1914 and 1941 a remarkable literary flowering occurred on the Karelian Isthmus: modernism erupted in both Finnish and Swedish literature. Architecture underwent a similar rebirth, as we were to discover in our travels. How could this occur in a provincial dead-end, an isolated outpost facing a closed border? One answer is that these authors were formed in their youth by the cosmopolitan environment that multilingual communities and open borders created on the Isthmus.

This was a very different Karelia than the vast green forests further east where one hundred years earlier Carl Axel (Kaarle Aksel) Gottlund (1796-1875) and Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884) wandered and wrote down the epic songs that the local population passed orally from generation to generation. Gottlund published his Finnish folk epics in 1818 as a student in Uppsala where a Union of Finnish Students was active. Lönnrot published his first edition of Kalevala in 1835. Inspired by Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) to see folk-poetry as expressions of the Volksseele, they opened the era of national romanticism.

The Karelian Isthmus was different. For almost 200 years before 1917 it lay in a magnetic field between two cultural capitals. Established on occupied territory of the Common Realm in 1703, St Petersburg, the political and cultural capital of Russia, exerted a strong attraction and influence on the Isthmus. So did Viborg (Viipuri), the cultural capital of Karelia as part of Russia (1721-1809) and of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland (1809-1917), to which it was joined.
Cosmopolitan influences complement ancient myths
The distance between these two capitals was only 130 km and travel time was dramatically shortened after 1870 when the Viborg-St Petersburg railway was built. This allowed Russian speakers in St Petersburg to ‘commute’ further north on the Isthmus and Finnish and Swedish speakers in the Viborg area to ‘commute’ further south. Merchants in Viborg and St Petersburg as well as the Baltic-German nobility residing in manors on the Isthmus spoke German.

Viborg prospered after the opening of the Saima canal (Saimaa Kanava) in 1856 connecting it with the lake district in the interior. The canal was designed by Nils Ericson (1802-1870), a Swedish entrepreneur known for finishing projects below cost and ahead of schedule – a model for today. After finishing the Saima canal he was knighted and made responsible for building the Swedish railway system. (Our American readers will recall his brother John Ericsson (1803-1889) who designed the propeller allowing the steamship Princeton to outperform the steam wheeler Great Western in 1843 and constructed the USS Monitor in 1861 for the Union in the US civil war.)
The site of Eliel Saarinen's railway station in Viborg built in 1913. Destroyed by retreating Soviet troups, the red granite facade may be part of the original building
With borders gone and transportation improved, the Isthmus became an integrated economic region characterized by a rich cultural diversity. So many languages and cultures on such a small area made the Isthmus a remarkable hothouse of ideas, cultures and fashions. So we set off to see what remained of this cosmopolitan legacy. Would the homes of authors such as Tito Colliander, Willy Kyrklund, Hagar Olsson, the brothers Oscar and Henry Parland, Edith Södergran and Emil Zilliacus reveal some of their secrets for us? Largely unknown in the Anglo-Saxon world, they might still be remembered in their birthplace. If not, at least we travellers from afar could pay homage to them.

Our first stop was the small town of Raivola, where Edith Södergran (1892-1923), the catalyst of modernism, lived until tuberculosis ended her life at the age of 29. Her father had died in 1907 of the same disease. She was born in St Petersburg and attended Die Deutsche Hauptschule zu S:t Petri there. She wrote her first poems in German, even if the bulk of her production was in Swedish. After the Russian revolution and Finland’s independence, she returned to the family home in Raivola 30 kilometres away. Except for spells at sanatoriums in Finland and Switzerland, she lived there with her mother until her death. The Södergran house and its neighbour, the Orthodox Church, were destroyed during the Wars. The church was rebuilt recently and now shines in blue and gold.
The restored Orthodox church in Raivola 
In contrast, the Södergran house has not been restored. Only a few of its foundation stones and its view overlooking the Onkamojoki (Rozlivo) river remain. 0n the site where it once stood, The Swedish Language Authors Society in Finland raised a stone monument in 1960. A photograph of Edith on it has disappeared since then but a quotation (in Swedish with Russian translation) from one of her poems remains, hewn in stone as it is.

Se här är                                       Here you face
evighetens strand,                          eternity’s coast,
här brusar strömmen förbi,             here rapids rush by roaring
och döden                                     while death lurks
spelar i buskarna                           in the bushes playing
sin samma                                     his same old
entoniga melodi.                            monotonous melody.

The view of eternity from Edith's home          
Empty vodka bottles and beer cans were strewn around the memorial suggesting that this was now a gathering place for the unemployed and unfortunate. Recognizing that ours was a labour of Sisyphus, we nevertheless removed this litter as a matter of principle. At least for a few hours we, and perhaps also Edith, might have a clearer view of eternity. By nightfall, the seminar of unfortunates would reconvene and confusion would reign once again.

Few traces remain of Edith Södergran’s “personal universe” in Raivola. Her nearby grave with the above inscription was destroyed in the wars. Olof Ruin tells in his book of 2009 Hans Ruin – en gränsöverskridare (Hans Ruin – a border-crosser) how his father and Elmer Diktonius attempted to locate her grave after the war. The current memorial is largely due to their efforts.
Honouring Edith Södergran ... and her cat!
A Finnish group raised a statue in 1992 honouring her cat Tottie, which her neighbour the businessman Kommerserådet Ilja Galkin had shot, thereby earning everlasting notoriety in the literary world. These memorials somewhat pathetically evoke a past long since destroyed and now forgotten by most inhabitants in Raivola. The name of the town has been changed to Rosjtsjino and it is rapidly filling up with expensive dachas for the newly rich from nearby St Petersburg. The village receives a large influx of summer residents, tripling its permanent population, which in the early 1990s was about 9,000 people.

The southernmost county, Kivenebb (Kivennapa), was one of the most heavily destroyed during the wars. But already in 1938 a contemporary writer regretted the passing of the cosmopolitan Isthmus. The war and the Russian revolution had impoverished the well-to-do who owned the summer villas on the Isthmus and then closed the border. Their villas were abandoned or moved. The writer mourned:  “But that time has come and gone. The Russian revolution put an end to this glorious idyll. Now all we have is memories. We tell stories of the past and watch how time levels to the ground the ruins of our manors and summer villas.” (Kaj Wahlbeck, Karelen - med Kärlek (1994), s. 39). Little did the writer realize that worse was to come.

Despondently, we consoled ourselves that Södergran’s poems are a monument stronger than copper. Youngsters in each generation still quote from memory the concluding lines of one of her most famous poems The Day Cools to Night (Dagen svalnar mot natt):

Du sökte en blomma             You sought a flower
och fann en frukt.                  and found a fruit.
Du sökte en källa                  You sought a source
och fann ett hav.                    and found a sea.
du sökte en kvinna                You sought a woman
och fann en själ -                   and found a soul -
du är besviken.                      you're disappointed.

We set off on our next task: to find the vicar’s house in Räisälä where Hagar Olsson (1893- 1978), a friend of Edith Södergran, grew up. Her father was the Lutheran priest in Räisälä, where the church designed by Josef Stenbäck and built in 1911-1912 remains in good condition since it was used as an assembly hall for civic events throughout the Soviet era. Little has changed. A pity that other churches have not been looked after equally well!
Räisälä church, 2011 and 1939 
Source: Emil Ems and “Karelen – Landet som var” (1941)
Hagar attended the Swedish-language school in Viborg. She was the theoretician and advocate of the modernist school of which Edith was the foremost practitioner. As an author, she is remembered best today for her novel published in 1940, Träsnidaren och döden (The Wood Carver and Death), a terse story of faith, art and work in Karelia.

Finding the vicarage in this small town proved an unexpected challenge. Russian names of villages have replaced Finnish names on current maps; new roads have replaced old ones and suburbs have replaced the small rural communities of yore. Much that was on the old maps has disappeared. This world has been changed! Where the vicarage was supposed to be we found a well-kept house resembling a private club equipped with an outdoor bar. It was closed, in spite of the pleasant summer weather.
The rediscovered vicarage in Räisälä
The house differed strikingly from the photograph of the vicarage in our guidebook Karelen: Landet som var (1941), bearing instead an uncanny resemblance to the photo of the municipal retirement home in that book. After initial confusion, we concluded that the captions on the two photos in our guidebook had been reversed. A visit to the municipal retirement home confirmed this printing error.

Elated by having solved this mystery, we believed for a fleeting instance that we were the first to have discovered this mistake. Many before us must have made the same discovery but kept it a secret for the initiated few. We realized then that this was a semi-clandestine world, where for decades people spoke of core Karelia in whispers on one side of the border so as not to annoy those on the other side, where no one spoke of it at all so that they could sleep better at night. After all, we were looking at the result of an ethnic expulsion that occurred 70 years ago. Karelia is one of the few regions that is perhaps more closed and less developed today than it was 100 years ago.

When built in 1932, the municipal retirement home was a nice example of Finnish modernism. The building was now so run down that we would have concluded that it was abandoned, had we not learnt earlier that anything with a roof still on it houses make-shift living quarters. Soon an elderly gentleman emerged briskly from the building and offered or requested services of an unclear nature.
The communal retirement home built in 1932
Thanking the gentleman for his offer or rebuffing his request as the case may be, we returned to the vicarage gratified that we had clarified the mystery of Hagar Olsson’s childhood home but disappointed that we could see no trace of her association with it. We rang the church bell at the vicarage to remind those in the vicinity, if any, of the house’s original purpose. While nice to see the vicarage so well maintained, it was sad that it could not be put to more appropriate use. After all, there is something to be said for not suppressing knowledge of the past. Sooner or later truth will out.
The church bell now calls to evening drinks instead of to divine service
Two authors’ homes remained for us to see. The Parland family manor Tikila lies in Teerilä about ten kilometres east of Viborg. Oscar Parland describes his childhood there in three magical books, successfully recreated by Finnish Television. (Förvandlingar (1945), Metamorfosis, Den förtrollade vägen (1953), The Enchanted Road, Tjurens år (1962), Year of the Bull). Oscar and his brother Henry, descendants of early Scottish immigrants McFarland, started school in St Petersburg, continued in a German School in Viborg and transferred to the Swedish language school there. Rumour had it that the manor house in Teerilä, where the family settled after the Russian revolution, was destroyed during the wars. 

Nevertheless, we drove past Teerilä and parked the car on a high spot to view the valley and the lake. We rested and from a distance a lost world rose in our imagination. Elderly couples strolled with parasols in the large park. The ladies wore long gowns and the men bore elegant military uniforms. A black bull stomped threateningly and paced back and forth in the meadow. Several boisterous youngsters rowed a boat across the lake to make social calls on neighbours. A parrot sat in the bow, swearing in Russian. Rejuvenated by this vision, we drove off just as an elegant peacock strutted by our car and nodded as if to bid us farewell.
The magic lake in Terrilä?
The second house was the Zilliacus family home on the island Hapenensaari outside Viborg in a border zone we could not enter. It is legendary in Finland for its country house and unique apple orchard. Heavy fighting during the Wars destroyed both. The poet Emil Zilliacus (1878-1961) translated the Latin and Greek classics into Swedish here. He was part of the strong classical tradition in Finland, which incidentally gave rise to today’s weekly emissions in Latin on Finland’s Radio. His son Benedict Zilliacus (1921-) has written movingly about the family home in Båten i vassen (1990), The Boat in the Rushes. As a child he would hide in his boat in the rushes during warm summer days. During the war, a wounded Russian soldier survived for fifty days with two dead comrades in a boat hidden in the same rushes while fierce fighting raged on the island in which Benedict was also engaged.

Hapenensaari was the fixed point in Emil Zilliacus life and he lived to see its destruction. He could not have foreseen this in the poem he wrote in 1925. Fifteen years later, the fixed point was no more.

Då borras klacken djupt i strandens jord.                I dig my heel deep in the coastal earth.
Min fot får fäste. Känslan finner ord:                        My foot rests firm. A feeling soon takes form.

Välsignad torvan som ger foten stöd                        This blessed turf, which lends my foot support
-mitt hem, mitt hägn, min egen värld i världen-          - my home, my fort, my own world in this world -
som skänker källklar dryck och frukt och bröd,       a source of sparkling water, fruit and bread
och kärnfriskt virke till min eld på härden.                and hardwood for the fire in my hearth.
Det är min fasta grund. Här höll mitt ankar.              It is my solid ground, my anchor firm.
Kom an novemberstorm, november tankar!             So come November thoughts, November storms!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Though a godless society, the USSR had its own deities: the troika of Marx, Lenin and Stalin. When Lenin returned to Russia in August 1917 he found refuge from the Czar’s police in a small farmhouse in Jalkala owned by the brothers Ivan and Peter Parvianen of St Petersburg. Thereafter, this simple house has been a shrine, protected from the natural if not from the spiritual elements by a disproportionately large roof. A statue of a pensive Lenin guards the path to his shrine, reminding the mighty to look on his works and then despair. Round his former empire’s colossal wreck, boundless and bare the lone and level forests stretch far away.
A pensive Lenin reflects in Jalkala on the vanity of power – too late
When in power, the Communist Party advocated atheism and persecuted religious believers. Lutheran and Orthodox churches in Karelia that survived the wars were either destroyed or abandoned after 1944. Like the ruins of Armenian churches in Turkey, they stand as silent witness of-religious intolerance. When the USSR collapsed, the faith of orthodox believers reemerged in spite of several generations of atheistic indoctrination. We saw en route several renovated Orthodox churches or newly-built ones, such as the island monastery just off the main road close to Vasilevo.
Once underground, the church resurfaces
In sharp contrast, the Orthodox Church St. Nicolai in Salmi stood in ruins. Built in 1824, this church was damaged heavily in the Wars. Standing on high ground, it commands a magnificent view of the surroundings. Its deterioration has gone so far that it is soon beyond repair.
The remains of the orthodox church of St. Nicolai outside Salmi
All Lutheran churches damaged in the war still stand in ruins since 1944 when the Lutheran population left. We had barely crossed the border before we saw the first ruin: that of Pälkjärvi church. Destroyed by Soviet forces during the winter war, only the entrance steps to the church remained in a terrain now reclaimed by the forest.
Only the entrance steps remain of the Lutheran church in Pälkjärvi
On our journey we saw one church  ruin after another. But we also discovered a truly exceptional event: a new Lutheran church was under construction in Ruskeala. This was a work of faith. Pastor Kalevi Keinonen returned late in life from Finland to the vicarage where his Father had lived and served before 1944. Kalevi was now building a new Lutheran church to replace the one, destroyed during the wars, where his father once had officiated.
A work of faith: A new church rises in Ruskeala 
Ruskeala is a cheerless village. Its inhabitants commute from worn-down dwellings to distant jobs. Proximity to the border zone contributes to a sense of . isolation. Although there is a school and a kindergarten in the village, we seldom saw anyone on Main Street. Destitute desolation reigns in the side streets and behind the few brick buildings, as in most country settlements in Karelia.
Desolation reigns in Ruskeala
The few tourists who pass through tend to stay at the new church’s hostel, located on its ground floor. Local youngsters greeted us with the Finnish salutation “Terve!” (Hi!), assuming that all tourists were from across the nearby border. We, too, stayed several nights in that hostel, restoring body and soul in the hospitable company of the Keinonen family. Behind the new church being constructed, we found the few foundation stones that remained of its predecessor, bombed by the Soviets in the war.
Only the foundation remains of the old church.…
The destroyed church was not just any church but one built in the 1830s by Carl Ludvig Engel (1778-1840). A German architect who had moved to St Petersburg in 1814, Engel designed many buildings there. In 1816 Czar Alexander I charged him with the task of redesigning Helsingfors (Helsinki), ravished by a fire in 1806, which he had made the capital of his new Grand Duchy. Engel designed among much else the magnificent Senate Square there and its buildings. In 1824 he was appointed chief superintendent for public buildings in Finland. His imprint can be found throughout the country – not least in Karelia.
….in Ruskeala built in the 1830s by Engel
Source: Karelen: Landet som var, 1941 
But why such an impressive church in this now desolate spot?  Ruskeala was an affluent community in the 19th century due to rich agricultural land, valuable timber and marble resources and proximity to the thriving cities of Viborg (Viipuri) and St Petersburg. It could afford a church by the country’s leading architect. The church by Engel was one that any town would be proud of. That it today would appear out of place in this run-down community, had it survived the war, is a sign of the sad changes that have occurred here in the last 70 years.
Near Ruskeala we found a quarry, which had opened in 1768 and supplied marble for buildings both in St Petersburg (The Winter Palace) and in Helsingfors. The quarry was now water-filled and an attraction for paying tourists to paddle around in.
The flooded quarry in Ruskeala attracts some tourists
We drove from Sordavala (Sortavala) down the Northeastern coast of Lake Ladoga. Passing through small communities, we saw few signs of life and a poverty reminiscent of that in the Nordic countries perhaps three generations ago. Seen against the familiar backdrop of Nordic scenery this poverty struck us as anachronistic. Few cars were on the road. This was fortunate since the many potholes encouraged drivers in both directions to drive in the middle of the road. Poor visibility and high speed turned driving into a chicken-race. Who would yield first? (We did.)

Arriving at the coastal village of Lahdenpohja we stopped at the ruin of a brick church on the high ground. From it we admired the view of Lake Ladoga and the surrounding country side. What a peaceful and harmonious community this ghost-town must have been 100 years ago! Here was another church designed by Engel and finished in 1851.
Little remains of Engel’s masterpieces in Karelia 
 This church had survived the wars and was used as a storage facility by the Soviet government after 1944. In the 1970s it burnt down, perhaps by accident, perhaps by arson. Either way, the government saved on maintenance costs. Only the red brick walls remain standing, silently mourning a more peaceful time. Although the ruin has been without a roof for 30-40 years, large trees have not yet grown inside the church nor rooted themselves in its walls. Is this a sign that God wants his church restored?
What would Engel say?
In the small village of Lumivaara we passed a second church, which from a distance still looked intact since it had a tower and a roof. The small cemetery was well kept by an association in Finland of its former inhabitants. We stopped in the hope that the church was still in use.
The church in Lumivaara looked in good shape and invited us to enter
Our hopes rose when we saw that the doors to the church were open. However, we were soon to learn that here an open door was a sure sign that a building was abandoned. The walls were filled with graffiti. The murals were faded. The wooden floor had missing support beams and had risen about one meter in one corner of the Church. It proved hazardous to advance to the altar. Nonetheless, here was a church that still could be restored. Its relatively good shape was due in part to its recent construction in 1935. Designed by Ilmari Launis, it had a short life-span.
….but inside decay was rapidly progressing
We climbed the tower and viewed the countryside in silence – a magnificent but sad view. We pulled the rope in the belfry and heard the church bells peal dirge-like over the town. But no one came to the funeral and we remained alone.

Communism may have thought that it had evicted God from his dwelling. But if God dwells anywhere, it is in the minds of men, not in temples. So the Communist regime had only succeeded in destroying the material, not the immaterial. That was in itself a significant loss in this small corner of the world. Worse was that the Soviet Government expelled about 400 000 people from this area, people who could trace their family roots in this region back seven generations