One of the world’s oldest preserved beers to be studied and reproduced

9 02 2011

Photo: Old beer bottle. Photographer: The Government of Åland/Augusto Mendes.


One of the oldest preserved beers will be analyzed and reconstructed. The beer was salvaged from an early 19th century shipwreck discovered last summer in the Åland archipelago. The beer will be analyzed with various methods in order to recreate the original recipe for modern industrial production. The analyses will be made by the Technical Research Centre of Finland, VTT.

Five bottles of beer were lifted from an old shipwreck, discovered in summer 2010 near Föglö in the Åland archipelago. The bottles, preserved on the seabed at a depth of 50 meters, presumably date from the first half of the 1800s. During the lifting process one of the bottles broke, due to a crack in the fragile glass, and the contents appeared to be foaming dark beer. What type of beer – the answer will hopefully be provided by the analyses.

– First of all, we are interested in the contents of the bottles. We are hoping to be able to reconstruct the original formula so that it could be used in reproducing the beer, says Rainer Juslin, Permanent Secretary at the Åland Government.

Despite its very old age, the beer seems to have kept well at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The low temperature and the darkness inside the wreck have provided optimal storage conditions, and the pressure inside the bottles has prevented the salt water from sipping in through the cork.

– We find it extremely interesting to study what kind of yeast was used in the beginning of the 1800s and what quality the beer of that time had. Was the beer perhaps very strong and bitter? In the beginning of the 19th century there was little knowledge of the role of the yeast in the beer-making process, says Annika Wilhelmson, Customer Manager of VTT.

The origin and the exact age of the wreck are still being investigated. The schooner seems to have sunk during the first half of the 19th century. The cargo also contained bottles of old champagne of various brands. All the finds belong to the Government of Åland.

The analyses by VTT are expected to be finished in May 2011.


Soil Contributes To Climate Warming – Finnish Research Shows Flaw In Climate Models

8 02 2010


The climatic warming will increase the carbon dioxide emissions from soil more than previously estimated. This is a mechanism that will significantly accelerate the climate change. Already now the carbon dioxide emissions from soil are ten times higher than the emissions of fossil carbon. A Finnish research group has proved that the present standard measurements underestimate the effect of climate warming on emissions from the soil.

The error is serious enough to require revisions in climate change estimates. In all climate models, the estimates of emissions from soil are based on measurements made using this erroneous method. Climate models must be revised so that the largest carbon storage of the land ecosystems will be estimated correctly. The sensitivity of the soil carbon storage to climatic warming will endanger the carbon sink capacity of forests in the future.

Research on climate effects of soil in various parts of the world

Research on the effect of climate change on the carbon dioxide release from soil is seriously studied by many research groups around the world. It is known that emissions from soil have a significant influence on the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and thereby on the future climate. However, these studies are usually based on short-term measurements of the carbon dioxide production of soil. According to the results of the Finnish research group, such a method gives systematically  biased estimates on the effects of climate change on the emissions.

The carbon dioxide measured in short-term experiments comes from carbon compounds that are decomposed quickly, but such compounds are not abundant in the soil. Based on radiocarbon measurements, the Finnish research group showed that the more slowly decomposing compounds are much more sensitive to the rise of temperature and that such compounds are abundant in the soil.

The studies in boreal forests showed that carbon dioxide emissions from the soil will be up to 50 percent higher than those suggested by the present mainstream method, if the mean temperature will rise as it is estimated, that is, by 5 centigrades before the end of this century, and if the carbon flow to the soil will not increase. An increase of the growth of forest biomass by 100-200 % would compensate the increasing releases from the soil. According to the previous erroneous estimates, a 70-80 % increase of growth would be enough. The difference is significant. Even according to the highest estimates, the growth of forests will only increase by 60 % if the mean temperatures will rise by 5 centigrades.

Carbon storage in soil will decrease, emissions from forests will increase

According to the results, the climatic warming will inevitably lead to smaller carbon storage in soil and to higher carbon dioxide emissions from forests. These emissions will further warm up the climate, and as a consequence the emissions will again increase, This interaction between the carbon dioxide emissions from soil and the warming of climate will accelerate the climate change.

The present climate models underestimate the increase of carbon dioxide emissions from soil in a warmer climate. Thereby they also underestimate the accelerating impact of the largest carbon storage in forests on the climate change. This result is also essential with respect to the climate policy measures concerning forests. The carbon storage of forests is, more than previously assumed, sensitive to climatic warming, and the carbon sink capacity of forests is endangered. To maintain the carbon storage, the accumulation of organic material in forests should increase. However, this is not compatible with the present bioenergy goals for forests and with the more and more intensive harvesting of biomass in forests.

The research was carried out as cooperation between the Finnish Environment Institute, the Finnish Forest Research Institute and the Dating Laboratory of the Finnish Museum of Natural History at the University of Helsinki. The research was funded by the Academy of Finland and the Maj and Tor Nessling Foundation.

The results are published in the February issue of the distinguished journal Ecology, published by the Ecological Society of America.
Karhu, K., Fritze, H., Hämäläinen, K., Vanhala, P., Jungner, H., Oinonen, M., Sonninen, E., Tuomi, M., Spetz, P. & Liski, J. 2010. Temperature sensitivity of soil carbon fractions in boreal forest soil. Ecology 91(2): 370-376.

Link to the journal Ecology

Finnish Environment Institute, Finnish Forest Research Institute and the Dating Laboratory of the Finnish Museum of Natural History at the University of Helsinki

Finland Strives To Become Example Region In Recycling Of Nutrients

8 02 2010


Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen’s commitment for the Baltic Sea Action Summit

The Baltic Sea Action Summit to be held at Finlandia Hall on 10 February will bring together such public and private sector operators of the Baltic Sea area who are willing to make concrete commitments contributing to the recovery of the Baltic Sea. Almost 140 commitments have already been made.

Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen makes the commitment that all sectors in Finland take intensified measures to improve the state of the Archipelago Sea by the year 2020. Work is to be carried out simultaneously in all sectors in a coordinated manner and with a more ambitious schedule.

Loads to the waters of the Archipelago Sea come from various sources and measures in many different fields are necessary. The Government will place particular focus on the reduction of nutrient loads from agriculture in the catchment area of the Archipelago Sea by optimising the use of fertilisers, increasing the hibernal vegetal coverage of fields, developing special measures for the most sloping fields bordering on water bodies and targeting financial support on agriculture to this area.

Finland strives to become an example region in the recycling of nutrients. Wastewater loads in sparsely populated areas and municipal wastewater nitrogen loads are further reduced. The aim is that phosphate-free detergents are taken into use in the entire Baltic Sea region. In cooperation with other Baltic Sea countries, active effort is made to restrict the discharge of wastewater from vessels into the sea. In addition, an objective is to reduce phosphorus in the sea by fishing underutilized stocks and using fish caught in the Baltic Sea as feed in aquaculture.

Finland Has Received 4.2 Million Doses Of H1N1 Vaccine But Finns Are Reluctant To Get It

8 02 2010


Finland has so far received 4.2 million doses of the swine flu vaccine

The 1.4 million doses that arrived recently will be distributed to municipalities this week. The rest of the vaccines, a total of 1.1 million doses, should arrive in a few weeks. In Finland the swine flu situation has remained stable, although infections still occur.

The second wave of the swine flu epidemic will probably arrive in Finland next autumn at the latest. Good vaccination coverage could prevent a new outbreak of the epidemic. So far around two million Finns have already been vaccinated.

Vaccination against swine flu is still recommended to everyone. Especially the persons in the at-risk groups who have not yet been vaccinated should get the vaccine even though at present the vaccinations are targeted at the healthy adult population.

Fewer than half of Finns have received the swine flu shot

Many municipalities are entering the final stretch to provide the vaccine to residents. A couple months ago, health centres relied on security to handle the crowds of people queuing for the H1N1 flu shot. Senior Medical Officer Terhi Kilpi at the National Institute for Health and Welfare says the turnout is surprisingly low.

“Those who haven’t taken the shot are mostly healthy people of working age who do not belong to any risk group,” she says. Kilpi says she hopes as many people as possible get the shot before the end of March.

A new wave of swine flu is expected by next winter at the latest. She adds that people who avoid the vaccine can put others at risk. ”A high number of unvaccinated people increases the risk of a more virulent epidemic.

Next winter the virus could, for instance, be particularly hard on young people, especially those who are not vaccinated. Now is the time to get the shot,” she says. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health recommends that municipalities complete the vaccinations swiftly and flexibly.

The special vaccination arrangements could then be dismantled by the end of March, and a return to normality would be possible in health care. Even after this the health services should offer the vaccine as usual especially to persons in the at-risk groups who have not yet been vaccinated; these include pregnant women, persons with medical condition causing a risk of developing a serious illness, and children aged over six months.

The swine flu vaccine used in Finland is well tolerated. The range and prevalence of side effects do not give any reasons to suspect the safety of the vaccine and the side effects are similar to those of influenza vaccines in general. The most common side effect has been local reactions where the injection was given. Over 10 per cent of the vaccinated have experienced fever, muscle ache and fatigue or headache.

The influenza telephone hotline operates on weekdays from 12 to 17.

The hotline answers general questions about swine flu and swine flu vaccinations. Advice regarding the health status of callers is not given via telephone. The telephone number of the service is 0800 02277 in Finnish and 0800 02278 in Swedish. The telephone hotline has been in operation since the end of July. The number of calls has decreased in recent weeks to around 30 per day.

Finnish Ministry of Health and Social Affaires, YLE

DREAMS OF GLASS FLY INTO THE WORLD – Finland Paradise For Glass Lovers

6 02 2010

By Rebecca Libermann

„And since you know you cannot see yourself,

so well as by reflection,

I, your glass,

will modestly discover to yourself,

that of yourself which you yet know not of. „

William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar)

Before Take-Off: Oiva Toikka’s White Whooper Swan, Iittala © Rebecca Libermann

Glass is a wonderful stuff, sturdy and at the same time perishable, malleable and equally unbendable,  for ever fascinating in all its formations and transformations, mirroring our dreams and expressing our flights of phantasy.

In 2010, Oiva Toikka (born 1931) known for his glass birds, soars again. The Design Museum in Helsinki will celebrate his career of 50 years as a glass designer for Iittala and offers 30 May – 19 September 2010 a major retrospective of his work. Reason enough to look at Finland the paradise of glass.

Finlandia Vodka Bottle designed by Wirkkala (1970-2000)

Which are Finland’s best-known glass objects in the world. Right! Tapio Wirkkala’s Finlandia Vodka bottle and Alvar Aalto’s wavy „Savoy vase“ from the 1930’s, still manufactured in ever-changing forms, materials, techniques and colours by Iittala.

The “Aalto vase” as it’s now called, rumored to be inspired by the shape of Aalto’s wife Aino’s undies lying on the floor, is as popular and versatile as ever.

Designed for the luxury Savoy restaurant in Helsinki and the Paris World Fair 1936,the vase launched Finnish glass on to the international scene, where it staid on until now, taking to the sky with the ever-expanding menagerie of birds by the Finnish glass artist Oiva Toikka and the Italian designer Giorgio Vigna.

Aalto Vase

Finland entered the International stage of glass design relatively late. But it managed better than some of the older, traditional glass producing countries to marry art with functionality, turning art objects into articles of daily use or household goods into sculptures. Maybe it was because Finnish glass designers where not weighted down by centuries of tradition, and very probably the fact that they were multi- disciplinary designers and artist’s played a role, too.

Aalto Flower

What’s more, Finnish glass artists took the material glass, played and experimented with it, sometimes even re-invented it. and  influenced other glass artists all over the world.

Sarpaneva vase

Over the years, glass like Finland’s wood and high-tech became practically part of the country’s national identity. Designer and brand names like Aino and Alvar Aalto, Kaj Franck, Timo Sarpaneva, Tapio Wirkkala and Oiva Toikka are ranking in Finland as in many parts of the world, even today, as high as Finnish icon composer Jean Sibelius, communication giant Nokia or Linux inventor Linus Torwalds, if not higher.  Though in  Finland, a household might very well go without music or computer, but definitely never without some Finnish designer glass.

Wirkkala Bottles

Most of the glass is nowadays manufactured by Iittala, which is practically synonym with Finnish glass design.

Glass has been produced in Finland since the 15th Century, and when Iittala started in 1881 in the town of Iittala in South-Eastern Finland, there were still around 20 glass works left. While in other countries glass art was produced in small studios of the glass artists themselves, Finland’s glass art objects were made almost solely in the major glass works, at least until the last decades. But this has been also one of the main reasons for the success of Finnish glass design.

Broken Dreams - Only perfect birds survive, (Broken Dreams) Nuutajärvi factory/Iittala© Rebecca Libermann

The glass works provided the artists with the security and the freedom to develop their style. They arranged competitions through which young artists received recognition for their work and promoted them on the international scene via the Triennials and World Fairs.

Aino Aalto, Iittala

As to Finnish glassware, its continuing success, from its Golden Years in the 1950’s onward, is due not only to its stylishness and functionalism, but also its timelessness, its rebellion against  throw-away-ism. It’s easy to combine a plate from the 1930’s with a bowl from the 1960’s and a water-glass from the year 2010.  It still matches in colors and form, and, stacked together, it even can form something like a sculpture. But the often-suggested simplicity of Finnish design is deceiving. Often, up to a decade goes into designing the set.

And, as different as all the glass designers are and as abstract their art, nature is a pervasive element in their design. Elements such as ice, wind, water, tree-bark, the contours of a lake, a flower, a mushroom, a fish or a bird appear over and over in Finnish glass art and design, not seldom contrasted by strong and colourful decorations, in particular in glass by Nuutajärvi.

On The Road: Giorgio Vigna’s Red Circoli, Nuutajärvi glass works, Iittala © Rebecca Libermann

Iittala Glassworks, today the Iittala Group, founded in 1881, has played a very important role in the development of the glass industry. Today, it is one of the leading glass factories in Northern Europe producing both glass art and household glass. To the company belongs also the former independent glass factories Humppila and Nuutajärvi, founded already in 1793, the oldest factory still in operation in Finland.

The Nuutajärvi Glass Village is located in the old, picturesque municipality Urjala, about 150 km north of Helsinki. Small studios of art glass designers, a glass school, a glass museum and the Nuutajärvi glass factory are found here, and from here the big, varied flock of flamboyant glass birds by Oiva Toikka and Giorgio Vigna travel to collectors all over the world. Master glassblowers create these collectible works of art by hand, making each bird unique.

A Bird Gets Born: Glass blower at Nuutajärvi glass works © Rebecca Libermann

In 2010, Toikka  will celebrate his career of 50 years as a designer for Iittala and the Design Museum’ in Helsinki will celebrate this playful spirit in Finnish design with a major retrospective.

Toikka Lollipop

Oiva Toikka, “a man of beguiling contradictions”, is one of the most distinguished and prolific names in modern Finnish glass. His imaginative, rich and bold glass art deviates from the streamlined aesthetic of Nordic design. “OivaToikka is a Finnish artist of immense creative talent, vision and versatility, the creator of elaborate compositions and installations, even for theatre and opera stage. Throughout a varied artistic career spanning over half a century, Toikka has worked in glass and ceramics, and has designed stage sets and costumes for the stage, and even textiles for Marimekko”, writes British art historian Jack Dawson in his new book on Oiva Toikka.

Oiva Toikka is known as somebody who has always followed his own path. His colourful and rich idiom of form has gained many admirers, both in Finland and abroad. As an artist and designer, Toikka is a perpetual seeker and experimenter. He began his collaboration with Arabia-Nuutajärvi-Iittala in 1956–1959 with stylized animal sculptures that he created at the Arabia factory’s Art Department. In 1963, Toikka began his work in glass that has continued to the present-day. Alongside ceramics and glass, Oiva Toikka has designed, among other works, textiles, opera sets and costumes, and plastic products.

Oiva Toikka Summer stint

The exhibition at Design Museum presents Toikka’s extensive oeuvre, from his early ceramic sculpture of the 1950s to present-day objects of glass and plastics.

Oiva Toikka uses glass like a painter uses his palette exploring colour, transparency and opacity of glass. Best known to the public are  Toikka’s birds which the glass artist started to design 37 years ago. Since then, every year, Toikka and the skilled glassblowers of Nuutajärvi have breathed life into yet new species of handmade, individual, partly numbered birds and annual eggs. Over the years, hundreds of different types have been created.

Oiva Toikka’s ideas spring from nature and from the artist’s abundant imagination. Toikka’s birds fly around the world, from Finland to the United States and from Central Europe all the way to Japan.

Oiva Toikka at work, Nuutajärvi glass works © Rebecca Libermann

“He possesses one of the richest visual vocabularies in contemporary glass art and is still on a continued voyage of discovery that frequently takes him into uncharted territories…Toikka’s work can be described in many ways – idiosyncratic, extravagant, eccentric, fantastical, colourful, problematic, and, paradoxically, at times whimsical and highly entertaining”, says Jack Dawson,  senior lecturer of the University of Sunderland.

Oiva Toikka and Giorgio Vigna 2007 at Nuutajärvi glass works© Rebecca Libermann

While Toikka is continuing with his new birds collection, Iittala has introduced yet an other new generation of birds in 2007, created by the Italian artist and jewellery designer Giorgio Vigna who works for instance in Murano, Venice, where earlier also the Finnish glass artists Sapaneva and Wirkkala had come to work.

Giorgio Vigna glass bird

“The strength of the birds lies in their primal, elemental drop shape”, explains Vigna his compact, linear bird sculptures, and adds: “These birds are like abstract creatures descended into our world from a land full of dreams and imagination”.


For more information about Oiva Toikka, the artist, there is a wonderful 181 pages book in English out, Oiva Toikka Glass and Design and an other one by Päivi Jantunen Birds . In it, author Jack Dawson explains, how Toikka differs from his contemporaries Sarpaneva, Wirkkala and Franck, and shows Toikka’s inspirations and aesthetic vision. It’s a fascinating story for aficionados of 20th century Finnish design.

Perhaps best of all are the over 150 color photos and illustrations of Toikka’s breathtaking one-off pieces, exhibitions, and glass installations. Jack Dawson, author of this book, is senior lecturer in the history of art and design, University of Sunderland, United Kingdom, where his primary research interests are 20th century international and Scandinavian glass and contemporary applied arts. He is author of Finnish Post-War Glass 1945–1996 (1996) and 75 Years of Swedish Glass Art (2000). The book is published by WSOY, Finland.

There is a new publication on Oiva Toikka, issued in 2010 by the Design Museum, Helsinki, to accompany the exhibition celebrating his 50th year in glass: Oiva Toikka, Moments of Ingenuity. It complements Jack Dawson’s comprehensive, earlier monograph: Oiva Toikka, Glass and Design.

Also worth buying is Celebrating Finnish Glass – Iittala 125, a book published in conjunction with the 125th anniversary of Iittala by the Finnish Design Museum. The book not only covers Iittala’s history, but that of Finnish glass design. It is a journey back to the roots of familiar and less familiar glass treasures found in all around Finland. The delightful book, which contains many pictures, has 272 pages and is published in English, ISBN 952-9878-47-8.

Glass Museum Nuutajärvi with many works by Kaj Franck © Rebecca Libermann

The Nuutajärvi museum is a treasure trove for people searching for old glass and art glass. You can trace the history of the Glass Village since it was founded in 1793. The beautiful museum was designed by Professor Kaj Franck. The museum is open in July from Tuesday to Sunday 12-17.

Wirkkala Bottles

The Finnish Glass Museum in Riihimäki, around 80 km north of Helsinki, is a must for glass lovers. It is a specialist museum focusing on glass design and the history of glass. The museum has operated since 1981 in a renovated defunct glass factory of the former Riihimäki Glassworks, where also classical concerts are held. The renovation was designed by Tapio Wirkkala. The museum presents the history of glass dating back over 4,000 years and the 300-year history of Finland’s glass industry. The permanent collections consist mostly of Finnish household, design and art glass from the 18th – 21th century.

From 11 March to 1 August the museum presents the exhibition Finnish Flass Life 6 – Finnish Glass 2005-2009.

The Finnish Design Museum’s comprehensive and varied collections sheds light on the history and development of Finnish design. The collection comprises over 35,000 objects, 40 000 drawings and 100 000 images. It is also complimented by a registry of over 1 000 designers.

The permanent exhibition of the museum is supported by temporary Finnish and international thematic exhibitions on historical and contemporary design. The museum shows the development of industrial art, artistic handicraft and industrial design from the second half of the 19th century to the present day.

The Iittala Glass Museum is today part of Helsinki’s Design Museum. Only 1-1/2 hours outside of Helsinki you will find the timeless Aalto vase being produced along with other signature glass. The history of Iittala glass is on display with works of such great glass artists as Tapio Wirkkala and Timo Sarpaneva.

Coyright Rebecca Libermann

Glassy View Out, Nuutajärvi museum © Rebecca Libermann


19 05 2009

Arabella The Mouse

A short story by Rebecca Libermann

Cats hate water. But in a stormy winter night in Helsinki, mine learned swimming the fast way.

Splish, splash. splish, splash… “How comforting and soothing”, I thought listening to the soft waterfall noises of rain hitting the roof, which had woken me up. It was pitch-dark, and the illuminated display of my alarm-clock showed 3 a.m. I turned in bed, feeling save and cozy, and drifted off again.

But the rain kept drumming stronger and stronger, the windows rattled, the roof groaned, and my cat made weird noises. And then there was this strange, dripping sound. Dozily, I went in the darkness to the window front of my bedroom/office, to find out what went on outside. Suddenly I noticed, that I was soaking-wet, even though my windows were still tightly closed.

Utterly confused I crossed the room, water running down my body, and turned on the lights. Jo and behold, the room had become a lake with a waterfall, where my cat tried to learn how to swim.

For two days we continued to wade through the drizzle, which run down from the ceiling. Our condominium quite in the center of Helsinki was soon to be the main attraction for all our neighbors and their friends.

Not to wake anybody too early, I called at dawn – well, what is deemed in Finland in winter as daybreak – the house manager. The man stoically advised me to stay calm and put a bucket on the floor.

One bucket? A whole line of buckets, all bath towels and linens in my possession as well as a row of baking trays covered already my beautiful 70-year old parquet, and it was quite a feat to empty them continuously.

Repeated calls, polite begging, and shouted threats, in Finnish and English, did not move the man into to some form of action. “Take it easy. Empty the bucket. We talk about it tomorrow”, where his ill received advises.

In the meantime a whole bunch of people had collected in my home. There was a young student from next door, whose rented mini-apartment had become like mine a shower room, a retired professor from the apartment below mine, who naturally did not want to have my swimming pool dousing his home, and finally a public prosecutor, a friend of mine, who helped me move my office and all my thousand belongings into the living room.

We all took turns to call the house manager, and he, not knowing that we were all sitting in the same living room, told everybody an other story, why nothing could be done, should be done or had to be done so fast or at all.

In the afternoon he gave up his massive resistance and rung the bell at my slightly undulating apartment door, a battered plastic bag in his right hand and a patronizing building contractor at his left side,.

“Well, don’t you worry, little woman. This is just a mere triviality, which will be over and done with in a few days. We will get back to you again sometimes tomorrow”, exclaimed house manager and building contractor unisono after glancing for half a second dismissively at the still water spewing crack in the ceiling which run through the whole room.  Both retreated hastily.

On the third day, a different wind was blowing, generated by a deafening machine, which was supposed to dry out our in-house lake. Incessantly, for two long weeks, the storm roared in our two-room apartment, while I and my big, chubby, long-haired cat, Arabella The Mouse, camped nose to tail in out living room, surrounded by our thousand belongings. We even managed to work a bit, in order to put food in our mouths, which the shock had still not closed.

Our home door however stood non-stop open, with workers as well as a whole bunch of not-greeting (a Finnish habit), un-announced and sometimes un-welcome people moving in and out of our home, from 7 a.m. to sometimes 10 p.m., disturbing layers upon layers of fine white powder dust, which coated everything and everybody.

After 10 days the lake, which my cat had become to love, had vanished, but the wetness had spread in the walls and ceiling, and it was decided to open parts up. Two walls of mine and the ceiling took on crater landscape-like qualities, so that I considered to declare the room an installation art work and take entrance fee.

A little while later rebuilding started and three weeks more pandemonium of a different kind. Arabella The Mouse, once snow-white with dark-grey back, was now mouse-grey, in keeping with her name. Most of the time she set hidden by a table-cloth on a chair under the dining table, and came down from there, only when nature called, … or late at night.

She thought that the boxes, furniture and heaps of things arranged into towers crowding our temporary living/bed/working room, were her very own adventure play-ground. Night after night I heard her happy cries and the clattering and clanking of I don’t know what.

In the meantime, me, the house manager, the house board and the insurances had commenced a trench war. I discovered that the house, as so many in Helsinki, was to some extend neglected. Costly repairs were done only when unavoidable. That the roof leaked was known, also that a rain pipe was missing, but who in his right mind listens to an old crony or some stupid apartment owner reporting such things.

Rule number one in Finland: One does not discuss problems, one sweeps them comfortably under the carpet (more about carpets later), and digs them out only, when they start stinking.

Or, as some highly qualified building experts, who lives in the same house as I, told me, when I showed myself bewildered: ”The Shoemaker’s children always go barefoot”. More bewildered yet, I asked: “Since when do I belong to your family?”

Against the building contractor I won the war. Like quite a few Finnish men, he treated women like children. Like quite a few workers everywhere, he did as little as possible for as much as possible money, and had probably planned our somewhat decrepit house as fixed income in his monthly budget.

He suggested a renovation in several steps with pauses of here some days, there some weeks in-between, so that he could do other jobs. Aesthete that he was, he also wanted only to paint the two water-damaged walls and half of the ceiling. Furthermore, he was of the opinion that damage was not so bad. A bit drying and painting would do the trick.

But I had a hunch, that he was wrong and insisted on a sensible approach in terms of logistic, finances and quality. Needless to say, I won. The contractor retreated in the end with his family to a Caribbean island, a holiday he had already planned, before he spoke to me, and left the supervision of the renovation in the hands of a lanky, young guy, who started a love affair with my cat.

He told her endless stories about his own slightly bizarre minicat and his father, whose hair got grey overnight because of a similar experience than mine, a fire destroying part of his house. Well, my hair, already grey when not colored, thinned considerably and I grew bald.

Anyway, the chatty, a little shifty eyed painter who out of whatever, maybe sinister, reason downright refused to take my house-key, which would have made me independent to leave the house, drank endlessly coffee and ate masses of cookies I offered him in the hope to get him to work faster.

How it happened that, suddenly, I was surrounded not only by chaos, but also by more animals, I really can’t say. Friends went abroad and left me their mini-parrot in exchange for some quiet, dust-free hours of sleep in their apartment. But Sinatra wanted non-stop to be stroked and screeched like a banshee.

Another friend gave me the key to her apartment, in order to lend me peace. But there waited a big dog for me, howling like a wolf and insisting for me to walk, feed, stroke it and to play with it.

Finally I had enough. I cancelled everything, told people and animals, including my cat, to leave me alone, closed the door to my home, slipped under the bed covers and went to sleep for 24 hours.

Halfway rested, I entered the thick of the battle again, while Arabella The mouse mewed at the condo’s door and wanted to move out.  In the end we both moved out, or at least to a certain extend.

But first, we had still to win a battle with the home insurance. The insurance claims for the whole apartment house had – unchallenged by the house board and the house manager – already been turned down. The insurance refused to pay for water damages caused by a storm to an old leaking roof with missing drain pipes.

Different from my Finnish neighbors, I did not wanted to go down without a fight. I and a friend of mine, well versed in law, read ourselves through countless pages of my home insurance contract and the relevant Finnish law and came up with a valid claim. Only few days and one e-mail later, my insurance company informed us, that they would pay their share.

Reinvigorated, dreaming of peace and calm, Arabella The Mouse and I went into exile. On a snowy afternoon, we moved into the empty apartment of yet another friend. Packed with quite a part of our possessions on the stairwell, we suddenly came face to face with a drunkard, not an unknown sight in the Eastern part of Helsinki or actually in Finland as a whole.

He received us shouting: “Get out of here. I am fed up with people coming and going here all the time, and people moving in and out.”

“Well, no wonder they move”, I thought later at 2 a.m. listening to the racket in front of my new door and the row in the neighbor apartment which ended later in an ear-splitting crescendo.

But who needs sleep. I had to get up at 5 a.m. anyway to let the painter with the strange mini-cat in my apartment. Often I had got up early for nothing, because he, for instance, “had to drive 30 km, in order to fetch paint” or “had forgotten his tools on a building site in Vantaa”, a neighbor city of Helsinki. The only time I came late, he, of course, was on time and got mad at me for letting him wait

The next time he brought a young colleague for reinforcement whose hot love romance with a student living in my house blossomed in the numerous, lengthy work pauses.

Nonetheless the devastated walls of my bedroom/office slowly but surely got their peach-color back, and so did my parquet floor. And, in addition to the color, the floor  had also gotten a very avant-garde scratch pattern, which was not completely to my liking. Then again, the door frames, sprinkled with dark-green patches, once covered evenly by white color, matched the new style.

I caught up with the painters just before they tried to escape without their goodbyes, and forced them into painting my door frames white again. They took it too literal, and now I need sunglasses at home because of the glaring whiteness. Which reminds me of the building contractor vacationing in the Caribbean. He had returned to Finland but never to my apartment. To send a bill he did not forget.

Whatever. After nearly two month utter mayhem, finally tranquility… ,and  half a meter high fine white dust and dirt in every nook and corner. My two love-sick painters wanted to save plastic covers and just thrown them artistically here and there over something.

Washing machine on, expensive clothes and two Persian carpets to the dry-cleaner and a call to the cleaning lady of a friend, and I was in business. So I hoped. The hard to come by help came the next morning, her husband in tow and some suspiciously dirty looking rags in one hand. Soon the dust swirled … from one corner to the other … and in all the swirling the husband knocked a painting from the wall, so that its frame broke.

„No problem”, said the cleaning lady whose mouth never stood still, while her husbands never opened. “My husband is good with his hands and will make you a brand-new frame.

In the meantime, her husband polished proudly and lengthy the old and ugly brass knobs on my kitchen cupboards ignoring the kitchenette itself, which was filthy inside and out, with unwashed dishes piled up in the sink.

The next day I brought my cat from the other apartment where she had taken on some pitiful habits, having been left alone. At home she became in a wink the darling of the cats-owning cleaning lady and her husband, who from then on waited more on Arabella The mouse than my floors. He also brought me the “repaired” picture frame, which matched my new modernistic door-frames and parquet. The color had turned from black to bright orange. A corner was missing and the wood was here and there chipped. While we still discussed it, his wife – to my utter horror – put my bathroom under water.

To save time and because she always does it like that, she had taken the shower and doused the painted walls, the wooden furniture and the cracked tile floor with the only half functioning drain thoroughly with water.  Another lake, only this time in the bathroom. The lake in the bathroom would have consequences. But that is an  other story.

Stressed I left my home in direction dry-cleaner. Tonight, I wanted to laze around with my cat for the first time since weeks on our cozy carpet and watch TV. It was not going to be. When I arrived at the dry-cleaners and looked at my carpets, I wished for some magic, rugs are supposed to possess. One had lost half of its tassels, and the side seams had come apart. The other, originally blue and brown, had now big orange spots. Why does everything change color?

“The orange was for sure already there. You only have not noticed it before”, lectured me the sales girl behind the counter.

A new tug-of-war began. No coziness for further four weeks, in which I sprayed my new peach colored walls with black ink from an ink jet cartridge, which I tried to fill myself in order to save money. Well the avant-garde black pattern on the peach colored walls fit well with the modern scratch pattern of my parquet and the glaring white door-frames. You should come and visit.

After four weeks I visited the dry-cleaner again. My one carpet had now even more and longer tassels than before and also its seams were repaired, but it also had a new pattern, three big stripes made by some chemical. The other carpet had still its orange spots. Raving and screaming as only I can scream I demanded a refund of the money I paid already in advance.

While behind me the line of quietly waiting customers grew and grew, I was told, that the three streaks would necessitate a further dry-cleaning, which would probably take some weeks. Money I would not get back, because the carpets had been cleaned.

“Don’t be so critical. Apart from the streaks, the carpet looks wonderful having been now so masterfully restored. But if you are not satisfied, we keep the carpets for some experts to have a look at them. In that case it might take some months until you have them and maybe your money back”, the dry-cleaner claimed.

Now there was definitely no stopping me. My cat had taught me, not only how to hiss, but also how to strike. I threw myself over my carpets, called a lawyer and afterwards the somewhat taken aback director of the dry-cleaning company. The customers did not complain about waiting. They loved the reality show.

In a very short time, the fight was over and the 100 Euro as well as the streaky, so “masterful” restored carpets mine again.

At home, I worked on the streaky carpets with curd soap, and the streaks vanished immediately.

Well, now I know, how to clean Persian carpets, and Arabella The Mouse knows how to swim.

Copyright Rebecca Libermann