Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

During World War II Finland was fighting Russia all down its Eastern border and protecting its country from invasion. The Finns were hopelessly outnumbered and the Russians were a superior force. This period would later be known as The Winter War.

Under the leadership of General Mannerheim the Finns had to resort to clever tactics and guerilla warfare. They relied heavily on regiments of ski troops, sent out world renown sniper Simo Häyhä, but lesser known is the large scale production and use of the Molotov Cocktail.

Hidden amongst the trees in the town of Rajamäki are two identical abandoned towers made of poured concrete used during that period, but for what?

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Rajamäki is small industrial town 45km from Finland’s Capital, Helsinki. The town has been home to an alcohol bottling plant since before World War II. During The Winter War this plant was used for another purpose, to produce Molotov Cocktails on an industrial scale.

Though the Molotov Cocktail had been used throughout history it was the Finns that realised its effectiveness in guerilla warfare and against the armoured Russian tanks.

With the Molotov Cocktail factory working flat out and vital to Finland’s success it became a key target on the Russians attack. Two concrete towers were built just outside Rajamäki. These would provide a platform just above the tree line where anti-aircraft guns would be positioned, from here the Finn’s would be able to protect the town and the factory from an aerial assault.

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Shortly after their completion The Winter War was concluded when Finland ceded a large portion of its Eastern border to Russia. Now, these towers are locked up and abandoned, forgotten and hidden in the Finnish forest. Their history just as mysterious as the structures themselves.

Rajamäki and the Molotov Cocktail

Further reading:

The aftermath of The Winter War and the Germans Scorched Earth.

My visit to Porkkala and discovering its hidden Russian history.

How a Small Force of Finnish Ski Troops Fought Off a Massive Soviet Army

As usual you can see more from my travels on Instagram.

The Tricorn

The Tricorn was a car park situated in the city of Portsmouth. Designed in the early 1960s by Owen Luder and Rodney Gordon, the concrete structure was envisioned as a blank canvas where shop fronts and market stalls would bring colour and life to the building. Originally the building was going to be called ‘Casbah’ meaning Market in the Sky.

The Tricorn

At first the building was heralded with an award for its design, but gradually fell into disrepair. The Tricorn never reached its full potential and it quickly became clear that it would never be used for the purpose for which it was originally intended. 

The Tricorn

There was much debate in the city and the Tricorn gained notoriety as one of the ugliest in the country. It wasn’t long before people were calling for the building to be removed and the area redeveloped.

The Tricorn

After years of delays demolition on the Tricorn began in March 2004, to make way for a large modern shopping centre that would bring change to the City of Portsmouth. Now, the area remains undeveloped. In its place a temporary car park that has slowly become a permanent feature.The Tricorn

Further Reading:

BRUTAL – The Tricorn

My very first printed zine BRUTAL is available to order HERE. It is an A5 book featuring images of the Tricorn shot on film in 2004 shortly before the building was demolished and a cover illustration from Nick Coupland. They were taken as part of a series documenting several changes that the city of Portsmouth was going through at that time. I am hoping to bring other projects to life like this and I can only do that with your support.

The Tricorn

 

It’s too Late to Save Welbeck Street Car Park

It's too Late to Save Wellbeck Street Car Park

Welbeck Street Car Park is a short walk from Oxford Street in London. It was designed and built in the Brutalist style in the 1970s as parking for the nearby Debenhams. Its facade made from prefabricated concrete polygons has become very recognisable.

It's too Late to Save Wellbeck Street Car Park

In 2017 a petition was started in order to put pressure on Historic England to grant the building with listed status or at least consider a design of the new hotel that incorporated the iconic facade. Unfortunately, both were unsuccessful.

It's too Late to Save Wellbeck Street Car Park

It's too Late to Save Wellbeck Street Car Park

The demolition was scheduled and plans went ahead to turn the site into a 10 storey, 206 bedroom hotel.

It's too Late to Save Wellbeck Street Car Park

It's too Late to Save Welbeck Street Car Park

I visited the car park in early 2019, at the time demolition hadn’t begun on the facade but work was definitely in progress. There were workman on every corner taking their breaks and the lower level entrances had been boarded up. Since then, scaffolding has been erected around the outside.

It's too Late to Save Wellbeck Street Car Park

I made it just in time to take my photos, maybe a little too late. I would have like to see the building from the inside and had the freedom to move around the building more freely with uninterrupted views. Hopefully I will be able to return in the future and photograph the change, whether or not it is for better or worse.

It's too Late to Save Wellbeck Street Car Park

 

Further reading:

Brutalist Welbeck Street car park will definitely be demolished

The design for the new hotel can see seen in the article from Architects’ Journal

The now closed petition Save Welbeck Street Car Park from Demolition !!

Tell Me All Your Secrets – Hotel Viru

Tell Me All Your Secrets - Hotel Viru

The building now known as Original Sokos Hotel Viru first opened in 1972, after construction delays and a fire in one of the upper floors. Apart from being a hotel the building and its secret history plays an interesting part in the history of the city.

Tell Me All Your Secrets - Hotel Viru

View of the Hotel Viru from Tallinn’s Old Town

The hotel is known for once hosting the KGB. Though, like anything involving the Soviet Union, the details are foggy. It is known that the 23rd floor of the building, now a museum, was home to a radio centre and that a number of rooms were under surveillance.

At the time the hotel was becoming a meeting point for international guests visiting the city and prime location for gathering information. Mystery still surrounds why information was collect, for what purpose and what was done with it after.

Tell Me All Your Secrets - Hotel Viru

In 1991 the KGB quickly abandoned residence in the hotel when Estonia became independent. Now, the hotel is operated by the Sokos Hotel chain.

Further Reading:

A winter’s Day in Tallinn’s Old Town

Modern day Sokos Hotel Viru and its KGB Museum

Other Soviet stories in A visit to Porkkala and 1950’s Era Russia

A winter’s Day in Tallinn’s Old Town

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

Over the years I have visited Tallinn many times thanks to it being only a short ferry ride from Helsinki. Each time visiting new places and getting to know the city that little bit more. Whatever my plans they always include a trip to its Old Town.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

Tallinn’s Old Town refers to its medieval region that dates back to the 13th century in the heart of the city. Its cobbled streets, gothic architecture and well preserved city walls make it a must to people visiting the Baltic region.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old TownA winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

There are plenty of small laneways to walk and discover. You don’t need to worry about get lost because, more often than not, you end up at the Town Hall Square, home to one of the best Christmas markets, and surrounded by authentic restaurants, bars and cafes.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

There are two great view points over Tallinn’s Old Town. They can be difficult to find but after a climb up hill and winding through the small cobbled streets you will be rewarded with uninterrupted views, even on a snowy winter’s day.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

Exploring Tallinn’s Old Town can easily take a day but make sure you spare some time to travel further afield. Telliskivi, Kadriorg park and the beautiful neighbourhood of Kalamaja are all worth a visit.

A winter's Day in Tallinn's Old Town

Further Reading:

For more photos from Tallinn visit my Instagram.

Take a look at one of my other visits to the city in Doors of Tallinn.

The National Library of Finland

I recently wrote about Helsinki and put my case forward for it being the city with the best looking libraries, though I am completely bias as I have only seen a handful of libraries outside of Helsinki, I stand by this.

There were two libraries missing from that list though mentioned. The first was Oodi, the new addition to Helsinki that I am eagerly waiting to visit, the second was missing intentionally.

The National Library of Finland

The National Library of Finland

The National Library of Finland is one of the finest buildings that Helsinki has, from the inside at least. From the outside the building is underwhelming and you would have little reason to believe that the inside would be any better. For me this is why I enjoy it so much. It is overlooked, underappreciated and visited mainly for academic purposes, which some may argue is the only reason needed to visit a Library.

The National Library of Finland

The library was designed by architect C.L Engel, who designed a large majority of the buildings surrounding Senate Square where the library is situated, including Helsinki Cathedral.

The National Library of Finland

Hidden away in the centre of the building is a large open atrium with a glass domed roof, on each level of course more books.

The National Library of Finland The National Library of Finland

The National Library is a legal deposit library, which means it has an obligation to keep a copy of any printed material, as well as audiovisual materials produced in Finland or distributed in Finland.

A large percentage of the collection is kept in an underground bunker drilled 18 meters down into solid rock known as Kirjaluola in Finnish or Bookcave.

The National Library of Finland

The rooms are large and lined with books, tall detailed pillars support the upper levels and painted ceilings. It’s these features and details that make the National Library of Finland such a magnificent building.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Getting into Tiananmen Square was hard enough. We joined a large crowd of Chinese people, shuffling slowly forwarded. We waited while people looked at us strangely, pointed at our feet and laughing, not knowing if joining the group was even the right thing to do. Eventually we arrived at a security checkpoint, where our bags were x-rayed and our passports checked.

We were in.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Monument to the People’s Heroes

Tiananmen Square was a large open space where traffic was prohibited and areas roped off from pedestrians with guard posts throughout. At one end Tiananmen Gate, which lead into the Forbidden City, where a large portrait of Chairman Mao hung.

The Body of Chairman Mao

 

At the other, Mao’s Mausoleum, a building built solely for the purpose of housing his embalmed body. Our first port of call.

But first we had to jump through a number of hoops in order to enter.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Guard in front of the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong

First we headed to an entirely different building, where we would have to check in any bags or cameras. While I was travelling in Vietnam I was able to visit the body of Ho Chi Minh so I had an idea of what may be required here in order to enter.

Back at the mausoleum we joined another queue, this one had a lot less people in it, and another security check point, this one just a visual inspection. As we approached the entrance there was a vendor selling white flowers. Almost every Chinese visitor in front of us purchased multiple flowers to take in with them.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Revolutionary statue in front of the mausoleum

Once we reached the entrance and went inside we were greeted by a large seated stone statue of Mao. In front of him a table so full of the white flowers they had been piled up on the floor behind. We watched as visitors placed their contribution with the others and then as a man with a large cart collected up the excess and wheeled them back out to the shop.

Moving through the corridors we came to a small room where the glass coffin was held. Inside lay a black haired Mao in a grey suit. It was a very strange moment which lasted less than a minute. We were ushered around the edges of the room before passing out the other side and into the gift shop.

The Body of Chairman Mao

National Museum of China

No one was prepared for Mao’s death. Like Ho Chi Minh he had requested to be cremated but after his death it was decided his body would be embalmed. Accounts vary but it is thought the process was rushed and ill prepared due to rocky relations with the Russians at the time. They were thought to be the experts as they had already used the technique to embalm the bodies of Stalin and Lenin, as well as assisting the Vietnamese with Minh’s body. It is said that instead they had to settle with verbal instructions from the Vietnamese and try their best.

The Body of Chairman Mao

Restricted areas and guard posts

Since 1977 his body has been here, in his purpose built mausoleum for the world to visit, with some days visitor numbers reaching well into the thousands. Today, who really knows if the body that lies there is in fact Mao’s. Rumours persist and it’s often thought that due to the process not being entirely effective the body had been replaced with a wax figure, highly believable as the process leaves the skin looking shinny and even wax like.

Further Reading:

Preserving Chairman Mao: embalming a body to maintain a legacy by The Guardian

A visitors account from 1997 Resting in Peace or in Pieces