FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Highlights of Mariehamn

Posted in Åland, Mariehamn by folkestonejack on July 3, 2019

Over one and half days we found time to visit the sights of Mariehamn, slotted around an outing to Kastelholm. The compact nature of the capital, positioned on a narrow peninsula, makes it very easy to get around. Indeed, it takes just 15 minutes to walk from one side of the city to the other. It’s a charming city too, with many pretty nineteenth century/early twentieth century wooden houses to admire.

The only place we didn’t spend much time at was the Maritime Quarter, though we did get a chance to wander the shoreline here in the early hours of the morning. We attempted to take a look at the small seafarers chapel at the end of the pier here until a dive-bombing seagull stopped us in our tracks. A second attempt 24 hours later was no more successful – we took the hint from a series of low-flying swoops and some pretty loud screeching!

Model Town Mariehamn
Modellstaden Mariehamn

The scant information I had discovered online for the Modellstaden Mariehamn had said that it was located in Mathis Hallen’s basement in the corner of Norragatan-Ålandsvägen and operated fairly limited opening hours. I conjured up a vision of a model town in the basement of an elderly gentleman, so I was highly amused to discover that Mathis Hallen was actually Mariehamn’s largest supermarket!

The entrance to the model town

The set up that awaited in the extensive basement was far more impressive than anything I could have imagined. The entire space was filled with glass cabinets that presented a vision of the city in the 1920s that includes more than 600 detailed buildings. I soon discovered that this was the result of 30 years work by a group of pensioners in Mariehamn, which has been only been on display to the public since 2015.

I could see that the enthusiastic volunteers were proud of their masterpiece and rightly so. One chap took the time to point out to us the school he attended and recalled that the doors were locked dead on 8 o’clock each morning and if you were not in on time you had to wait outside in the cold. After five years he had enough and went to sea!

Mariehamn in the 1920s

The city was founded in 1861 so most of what you can see was constructed in the architectural styles of the late 19th/early 20th century, much of which is still very recognisable. We had not seen enough of Mariehamn to appreciate what we were looking at when we went in, but once we started walking around the city afterwards we started to spot the beautiful buildings that we had seen in miniature. Quite marvelous.

The model town is open to visitors this year each day from 1st June until 31st August between 12pm and 4pm. Entry is free.

Aland Maritime Museum and Museumship Pommern
Ålands sjöfartsmuseum och fartyget Pommern

The Pommern is the star attraction of Mariehamn. A four-masted and iron-hulled merchant sailing ship built in 1903 by by John Reid and Co of Glasgow. The first owners of the Pommern were the the German shipping company F. Laeisz of Hamburg whose ships acquired the nickname of the Flying P-Liners on account of their speed. The company sold off many of their older ships in the 1920s and the Pommern was acquired by Åland shipowner Gustaf Erikson in 1923.

Museum ship Pommern

Once on board the rather enjoyable audio commentary talked us through the story of the Pommern’s voyages to Australia on the grain run. The Pommern won the grain races twice, in 1930 and 1937, with many of the other races going to other Flying P-Liners in Finnish ownership. Inside the ship there are a few more interactive displays and an audio-visual re-creation of a storm at sea.

The maritime museum next door holds plenty of interest too. Among the highlights is the preserved cabin of the Herzogin Cecilie, a four time winner of the grain race, which was inexplicably beached off the coast of Devon in 1936. Attempts to save the ship failed and the ship was wrecked. The ship owner, Gustaf Erikson, had the salvageable parts of the ship transported back to Åland, including the captain’s saloon.

Other exhibits on display include one of only two authentic skull and crossbones pirate flags known to exist (a real curiosity, at 200 years old and now faded from black to light brown) and yet more of those porcelain Staffordshire dogs that seem to be everywhere in Scandinavia!

Åland Cultural History Museum and Åland Art Museum
Ålands Kulturhistoriska Museum och Ålands konstmuseum

Two museums in one – one telling the history of the Åland islands and the other presenting the art collection of Åland. It was fascinating to discover the complex path the islands have taken to the autonomous and demilitarised status of the present day. There are enough exhibits on display help to tell the story in an engaging way without it being overwhelming. The importance of the passenger traffic between Stockholm and Helsinki is mentioned again here and I never tire of seeing models of Viking Line ships (there were plenty in the maritime museum too).

Ålands Kulturhistoriska Museum och Ålands konstmuseum

I wouldn’t say that much of the art grabbed me, but there were individual pieces that grabbed my attention. There are only a couple of rooms to wander through so it doesn’t take long to have a look around.

Ångbåtsbryggan Adventure Golf

I always enjoy a good game of crazy golf and this course is among the crazier that I have seen. There are 2 courses of 9 holes, each with some challenging holes, which together make for a very enjoyable game. The cost of entry was 8 euros per adult for 18 holes, payable at the bar (the course is in the grounds of a pub).

Ångbåtsbryggan Adventure Golf

Quite a mad course with many crazy and near impossible shots which ends with a shot to get your ball through a tunnel up and over a bridge onto an island. The fact that a net is provided to fish balls out of the water gives you some indication of the failure rate! I reached the maximum allowed shots on a few holes, failed to get anywhere near the hole on a few others and my ball had to be fished out of the water twice at the final hole. However, I still only narrowly lost!

Robot man and dog

One of the coolest surprises on our wanders through Mariehamn was the discovery of a robot man and dog standing guard outside Övernäs school. The robots are the work of artist Johan Karlsson and have proved a popular addition according to news reports. Another of his creations was on display in Ålands art museum at the time of our visit.

Robot man and dog in Mariehamn

St Görans church

The church of St Görans was completed in 1927 and sits at the very heart of the city, on Norra Esplanadgatan, surrounded by green spaces. The building was designed by local architect Lars Sonck with striking ceiling paintings by Bruno Tuukkanen, perhaps better known for designing the Finnish flag.

St Görans church in Mariehamn

One of the three bells in the church was originally to be found in the garrison church at Bomarsund, but was taken back to England as a trophy of victory after the surrender of the fortress. The bell remained in the Tower of London until it was returned to Åland in 1925.

Post Office

Åland has issued its own stamps since 1984 and they make great souvenirs. It’s worth dropping in to the Post Office to see what stamps are on sale. The designs are usually rather splendid, such as the sets showing the passenger ferries familiar to the waters of Åland.


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