Last Sunday before church, Pete and I went to visit one of our closest museums: Työväenasuntomuseo or Worker Housing Museum. It’s about 1km from our flat so it was an easy walk (see Google Map here). We were lucky to arrive just as the English tour had started to we joined it. The museum is an old building built in the early 20th century to provide decent living conditions for Helsinki city workers. At about the time of the house’s building. Helsinki’s population was undergoing an astronomical growth spurt. And, as with many other cities (e.g. London in the mid 19th-century), the living conditions were reduced drastically with the cities unable to provide basics like clean, running water and sewerage works for everyone. the result was plenty of illness and death. This is the backdrop of the workers’ houses.
The house is divided into a few sections. each with its own staircase and attic and basement. On the main floor, there are two rooms. A whole family lived independently in one room. It was a bit cramped for my style with the room being about the size of my kitchen now (by the way, we also live in old worker’s housing but from slightly more affluent times and we have TWO rooms AND a bathroom). Each room in the museum is made up as if the families still lived there and they are each from different decades. The last one is made up of the possessions of an old man who still lived there in the 80’s. One is from the war time with black out curtains over the windows and a meagre meal on the table. Another is the home of a widow and her 7 children with the beds all open and unmade because they have just woken up and gone off to work. I can’t imagine living in such cramped quarters with so many children and no husband to help! Each room has a little plaque outside telling the story of the actual inhabitants of the rooms as they are now displayed. One room has the tea things set up for the christening of a new baby with the traditional pink cookies/cakes for a baby girl (they would be blue if it was a boy).
Each room also has the modern conveniences of a basin with a tap giving each family running water and a wood/coal burning stove for heating and cooking purposes. It was interesting to see that the earl;y beds were able to be pushed so that they halved in length. So in some rooms it looked as if there were midget living there! But they were just making ingenuitive use of the space. Often what looked like a hard bench was able to be made into another bed. One room was the home to a retired couple, their two adult daughters and a grown up grand-daughter. There was no sign of a bed for each of the young ladies but apparently, they changed the little bench into one.
The basement was home to what was originally a dry toilet but later replaced with a flushing toilet. Each family had their own one! The basement is a rather primitive space with the rock foundation of the building exposed and a dirt floor. There was a space for keeping wood with a little window/hole in the wall where wood could be passed to the outside. There was also a little nook for pantry like storage for potatoes, juices, jams and other preserves. Apparently during the war(s) the inhabitants bred rabbits down there to supplement their diets. All of the basement areas for the whole house flowed into each other without partitions unlike the main floor.
Outside the house is a nice open and green space. There were actually about 4 workers housing buildings there but the others are still being used for the same purpose they were a hundred years ago: housing the Helsinki city staff. I am sure the houses are a bit more modern now but I wouldn’t say no to a peak inside. Now they are quite cute and enviable with their nice big tree and open grassy patch so near to the city centre. Oh yes, and there is (of course), a building in the yard that served as the sauna!