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The Karelian Riviera - Terijoki


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The 30 km. long sandy beach between Terijoki and Kuokkala was Finland's most exotic sun-coast before the Winter War. The majestic sea, the mile-wide beach and the legendary villas enticed tens of thousands of summer visitors from many countries. Today the sun-coast is still the most popular, but also the most expensive area around St. Petersburg. There is nothing left of the old riviera. We went along the Teatralnaja Ulitsa in Zelenogorsk (formerly Terijoki) with architects Olga Kalinkin and Aleksej Vasiliev to look for the famous villas.

We were where the hotel Puistola stood - formerly the Bellevue. We admired the barred dilapidated wooden villa a few steps from the famous sea-side resort. In a window hung a sign: Police Surveillance! We drew the curtains. An old photograph in Karelian emigrant Kaj Wahlbeck's book "Karelia with Love" emerges: a tower juts up from a magnificent white-washed villa .. three people pose on the porch. The hotel was built in 1874. It offered 20 rooms and a first-class restaurant. Today nothing remains.

Olga said the city is now trying to sell the area. The only requirement is that the buildings must be restored. Olga is responsible for the restoration of the old villas along the riviera isthmus. But right now she has no work to oversee because nothing is being restored. Many of the villas belong to the state... a state that does not have any money to invest. So the villas decay.

The Railroad Changed Everything

When the St. Petersburg-Rihimäki railroad opened in 1870 the Karelian isthmus was transformed into a summer paradise. St. Petersburg residents built ca 12,000 summer villas along the Finnish coast, mostly between Terijoki and Kuokkola (Repino). The climate in the large city was unhealthy and the drinking water was bad. The wealthy people longed for a breath of fresh air and the sunny dunes. During the active years it is estimated the number of summer guests was 70,000. In 1914 the glamorous villa lifestyle came to an abrupt end when the first World War broke out. After the Russian revolution the abandoned summer villas were given over to the Finnish state. After five years they were sold at auction. As a result ca 2,000 Terijoki villas were demolished and moved to other places in Finland. Then the war broke out and the last remnants of the summer paradise were crushed.

Kaj Wahlbeck said that after the Winter War only 5-10% of the buildings in the parish remained. In the summer of 1944 most of them were burned by our retreating troops in Raivola.

Harsh Decline

Havsgatan in Komarovo (Kellomäki). A steep hill leads down to the mile-wide sandy beach. Driving up the hill a number of young sporting cyclists rode by in gaudy attire. The young people are from one of the many summer holiday camps. Olga stopped by a magnificent, romantic turn-of-the century villa with towers and pinnacles, at the top of the hill. The windows are empty. The facade is decayed. Even in 1927 when the Finnish author Ernst Lampén strolled around here, the decay was evident.

"One doesn't need to be sentimental to be touched by sorrow over the sight of all the destruction that has happened here. Gone are the throngs of people, gone is the grandeur, finery and frivolity. Broken windows are like an empty eye socket in an old worm-eaten skull."

Olga said that rich people are not interested in restoring old turn-of-the century villas. They don't see the value. They don't see the beauty. Instead they build grotesque places of red brick. A style that she used to call prison romanticism.

Holiday with Prestige

Komarovo has a railway station to thank for its existence. The village was built in a deserted area. But it soon became a popular holiday place, thanks to the healthy climate and its high overlook to the sea. Even today Komarovo is a coveted holiday place. It was here that poetess Anna Akhmatova and composer Dimitri Sjostakovitj had their dacha, and today many artists and academicians come here. The governor of St. Petersburg has his summer residence here. In the 1950s the Soviet Union produced a special kind of dacha here. Homes that could be shared by three families. Two families had rooms with a veranda. The third family had to settle for a room without a porch. They split the use of the kitchen. These dachas are now rented out to ordinary people such as radiology nurse Valentina Rostjina. She complains about the house, saying that it is old and ugly. The walls are so thin that she has to light a fire for warmth in the evenings. She said that when one is on a holiday, they'd like the house to be better than what they have in the city. But this one is just a shed. She pays 2,200 rubels (550 mk) a year for her room with a veranda. Normally the price would be 6,000 rubels (1,500 mk). She rents it cheaper because there is an invalid war veteran in the family.

She said they do not swim in the sea but go to a place a few km. away. They like to go down to the sea but it smells so bad because of the algae. Renting a dacha in Komarovo costs 26-95 rubles (6-24 mk) per square meter per month. The gulf coast is the most expensive dacha area around St. Petersburg.


We trudge through high wild grass. Olga wants to show the house she especially likes. It lies along the shore in Repino. It is a stunningly beautiful house with a tall tower with small blue windows. But it is in miserable condition. The villa belonged to a composer's union. Three years ago it was sold to a Russian firm for $50,000. The firm had to restore the house but did nothing for two years. Olga suspects they had plans to tear down the house and build a new one. Now the house will be auctioned off again. It's such a shame that in this area the villas and their history die away. But Olga said there are also good examples. She points out a villa in Komarovo that was restored according to regulations. The house is owned by the St. Petersburg city traffic collective department. Olga stressed: "You have to restore - not build new ones. That is my philosophy."

Corner between the Wars

Late in the evening we decided to seek the Villla Golicke in Repino. It was a pilgrimage for an entire generation of contemporary Finn Swedes and Swedish writers during the 1900s. Writers who were all drawn to the east and to each other. All were literary heirs to Edith Södergran (1892-1923) who had lived in Raivola a few km. north of Terijoki.

Hosts at Villa Golicke were artist couple Tito and Ina Colliander. As we searched along the paved coastal road, I imagined the bygone life at Villa Golicke: In the large villa would be Tito Colliander pounding on his typewriter. His wife Ina would be bending over a photo collection on the glassed veranda. Out in the garden Johannes Edfelt would be playing "Here Comes the Gorilla" with the Colliander daughter Maria. Elmer Diktonius walking along the beach. In the guest house Lorenz von Numers was discussing the cannons at Kronstadt with Rabbe Enckell and Helen of Enehielm. Gunnar Bjõrling sitting down at the beach and writing poetry on matchboxes. In the neighboring villa Ralf and Eva Parland - she preparing her new collection of short stories and he is working on a difficult translation. At the pension Häki sits Gunnar Ekelöf completing his collection of poems "Köp den blindes sång." In the evening all gather on the glass veranda. The samovar simmers. Tito reads aloud his short story "Taina." Later a heated discussion breaks out. To calm the mood, Ralf Parland starts his gramophone. Kreuzer's sonata drowns out the noise of Kronstedt. Edfelt reveals he has received an honoraria. General rejoicing. It breaks up for a visit to the casino. Diktonius mutters: The casino is for riding club riders and unmarried girls and wealthy snobs in swimming costumes.

Golicke Re-conquered

We need not go far before we find Villa Golicke. The cottage is located a few km. from painter Ilya Repins (1844-1930) imaginative villa. The great Russian realism master lived in Kuokkala the last 30 years of his life. He is buried in the garden and the house now serves as a museum. There are the wild rose bushes and the tall pines.. and there lies the Villa Golicke, slumbering, wedged between the road and the beach.

"A very interesting lair, maturing on the beach and the power of the sea, and lush and dirty, mixed in with animals and people. We have a small and low but neat cottage and also a large veranda where I write my articles. Occasionally some of the boys get seizures because of the lack of schnapps. The nearest Alkon is in Viborg. Early morning brought one of the old men and women who were in the alley calling "fish and vegetables", and sticking their heads through the window." Guest Diktonius wrote in a letter 20 Jul 1937.

We ask: who are housed in Villa Golicke these days? Seated around a table in the garden are five young women. On the table is an empty salad bowl and a few bottles of beer. One of them looks familiar. The photographer asks if they speak English. I myself ask if they speak Swedish.

Sure, responds Helena Sandman from Helsinki. Swedish-Finland has regained Villa Golicke! Again Finlands Swedish sounds out over the vast sandy beaches of Kuokkala!

It turns out that a fine arts academy in Helsinki is renting Villa Golicke for the third summer in a row. The school hopes that Kuokkala will have an inspiring effect on the students.

Of those around the table only Sala Järvinen is studying at the academy. The others are there out of curiosity. Helena said they were quite shocked when they got there. The house was in poor condition. It was dirty inside and the mattresses smelled of mildew. So they had to start by cleaning.

I went down to the beach. An impressive panorama opens: the sea is wide open, an armada of clouds sailing slowly forward... Kronstadt's silhouette hovers on the horizon... empty Corona beer bottles rest on boats pulled up on a sandy beach. Soon it is time for tea.

Anders Mård 6 Jan 2011

Norden 19 Aug 2012

English translation by June Pelo

Terijoki - Zelenogorsk

Terijoki is a suburb of St. Petersburg, situated on the Karelian isthmus and in the St Petersburg federal urban area. The population was 14,958 in the 2010 census. It was formerly a Finnish municipality in southeast Karelia, but was conquered by the Soviet Union during the Winter War.

Terijoki parish in 1812-1940 and 1941-1944 was Finland's most southeastern parish, and bordered on Russia at Rajajoki. The villages Nykyrka and Kivinebb are mentioned as independent congregations in 1445 documents. The village of Terijoki (originally Tervajoki) first belonged to Kivinebb until 1910 when it became a separate parish together with the village Kellomäki.

About 19% of the parish land was clay soil and arable land. Otherwise the neighborhood consisted of mostly pine forest and gravel ridges and had a magnificent beach. When the railroad between Viborg and St. Petersburg was completed in 1870, high society in St. Petersburg and Viborg discovered the idyllic village and began to build many grand villas ornamented with the gingerbread of that time period. Three hotels were built in the center. The population of 4,000 was amplified in the summer and the place was called "Finland's Riviera." When the Iron Curtain was lowered in 1918 Russian tourists no longer came and Terijoki experienced a slump, but with purposeful marketing, western visitors increased and there was no artist's colony when many artists and intellectuals found their way there for the summer.

After its conquest during the Winter War, a Finnish-quisling government was brought to Terijoki, led by Otto Ville Kuusinen and known by the name Terijoki government.


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