I recently received my first Postcrossing meetup card and it’s a beauty. My trading friend Taimi travelled from her home in Tallinn, Estonia, at the beginning of this month to attend the Helsinki International Meeting. Postmarked on 6 August 2016 (and more on that in a bit!), it arrived in Phuket on 17 August — a very quick eleven days to travel 8,338 kilometers.
What is a Postcrossing meetup, you ask? According to the Postcrossing Official Forum:
“Postcards are great… but ultimately it’s the people and connections created that make them special. So, it’s only natural that postcrossers enjoy getting together too for a meet&greet and to share their common interest in Postcrossing. We call these meetings “Postcrossing meetups”.
These meetups are informal get-togethers, organized by the members themselves – anyone can create or join one and they can be a lot of fun. Every month there are meetups all around the world and some postcrossers even travel to other countries to participate in them… while visiting a new country and stocking up on new postcards, of course!”
Tips for organizing a Postcrossing meetup are found on the forum as well, in case you are interested. I just found out that there are 46 Postcrossing members here in Phuket — out of a total of 6,413 for the entire country of Thailand. It would be nice to have a meetup somewhere nearby. I’ve actually held Postcrossing membership the longest out of the Phuket members (more than 10 years; there are several who joined nine years ago). Interestingly, Thailand ranks 31st in the number of sent postcards (185,754) out of the 248 countries listed by the project.
Helsinki, of course, is the capital city of Finland, located on the tip of a peninsula and spread across 315 islands. It was.established as a trading town by Gustav I of Sweden in 1550 as the town of Helsingfors, which he intended to be a rival to the Hanseatic city of Reval (today known as Tallinn, Taimi’s home). Little came of the plans as Helsinki remained a tiny town plagued by poverty, wars, and diseases. The plague of 1710 killed the greater part of the inhabitants of Helsinki. The construction of the naval fortress Sveaborg (known today as Suomenlinna — pictured on the postcard) in the 18th century helped improve Helsinki’s status, but it was not until Russia defeated Sweden in the Finnish War and annexed Finland as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809 that the town began to develop into a substantial city. During the war, Russians besieged the Sveaborg fortress, and about one quarter of the town was destroyed in an 1808 fire.
Czar Alexander I of Russia moved the Finnish capital from Turku to Helsinki in 1812 to reduce Swedish influence in Finland, and to bring the capital closer to St. Petersburg. Following the Great Fire of Turku in 1827, The Royal Academy of Turku, at the time the country’s only university, was also relocated to Helsinki, and eventually became the modern University of Helsinki. The move consolidated the city’s new role and helped set it on a path of continuous growth. This transformation is highly apparent in the downtown core, which was rebuilt in neoclassical style to resemble St. Petersburg, mostly to a plan by the German-born architect C. L. Engel. As elsewhere, technological advancements such as railroads and industrialization were key factors behind the city’s growth.
Despite the tumultuous nature of Finnish history during the first half of the 20th century (including the Finnish Civil War and the Winter War both of which left marks on the city), Helsinki continued its steady development. A landmark event was the 1952 Olympic Games, held in Helsinki. Finland’s rapid urbanization in the 1970s, occurring late relative to the rest of Europe, tripled the population in the metropolitan area, and the Helsinki Metro subway system was built. The relatively sparse population density of Helsinki and its peculiar structure have often been attributed to the lateness of its growth.
The fortress of Sveaborg was built on six islands (Kustaanmiekka, Susisaari, Iso-Mustasaari, Pikku-Mustasaari, Länsi-Mustasaari and Långören) with construction starting in 1748 as protection against Russian expansionism. It remained in a partially incomplete state as late as the start of the Russo-Swedish War of 1788–1790. Following a pact between Alexander I and Napoleon, Russia launched a campaign against Sweden and occupied Finland in 1808. The Russians easily took Helsinki in early 1808 and began bombarding the fortress. Its commander, Carl Olof Cronstedt, negotiated a cease-fire. When no Swedish reinforcements had arrived by 3 May, Sveaborg, with almost 7,000 men, surrendered, paving the way for the occupation of Finland by Russian forces in 1809.
After taking over the fortress, the Russians started an extensive building program, mostly extra barracks, and extending the dockyard and reinforcement to the fortification lines. The long period of peace following the transfer of power was shattered by the Crimean War of 1853–56. The allies decided to engage Russia on two fronts and sent an Anglo-French fleet to the Baltic Sea. For two summers the fleet shelled the towns and fortifications along the Finnish coast. The bombardment of Sveaborg lasted 47 hours and the fortress was badly damaged. They were unable to knock out the Russian guns; after the bombardment the Anglo-French fleet sent no troops ashore and instead set sail for Kronstadt. After the Crimean War extensive restoration work was begun on the fortress and a new ring of earthworks with artillery emplacements was built at the western and southern edges of the islands.
In the build-up to World War I, Sveaborg and its surrounding islands became part of “Peter the Great’s naval fortification” designed to safeguard the capital, Saint Petersburg. The fortress became part of an independent Finland in 1917, following the Russian Revolution. After the Finnish Civil War, a prison camp existed on the island. It was renamed Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland) in 1918 for patriotic and nationalistic reasons, though it is sometimes known by its original name.
No longer very practical as a military base, the fortress was turned over to civilian administration in 1973. The presence of the military on the islands has been drastically scaled down in recent decades. The Suomenlinna garrison houses the Naval Academy of the Finnish Navy. Suomenlinna still flies the war flag, or the swallow-tailed state flag of Finland. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 and is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in Helsinki as well as a popular picnicking spot for the city’s inhabitants. A number of museums exist on the island, as well as the last surviving Finnish submarine, Vesikko.
There is a minimum-security penal labor colony in Suomenlinna, whose inmates work on the maintenance and reconstruction of the fortifications. Only volunteer inmates who pledge non-use of controlled substances are accepted to the labor colony. The fort is served by public ferries all year, and a service tunnel supplying heating, water and electricity was built in 1982. At the beginning of the 1990s, the tunnel was modified so that it can also be used for emergency transport. Between 2 and 6 September 2015, the Finnish postal service ran a test of the use of drones to deliver parcels between Helsinki and Suomenlinna. The parcels were limited to 3 kg (7 lb) or less, and flights were under the control of a pilot.
The special postmark on the meetup card was designed by Inge Lock, who also designed the stamp. Very cool! Not only that, each of the participants of the Helsinki International Meeting put their signature or mark on the postcard. It’s a prized addition to my collection. Thank you so much, Taimi!