Tampere is the sort of place where it is easy to feel at home. Slightly worn, unpretentious and laid back, the Finnish city boasts a rich industrial heritage and an oddball place in political history. Arriving in the town centre on an unusually sunny day in early spring, Tampere seems like the coolest place on earth. “It’s just the students,” says the hotel receptionist. “They’ve not felt the warmth of the sun all winter,” she adds by way of apology for the generally unkempt and unclad demeanour of the young crowd lazing on the grass by the Tammerkoski River.
One particularly inebriated young man, shoeless and shirtless, but sporting a pair of red tartan trousers, is eating two ice-creams at once. These things happen this far north when the temperature gets into double digits. Behind the reveller, the old Finlayson’s mill picks up the Scottish theme. In the days when Tampere was part of the Russian Empire, Scottish ingenuity and investment made an industrial centre of this outpost in the northern forests.
It was Quaker zeal and Quaker values that brought James Finlayson to Tampere in 1819. His mission was to distribute bibles, but he saw in the unharnessed power of the Tammerkoski the possibility of economic development. Tsar Alexander I assented to Finlayson’s request, and a year or two later rather curiously granted Tampere the status of a free city. Finlayson built his mills and staunchly defended the rights of foreign industrialists in Tampere to be absolved of paying taxes and other obligations. Indeed, Tampere’s impressive economic growth was largely due to this unusual dispensation which was not revoked till 1905.
Next morning, we head off bright and early in search of Tampere’s most unusual museum — an endeavour entirely devoted to the life and work of Lenin. The city’s Lenin Museum is housed in the Tampere Worker’s Theatre (Tampereen Työväen Teatteri in Finnish), an institution founded in 1901 that has for over a century perpetuated a fine tradition of working class grass-roots drama in this industrial city. Today, the Lenin Museum shares the building with the theatre.