USSR and Beyond, 1977: The West
This is a guest post by my father Aleksandar: if you missed it read Part I first.
After the USSR, Finland was a cultural shock! Probably exaggerated intentionally to underline the differences between the East and the West. There was no Finnish border check. Instead, waiting for us on the other side were manicured lawns beside an immaculately designed, wooden guest house. Food, souvenirs and other goods for sale inside were picture-perfect. Still to this day, 35 years later, the most memorable experience was that magnified East/West difference.
I was about to receive my graduate degree in architecture at that time and seeing the work of Alvar Alto, the most famous Architect in Finland, was an opportunity that shouldn't be missed. I would say that he is probably the most famous person to come from Finland. We zig-zagged through the country, visiting many small cities (with quite unusual names) hosting most of Alto’s famous buildings. In Helsinki: The City Library, Finlandia Hall and numerous other buildings; in Säynätsalo: The Town Hall; in Otainemi: The Institute of Technology; in Imatra: Vuoksenniska Church; in Seinäjoki: Town centre; in Jyväskylä: The University and Alvar Alto museum; and finally ending our Finland journey in Rovaniemi, a city above the polar circle hosting Alto's Library of Lapland. For years to come I raved about my impressions of Alto's architecture praising its thoughtful integration with the surrounding environment.
The experience of extraordinary design continued throughout Scandinavia. Norway, Sweden and Denmark were equally exciting, each with a unique brand of northern craftsmanship and innovation.
On that same trip we also visited East and West Germany and East/West divided Berlin. The experience in East Germany was similar to The USSR but this time we were prepared for the cultural contrasts. 'The West' here, was aggressively trying to entice, using media (tv, billboards, etc.) as their weapon. The main tourist attraction in West Berlin was a viewing platform at the East Berlin border. There you could climb and watch how the other side lived, peeking over the infamous wall—a further way for The West to tease. The armed East German soldiers grimly stared back from their high towers.
As we continued our epic road trip, now nearing home, we passed through Czechoslovakia. This was another country still reeling from the Soviet grip. The effects of a near-revolution in '68 could still be felt. Czechoslovakia was just starting to open up and small groups of tourists could be seen walking the beautiful streets of Prague. And like them, we traveled on, watching the odometer on our little, red Renault hit 20,000km and trying to appreciate the significance of everything we had seen.