During the 19th century the Temperance movement distributed a lot of literature to warn the population and especially the working class from the “harmful effects of alcohol”. Propaganda was asserting that alcohol was the biggest culprit for all social problems in the country. After long struggles for and against – the temperance movement had a major victory when a Prohibition law was implemented in 1919. The Sinful Helsinki Walk takes you to the turmoil days of prohibition in Finland.
Born of organized crime in Finland
The purpose of the law was to sober up Finnish people, but its effect was ultimately the opposite. The Prohibition Act increased the consumption of alcohol; it initiated also new drinking habits. People moved from mild alcohols to stronger ones. The Prohibition Act gave birth in Finland to organized crime. Smugglers brought to the country unprecedented quantities of bootleg liquor from Sweden, Estonia, Poland or Germany. Between 1919 and 1931 customs and police seized more than 2.7 million liters of bootleg liquor and 30% of it was seized just in Helsinki.
Excerpt from the Sinful Helsinki Walk
In the district of Sörnäinen, there was a very famous place named Pirunkirkko (the devil church) or Pirtulinna (the pirtu castle) and it was located in Vaasankatu 14. A lot of prostitutes were in this area. Customers buying alcohol there were often tempted to pay also for other pleasures.
To protect themselves from police raids pirtutalot and speakeasies had watchmen on the streets. They were called runners. As soon as watchmen saw a police patrol they were running to warn the speakeasies and the booze dealers located in the district.
Speakeasies staff collected the hard tea cups from the customers to clean them up and gave them normal cups of tea. Alcohol stock was hidden in other places and if the staff didn’t have the time to hide it, they would throw the alcohol away into the sink. To prevent clients from denouncing them to the police, speakeasies promised customers that they would get hard tea again free of charge. When the police arrived, people in the room played cards and often during the inspection nothing was found. A few moments later, the customers received for free a new cup of hot water with sugar and rectified spirit.
The Sinful Helsinki Walking Tour
Step back in time in the 1920’s to discover the sinful Helsinki. During the prohibition era that took place in Finland between 1919 and 1932, Helsinki was a city with a high rate of criminality. Bootleg booze and cocaine flowed everywhere. The city was totally decadent, full of prostitutes, speakeasies and illicit liquor stores.
Join a two hours long walk in the historic areas of Helsinki center. We will take you to the city’s most decadent places and best kept secret speakeasy bars where Helsinki people used to spend wild night parties. We will tell the historical developments that lead to prohibition in Finland and also the stories of the most famous smugglers and gangsters of the time.