City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Snowfall, Helsinki

Written in


Feeling the 40ºC swing from Sydney to Helsinki in 24 hours, and listening to the new sound of rooftop snow clearing

A rather beautiful, if very cold, day in Helsinki yesterday. (Ed. This piece was originally published at on 12 February 2011.) Hovering around -10ºC, this was a 40 degree drop in temperature from the Sydney I’d been in 24 hours earlier. The frozen harbour was still, ethereal, under pale sunlight. Can that really be the same sun that shines on Sydney? Whereas, further into the city, people were walking between buildings at a fair clip.

Ten minutes walk away, heavy snow was still blanketing the streets and parks, where football had been elbowed aside by ice hockey. The Kiasma art gallery was full of people taking refuge. (Ed. Some months later, we would end up living right behind this football pitch.)

It was not a day for hanging around outside, despite its beauty, but look at the roof in the photograph at the top of this entry and you’ll see some figures perched up there, doing just that.

There is a very distinct urban process going on here: clearing snow from Helsinki’s roofs before it falls unpredictably or loads roofs with too much weight. According to Helsinki Times, these men are often Estonians, or from other Baltic states, and carefully crawl over the roofs of Helsinki’s elegant city-centre buildings, creating miniature controlled avalanches onto the cordoned-off street below.

Outside of the centre this is act of maintenance is carried out by amateurs, which sounds unbelievably dangerous. I like the Helsingen Sanomat’s pithy note of caution:

“It is dangerous enough when the snow comes down unexpectedly on people’s heads — please do not add to the danger by coming down with it.”

As a kind of impromptu urban performance, it’s strangely compelling to watch. It’s a great sound too; the clatter-and-scrape of hammers and shovels loosening the ice and snow, and the gentle whump as the snowfall hits the street below some seconds later. But again, it wasn’t a day for hanging around.

Ed. This piece was originally published at on 12 February 2011.


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