Saturday 20th July 2013
Mikkeli is situated in the central part of Southern Finland and is a market town that over the last forty years, has become a major university seat. Although this pub is modern, it is inextricably involved with the history of the town. Päämaja means Headquarters and to appreciate its significance you have to go right back to the end of the Great War in 1918.
Finland declared its independence from Russia on 6th December 1917. This was followed by an exceptionally destructive Civil War from 27th January to 15th May 1918 that mirrored the conflict in Russia a year earlier with reds fighting the conservative whites, led by Marshall Mannerheim. Over 37,000 died in the conflict and Mikkeli wasn't spared. It was an overwhelmingly white area yet there was a garrison in the town and the soldiers were uncompromisingly red. There was a battle between the two sides at the railway station of Immola, when more reds heading north from Kouvola were intercepted by the whites and halted.
After the war there was a gradual change-over to the neutral Finnish Republic. Following Finland's declaration, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also obtained independence from what was by then, the Soviet Union.
This situation continued until the Second World War. Again Mikkeli was militarily connected as the headquarters of the Finnish Defence Army was in the town from 1939-1940 and 1941-1944.
Although Finland was not directly involved in the World War as it was neutral, it had its own "Winter War" to contend with during the first period above and this was followed by the "Continuation War" during the second period.
The infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed in Moscow in 1939 and in this Germany left the Soviet Union carte blanche to re-occupy the four Baltic States it had gained independence in 1917. As a complete aside to this, I'd like to mention that this pact was signed, watched by Josef Stalin, in a first floor room of a brew-pub! The strangely-named GlavPivTorg in Moscow was once the Soviet Foreign Ministry, where it was signed and, almost unbelievably, the same first floor of the restaurant today offers views of the entrance to the FSB, formerly KGB, Lubyanka building, double creepiness! BeerVisits has a report on this pub.
The Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland finished in 1940 with Finland losing a tenth of its territory. Mannerheim was again the chief of armed forces, based in Mikkeli. Hostilities recommenced in 1941 and continued until 1944 with assistance of Germany, although Finland never became an Axis partner. Unlike the other Baltic States, Finland retained its independence after the ceasefire, albeit with the loss of much territory including its second city, Viipuri / Viborg, now part of Russia.
The second period of fighting was known as the "Continuation War" and, on 4th June 1942, Adolf Hitler met Mannerheim in a railway carriage at Immola. This self same carriage is preserved on the platform at Mikkeli (see above). At the end of the war in 1944 Mannerheim became President of Finland. I apologise if you are not interested in all this history, yet it is relevant and has a bearing on the name of the pub, i.e. Headquarters. Some of the beers are in the "Marsalkka" range, i.e. Marshal, for Marshal Mannerheim.
In the pub the available beers are shown on a flat-screen television. There were eight to be had when I visited:
Marsalkka III (4.6%): a light hoppy beer.
Marsalkka IV (5.2%): a stronger version of the above beer.
Marsalkka Vehnä IV (4.6%): an organic wheat beer.
Marsalkka Tumma (4.6%): a medium brown malty beer with a fruity taste.
Marsalkka Savu (5.5%): this is in the Rauchbier (smoked) style.
Marsalkka Portteri (8.6%): a Russian Imperial Porter.
Lentomestari (6.2%): a strongly hopped English ESB.
Luostari (7.5%): a double Belgian Abbey type of beer.
The last one is worthy of note as it is brewed for the monastery of Valamon Luostari in the eastern part of the country. This is the only monastery of the Orthodox faith in Finland. It was once located on an island in Lake Ladoga but this was invaded by Soviet forces during the Winter War and the 190 monks relocated to its new site. The old site was part of the Finnish territory now in Russia.
I had Marsalkka III, a very nice lager beer in the Finnish style, yet with considerably more bitterness than the national products. Marsalkka Savu was a very good Rauchbier, as good as that in Franconia. Lentomestari was an excellent bitter beer. It was quite light in body but neither in a US or an English style, somewhere between the two.
This beer list changes often and when I was here previously there was Marsalkka Pils (4.7%), IPA (6.0%) and Venna, a lager in the Viennese style.
The pub was established in 1972 although I believe the brewery commenced some time after that. There is no sign of it in the building and I believe it is to be found somewhere else in the Mikkeli area. The official name is Panimo Saimaan, Saimaa is a massive lake that stretches down to the Russia border and one of its tentacles reaches up to Mikkeli.
The pub is less than five minutes from the Railway station, also the town square. Raatihuoneenkatu, Railway Street, is alongside the pub and, as it is a hill, what is the ground floor on the main road, Porrassalmenkatu, becomes the first floor further down. Underneath the rear of the pub is the Pruuvi restaurant where some of the beers are available. Walking up the steps I noticed an outside terrace on the right. I turned left in to the main bar room which is quite large.
This is a very comfortable pub and at t he far end of the room I could see a stage with a band setting up. Music is quite a big thing here and bands are on several nights of the week, and I would think there is a large student presence in term times.
There is a buffet lunch between 11.00 and 14.00 Monday to Friday. After 14.00 Monday to Saturday there is a normal menu. I noticed the bar is in the centre of room and on the other side there was a series of separate rooms with very comfortable armchairs, sofas and settles. I liked it very much indeed.
Pub Päärmaja, Raatihuoneenkatu 4, Mikkeli, 50100
Open: Monday-Thursday 11.00-24.00; Friday-Saturday 11.00-03.00, Sunday 11.00-22.00
Mikkeli station is on the central main line going north from Kouvola to Pieksamaki, Kuopio, Ilsami and beyond. There are normally around eight trains a day. Going south, some are through to Helsinki, others require a quick change at Kouvola. From platform one, one can walk to the left directly into Mannerheimintie, and then you will soon see Raatihuoneenkatu on the right and the pub is in view at the top of the hill.
At the north end of the platform you will find the carriage in which Mannerheim met Hitler.
From the town square it is just a couple of minutes along Porrassalmenkatu, going south.