Building tradition, concrete and the scent of pulp

Some people think that too much grey was involved in the construction of Kouvola. Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; some people like concrete, others like old wooden houses and the rural idyll on the banks of the Kymi River. Kouvola is also a mental landscape – once you’ve seen it, the image stays with you.

Kouvola has been described as a rail yard that had been granted city rights. Coming from elsewhere, most people check out the centre of Kouvola from the train window. While the train is standing at Kouvola station, the traveller bound for somewhere else takes in the weeds around the tracks and cars parked in the wasteland, and feels a surge of restlessness.

If she looks up, she can see concrete, which certainly wasn’t spared in building Kouvola. Of the building blocks in the centre, the 12-storey Pohjola building is particularly impressive. You can admire the view from the top in local heavy metal band Viikate’s video Mantelinmakuinen from their album Kouvostomolli, which was shot there.

If you want to see the Kymenlaakso landscape from above with your own eyes, just take the lift up to the top of the Pohjola building, our free observation tower. The vista sweeps over farmland and the curves of the river. Forest, a lot of forest. The red brick barracks. The City Hall, like a sugar cube.

How does it feel to venture into Kouvola? Travellers have been heard to breathe a sigh of delight as they take in the twilight view from Ekholm Bridge along the Kymi River to the glimmering mill chimneys, workshops and mountains of wood pulp. In Kouvola, even the factories are a work of art.

Wood as well as concrete

Once the concrete mills started churning, there were so few wooden houses left in the centre of Kouvola that they were all gathered into one area. People began to call it the museum quarter.

Old wooden houses can also be found in Kuusankoski, where they were built for the paper mill workers and managers. Then there are the elegant villas in Koskenranta and Mörkölinja, Kouvola’s most exclusive residential areas.

Farm buildings in the region have been preserved from as far back as the 1700s. The area is dotted with manor houses, and some – like Moisio and Anjala – are open to visitors.

Many will tell you that the most beautiful view in Kouvola is from their own cottage jetty, steam-fresh from the sauna, with the birch leaves stuck to their skin. The lake is calm, the black-throated divers are dipping, the insects are buzzing and the stresses of the city are a distant memory.

Pulp in the veins, the smell of tar in the nostrils

The wood pulp factory’s familiar aroma of rotten eggs and the black clouds of smoke rising from the steam trains are part of Kouvola’s mental landscape, although train travel and pulp production are smoke and scent free today.

Kouvola isn’t used to singing its own praises. The locals almost see this as a criminal activity. Of course you can badmouth the town, unless you’re not from Kouvola yourself.

Viikate’s frontman Kaarle Viikate has described Kouvola’s mental landscape as grinding you down to the bitter end. When you don’t have much, even making three-legged animals out of pine cones feels like exciting art. Kouvola makes artists of its sensitive youth.

You can take the highway out of Kouvola in all directions, and the train all the way to St Petersburg, but you can’t get Kouvola out from under your skin, even with pine soap and a scrubbing brush. Come and try, if you dare.

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