‘Kontula is unaffected’

Unsafe. Troubled. Restless. The Kontula neighbourhood has for a long time been saddled with a bad reputation, which the executive manager of the KontuKeskus communal association that, Larri Helminen, is quite familiar with.

He, however, knows another kind of a suburb – a green and active workers’ Kontula, where the atmosphere is unreserved and communal.

‘Kontula is unaffected. Here you don’t need to wear a tie or trendy clothing. People can be themselves. Things are uncomplicated’, he says.

Uncomplicated seems to be a good word for the man himself, too. In the course of his life, Larri has helped to organise over a thousand events – among other jobs, he has worked as the producer for the UMO Jazz Orchestra and the Pori Jazz Festival. He is the creator of KontuFestari, a cultural event held in Kontula that has become the largest in Eastern Helsinki, as well as the smaller OstariFestari festival. As the leader of KontuKeskus, he has also acted as an advocate of the residents and entrepreneurs in the area.


Folklore and beer machines

As a younger man, Larri studied folklore and languages at the university and worked as the editor-in-chief of the Rytmi music magazine. He was also interested in information technology and followed the developments in the field closely. In the early 1990s, Larri was involved in the organisation of the Mac Fair and The Windows World events for IT people, as well as acting as a consultant for IBM.

In 1993, he decided with his friends Eero Nurmikko and Eero Laesterä to establish a ‘tavern featuring all the latest information technology in the world‘. Their CompuCafe was possibly the first computer bar in the world.

‘The interior was designed by [the renowned advertising designer] Herbie Kastemaa, and we had an automatic beer machine with a magnetic card reader. When the Netscape browser was launched in 1994, we used it for various kinds of experiments, such as live streaming and video conferences.’

‘Few people believed me when I told them that the internet will be a big thing’, Larri reminisces.

Among his other activities, Larri tried to educate people on the Internet through participation in the production of a TV show called NettiTV.

By 1998, times had already changed, and Larri was asked to become a producer at the Lasipalatsi Media Centre, which would function as citizens’ window  on to the information society.


A millionaire in a tracksuit

Today, Larri manages the Wanha Posti residential premises kept by KontuKeskus, which the residents in the area can use freely. He was also one of the people involved in the launch of the democratic initiative Vetoa ja Voimaa Mellunkylään, whose purpose is to promote interaction between residents, business owners, decision-makers and authorities in the Mellunkylä district – in the very same direct style that in Larri’s opinion makes Kontula so special.

This immediacy is captured in a story told to Larri by a former director of the Osuuspankki bank:

‘A man came into a bank wearing a tracksuit, smelling of booze, with stubble on his face, and said he wanted to buy a flat. The bank clerk asked him, “And how big a loan are you after, sir?” The man replied that he should have half a million euros on his account – he just wanted someone to handle the sale.’


Text and picture:
Venla Pystynen


Pablo Salmes chose Larri Helminen as a maker of the Helsinki of the future.