1887 – The hotel and its city

In the history of European grands hôtels, the international and the local are seamlessly intertwined, which often makes for an interesting narrative. Luxury hotels appealed to a broad spectrum: aristocrats from a past age and the old moneyed upper class mingled with the movers and shakers from the new time – charismatic industrial tycoons, senior academics, merchants and dealers, prosperous entrepreneurs, and also the representatives of a new breed of “free” professionals, like architects, engineers, bankers, newspapermen, and lawyers.

The presence of the most prominent group, the urban bourgeoisie, was palpable. Then there were other players, giving a cultural glaze to the hotel milieu: each establishment had its share of adventurers and fortune-hunters, and bohemians and artists, most of whom found their way to the hotel's restaurants and cafés.

Carl and Maria Kämp were the bestknown restaurateur couple in the capital. Family businesses in this branch were quite common, and in the late 19th century it was not so unusual for a woman to be a hotel or restaurant manager. Although Carl's early death meant the couple's time at the helm of the new hotel was brief, the name "Kämp" was permanently stamped on the Helsinki urban landscape and cultural history.

The attentions of this very broad swathe were sought in November 1887, when Kämp opened its doors in Helsinki:

Hotel Kämp, Helsinki, Pohjois-Esplanadikatu 29, in the city center. The hotel features 80 well-appointed rooms from 2 markka a night upwards. Each room has a vestibule and a bed-chamber. Restaurant, banqueting hall, dining-rooms, reading room, bathrooms, elevator, telephone. All languages spoken. The hotel's own Omnibus will collect guests from the Central Railway Station and from the Steamship Quay.

Helsinki, 1. November 1887. Carl Kämp

(as published in the daily newspaper Uusi Suometar, 1.11.1887).

As it happens, the hotel jumped the gun by a few weeks, opening up the main restaurant in October to a private function hosted by local businessman V. Grashoff and his wife. Grashoff was the sole importer and distributor of Singer sewing machines, and wished to celebrate a successful year by throwing a party for 60 guests. Two days later, a bazaar was arranged in the hotel to raise funds for the Women's Organisation of the Swedish People's Party.

The actual grand opening, when it came, was a major event in the social calendar, and was reported in the following day's Hufvudstadsbladet (30.10.1887):

“Hotel Kämp was officially opened yesterday. Mr. K. Kämp had invited some 400 guests to the event and demonstrated with his arrangements - in actual fact everyone was well aware of this fact beforehand - that he is the city's pre-eminent master of ceremonies. It was a pleasant and enjoyable evening, even though it is clear to all that entertaining such a vast gathering of people is a demanding exercise. All those who took part were of one mind, that the evening was a resounding triumph. No overcrowding, no confusion or disorder, no inferior service, but instead everything was available in abundance -- the champagne flowed freely, and the other foodstuffs and refreshments likewise.

The event was opened with a welcoming speech and toast delivered on behalf of Mr. Kämp by the bookseller P.H. Beijer. Thereafter the gala continued for some two hours in the very spacious ballroom area, before the guests moved to the dining salon, where a delicious late dinner was served. Following dinner, Mr. Kämp raised the first toast to Cllr. F. W. Grönqvist, the building contractor and owner of the property. Mr. Beijer then read out congratulatory telegrams that had arrived from home and abroad to applaud Mr Kämp for the successful commission of this great venture.

Mr. Beijer then presented Mr. Kämp with a large silver trophy that had been sent as a gift for the occasion by friends in St. Petersburg. Subsequent addresses to Mr. Kämp and his company included one from Mayor 0. Palmgren, who stressed the significance of the venture for the capital. The last to rise to speak was Chief Medical Officer C.L. Lindeqvist, who addressed his words to the architect Theodor Höijer, who was responsible for the drawings of the hotel and who has also presented the Helsinki skyline with several other handsome buildings. Many further toasts were raised, and the exultant gala went on long into the night.”

A band played in the gallery, and a male voice choir sang. The hotel was formally opened up to the public as scheduled on November 1st, 1887, when a gala dinner was served, with musical accompaniment. Immediately after the inaugural gala described above, on Sunday 30th October, Carl Kämp also organised a thank-you party for his own people, which was noted in the Helsinki press: "A breakfast buffet was provided on Sunday by Mr. K. Kämp in his new hotel, for the labour100 persons ers and foremen working on the construction of the building. Nearly attended." (Uusi Suomi, 1.11.1887)

The master mind in Hotel Kämps architecture was Theodor Höijer, one of the best architects in Finland on those days. His skill can be seen in numerous places across Helsinki, including the art museum Ateneum.

The stories are compiled from Laura Kolbe's book Kämp – The Hotel and Its City (2015). Get your own copy at the hotel reception.