Inside Thomas Hamberg's Helsinki Wunderkammer
A visit to Finland doesn't usually result in returning home with a massive haul of curios, but if you happen into Götan Maailma, the chances start to look pretty good. Dylan and I discovered this during our recent trip to Helsinki, when we ended up with a mouse in a clock, a squirrel holding a French powder, and a guinea pig.
I chatted with Thomas Hamberg, the owner of this marvelous shop, about the inspiration for the store's name, letting his favorite pieces go, and what might happen if a bat pees in your eye.
AO - What does Götan Maailma mean?
TH - Götan Maailma (Göta's World); Göta was my dad's aunt. She is the woman in our business card and our mainpage in Facebook. She lived with her sister Ruth, both unmarried, in very small apartment quite near where our old shop was located. In that apartment, they both had their own tiny rooms, but they shared the kitchen and bathroom. Göta's room was filled with these odd things, like a huge concert grand piano, shark's rostrum, empty yoghurt-pots, mammoth bones and almost anything. I have only heard these stories about her apartment. She was very charismatic person, and a very naiive and bohemian woman. She was outstanding and very, very superstitious. She really believed things like, "If a bat pees in your eye at night, you instantly go blind". I met her few times when i was a kid, but she was already living in a nursing home at that time. Her sister Ruth was a completely different kind of person. Unlike Göta, Ruth was very pedantic, correct, and her room was always clean, and all things had their own place.
AO - Götan Maailma is one of the most lovingly curated shops I've ever been in, and I love the way you arrange everything into different tableaux. Does it drive you crazy when customers pick things up and put them back in the wrong place?
TH - No, it doesen't make me crazy. In our shop, one of the main things is that you can watch and touch things closely, that those old things are meant to be touched. It's big thing to me that customers can feel the old patina, and sense the object's worn out surface with their hands. I think that's very important. But of course we have to put all those things back in their own places afterwards :)
AO - The shop is so packed with treasures, I wouldn't be surprised if you told me it has been there for 100 years. How long ago did you open?
TH - We opened Götan Maailma in May 2011, so it's quite a new thing.
AO - What made you decide to sell wunderkammer objects?
TH - I love wunderkammers! It has always fascinated me, those oddities and curiosities. I don't know why. When i was ten, i collected bones and natural curiosities, now it is same thing but the scale is bit bigger. When we opened Göta, i was thinking that no one would want to buy things like this, but happily i was wrong. Nowdays we are only shop in Finland that sells this kind of stuff.
AO - Where do you find the curios in your store?
TH - I search everywhere. I have collected these kinds of things for 10-15 years. Sweden and Estonia are great, and France of course. We buy things from auctions, flea markets, from collectors thenselves, from garage sales, etc. Closing old country schools are just great. Sometimes they sell all those stuffed animals and educational items. The list is endless. You have always to keep your eyes open.
AO - Many of the items in your store have been altered by you - I personally bought a small taxidermy mouse, which you curled up and put in a nest inside an old gutted clock. Do you find that it is difficult to say goodbye to your works of art when someone buys them?
TH - It is always hard. I haven't gotten used to it. There are some pieces that you remember very long after selling. One of those things was this 200-year-old Eskimo woman's coat, made of sealskin with beautiful wool decorations. There was even some fish or seal blood sprayed on it. It was totally unique piece. But you can't keep everything. It helps a lot if you know that someone will appreciate it as much as i do (like that desert mouse in the clock). Then selling is not too hard. But sometimes, not very often, i won't sell something if i think the customer doesen't appreciate it properly. Old and especially well-worn objects deserve a loving home!
AO - What is most people's reaction when they come into your shop for the first time?
TH - The reactions and impressions are so nice to see. Sometimes peoples ask if this is some kind of museum, or is this someone's home? Very often people say how relaxing and warm the feelings are when they walk in. Kids and animals are most welcome and they are so honest. They ask questions, or sniff a lot. We have got so many fantastic customers and regulars.