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The archipelago of Åland, situated in the archipelago between Sweden and Finland, is hardly known in the rest of the world. The inhabitants enjoy their beloved seclusion.

It is not always fair to live in the world, not even geographically. There are countries where everything seems to be right: Mountains, plains, rivers, climatic zones and fertile soils are practically distributed and well usable. France comes to mind, or South Africa. And then there are countries where the situation is rather unfavourable: Switzerland with its many high mountains and narrow valleys. Australia, whose interior is a single desert. Or Finland with its 187 888 lakes and 98 050 islands, which are either in the way or, on the contrary, difficult to reach.

What do countries do with such adversities? The best. Switzerland has long since abandoned its arduous agriculture on steep slopes and turned its mountains into lucrative tourist destinations both in summer and winter. The Australians mystify their huge inland desert to the Outback and settle along the coasts, paying homage to beach life (“Life is a beach”). And the Finns? They have declared themselves the world’s richest nation of lakes and islands, scattering their Mökkis, weekend cottages, lakes and islets and enjoying their beloved seclusion.

The inhabitants of Åland, the island region in the Baltic Sea, halfway between Finland and Sweden, show how well this can be achieved. It is part of the Archipelago Sea, one of the largest archipelagos, but this does not change the fact that Åland exists largely unnoticed by the world – and is often misunderstood: Correctly pronounced, Åland sounds almost like Holland. What the hell, say the Ålander, we are still something special, namely a demilitarised and autonomous region.

Baltic Sea Åland Archipelago

Until the 19th century the archipelago belonged to Sweden, then it fell to Finland, which was then part of the Tsarist Empire. When Finland became independent in 1917 in the turmoil of the Russian October Revolution, the Swedish-influenced Ålander wanted to join Sweden. However, the Finnish Republic, which had just been created, did not want to allow this. In 1921 Åland, with the blessing of the League of Nations, declared itself a self-governing region with its own government, flag, stamps and vehicle registration and, yes, now also its own web domain (.ax). Almost all of the 29 000 Ålander speak Swedish, Finnish is a tolerated second language.

Economically the Ålander are doing very well, the unemployment rate is just three percent. If you drive through the gentle green landscapes, even the rearmost shed makes a propere impression. The tiny capital Mariehamn with its 11 500 inhabitants, founded in 1861 by Tsar Alexander II, named after his wife Marija Alexandrowna, is the only city of the island region and probably the only tiny capital worldwide with two harbours. Cruise ships dock at the west harbour. The Viking and Silja Line ferries also stop here on their routes between Stockholm, Helsinki and Tallinn. Here the museum ship Pomerania is moored, the “Queen of Sailing Ships”, launched in 1903, the only four-mast barque in the world that has been preserved in its original state. Walking along the lime-lined Norra Esplanadgatan, which runs through Mariehamn, one passes the old wooden villas and offices of the shipowners; they testify to the wealth, the old money of the archipelago. The boulevard is only 900 metres long, as wide as the peninsula itself. It ends in the east harbour, at the yachts and sailboats.

Those who want to visit the islands and islets of the Archipelago Sea can do this by car or bike over bridges and ferries. Or by ship. On board the Albanus, for example, an elegant two-master, built entirely of wood according to a model from 1904, almost 30 metres long. Actually a training ship on which teenagers are made seaworthy on one-week trips. But the Albanus also accommodates tourist groups. Captain Tero Ilus looks like a captain should look like: tall, full beard, tidy belly, the calm itself. Silent but always happy to provide information, he stands on the bridge and steers his magnificent ship past islands with woods, red and white Mökkis, saunas and jetties. Nowhere seems Finland to be more Finnish than in the Swedish Åland. But what looks so casual at Tero is concentrated manoeuvring. The Baltic Sea here is full of sandbanks and hidden rocks.

About Åland

Åland is an autonomous island province of Finland, between Finland and Sweden. As such, it is partly dependent on Finland, but largely self-governing. The Åland Islands have been Swedish since the Middle Ages and became part of the Russian tsarist empire in 1809. In 1921 and the region under a demilitarized status was awarded to Finland. In the course of the 20th century there were numerous conflicts over the allocation of Åland to Finland and Sweden respectively.

The country’s own flag is based on the Swedish past. Åland is also politically oriented towards Sweden. Due to the dependency relationship, the inhabitants of Åland also take part in the elections of the Finnish parliament and its president. They also have Finnish citizenship, which is supplemented by a “right of domicile” in Åland. This right of domicile does not have the status of a second citizenship, but it does have the functions.

Åland has its own national flag, a registration number that differs from Finland’s, but currently still uses the Finnish telephone prefix. The country’s only official language is Swedish. The Åland parliament has been freely elected since 1922 and the national holiday on 9 June dates back to the country’s first plenary session.

The Åland Islands are a group of islands on the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland. The small state has a total area of 1,580 km². This area is about 1.8 times the size of Berlin. The Åland Islands are therefore one of the smallest countries in Europe and rank 184th in the world.

The archipelago consists of 6,757 smaller and mostly uninhabited islands. The Åland Islands have no neighbouring countries. The distance between Berlin and the capital Mariehamn is about 930 km.