Few men, if indeed any, have influenced the destiny of the Finland that celebrated 80 years of independence in 1997 as much as Count Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, Marshal of Finland. Leader of the "White" forces in the civil war, first head of state of the independent republic that emerged with the end of Russian rule, commander-in-chief of the Defence Forces during the Second World War, and sixth President of the Republic. His reputation as a legendary war leader is still fresh in memory in many parts of the world. The Finns' will to defend themselves and their success in doing so against overwhelming odds are personified in Mannerheim.
During the two conflicts of 1939-40 and 1941-44, the headquarters of the Finnish forces was in Mikkeli, which has been closely identified with Mannerheim ever since. The Marshal's batons are everywhere to be seen. They were incorporated into Mikkeli's coat-of-arms to mark Mannerheim's 75th birthday in 1942 and in 1944, after the war had ended, he granted permission for a Cross of Liberty Class IV with ribbon to added to the coat of arms in commemoration of the years that the headquarters had been located in the town.
The office where Commander-in-Chief Mannerheim worked during the Second World War has been restored to the condition in which he left it. Its modest austerity never fails to astonish visitors.
The town of Mikkeli gained an important place in the history of Finland already in spring 1918, when the "White" army set up its headquarters in the Hotel Seurahuone. General Mannerheim, as he then was, also stayed at the hotel, which was destroyed in an air raid in 1940. By that time, however, the top military brass had been quartered in a school.
Mikkeli has a lot to offer anyone with an interest in military history. Lokki ("Seagull"), the general staff's communications centre housed in a rock cavern, has been restored to almost exactly its wartime state. Atop the rocky outcrop in which the centre is housed is a panoramic tower, from which Lotta women auxiliaries scanned the skies for enemy aircraft. The Marshal's saloon carriage can be seen at the railway station. It was the scene of his meetings with many prominent guests, including Adolf Hitler, whom he received near Imatra during the war. The Infantry Museum in Mikkeli presents the evolution of the foot soldier and the weapons and equipment he used from the 18th century to the present day. The museum is housed in an old and beautifully restored barracks, which is well worth visiting for the architecture alone.
Famous drinks are often associated with famous people. The British admiral Vernon was nicknamed old "Old Grog", because he ordered that water be added to sailors' rum ration, thereby creating "grog". Field-Marshal Mannerheim, who had been a general in the Imperial Russian army, was affectionately called "Marski". Now a drink called Marskin ryyppy ("Marski's Tipple") is becoming better-known in the world. Its accessibility in its purest form has, however, been limited, because the recipe is secret and known only to the club Mikkelin Klubi.
Mannerheim dined regularly at Mikkelin Klubi during the war. Schnapps was served with every meal. As the war drew on, the Field-Marshal noticed that ordinary Finnish schnapps had deteriorated in quality and ordered his senior adjutant, Lieutenant-Colonel Ragnar Grönwall, to "think of something suitable to add to it". The adjutant applied himself to the task and a week later came up with a concoction that contained schnapps, gin and vermouth. Marski's Tipple was born. It is served ice-cold in frosted glasses filled to the brim.
Mikkelin Klubi is still going strong and cherishes its wealth of tradition. It is an unforgettable experience to sit in the same chair as Marksi - and to raise a glass of his favourite tipple, trying hard not to shake one's hand and spill any of it.
"Marskin Ryyppy" is made and bottled by the old Finnish family company Lignell & Piispanen, but now Mikkelin Klubi, which owns the patent on the recipe, has done a deal with the giant international drinks company Allied Domecq Spirits & Wine Ltd, which will help bring the Field-marshal's favourite tipple to palates all over the world.