Tallinn, August 25, 2005 - Thursday

Trip Start Aug 12, 2005
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Trip End Aug 27, 2005


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Friday, November 21, 2008

As I arrived in Tallinn, so it seemed that the summer from the southern Baltics had remained beyond the border, as if it didn't have a valid passport. First, while we were still in the bus, the weather started being unstable, and then by the time we got off, it became totally cloudy. As if I had made a full circle and at least as far the climate was concerned, returned to Visaginas.
I decided on a private accommodation in Tallinn. The name of the agency that had taken care of it was Rasastra, located in a street named Mere puiestee. Whatever it means. Of course, I spoke neither Lithuanian nor Latvian, but those languages at least belonged to indo-european language group and after a while I would pick up on at least the most rudimentary language patterns, resembling the things I could speak. Estonian language, on the other hand, was as if from a different planet. Particularly at first encounter.
But all in this world has its upsides and downsides, so if for starters an entirely unknown language belonged in the downsides category, the fact that the Estonian taxi driver in the cab I took had a metre was most certainly an upside. Right away it was clear that here there would be no numbers like in Lithuania, and particularly Latvia, which were more like balls out of state lottery, and not prices according to a logical tariff. Judging by what I had read in my preparations for the trip to the Baltics, even if these three countries composed a geographical, and probably also a political whole, in the sense of mentality and character traits, Estonia was almost at the other end of the world. Having crossed the border, it seemed as if I had entered a realm of a rather different mindset.
Rasastra office was on the upper floor of a house which looked almost as a bit larger private dwelling. I went through the formalities with a friendly and chatty lady of some years quite fast. She liked the fact that I was from Croatia very much.
"You became independent the same time as we did."
She obviously belonged among those who were behind it with their heart and soul and she never bothered to hide it. Even if someone in the politically correct Europe should consider her a nationalist. For, recently, it wasn't that cool and wasn't so in any more. Of course, it's easy to be politically correct when for centuries you've been independent, and from time to time pillaging others, sometimes under the guise of colonialism, and sometimes under no guise at all, but you just mustered forces, started marching and went on plundering. And then, once through with it, having grown rich on exploiting others, often tiny ones like Estonia or Croatia, for example, you suddenly arrive in a phase of being a big humanist and start detesting every form of national identity that borders on patriotism. You suddenly brand it as nationalistic and inconsistent with values of modern societies. The fact that along the way in your own courtyard there is still a lot of disguised discrimination on racial, and often on national basis, too, is swept under the rug and on the face of it you lecture the small fry on the moral behaviour left and right. The lady and I agreed pretty much on that.
When I was ready to go to my accommodation, armed with her direction instructions and the Tallinn map she'd given me, she wished me in a very heartfelt way:
"Have a very pleasant stay in Tallinn!"
I thanked her and left.
The room I got was located in a private apartment in the Kaupmehe street. According to the opinion of the lady from Rasastra, it was near enough for me to go there on foot. So that's how it was. But with the luggage in my hands, all that still felt farther than I would've liked it for starters. Now, however, there was no going back. After all, the street wasn't exactly at the end of the world. With a few shorter stops along the way, I found it eventually.
And just when I entered the room where I would stay in Tallinn, it started to rain. Through the window it seemed to be a good, strong rain like I had not seen in the Baltic countries yet. After ten days of spotlessly sunny weather that had even put some tan on my face, the clouds had finally piled up. It was not cold. To me it felt like 25°C or so, even if it was fairly possible that during the rain the temperature had to go on a downward spiral. Actually, I guess I felt like that because to me it was all quite pleasant. Only rainy. So I couldn't go out until it stopped. OK, I could. But I wouldn't.
I didn't have to wait for too long, though. Some fifteen minutes later the rain stopped and when a few more minutes later I assured myself it wouldn't rain again, at least not so soon, I went out into the street. Thereby I started the last leg of my trip in the Baltics.
However, it was already relatively late, around six thirty. In my country you'd gradually start calling it evening, but so high up north it could still pass off as a late afternoon. But in all events, I knew I wouldn't see way too much today. It didn't matter, though. However far I would get, fine.
I first came out onto the street called Kentmanni. Whatever that meant. The pavement was still wet and car lights reflected off it as if from a mirror. I knew I had not been given a room in the narrowest town centre, but nevertheless centre it was. And yet, if I had seen Lithuania and Latvia as empty, on the face of it Tallinn gave out an impression of an almost a ghost city. At least on this spot. Literally, just one or two pedestrians per street and that was all.
Neither the city map nor the "Lonely Planet" suggested that Kentmanni was hiding anything worthy of lingering longer. Just by the way I took a photo or two and arrived in the street called Sakala. It too, as it seemed, didn't belong among those which should not be missed, but I couldn't go around it, since I had to walk it, at least a part of it, on my way to the Old Town. And on that way I first came upon Vabaduse Väljak or Freedom Square in translation.
The landscape of Vabaduse Väljak is dominated by a Neo-gothic, Evangelical-Lutheran, orange-coloured Jaani kirik, or St. John's Church. St. John being the Evangelist. Standing there ever since 1867, some people must've considered it an eyesore, for every now and then a plan to demolish it and reshape the square in a different fashion would pop to surface from somebody's desk drawer. But people came and went, drawers opened and closed, and the St. John's is still there.
From Vabaduse Väljak I started climbing a stairway decorated on both sides with street lamps and metal amphorae up to the Old Town. The first street I came up to was the cobbled, relatively steep and quite slippery Harju. Right from there I could see the sturdy Kiek in de Kök Tower, which is said to have been the strongest cannon tower in Northern Europe in its time. Built in the late 15th century, the name it carries is in fact German, even if not exactly of the variety you'll hear at your German university lectures. It basically means "peek in the kitchen", since the guards up there had an ongoing show, free of charge, of always being able to have a fresh look into the kitchens of tenants in neighbouring buildings. Well, from time to time their view must've also extended to the enemy's rear.
Kiek in de Kök could be visited until six o'clock, and at that time I had not even been in the street yet. Now I could see it only from the outside. So I continued my walk. On up the Harju, the next landmark was St. Nicholas church, or Niguliste kirik. It looked as if it was on top of a mound of rubble, or at an as yet unfinished construction site where workers and machinery disappeared for a vacation of an unspecified length. But of course, it wasn't quite like that. At first sight already it was visible that Estonia was an organised and orderly country, in many ways different from the two I had previously visited. That infamous mound of wreckage was left there unremoved on purpose as a vivid reminder of Soviet bombing in 1944 and all the buildings that used to stand there were reduced rubble. The church, too, was seriously damaged in those bombing raids of 1944. However, unlike its neighbours, which went up in smoke forever, it was later renovated. But then it was damaged again, this time by a fire in 1982. So they restored it yet again. And there it was now. Built in 13th century by German merchants to St. Nicholas, the protector of sailors, it houses a concert hall as well as museum dedicated to church art where three of the four most important Medieval works of art in Estonia are on display. But all that only until six in the afternoon.
So I went on again. Still on Harju, above the three- and four-storey buildings, there was the Town Hall tower above the roofs. I decided not to go today to the Raekoja plats, i.e. the Town Hall Square. It was late already, past seven or so, and that square called for quite a time. OK, I could make the evening visit tonight, and come again during the day tomorrow, but I saw no need for hurry. Instead, I turned aside into another cobbled street, this time Müürivahe, which stretched along one of the remnants of old city walls.
And the city was old. If 5000 years old traces of the first human settlement found in the city centre are set aside, Tallinn as people know it today probably had its birth in 1050 when the first fortress was built on Tallinn's Toompea, or Cathedral hill. It became an important trade port, growing in size and prosperity, and as such automatically saw some uninvited guests at its dining table, first like Danes and Germans. In Medieval times it was at a strategic position at the crossroads of trade between Western and Northern Europe and Russia. And as such it had to be heavily fortified with sixty six defence towers and those walls I was now trying to walk along. Well, a part of them, anyway.
Germans brought Lutheran Protestantism into Tallinn, so Estonia is nowadays predominantly protestant, and that was one more thing that sets it apart from Lithuania and Latvia. Some new guests arrived thereafter, this time Swedes and Imperial Russia. Then, same as the other two Baltic states, Estonia became briefly independent and from there on its history, the recent history, went in the parallel direction of those in Lithuania and Latvia.
Interestingly enough, throughout the past, the city has been attacked, sacked, razed and pillaged on numerous occasions. Then as already mentioned, Soviet air forces extensively bombed it towards the end of World War II, but nevertheless its medieval Old Town is still there, still retaining its charm, eventually becoming a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997.
From Müürivahe I came to Suur Karja, a beautiful, narrow cobbled street, one of the very few without any cars whatsoever, even in the Old Town. I took a walk between multi-coloured façades and gradually left the Old Town again. It was past eight now and I decided to wrap my first town sightseeing up. I found myself on the Pärnu maantee, a broad street where before the end I spotted Estonia Drama Theatre, or Eesti Draamateater. Born in 1920, this institution was during the Soviet rule renamed as the Tallinn Drama Theatre, but they didn't close it. For quite a while it was even the only institution that at that time was active in Estonian language. Upon regaining their newest independence, Estonians reinstated the old theatre name.
For a while longer I stayed around the Vabaduse Väljak, took a few more pictures from a few more angles and then went back to my room.
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