across a sea / internal voyage / ghosts of Tallinn

None of the usual reasons directly applied in the case of a trip such as last week’s Saturday trip to Tallinn in Estonia. There was no compelling goal, no exhibition opening, no special lecture at some research institute, no direct need to go there – at least in the usual sense.

Yet I booked tickets for a day trip from Helsinki. The week-end had some intense work to be done, in connection to the main reason of my visit to Finland (being the opponent of a doctoral thesis) and several other projects (mathematical and now also philosophical) together with colleagues and friends there – but the need for a kind of freedom to be attained through boat travel on that day – plus the chance to actually work in a nice café in (then unknown to me) Tallinn ended up triggering that day trip.

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harbor station, 7 am – about to board the Tallink

(The boat on the way over was quite cheesy – Estonian-owned; glimmering casino-like features, people half-asleep, unedible food and dysfunctional common areas – I had expected the Silja/Tallink boats somewhat different. I managed to secure a spot and work a bit, though.)

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9:30 am – December in Tallinn

Arrival mid-morning, with mist rising over the Baltic. Heart pounding. The emotion of boat travel overtakes me.

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Entering the Old City

Slowly waking up – Saturday morning of a wintry day in the Old part of Tallinn. Not expecting too much…

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A store with lots of old Soviet time medals and paraphernalia – attended by an older Estonian woman who must have seen a quite different Tallinn

I always wonder for how long can they continue selling this sort of “Soviet vintage” in places like Tallinn. How many military (or sports or…) medals? How much interest can this still arise in people?

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By a music store

The porches and side-streets do seem to have a different character. Here, a music store that was closed in the morning hours. Later I had the chance to stop there. I was not disappointed.

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Tallinna Raekoda

Technically, the Town Hall. It could well have been one of the churches of Tallinn.

I still hadn’t found a “place” to sit that didn’t look too touristy – the only two places that had attracted my attention till then were the Soviet mishmash store and the music store that was closed.

But close to this tower I did find a fantastic cafe where local hipsters (not tourists) seem to hang out.

I continued my morning of work in that café.

 

 

 

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Eel Soup. One of the best meals I have had anywhere!

A gem of a restaurant – found by recommendation of Boban. They were nice, seemed to experiment with local ingredients. Here, a creamy smoked eel soup with leeks and various kinds of onions. I also had elk with wild berries.

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Part of the Estonia Museum houses the collection of Adamson-Eric. His work was vaguely reminiscent of Xul Solar’s in Buenos Aires. He was banned from his position at the Art Academy of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Estonia by the Soviet authorities, accused of being “a formalist”. This sort of accusation apparently was extremely serious. He seemed to take refuge in an extremely playful internal world – with sculptures, ceramics, paintings, weavings – an extremely rich and varied output that seems to do homage to older traditions of Estonia but mixed it with early twentieth century modernist influences.

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A small detail of Adamson-Eric’s work

I slowly started – after the seriously good espresso in the café, the very good meal, the Adamson-Eric exhibition – to sip the pace of that part of Tallinn. Full of corners that seem to hold voices of some distant past (Teutonic Knights? Swedish Riddar? Peter the First’s armies? Local Estonian defendants? German merchants?) the ghosts of a marvelous city started to appear. Was it the misty atmosphere? Was it the echo of swords in the Toompea castle – of Germanic, Slavic tongues invading? Was there a real Finno-Ugric resistance?

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mist

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ghostly

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ghostly Tallinn – by the upper part near the Castle

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as expected – but lonely, snow-dusted, and very eerie

Rising to the tower was crucial for me to see a bit of the city from above. Not extremely high but still a nice ascent… to the mists.

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in the back, barely visible, the Soviet era town

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And then walking back to the entrance of the Old City, the music store was open. In a third floor, following arrows, the space felt oddly non-commercial, out of somewhere. Not sure where from.

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Inside the Music store – a must-see place (the collection of music, on the other side, is quite nice). The atmosphere of the store feels more like a person’s apartment.

In low window sills of course Nativity scenes – some of them quite original. Dozens of them, all different.

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a random window

The KuMu Museum (Museum of Art of Estonia), located somewhat faraway from the Old City, in a very beautiful park (I read later the park was commissioned by tsar Peter the Great – a whole area of the city called Kadriorg), is a serious contemporary art museum. Their main exhibition was on Die Brücke, on German Expressionism – and its connections to Estonian art. They also have interesting collections of twentieth-century Estonian art – I took a long series of that. One of the parts of the exhibition that called my attention was Response to Soviet politics. There is a kind of formalism that seems to have been an intellectual response to the obligation of subjects, to the imposition of collectivism.

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In other European countries the (re-)construction of a national identity after Independence (from Russia in the case of Finland, from the Soviet Union in the case of Estonia, others from the Austro-Hungarian Empire) seems to have been deeply interlinked with painting or music (or some other artistic manifestation). My visit to Tallinn was too short to really capture how this happened. I am sure composers such as Arvo Pärt must have been part of that consciousness – but I am not sure in the case of painting.