12 October 16
Posted at 2:43
The third country I visited for Project 28 was Estonia. My chosen town Tallinn. Estonia joined the EU on 1st May 2004 and the Eurozone on 1st January 2011. Estonia has also been a Schengen Area member since 21st December 2007.
I arrived in Tallinn on an overnight bus from Vilnius (Lithuania) at 0630. I was kindly met by my AirBnB host who insisted on giving me an early morning spontaneous tour of the city. The hour spent with him, his name is Marco, proved to be really informative and helped me immensely in deciding where to spend my time. Marco is 42 years old so spent his first 17 years living under the Soviet occupation. His experiences have lasting impressions and he hates the Soviets with a vengeance.
Marco pointed out this building with Soviet star atop. Although keen to see all evidence of Soviet architecture eradicated from the city he seemed happy for this to remain for historical purposes.
There has been a lot of development in Tallinn over the last 25 years since independence so the old now sit uncomfortably alongside the new. Although Marco was critical of everything soviet the apartment he rented to me was a stereotypical tiny apartment.
View from St. Olav's Church
The old town is majestic when viewed from either St. Olav's church or the tower of the Town Hall or indeed any one of the three of four viewing platforms around the Old Town.
Town Hall Square
Town Hall Square and Beyond
In the centre of the Old Town is Town Hall Square a magnet for the hordes of tourists arriving by cruise ship. When the cruise ship's passengers join the other tours groups and individual travellers in the square it becomes claustrophobic and quite unpleasant. However when the cruise ships depart there is an opportunity to absorb this historic and quite beautiful town.
War of Independence Victory Column
Vabaduse Vaijak (Freedom Square) is to the south of the Old Town just outside the walls of the town. The square is dominated by the 19th century Saint John's Lutheran Church on one side and a gigantic glass cross on the western side commemorating the Estonian War of Independence.
KGB Museum Hotel Viru
Despite Marco's desire there is no escaping memories of the Soviet occupation. On the 23rd floor of the twenty two storey Hotel Viru is the KGB museum. Supposedly pretty much as the KGB left it when they fled, it gives an insight into how the KGB both oversaw the construction of the hotel enabling surveillance of all guests and how they functioned in intelligence gathering alongside the day to day running of the hotel. Although the museum tours are somewhat dramatised by the guide it is a stark reminder as to how technology and communications have progressed in a relatively short time. I found it ironic that the concern and criticism of how the KGB and their collaborators spied on everything that everyone did or said in those pre 'freedom' days when in Tallinn Old town today there are more CCTV cameras per square metre than I have observed in any other town I have visited.
V.I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport
The V.I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport, today know as Linnahall, is a massive, now derelict, concrete complex with a 5000 seat auditorium and a 3000 seat ice hall. Built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics for the sailing events it lies next to the port and just outside the Old Town. A few hundred metres along the coast the Patarei prison and sea fortress lay in a similar state of disrepair. I am sure both will one day be developed if the required finance becomes available. A plan to develop Linnahall into a sports and entertainment complex including a hotel and casino was agreed in 2010 but six years on there is no sign of that coming to fruition.
Tallinn from Linnahall
Today it is like a graveyard of the Soviet era, a concrete playground for graffiti artists and inquisitive photographers. Few of the cruise ship visitors who pour into the old town visit here although it is right next to the port. Linnahall looks on whist the rest of the town is developed at a pace. My friend Marco longs for the day that Linnahall is updated and it's Soviet connexions eradicated. I feel it would be better left to decay as a memory of the past.
Tallinn and indeed Estonia prospers though independence and the security that may be offered by the EU. Estonians though live constantly under the cloud that should Russia decide to flex its muscles again re-occupation of their country would be inevitable and there is little that could be done to prevent it. A percentage of Estonians would even welcome it but definitely not Marco.