by the way

Before I went to Tallinn, Kai wrote to me saying that it would probably be fairly pointless for me to meet her as she has no car no summer house and, in any case, is a very untypical Estonian.

On the first evening, we go out. We stroll through a glittering shopping centre. It starts to rain and Kai buys two plastic bags with hoods at a kiosk, a blue one for her and a green one for me. The rain pours down like a very effective shower, streams of water gush around our ankles and the white borders of my red shoes go pink. When it's not raining, girls dressed up in medieval smocks sell soft ice cream. The young men reveal their calves and delicate knees in their tights and pointed shoes. Kai and I have a great time and cause a flood in a cellar bar chosen by Kai. I tell her that in Russia people generally assume I come from the Baltic States. "Didn't they ask you why we don't love them?" asks Kai. It happened to her all the time in Moscow. Once, the roads around the Kremlin were all blocked off. It was shortly before the Iraq war and a state visit was expected. The guards wouldn't give anyone any information about why the area had been blocked off.
The old women presumed there was about to be an American attack. Kai says that when she recognised this atmosphere of withheld information, rumours and threat, which she had almost forgotten about, she packed her bags and went back to Tallinn.
Kai also says that she never notices anything exotic about Germany. Even Finland is more exotic! I think the same about Tallinn.

The old city of Tallinn is the preserve of tourists. The place is popular among young Finns. Huge ferries and cruisers lie in the harbour. Kai says that if you see a couple with a good-looking man and an average looking woman, i.e. a woman who isn't nearly as attractive as her husband, you can be sure that they are Swedes or something, but definitely not Estonians! In Estonia, it is considered very important to have a beautiful woman by one's side. She also says that the Finns always mistook Estonian women for prostitutes.

On our second walk, we go to a beer festival. We pass through one of the best districts in the city. Where there are no old wooden houses, architects have built modern wooden houses. In the Kadriorg castle gardens, a Moldavian folkloric duet is trying to entertain grandparents taking their grandchildren for a walk. At the beer festival a competition is in progress in which blindfolded volunteers have to lift up a crate of beer and guess how many bottles are in it. Our candidate wins. His prize is a bottle of beer which we think is a bit stingy.
We eat shaslik.
You can also let yourself be propelled into the air in a car seat on rubber ropes. The young men seem to love it. Kai's son says that this type of bungee jumping was also on offer at the singers' festival. The singers' festival was held a week ago in the same place as the beer festival, or to put it more accurately: the beer festival was - surprisingly enough - allowed to take place on the same holy ground as the singer's festival. There is an enormous shell which can hold 30,000 singers and enough space overall for 300,000 participants, which is almost a third of all Estonians. During the Soviet period, they always wondered why the festival hadn't been banned. The festival used to have an air of resistance about it. She had thought that maybe now nobody would go as it wasn't necessary anymore but it was as full as ever. Towards the end of the festival everyone would sing a certain song and cry. That was the tradition. They don't touch each other very much, the Estonians, Kai says, all that embracing and kissing wasn't customary in Estonia. If they want to feel a sense of community, they sing.

Our third walk takes us through a park, which used to be a cemetery for the Baltic German nobility and I learn that the reason there are so many German-sounding Estonian names is that the Baltic German nobility once gave its Estonian serfs these names.
We pass a former prison with a view onto the sea and a hangar for water planes. When the Soviet military were still barricading the coast, people in many parts of the city didn't realise how close they were to the sea, says Kai.
On an area of wasteland full of lupines there is a fisherman, a solitary man with a beer, two kids on bikes and a child in a car, practising driving. Groups of couples in swimsuits lie in the high grass and the cruise ships are blinding patches of white in the background.

On the last evening, we end up in the former artist's union club. It used to be open only to artists. Birthdays were often celebrated in the club and Kai remembers how she used to draw on the napkins as a child while her father and his colleagues ordered Armenian cognac. Anders Härm says that the difference between Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians is the following: "Lithuanians always say they'd like to, but money is the problem. The Latvians say they'd like to, but the Russians are the problem, and we say, we'd like to, but there aren't enough of us".

Back home, I received a letter from Kai. "By the way", she wrote, "Do you know this joke: A Russian, an American and an Estonian come across an elephant. What an interesting animal! says the Russian. What a big animal! says the American. Interesting, says the Estonian, I wonder what the elephant thinks about me?"

Nomme - Kaubamaja


Water, trees and self-mythology


Two Crone note - Kaks Krooni (more)


Map (large file!)



Water, trees and self-mythology
A text by Reet Varblane

Let say it is some kind of fairy tale:
Once upon a time there was a green, green, only green and flat land with some towns but quite a few ones. One of them was bigger and the people used to call it the capital. People especially these who happened to live in the capital were very proud of it: they loved the old medieval downtown, did not want to change there anything however at the same time they looked forward that it could be as other representative modern city, metropol. But it was not: it had only the downtown and then at once abondanded slum and cosy suburb and some regions with concrete modern buildings, not too nice ones. But never mind, people still loved their capital and their land and especially they loved allkind of myths about themselves: how beautiful are their women, how hard working are their men, how smart are their kids, how charming is their language because several time ago there was a competition of languages and their language got the second prize, only the Italian language was more beautiful ... But myths are myths and sometimes they got aware about that fact, they turned sad ... But never mind, they thought out new myths about themselves. Politically they tried to be correct actually they were quite silly, fleeceable ... and did not believe anybody. Although, they had one very well worth virtue - they were always able to laugh at themselves.

And, this green flat land is situated at the seaside. Water, trees and self-mythology - it is Estonia.





The food department of the Kaubamaja is very elegant. To me it looks Scandinavian, but I have to admit that I actually don't know much about Scandiavia.

My lecture in Tallinn is visited by a bunch of old people. Some of them sang along when I played "Weißt du wieviel Sternlein stehen". One of them told me that he had often travelled to Leipzig in the past as a gymnast. When we said goodbye he pressed my hand fimly.
Ursula Calenberg has lived in Germany for some decades and moved back to Estonia. She gives me pictures of Nomme - the part of Tallinn where she was born and where she is living now - so that I can see how well the place is taken care of.




Two Crone note - Kaks Krooni

Tuuli Stewart chose the Two Crone note to represent Estonia and it's complicated identity. The note shows an image of the scientist Karl Ernst von Baer.
This is Tuuli's text:

(*from 01-01-2011 Estonia has joined the Eurozone and doesn’t have their national currency any longer. )

My name is Tuuli. It means Wind in Estonian. My younger brother is Tormis - Storm then. We have usual Estonian parents. My mother is 62 and she is still working full time. My father is 63. Average Estonian man lives 57 years. So my father is dead.

Average Estonian family has 1.2 children. We are like native Italians in Italy - dying out pretty quickly. Every year less and less kids are going to school in Estonia. Not enough people any more to keep the nation going. I have three kids and my brother has four children. Other than that, we are usual Estonian parents - I am a single mom and my brother never got married. Would we save our country and national identity for future? Or will our kids? Would they become usual Estonian parents? We'll see.

One of the most powerful and important symbols of every country and its identity has been and still is money - a national banknote nowadays. It is especially important for a new state and its citizens. Estonians have put a lot of time and effort into creating our own money with hopes to keep it as long as possible as it carries all these important symbols for us and for our culture. It is the reflection and reminder of what we are, where we come from and what we want to be.

Most stable state for me in Estonia and in Estonian history is confusion. Confusion about the same idea - what are we and where we come from? Being so small, so opened to all winds that come from the surrounding cold sea, we have always been conquered and ruled by someone else. Most of us, Estonians, have lost understanding of this and our symbols and feelings about ourselves are strong. Even though the population is decreasing, we still have the world largest choir - this year 21 500 people sang together at the same time at our Song Festival and the number of singers in this national choir keeps increasing.

We are proud of our Old Town in Tallinn. It is beautiful and unique. But, we can't forget that it was not once created by Estonians and for them - Estonians lived outside of the city walls. We are proud of our national clothes that are in use even today - these beautiful clothes have many regional variations and reflect, again, the ones who have lived here at different times - Russians, Swedes, Danes, Germans …

My Kaks Krooni banknote that I found in my wallet, when Antje asked for something truly Estonian, is a good sample of it - Karl Ernst von Baer, the man on it, was a great guy - noble man who desired knowledge, never stopped asking questions about life around him, and - answered some of those questions for us all.

Karl Ernst (Karl Maksimovich) was born in 1792 on the Estate of Piep (Piibe) Jerwen County (Järvamaa). This versatile Baltic-German naturalist was born into the family of close relatives Magnus von Baer, the owner of the Estate of Piep and the Knight Commander of the Order of the Knights of Estonia, and his cousin Juliane von Baer. Young Karl studied at the Cathedral School in Reval (Tallinn), was a student of medicine at the University of Dorpat (Tartu), and graduated from the University as doctor of medicine. Later he continued his studies in Vienna and in Würtzburg, studied and taught (later) in Königsberg (Kaliningrad), in Berlin, St. Petersburg - definitely not a usual 18th - 19th century Estonian man.


In 1826 Baer discovered the mammalian, including human, ovum (De ovi mammalium et hominis genesi. Lipsiae, 1827). He proved that the embryonic development of animals proceeds from more general and simple formal characters to more differential in the further course of development, acquiring more complicated features typical of a subgroup and finally of an individual (so-called Baer laws). With his monograph "Über Entwickelungsgeschichte der Thiere" Bd. I-II. Königsberg, 1828, summing up his developmental studies, he laid the foundations of the science of comparative and descriptive embryology. In 1837 he organized an expedition to Novaya Zemlya which laid the basis of ecological research in Russia. Again - not a typical Estonian man these days.

His thesis on the diseases endemic among the Estonians (De morbis inter esthonos endemicis. Dorpati, 1814) were translated into Estonian only in 1976, 162 years later, even though his laws on embryonic development were long known worldwide and highly valued by scientists of other countries. Estonians did not pay attention.

Historical 13th -14th century Old Town in Tallinn is not typical Estonian living, but we are proud of it. Neither is our President's palace (built by Russians) and Parliament house. We like these symbols any way and keep as part of our culture and us.

Karl Ernst von Baer was not a typical Estonian. We are proud of him. And we keep him on our national symbol - on a bank note of Kaks Krooni.

Confused about identity and the meaning of “us”?

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