Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

September 19, 2013

Three Tallinns

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 2:05 am


To many of the tourists disgorged from cruise ships at Tallinn’s sadam (port), this city’s “Old Town” is Estonia.

But to the residents of the capital, most of whom live, work, and play in modern Tallinn’s towers of glass and chrome, sprawling malls, and department stores, Old Town is a tourist attraction, good for the economy, but a crowded place to be avoided. It is also, however, a source of pride as a spectacular monument to their history.

There are other reminders of their history, at the outskirts of the capital. But most Estonians might see those as a receding nightmare.

Think of semi-circles, facing the sea.

People have lived in the forests and bogs of Estonia’s interior for 10,000 years, archeologists document. Sometime around 1000 C.E. , some of them began construction of a city on the shore of the Baltic, surrounded by a wall for protection. From the mists of the forests, a verbal history condensed into legends which surrounded the city like its walls. Kalev, a giant skilled in making trees into buildings, built the city and is buried beneath its hill. His grieving widow carried hundreds of boulders to cover him and create Toompea hill over his grave.

Old town is northern Europe’s best preserved Medieval walled town. The teeming commerce in tourists within it has not erased the spectacular architecture that evolved from Kalev’s fortress, from the occupation by German crusaders, then German merchants of the Hanseatic League, then Danish ownership, then Swedish overlordship.


Grown up outside the walls is modern Tallinn, careening forward to not just join, but, perhaps, to lead twenty-first century Europe. Their across-the-water neighbor, Finland, has assisted from the moment Soviet occupation was driven from the country by the “Singing Revolution” in 1991. They invested early in the city with a major department store and since with electronics, plastics, and wood products.

Deep into the digital revolution, Estonians have created free WiFi countrywide, a national network of cell phone connectivity facilitated by the flat topography, and the invention of Skype. They provide their citizens free public transportation and Scandinavian style Health Care.

But lurking gloomily beyond these two Tallinns are the rectangular cement structures the Soviets call “apartments” which were constructed during the occupation from 1944 to 1991. Architecturally contemptuous of the city, they are the hub of what has grown to house 25% of Estonia’s current population: Russians.


The Estonians demonstrate much more tolerance toward their former occupiers, jailers, and torturers than the Soviets manifested against the inhabitants of the country. The Russians were not expelled, and certainly not exiled to Siberia, but are now incorporated into the society. They must, however, use the Estonian language for commerce.

You can feel how these powerfully different social forces do not just co-exist – they have intermingled to form modern Tallinn.

Tomorrow we begin our exploration of the country’s interior. We’ll see how well these same forces have consolidated into a modern Estonia.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: