The other three chapters in this travelogue described parts of the city that tourists, businesspeople, or other visitors would naturally gravitate towards -- the Toompea, the fully enclosed lower town, or the harbor areas. But as I had three full days to do Tallinn in depth, I decided to build a whole chapter based on the rest of the city, where the residents lived and did their things. These were sights and experiences from the town that fell in one of three categories. There were brand-new parts that brought the modern-day Estonian closer to western European life. There were very old and perhaps forgotten parts that were reminders of the Soviet experience. And, there were projects that were intended as improvements that didn't quite work.
First, I will present what was new. Never mind the fact that the city was clearly putting on its best face for the EuroVision 2002 Song Contest, there was a lot of brand new construction and public projects that were being funded out of European Union coffers. When this country was admitted into the EU, it boasted that it had the greatest number of Internet connections per capital in all of Europe. A look around the city seemed to confirm that, every corner had an Internet cafe crowded with young people.
Shown in the first photograph, the venue for the EuroVision contest was the Saku Suurhall, named after Estonia's most popular beer. This auditorium and arena were the showpiece of the new Estonia. It opened only months before EuroVision, and has been a primary both sporting events and concerts. Its website claimed a capacity of 10,000, with 7,200 seated, but I did not know how many came through the gates for EuroVision (I figured 15,000 on the arena floor alone). It was located well outside the city -- I believed it to be in the southwest -- in the middle of a very new neighborhood and surrounded by massive new malls. For EuroVision, the attendees were handled by the city's massive new taxi fleet, hundreds upon hundreds of new cars pressed into service.
Continuing along the transportation theme, we'll covered trains, planes, boats, and streetcars. At the opposite end of the city from the Saku Suurhall was the main harbor, a scene from which is in the second photograph. The passenger terminal was equally brand new and served as a terminus for a heavy line of traffic across the Baltic Sea to Helsinki, Finland, a fellow EU location. This harbor was huge -- the ferryboat show was among the smaller ones I saw. In the south end of town was the Tallinn airport, that also was brand new, but still very small. Originally just a simple airstrip, its new terminal was barely completed before EuroVision and its passenger services were still adjusting to the modern way of doing business. But efficient it was, helped by the low traffic at the time (most of its traffic in 2002 seemed to be limited to other Baltic state locations and hops to the Schengen Zone via Helsinki). It was possible that expansion of the airport would be in the works as Estonia continued its growth as an EU member.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the rail and streetcar networks appeared as though time had stood still. Both were untouched and unimproved. Part of the problem with the rail network was that Tallinn's main line ran directly east toward Moscow and the interior lines within Estonia were underdeveloped. Meanwhile, the streetcars simply were being used much. The one I rode downtown from the hotel felt like it was built in the 1930s. It rocked badly back and forth and crawled at a walker's pace. Whether or not these had changed since 2002 is not known to me, but if Tallinn was ever to deal with EuroVision-like throngs in the future, something had to be done about the transportation infrastructure.
The third and fourth photographs show examples of Tallinn's Soviet-era style structures. The former showed some sort of old city government building, I guessed based on the star and wreath atop the corner facade. While the ground floor had since become a nightclub, the upper floors looked like apartments. The exterior was a cold, gloomy, brownish-gray brick, blackened with soot. That shot was taken at 11PM, which in the month of May was still barely daylight in Estonia. The latter picture was taken not far from my hotel, showing some old factories that were either abandoned or soon to be put to use for some other purpose (as the flags might have indicated.)
While Tallinn's modernization and development seemed in full swing on the west side, the east side had not kept up when I was there. My hotel was a short drive from the airport, but it was near some of the Communist-era planned developments -- rings of identical high-rise apartment buildings crammed against each other. I did not go through any of those complexes so I could not comment on the condition except to say that from a distance they looked bland and unkempt. My hotel was literally alone and isolated in a wide open space that seemed earmarked for more development. Across the street was the park shown in the fifth photograph. Not known anything about the history of the park, it looked like it was brand new and slapped together in a hurry using rocks dug up from the construction of the hotel I stayed in. The sword monument was near the roadside, with the rock at left etched hastily with the number "1343", which probably referred to some historical event, but that was not explained anywhere nearby.
Estonia's victory in EuroVision 2001 and subsequent hosting of 2002 was clearly a major historic event for this young country. While the downtown was well-dressed for the occasion, the surrounding areas showed excellent indicators of how the country as a whole was progressing, and what direction it was truly headed. These experiences pointed to an incredibly rapidly expanding and modernizing Tallinn, such that should I ever return there, I suspect I won't recognize it.
Trip Taken 26 May 2002 -- Page Last Updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin