Andres Simonson

Andres is first generation American of Estonian descent. An enthusiastic estophile, he is an environmental consultant holding a bachelor's degree in environmental science and a master's in city and regional planning, concentrating in environmental planning. He resides in Red Bank, New Jersey, with his loving wife and three darling daughters.

The pirukas vs the empanada and other ethnic dumplings

It seems every culture has their own version of the dumpling, but, in a hypothetical bracketed dumpling tournament, the Estonian pirukas would come out on top, Andres Simonson from the US writes. The pirukas is Estonia’s savory gift to the fattening world of turnovers, or if you prefer, dumplings.  Although …

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Yes, we clan: Why do Estonians have a clan mentality?

Estonians, especially diaspora, are inclined towards clan mentality – but they do not fit the strict definition of a clan; so, why is this so? Although maybe more accurately described in terms of a tribe, the Estonian diaspora are rather clearly inclined to clan mentality. There is a difference between …

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Estonian reality television series, Sauna Secrets, premiers on the BBC

Ever wish you could be a fly on the sauna wall? Well, thanks to a new Estonian reality television series, now you can.*

Reality television fans and channel surfers, take note. The relatively new Estonian production company, Rumal Productions, is premiering a new series tonight on the BBC. Entitled “Sauna Secrets”, the show exposes the inner workings of a fundamental element of Estonian culture – the sauna.

The show will film willing sauna revellers as they relax after a long week, network with business partners and cleanse down to their inner souls. The producers promise lots of interesting dialogue, cheeky camera angles and steamy scenes (literal steam). Unscripted and uncensored, the show is garnering early rave reviews, including the following from a British television critic, Otto Tuunin:

“After years of reality television disasters, ‘Sauna Secrets’ revitalises the industry. The show includes all the bare necessities of compelling TV – fascinating dialogue, fresh characters and a heated drama. This is more than a voyeuristic window in the sauna wall. Rather, one is transported to the top bench in a rustic sauna and the feeling of being surrounded by dry heat is palpable. The first time I watched it, so convinced I was part of the action, I started sweating from every pore and I accidentally and embarrassingly threw a bucket of water on the end table next to my couch. Instead of a sizzling burst of steam from the sauna rocks, I need a new cell phone.”

Several reality television innovations

Rumal Productions is boasting of several reality television innovations. “Sauna Secrets” will feature never-before seen camera angles providing a front row seat, including a birch viht-cam (birch whisk cam), a cedar bench cam and a robotic underwater cam in the lake where participants cool off. Other innovations include movable subtitles, in case the graphics interfere with one’s viewing pleasure. And, notably, an associated phone app allows one to control a central camera.

Pushing the limits of reality television, which the producers claim has gone stale, is a goal. Estonian World spoke with Aino Aur, the CEO of Rumal Productions. “Singing contests, scripted dating theatre, kitchen melodramas… enough already. It’s time the world learns first-hand about the Estonian love affair with the sauna. I mean, seriously, is there a more useless way to spend an hour than watching the Kardashians showcase the collective IQ of a bucket of mop water?”

Four episodes are ready to air. Translated into English, season 1 currently includes the episodes entitled Full Moon, The Most Painful Splinter and Butt, Seriously Folks. If all goes well and the ratings will be great, the producers hope to keep filming.

Check your favourite streaming service for availability

Estonian World was provided an exclusive preview of the first episode. The setting is a quaint lakeside sauna in the Estonian island of Saaremaa, it’s night time. The scene opens at the dock. From the opening sequence, featuring four full moons on the dock backlit by an even fuller moon in the sky, we were hooked.

Clearly friends, the four revellers make their way into the sauna and an orange glow cuts the dark night-time air. They laugh and they swig from a glass bottle with some sort of clear liquid (water? lemon-lime soda? – the viewer is left to wonder). They discuss the day’s events in amusing detail. We learn that one is a cook, one is an accountant, one is a professor and the last is a freak-show contortionist. We learn about their inner secrets – a work love triangle, a financial scandal, a human pretzel trick gone wrong. As the episode closes, clearly a cliffhanger, we are left wanting more.

(Warning, spoiler alert: it wasn’t water, it was vodka).

Sauna Secrets premiers on 1 April on BBC 2, but will also be available online – check your favourite streaming service for availability. Be sure to tune in, you’ll be glad you did. No fooling.

I

Cover: One of the saunas featured on the new reality show (image by Tõnu Runnel). * Please note that this is April Fools’ Day article.

The case for an Estonian Nordic flag

Although older in origin, the Estonian flag was officially adopted in 1918. Now, 100 years later with an important anniversary, is it time for an update?*

When broached by the geographically uncertain and the subject is Estonia, I typically explain that it’s a small country located just south of Finland. And then, with their internal globe spinning and starting to slow, my more astute conversation partners will typically identify Estonia as a Baltic country. I respond in the affirmative, for it is geographically true.

However, I go on to explain, although we share subjugated histories and current geopolitical hardships with our Baltic kindred spirits, the Latvians and Lithuanians, the Estonians are linguistically and culturally most closely related to the Finns. For indeed, among many other similarities, the Finns and Estonians have interrelated languages difficult to master, complicated folk dances difficult to steer, and curious cuisines difficult to digest.

Which brings us to a recurring debate, at least in small circles – is Estonia a Scandinavian country? Or maybe a bit more loosely and used interchangeably herein, a Nordic country? Clearly, Denmark, Norway and Sweden form the core of Scandinavia. But, if the modern definition of Scandinavian and Nordic includes Finland, logically Estonia has to be part of the club. Love for saunas, check. Wife-carrying championship medals, check. Midnight sun, check. Whatever litmus test applied, whether itchy woollen sweaters, accordion music or favourite adult beverages, Estonia is of the same acidity as their Scandinavian or Nordic neighbours.

Both Nordic and Baltic at the same time

Much like the wave-particle duality of light, Estonia is both Nordic and Baltic at the same time. Photon and wave at once; Scandinavian and Baltic simultaneously – all depending on the perspective of the observer. A Nordic wave from crest to crest, a Baltic particle from edge to edge. Call it the Estonian ethnic dichotomy.

Now, a tie that binds the Scandinavian or Nordic countries is their flags. All variations on a theme, essentially differing only in colour patterns, the flags feature a horizontal cross aligned along the latitudinal. The short side of the cross, making up the longitudinal, is oriented at the side nearest the flagpole. Some feature a solid cross, others a two-tone silhouetted cross. All are identical in the unity signified.

In addition to their flags, another shared characteristic of the Nordic countries is a tumultuous contemporary history with the Soviets. Estonia, of course, took the brunt of this all-too-recent Soviet decimation. The Soviets illegally occupied. They deported thousands to Siberia, destroying families in the process. Not as ruthless, but significant still, the red army removed the Estonian flag and replaced it with the hammer and sickle. A symbol of pride and hope unceremoniously swapped for an unwanted symbol of despair and hate.

Modernising the flag toward the north and west

A flag is an emblem of a nation state – symbolising so much more than the individual fibres woven into its multicoloured cloth. In Estonia’s case, the tri-coloured layers of blue, black and white, depending on interpretation, depict sky or freedom, soil or homeland and purity or soul. The hammer and sickle, floating on a blood red background, may have had a benign original meaning uniting the hammer of industry and the sickle of farm peasants. However, crazed by inane ideology, the Soviet flag became an anti-flag and the hammer and sickle morphed into symbols of brute force and severed liberty.

So, what would be more emblematic of Estonia’s true place among 21st century society than modernising the flag toward the north and west? Vladimir Putin is rattling his sabre in no uncertain terms. Longing for a past that must not be allowed to return, Putin is already planting his modern flag on the ancient sovereign soils of others. Luckily part of NATO and a good friend of the West, Estonia has tangible and material deterrents to its neighbour’s aggressions. But as Estonia’s flag officially turns 100 in 2018, maybe it is time to institute a symbolic deterrent.

Maybe a grand 100th birthday present is in order. Not a three carat diamond. Not a three tier birthday cake. But rather a new tri-colour flag in the form of the Nordic cross. One that holds to tradition with colours intact, but proudly proclaims Estonia’s heritage in fact.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author. Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. * Please note that this article was originally published on 4 June 2015 and lightly edited on 13 November 2018.

Estonian-American summer camps in the US are still vibrant

Andres Simonson gives an overview of Estonian-American youth camps in the United States.

Summer beckons many things – vacations, barbeques, picnics and, for those of us on the US east coast, high humidity and city folk wearing socks with sandals at the beach. And, for many Estonian-American youths, it is also time for laager (Estonian for “camp”). As in, escaping overbearing parents for the luxuries of sleeping on a cot in a sweaty, un-airconditioned shelter with equally stinky best chums.

On the east coast of the US, the primary choices include Järvemetsa in Jackson, New Jersey, and Suvekodu on Long Island in New York. Both are wonderful options, share some similarities, but also differ significantly. As either a camper, counsellor or now as a signatory of entry fee checks for my children, I know quite a bit about both.

Gorgeous Järvemetsa

Järvemetsa (lake woods) is a boy scout and girl guide camp. The town of Jackson is adjacent to the famed Estonian-American diaspora enclave of Lakewood, NJ. Hence, the name of the camp. Or maybe it’s named thus because there’s a lake and plenty of woods. Regardless, uniforms and several gallons of bug spray are a must.

The parcel of land at Järvemetsa is gorgeous. As mentioned, there are woods, mostly of the pine varietal interlaced with meandering white sandy trails. The abundant trees provide shade during the day, and when the wind blows just right, a wonderful lullaby white noise at night. There’s a lake – ok, maybe more of man-made pond dammed from a tannin-laced, tea-coloured stream. And there are latrine pit-toilets, damned for all eternity.

I attended for many years, enthusiastically. It set the stage for my genuine appreciation of camping, which I earnestly embrace to this day. I learned survivalist skills, which have been muted by modern reliance on the internet, cell phones, and Keurig coffee makers. I tried to learn knots, but apparently failed, as I am now reliant upon bungee cords and ratchet straps.

I learned Estonian camp songs, but apparently failed, because I still sing like an off-key and squeaky voiced adolescent. But hey, if our modern utopia fails and doomsday arrives in a post-apocalyptic crash, at least I know how to make an elevated platform bed from felled pine trees and sisal rope.

Then, entering a slightly defiant stage of my youth, I rebelled against uniforms and saluting my elders. Yeah, that kid.

Suvekodu in Long Island

Enter Suvekodu (summer home) in Long Island. I was hooked within the first few days, well, after I overcame a brief and mild sense of homesickness and longing for a McDonald’s happy meal. No uniforms, no hierarchy of scouting degrees, and no pursuit of various badges of honour. Not to mention, the reliance on flush toilets at Suvekodu.

Suvekodu, for me, truly was my summer home for many years. Here we bunked in cabins, swam under the sun and, once the sun set, played night games. We honed our Estonian-ness through song, dance and in the kitchen, through generous servings of rolled thin pancakes. We honed our youthfulness with sport, games and an occasional harmless prank. These attributes were not unique to Suvekodu of course, as Järvemetsa offered mostly the same opportunities. But, it was just a different vibe.

Now, don’t take this as a trashing of the scouting way. Clearly, the benefits and positives of scouting and guiding outweigh my trivial adolescent aversions. Honestly, I couldn’t fathom a world without thin mint and samoa cookies. This is just simply an each-their-own story, and my particular fondness for a more libertarian summer camp experience. There is not a right or wrong answer, just preference. Frankly, I am grateful my daughters have not inherited this trait from me. How silly I was. They love Järvemetsa, as do I once more.

No matter the camping destination though, we can frame laager with three Estonian words:  sõprus, seadus ja sigadus – friendship, law and piggery, respectively.

Sõprus (Friendship)

Clearly, laager is time to make new friends and rekindle friendships anew. Here, while camping with your esto (short for Estonian, the word is widely used by expat communities – editor) friends, your first name no longer sounded odd amongst your peers. Those unique, double-vowel names that were difficult for school teachers to pronounce were finally normal! These may be friends you only saw once-per-year in the summer but were in your thoughts through the remaining three seasons.

But times have changed and modern technology has morphed ephemeral friendships into constant rapport. Thanks to Facebook and Instagram, one’s midsummer friends are in your news feed 365 and ¼ days per year. Which is nice, but not a replacement for breaking stale bread in the mess hall with you pals.

Seadus (Law)

Of course, scouting and guiding are regimented and based on rule. And, despite my earlier portrait, so, too, was Suvekodu. Long Island was not an anarchistic Estonian version of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. By no means. And once I became a counsellor, I was able to dispense the law – mwaahaahaahaaa.

Ok, maybe there was an occasional short-sheeted bed or talcum powder fuelled hijinks. But nobody was hunting Ralph, or more likely in this case someone with a name like Priit or Jüri, with pointed spears – as in Golding’s macabre tale of human nature and the miseries of war. Unfortunately then – but thankfully now – despite the miles of separation from our parents, the rule of law held strong in Estonian summer camp.

Sigadus (Piggery)

Put a lot of kids into nature and you’re bound to end up with filthiness. Dust in the hair, dirty soles and messy living quarters. What kid would have it any other way? Fortunately, though, a strict regimen of morning inspections by counsellors kept the latter in check.

As for the bodily griminess, there was the sauna as a control. For one cannot seriously consider a summer camp “Estonian” without a wood-fired sauna. Every epidermal pore was flushed from the inside-out, in temperatures rivalling the surface of Mercury. Medieval birch branch whisks, when flogged on the bare skin, would speed the sanitising process along. Finish with a cool shower rinse and voila, a purified kid.

For me, these days, I leave the Estonian summer camp sõprus, seadus ja sigadus to my darling children. Laager is a now time to help the kids set up their camp, to give them a big hug that will last the week, and to return home so I can put my feet up and drink a cold lager in quiet solitude.

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Cover: Järvemetsa camp in 2016 (courtesy of Kadri Sepp). Images courtesy of Järvemetsa camp’s Facebook group and New York Estonian House. This article is a lightly edited version of the article first published in Vaba Eesti Sõna.

Beebi Boomers – the children of fate

Andres Simonson writes about the Beebi Boomers – the children born in the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden and other countries to native Estonian political refugees who fled the Soviet invasion and the illegal occupation of their fatherland.*

In the war-torn Estonia of 1944, two families from disparate parts of the country make a most difficult decision. With a future of despair advancing rapidly from the east on tank treads and the wings of well-armed bombers, unbeknownst to the other, both families decide to flee for the prospects of the unknown. They make a trade. Life, or quite possibly death, under the invading Soviets for a chance at nomadic normalcy under the premise of returning at some future date. The die has been cast. The families, meagre belongings in tow, are now political refugees on the run.

Separately, but with a shared destiny in front of them, the two families find security and shelter in American and British-controlled displaced persons’ camps in Germany as the Second World War winds down. Separately, but with an intertwined future to be, they later make the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean for the shores of the United States. Separately, but with a connected fate emerging, they find housing in the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas and transform the structures into homes. Separately, but soon to meet even if they don’t know it yet, the two families assimilate while holding their ancestries close to their hearts.

Later still, in 1960, the young children fleeing with their divergent families two decades ago are now adults – a young man and a young woman. In an Estonian enclave in Lakewood, New Jersey, at last, they meet. Shyly at first, they chat. Stories are exchanged about the journey they hold in common and the memories of their places of birth. Comfortable with each other, and with butterflies in their bellies, they go on a first date. A subsequent phone call leads to another. Soon, they fall in love. They marry. They procreate. A new family is born…

Ironically fortunate souls

Imagine owing your very existence to one of the 20th centrury’s greatest atrocities. Well, as briefly summarised above, that’s me. Not just me though – there are countless other ironically fortunate souls that fill out this story. We are the Beebi Boomers – the children born to native Estonian political refugees that fled the Soviet invasion and the illegal occupation of their fatherland.

Most reading this are familiar with the Baby Boomers. They are the post-World War II population cohort that sprang from the returning infantrymen and service people. In the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe, the Baby Boomers are the generation born from roughly 1946 through 1964. They compose a large population segment of their respective countries. But substitute the English spelling of the word “baby” for the Estonian translation “beebi”, add a decade or so to the birth years, and you’ll have a unique subset and extension of the Baby Boomer populace – Beebi Boomers.

These Beebi Boomers are natural born citizens of the United States, Canada, Sweden, Australia, and dozens of other countries around the globe. Their birth certificates are as varied as are their lots in life. And yet, they share a commonality of being. For you see, if the Soviets had never invaded, their parents would have never fled Estonia as small children. If they had never fled, maybe their father had stayed in Elva and their mother in Tallinn – as probably would have been the case with my parents. If those families had never left, the Beebi Boomer’s parents would have never caught each other’s eye at a location thousands of miles from a land where they most likely would never have met.

I am a Beebi Boomer. My brother is a Beebi Boomer. My friends from Suvekodu Laager (a summer camp) in Long Island, New York, are Beebi Boomers. I have extended family in the form of Beebi Boomers in Canada. I see Beebi Boomers often at the Estonian-American clubhouses in Lakewood, New Jersey, and in New York City. I keep in touch with them on social media. I read about Beebi Boomers in publications such as the one you are reading right now.

An Estonian-Australian teacher in Melbourne, she is a Beebi Boomer. An Estonian-Swede, a musician born to parents from Pärnu and Tartu, he is a Beebi Boomer. A natural born German tech consultant, who spoke Estonian at home and now uses those same language skills to do business in Tallinn, he is a Beebi Boomer.

Hyphenated Estonians

In a strange twist of fate, we owe our very existence to the same forces that decimated many of our extended families. When I look back on the Soviet war crimes, it’s a tough pill to swallow. I am here. But many were slaughtered to set my existence in motion. Still, none of us can shape our ancestries. We are all functions of an infinite amount of historical twists and turns. Call it what you will – chance, destiny, or a divine plan – the individual has no control.

So, we owe it to our ancestors to tell our stories. We owe it to our forefathers and foremothers to keep the Estonian traditions and language alive. We owe it to those that perished to lead fruitful lives, but to never forget the means to our end.

But maybe most importantly, we owe it to ourselves to contemplate our path to existence while enjoying our lots in life as hyphenated Estonians.

We are the Beebi Boomers.

I

Cover photo: Young Estonian expats in the United States in the late 1950s (courtesy of Kalev Ehin). * This article was originally published on 4 July 2013 and lightly edited on 11 January 2018.

Estonia 100: the gift of security – Andres Simonson

In 2018, Estonia will celebrate its 100th birthday, and many wonderful and relevant gifts have been proposed; however, ensuring national security may be the most practical gift of all.

As Estonia approaches the century mark in 2018, birthday gifts are already trickling in. In this case, with a country celebrating 100 years of nationhood, department store gift cards and bottles of wine are shunned, for example, in favour of musical instruments for Estonian children and a public square fountain in Elva. The latter are the types of initiatives being solicited by the Estonia 100 government committee. Ideas, many great, abound.

But there is one gift that Estonia truly yearns for. One present that will make all of its birthday wishes come true. This one does not require colourful wrapping paper and wide ribbon, but figuratively, does come in a package – security.

For without a future including non-negotiable borders and abiding autonomy, the currently proposed gifts will mean very little. If Estonia’s neighbour to the east, already lusting for an illegal and dark era gone by, begins to forge a new iron curtain and decides there are no real consequences to shutting the ferrous drapes, the musical instruments will be silenced and the fountain will go dry.

Unsettling feeling of déjà vu

Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader who put the “crime” in “Crimea”, has tested defences, televised misinformation and telegraphed nefarious desires throughout the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Emboldened with his trampling of Ukrainian sovereignty that was met with the worldwide equivalent of teacher administering a timeout to a schoolyard bully, Putin stalks his next victim. He lurks, in plain view.

And so, here we are again. From 1918, when Estonia first declared independence, to the ensuing Estonian War of Independence, to the Peace Treaty of Tartu in 1920 that provided a temporary peace between Estonia and Soviet Russia, to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in 1939 that lead to the illegal and brutal annexation of Estonia to the USSR, to the restoration of Estonian independence in 1991, we arrive at the current vague and unsettling feeling of déjà vu.

Is this fear of a rabid bear running across the border just simple paranoia, much ado about nothing? Time will tell, but in the meantime, we must do more than hope. Because, to paraphrase the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, historical amnesia is an unappetising recipe for recurrence. And considering the very recent history of little green men strutting through eastern Ukraine, we should all have a foul taste in our mouths.

Where does one find a security package? 

So, when birthday gift shopping for Estonia, where does one find a security package? Security is not available from online retailers, at the gift aisle in the pharmacy, nor does it grow on trees. Rather, it is assembled from many differing parts procured from a multitude of vendors. And it does not arrive pre-assembled. Each nation must follow time-honoured, yet evolving, assembly directions.

Certainly for Estonia, a major component of the security package is NATO membership. And that membership card arrived in March 2004. But, make no mistake, Estonia is complying with the warranty terms where the 28 NATO member nations are expected to spend two percent of GDP on national defence. Along with the United States, Greece, Poland and the United Kingdom, Estonia is one only five nations adhering to membership fee goals.

As a 45,000 square-kilometre country of 1.3 million people, in a vacuum, Estonia would not be able to defend its sovereignty alone. And of course, that means alliances like NATO are vital – not only to the individual nation, but to the common-minded bloc in the aggregate as well. Strength in numbers and affinity with kindred spirits.

But security is more than military might. Indeed, if shopping for a top-shelf security package gift, one needs to check the label for energy certainty, cybersecurity assurances, infrastructure stability, economic prosperity and resilience plans. Like its forerunners, modern warfare isn’t fair. Contemporary battlefields are often blurred and the players translucent.

Estonians abroad can become involved

So, as the 100th birthday party continues, we should be thinking of practical security-minded gifts to go along with the whimsical and elegant, lest those gifts become trivial. Estonians abroad can become involved by raising their voices wherever they may reside. This may include engaging your national government representatives or becoming involved with local Estonian organisations. For example, in the United States, individuals can support organisations like the Estonian American National Council (EANC – for transparency, of which I am a board member) and the Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC).

As 2018 approaches, Estonians everywhere should prepare to make merry. The celebrations will be plentiful. And by all means, shower the fatherland with gifts of art, education, religion and science. Simultaneously though, plan for the gift of security to make sure there will be room for many more birthday candles in years and decades to come.

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The opinions in this article are those of the author. Cover image by Stina Kase (the image is illustrative.)

Estonian tech startup and brewer join forces*

Ever run out of beer and curse the heavens? For Estonians, that happens all the time. Well, now there’s an app for that. *

Often, new apps are a solution in search of a problem. But not this time.

Issue: you finish a hard day of work, open the fridge to fetch a cold beer, but oh, no, there’s only an expired carton of milk and a can of soda. The former causes nausea and the latter causes cavities. Neither will quench that thirst.

Issue: it’s 1 AM, and that house party is raging on. But, the beer cooler is approaching empty. Obviously, you didn’t account for uncle Hendrik, who always shows up empty handed but leaves fully inebriated.

Enter, to the rescue, the new Estonian collaborative venture Taevast Õlu (Beer From Heaven). The brainchild of two childhood friends, tech geek Aksel Jant and brewer Leho Lõbus, the new company unites a phone app, a fleet of drones, and exceptional suds to deliver craft beer to your doorstep.

Taevast Õlu

The system, consisting of only three simple steps, works as follows. First, open the app on your smartphone. Second, scroll through the list of currently available beer styles and enter a quantity for each. Last, walk outside and await your beer delivery from the heavens. It’s that easy.

“In a sure sign the future has arrived, shopping for beer is now pants optional,” Jant said.

The app is sleek and streamlined, as expected from contemporary-minded Estonians. But, it does have its share of bells and whistles. Once your order is dispatched, you’ll receive a notification on your phone, at which point you can open the map browser to follow the drone’s progress in real time. The drone icon, of course, is a foaming mug of beer.

A timer in the corner of the map counts down the minutes until hops nirvana. Although two-hour delivery is standard, a half-hour delivery aboard Taevast Õlu’s “Concorde” of drones is available for a premium.

”Look out Rudolph, this is going to be bigger than Santa and his reindeer,” Lõbus said.

Searching for a central location, the business partners chose Paide, Estonia, as the seat of operations. The 2,500-square metre building includes a 200-barrel brewing system, office space, a drone hangar, and an air traffic control tower shaped like a beer bottle. With room to expand, Taevast Õlu hopes to eventually offer morning-after delivery of ibuprofen and bacon, egg, and cheese hangover breakfast sandwiches.

Bitter incident

But, as with many startups, the early days were not without mishap. During a practice run late last year, a case of glass bottles containing a special bitter ale tragically fell from a drone, instantly killing a farmer on the ground. Bitter indeed. At the time, Taevast Õlu issued the following statement: “We are deeply saddened by today’s tragic accident. At Taevast Õlu, we take the loss of innocent beer very seriously and are taking steps to prevent the harrowing loss of fine craft brew in the future. Cans, we’re thinking, indestructible cans are the answer.”

Impressively though, subsequent test runs were able to deliver cases of dunkelweizen to Estonian town of Haapsalu in under an hour, perfectly cooled to nine degrees Celsius – and without  a single fatality. As such, positive reviews are pouring in. Said beta tester Mati Petis: “First, man invented fire, then the wheel, and now a craft-beer-on-demand app. To all the doomsayers of the world, I say put that in your pint glass and drink it!”

Turning profit

The app is finally turning a profit, and to be sure, investors and venture capitalists are taking notice. As are foreign entities, which are looking to bring the technology to their homelands. To satisfy pent up demand, dignitaries from the beer-swilling usual suspects of the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium recently toured the facility salivating over the delicious ales, as well as the potential tax dollar revenue.

Currently available beers include the following:

  • Kerge, a light beer perfect for lightweights and those that don’t know a porter from a pilsner;
  • Purjus, an imperial stout weighing in at 10.3% ABV;
  • Hommikuseks, a seductive blonde ale perfect for breakfast – truly a morning delight;
  • Koomik, a witbier that will make you smile; and
  • Savisaar, a red ale

The Taevast Õlu app is available as a free download at both the App Store and Google Play.

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The cover image is illustrative. * Please note that this story was an April Fools’ Day joke.

Top ten reasons to attend the Estonian American National Council gala

The Estonian American National Council (EANC) is taking the show on the road. This year’s annual meeting, public programme and awards presentation will take place in San Francisco, California, on 5 November 2016 and will include timely panels and an awards gala.

Detailed information and registration is available on the EANC website. But, to whet your appetite, here are 10 encouraging reasons to register now:

1. You think Marina Kaljurand is a boat dock at Fisherman’s Wharf. If so, you would be mistaken. Kaljurand is the former foreign minister of Estonia and the current presidential candidate. She will be the distinguished keynote speaker at this year’s awards gala.

2. You are a huge fan of Melville and his work. Not, not that Melville… there will be no discussions of the allegories sprinkled throughout Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. But, rather, James Melville, the US ambassador to Estonia, will be hosting a whale of a time discussing current American-Estonian relations.

3. You shiver at the thought of the Cold War. Well, grab a coat because even if we’re technically not in a new Cold War, there is a chill settling over the northern Atlantic. And this cold front, whose line perfectly mirrors the political boundary between Eastern Europe and Russia, is a barometer of NATO’s renewed relevancy. Come hear the international weather forecast as Kurt Volker, a NATO expert, and other guests present a panel on “Transatlantic Security – US-Estonian relations”.

4. You think Singing Revolution is to documentaries as Gone with the Wind is to films. Meaning, it’s hard to get any better. If so, come hear the Singing Revolution co-writer and co-director James Tusty moderate a panel on “telling our stories”.

5. You like Vladimir Putin as much as you like you’d like finding vermin in your frikadellisupp (Estonian meatball soup). One would think this aversion would be universal, but unfortunately, it’s not. But for those in the know, the EANC will be screening The Master Plan, which is a film that explores how Putin continues to interfere with the Baltic states in nefarious ways, even worse than tampering with the national soup.

6. You are convinced Estonians are not funny. Stoic, efficient, stubborn – yeah, probably. Well the comedy stylings of Andy Valvur, a stand-up comedian, writer, actor, voice-over artist and this year’s gala emcee, will change your mind.

7. You are convinced there is no such thing as a free lunch. Wrong again. The weekend will include a luncheon, hosted by Enterprise Estonia, Silicon Valley. Here, while gorging on a plate of various no-charge delicacies, local Estonian entrepreneurs and investors will give participants an opportunity to hear about a prospering Estonian-American business sector (just don’t forget to preregister… otherwise there really won’t be a free lunch).

8. Due to prior commitments, you couldn’t make it to Eurovision 2005. You would not be alone. But fear not, Euro music fan. Laura Põldvere, who represented Estonia in Eurovision 2005 as part of the group SunTribe and took part in Eesti Laul 2007, will perform during the evening gala.

9. You know a non-Estonian estophile and you’ve always wondered, “Why? What the heck is the matter with this person?”How in the world does this happen, when one has a greater affinity for Estonia than those with Estonian DNA? Well, there’s actually an award for such a person and this year, Lonnie Cline is the recipient. As founder of the internationally recognised Unistus chamber choir, Cline forged lasting ties between Oregon and Estonia.

10. You really like tax deductions. As the EANC is a 501(c)3 non-profit organisation, all donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. So, help your tax return while simultaneously helping an outstanding organisation continue its mission.

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Cover image: the San Francisco cable car (photo by Sten Hankewitz).

Estonian fashion – the folk costume

Everything you ever wanted to know about Estonia’s most famous fashion.

Rahvariided, translated literally as “clothes of the people”, are folk costumes, and they are probably the most well-known fashion to emerge from Estonia. Unless you count the presidential bow tie. But that’s another story for another day.

A tradition centuries old, the folk costume is a hand stitched blend of linen and wool in assorted patterns and colours. Beautiful, ornate, intricate… itchy, and hot.

Today, they are mostly festive, intended for folk dancing, singing ensembles and celebrations. Centuries ago they were more common and included outfits ranging from lesser-quality everyday clothes (the jeans and hoodie of the time) to more intricate celebratory outfits.

Kihnu klederdracht (photo by rahvakultuur.ee)

Even in a small country like Estonia, they are localised with different regions corresponding to various designs. Today you may announce your locality with a Tartu University t-shirt and baseball cap, yesteryear you may have proclaimed your Tallinn origins with a floral pattern and indigo dye. Either way, nothing changes – one is attempting to proclaim geographical excellence over an inferior neighbouring locale.

But don’t bother trying to find rahvariided on the rack of your local department store. I doubt they will be featured in Vogue as the new chic attire for fall 2016. And you certainly never saw Carmen Kass, a famous Estonian supermodel, strutting down a Paris catwalk in a woollen below-the-knee skirt with thick white socks (personally, given the alternatives, I’m fine with that).

How to obtain a folk costume

So, to obtain a folk costume, one likely needs to know an Estonian grandmother with a particular talent, a surplus of linen fabric and woollen yarn in various colours, and several weeks of spare time. Not to mention the patience of, well, a saintly Estonian grandmother. And not only will she produce an intricate work of art doubling as festive attire, she will produce a story. She will tap her memory bank to produce new memories for the life of the costume (which can be prolonged with a generous helping of mothballs).

song-and-dance-festival-photo-by-anneli-tandorf

At the most basic, the outfit will include a billowy linen shirt accompanied by short trousers for men, or a skirt for the ladies. With those pieces in place, one is on their way toward Estonian folk costume elegance. But, we are not done yet – one will need to accessorise.

A group from the school of Kihnu went to the Laulupidu and for playing at the Pilipidu. Through whole Estonia, Kihnu traditional costume is famous. In July 2014 during the Song celebration (Laulupidu), a group of women and girls travelled to Tallinn, the capital, to take part in the event. On their way, many exclaimed "oh! look, kihnu". Kihnu is an Estonian island located in the riga gulf and listed as World Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO for the unique expression of its culture through its folklore (music, clothing, customs). Lauluväljak, Tallinn, Estonia. 04 July 2014.

For instance, the costume will require an ornate woven belt to finish the look and, more practically (because undergarments are strictly optional), to counteract gravity. Tie it tight enough to save yourself embarrassment in public places, but loose enough to allow good circulation.

Every great costume needs some bling

Ah, and every great costume needs some bling. Enter the brooch, a beautiful mass of silver or other metals worn toward the top of the shirt. The adornments were typically circular, and either conical or flat, and included various designs. Common to both styles, however, is a securing pin that can cause serious masochistic damage if one is not careful while donning the brooch.

seto-folk-costume-photo-by-kaspar-orasmae

Next is a trip to the milliner for some headgear, typically a black top hat for men, or a head scarf or flower headpiece for the ladies. But, let’s not forget the lesson learned from the hatter of Lewis Carroll fame. If the hat maker is babbling about an underwater village of tiny Martians in his cup of tea, it could be a sign of high mercury content products. Smile politely, back away slowly, and go to the mercury-free hat store on the other end of town.

song-and-dance-festival-photo-by-urmas-mand

But don’t stop here. Some married ladies add an apron, you know, because kitchen-related stereotypes are apparently universal and timeless. Some gentlemen add a long coat to the mix. You know, because, some men gauge their self-worth based on the length of their coat.

Folk costume will induce an overwhelming urge to dance

Once you have your new apparel in place, finish the look with a pair of black practical leather shoes. For once donned, be warned, your folk costume will induce an overwhelming urge to dance.

Not just any dance though. We’re not talking the Nae Nae, but accordion-accompanied Estonian folk dance. These dances include circle and line dances and have names like kaerajaan, kiigetants (swing dance) and labajalg (tootsie). Think well-choreographed stories performed in a dizzying array of spins, leg kicks and arm movements – both a great form of art and exercise. But, for those with an extra left foot, also a wonderful spectator sport.

song-and-dance-festival

And there you have it, rahvariided in a nutshell… which is what non-Estonians might think you just crawled out of if you wear them in public. But pay no attention to the stares and quizzical expressions. Just blast some accordion music, grab a partner and dance the labajalg like you just don’t care.

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Cover: Estonian women wearing traditional folk costumes. Photo by Katrin Winter.

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