Kristina Lupp

After a long career from Toronto to Florence to Adelaide and a few other stops along the way, including a master’s degree in gastronomy from the University of Adelaide, Kristina, an Estonian-Canadian, returned to her roots in Estonia in 2011. She works as a food and travel writer, and in her spare time she runs the Tallinn Supper Club, a pop-up restaurant of sorts in her Tallinn apartment and a small bed and breakfast out of her farm, Torgo Talu.

Kristina Lupp: My favourite restaurants and cafés where to eat out in Tallinn

Kristina Lupp, a Tallinn-based Estonian-Canadian food and travel writer, lists some of her favourite places where to eat out in the Estonian capital. A few people have asked, where to eat in Tallinn this summer. Here is a list of my favourite restaurants and cafés, in no particular order. Salt …

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Estonia opens the first virtual clinic suited for expats

Minudoc, launched in Estonia, is a new telemedical service that ensures a convenient doctor’s appointment is never more than a video call away.

Like in many countries, access to your GP is becoming harder and harder. Oftentimes you have to wait a few days for an appointment, with some people even opting for a visit to the emergency room to beat the queue. Minudoc is on a mission to make health care more people-focused, to offer quality, convenient, efficient and affordable primary and secondary care to patients.

“62% of Estonians are dissatisfied with access to the health-care system,” Tarmo Pihl, the CEO of Sentab Estonia, says. “It’s difficult to get an appointment with your GP, even more so with a secondary care specialist when you need it, so many people resort to visits to the emergency room for things that could often be treated with a quick remote consultation from the comfort of your own home.” It’s not only about the quick response, but it also saves travel time for patients travelling to and from the emergency room.

Flexible multilingual platform

Minudoc offers patients flexibility, by allowing appointments to be scheduled when they are needed, without having to travel long distances or wait days to solve minor problems. Medical consultations are available during off-hours until 10:00 PM and at weekends, which also helps alleviate the strain on emergency rooms. In an ideal situation, patients should find a GP within an hour, or a secondary care specialist within 24 hours.

How does it work? A patient chooses the type of doctor they would like to visit. At the moment one can book appointments with GPs, psychologists, physiotherapists, paediatricians, midwives, gynaecologists and nutritionists. Patients need to log in using their Estonian ID card, SmartID or mobile ID. This gives consent to the doctor to access the patient’s online medical records. With this information, the doctor can also write a prescription, if needed, and the appointment is recorded in the patient’s digital records.

Online consultations are convenient for people who live in rural areas, but they are also helpful for foreigners living in Estonia. At the moment, services on the Minudoc platform are available in English, Russian, Finnish, Estonian, French and Spanish. “The service is also available to those without public health insurance. Foreigners with private health insurance can also claim the cost of the appointment. We are already working with Ergo and other insurance providers are joining, too,” Pihl explains. Pricing is nevertheless reasonable – a 15-minute session with a GP costs between €10-15.

Certified doctors

Minudoc thoroughly checks the background of their doctors and patients can read about the doctors in a short bio before making an appointment. All doctors are certified and employed at clinics throughout Estonia, not by Minudoc. “Doctors set their own schedules on the platform. And we can guarantee patients will never be kept waiting for their doctor. Doctors must be on-time for their appointments,” Pihl says.

To date, nearly 30 health-care professionals have joined the platform, but the number of service providers is steadily increasing. In the near future, there will be a number of other specialists and co-operation partners. “We welcome all doctors who want to provide patients with an innovative and convenient outlet to remote medical care to contact us,” Pihl encourages.

In October, in conjunction with the Mental Health Month, psychologists on the Minudoc platform are offering their services free of charge (normally €50 per session). “Patients may book in October for a consultation in November, so it’s a great opportunity for patients who need help dealing with the seasonal affective disorder,” Pihl notes.

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Images courtesy of Minudoc.

Behind the scenes: a visit to the e-Estonia Showroom

Anna Piperal, the managing director of the e-Estonia Showroom, is helping inspire digital societies, one delegation at a time.

This article is commercial content.

When something becomes so ingrained in daily life, it’s hard to imagine what it was like before. Think about life before Facebook, life before smartphones and life before e-Estonia. Estonians have become so accustomed to the many e-services available to them that it’s easy to forget that the majority of the world still runs on paper.

“We have built a digital society, and so can you” is the motto of the e-Estonia Showroom. Since its start in 2009, the showroom has hosted over 3,000 delegations from 130 different countries, making that a total of 49,500 people who have walked through its doors. This year alone, the showroom has welcomed 563 delegations to e-Estonia.

Tailoring each visit to the needs of the visitor

The e-Estonia Showroom introduces delegations to Estonia’s e-story and gives real life examples of how e-solutions can be implemented in both the public and private sectors. “The Showroom started as the ICT Demo Centre,” Piperal, the managing director of the showroom, says. “It was a way for Estonian ICT companies to showcase their services for export to foreign markets. In 2014, due to the growing demand, the centre expanded and moved to its current location at Lõõtsa 2A, thanks to Enterprise Estonia.”

The showroom hosts public and private sector decision makers, investors and the media. Among its more influential visitors have been the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and king Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, as well as delegations from as far away as Japan and Australia. “We tailor each visit to the needs of the visitor. For example, Australia is implementing an e-health solution where users can opt-out of the online data registry. Japan has implemented its own personal ID code system called My Number,” Piperal notes.

Not everyone is so quick to implement e-services, however. According to Piperal, it can take years to realise change, which depends on a nation’s government, the complexity of its legal system and the willingness of its citizens to adopt change. “Paper doesn’t ensure privacy and security, but it’s difficult to create positive experiences with e-solutions, if there is no way to experience it. That’s where the showroom and the Estonian e-story come in. Estonia is a comprehensive model for a functioning e-society.”

Courage to try something new

Estonia makes it all seem so easy. The first e-service was implemented in 2000, which was the e-Tax board, and now 95% of all tax declarations are filed online. “It’s the government’s duty is to provide convenient and secure solutions for government services and that’s online.”

“The key to Estonia’s success was the courage to try something new,” Piperal asserts. “When Estonia regained its independence, the government had to be built from the ground up. We could not afford to build a system based on the classic model, like that of the UK or the US, so we decided to innovate and put things online.”

Estonia can’t take credit for inventing the digital ID. This was inspired by Finland, who created a non-compulsory ID card with a cost-per-use for digital signature. When Estonia implemented the ID card system, the government decided to subsidise the use of the digital signature, for which companies would later cover the costs. But it was truly the added services of the ID card – like the electronic ticket for public transport and online banking – that got people onboard.

No slowing down for e-Estonia

The e-Estonia Showroom has already exceeded its intended target for delegation visits this year and with such steady growth comes the need for expansion. At the beginning of 2019, the new showroom will open its doors about 400 metres (0.25 miles) away from its current location in Ülemiste City. The new showroom plans on a simplified and automated booking system and a new VR solution, in addition to its larger size of 500 square metres (5,382 sq ft). Ülemiste has generously agreed to lease the space to the showroom at no cost for five years.

There’s no slowing down for e-Estonia; being innovative and effective requires continuous experimentation. The e-residency programme is proof of this. Estonia now has over 45,000 e-residents who have set up over 4,500 companies from abroad.

But it doesn’t stop there. e-Estonia has an ambitious future. Things like cross-border data exchange, intelligent transportation, personalised healthcare and digital transformation in education are among some of the areas already being implemented and tested. There’s no telling where this digital journey will lead.

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Cover: The e-Estonia Showroom in Tallinn. Images courtesy of the e-Estonia Showroom.

Fanvestory co-founder has found home again in Estonia

Birgit Karus, a co-founder of Fanvestory, a platform for music copyrights, talks about disrupting the music industry, being a female entrepreneur and what it takes to start something of your own.

This article is commercial content, paid for by Fanvestory.

“If you don’t like solving problems, don’t become an entrepreneur,” says Birgit Karus, a co-founder of Fanvestory, a marketplace for music copyright. “You have to crave the journey, invite experiences and seek adventure. That’s the kind of drive you need to become an entrepreneur.”

People like Birgit make starting and running your own business seem easy. It’s nine o’clock on a Tuesday morning and she is full of energy. “A good night’s sleep is the most important part of a good day’s work. Without it, the simplest tasks take twice as long. I tell my team to make time for sleep, too. Do it once and do it well.” After this interview, she has a day of meetings ahead, but she doesn’t consider meeting people to be work.

Like with every idea, Fanvestory started by wanting to make something better – in this case, the music industry. “The idea was organically born from what I thought could be improved and seeing first hand, what the music industry was missing. It was the Tallinn Music Week 2016 and we found ourselves at a Digix Hackathon (creative industries hackathon – editor) by mistake,” Karus recalls. “That’s where I met one of my co-founders, Juko-Mart Kõlar, who sits on the board for the Estonian Authors’ Society and is an advisor on music in the Estonian Ministry of Culture. We realised that many artists had trouble getting started due to a lack of funds. Some look to Kickstarter, but it doesn’t work for everyone. The problem is that music makes money in the future, but artists need it today.”

Birgit met her other co-founder, Kristjan Ulst, at the second hackathon. With close to a decade of software development experience, he was the one who could help them create the product. “We all have different competencies and help each other grow. Innovation comes from different competencies.”

Disrupting the music copyright industry

The music copyright industry is a complicated place and Birgit believes it needs to be disrupted after a century without change. “Music is created by creative types but dealing with copyright is the opposite of that. Different competencies are needed – creative, IT, legal etc. And you also need money. That’s where Fanvestory comes in.”

Fanvestory is a platform for music copyrights. It allows fans to buy a part in a piece of music and be entitled to its future royalties, while supporting their favourite artists. Artists are provided money upfront for their copyrighted work and are given a direct line to their most loyal fans. Fanvestory collects the money from sources in Estonia and Sweden and works as a kind of middleman between the fans, artists, labels and copyrights. So far, the company has completed seven projects and is the first of its kind, dealing with micro investors, something that they couldn’t have done before.

While Fanvestory doesn’t have any direct competitors, there are similar platforms like Patreon, which offers monthly support in exchange for merchandise; Royalty Exchange, which allows fans to buy large pieces of the copyright, or various blockchain music distribution platforms. “We want to do one thing and we want to it well. We don’t take the rights from the artist, we take part of the revenue share. We offer artists the best deal they can make for themselves.”

A growing fanbase

The future looks bright for the company. With seven successful projects under its belt and an upcoming project in Finland, the platform is growing. “We are now focusing on our launch in Scandinavia and the UK. These are some of the biggest markets, as many songwriters come from there too. In the future, we will be looking to expand to Asia.” Fanvestory was also selected for the Finest Sounds project, which is an export programme for Estonian and Finnish creative industries to Japan.

The fan-artist relationship is strong. “A while ago, Ott Lepland (an Estonian singer – editor) lost his cat and one of his fans helped him find it by reaching out to her social media network,” says Birgit. “The fanbase is growing steadily. Fans are generally between 25-45 years of age and there are three different kinds. There are those that only invest, diehard fans who only want to support the artists they love, and then smaller investors who put in an average of €50 and are offered something extra like virtual goods and signed CDs.”

Birgit has travelled extensively, having spent many summers working abroad, as well as a stint living in China. For the first time, she doesn’t want to move away from Estonia. “I’ve found the right thing in my life,” she says. “It’s been quite the year. I’ve met so many incredibly inspiring people. For example, Maksekeskus (an Estonian payment platform – editor) was really helpful in the beginning to get us up and running, as well as our investors and mentors, who have been really hands-on in opening up international doors for us, which otherwise would have taken years to reach.”

Entrepreneurship is the best education

Internationally, only 17% of startups have female CEOs and Birgit is one of them. Recently, she was awarded the Best Female Startup Award by the Lean in EU Women Business Angels. “I don’t usually take part in the female-only prizes because I don’t think gender matters, but something like this is good exposure and it’s good to be a role model for girls in Estonia.”

Recently Birgit went to her old high school to give a lecture about what she had been doing since graduating. “The room was silent. I thought everyone was sleeping at the end of my presentation, but they were silent because they were keenly listening. I asked the group, who wanted to be an entrepreneur, and no one raised their hand. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but if you have a great idea, then why not go for it. Entrepreneurship is the best education you can give yourself.”

Entrepreneurship comes in many different sizes, according to Birgit. Even the smallest thing matters. You just must have the right attitude, a good night’s rest, and an appetite for adventure. And, of course, music.

Want to support your favourite artists? Join Fanvestory today and let us know who you’d like to see on the platform.

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Cover: Birgit Karus accepting the Best Female Startup Award by the Lean in EU Women Business Angels. This article is commercial content, paid for by Fanvestory.

Tapping and tracking Soviet Tallinn’s tourists

The Hotel Viru is an iconic hotel in the centre of Tallinn, the Estonian capital, where, during the Soviet occupation, many foreign, mostly Finnish, tourists were accommodated – and it was also a hotbed for the KGB.

This year, Hotel Viru turns 45. From the outside, it looks much like it did when it was built in 1972, but inside, the hidden 23rd floor reveals an eerie past of KGB surveillance. The hotel is, these days, a symbol of the KGB espionage with it’s bugged ashtrays and “special rooms” for “special guests”.

Officially, as the elevator displays, the Hotel Viru has 22 floors. The 23rd floor housed the KGB radio centre, where agents were stationed to intercept radio signals and relay information back to the Soviet government. The radio centre was built in 1975, which corresponded to the pan-European joint securities conference that would be attended by the then-Secretary General of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev. The signal from Helsinki reached the 23rd floor of the Hotel Viru and had a direct line to Moscow. Parts of the third floor were used to listen in on the hotel’s most prominent guests, foreign journalists and Estonian exiles.

The door to the radio room on the 23rd floor reads, “Zdes’ Nichevo Nyet” or, in English, “There Is Nothing Here” and inside, the room sits untouched since the last KGB agent abruptly left in 1991. Today, the room is a time capsule of a bygone era of advanced (for the time) surveillance. The musty smell of the abandoned room, now a museum, still lingers. Sheets of paper strewn across the room, smashed radio equipment, and an ashtray filled to the brim with cigarette butts speak to how suddenly the room had been vacated on an August night in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union imminent.

At the height of the Cold War, the room “with nothing there” belonged to the Soviet secret police. KGB agents took shifts listening in on hotel guests through wiretaps placed in ash trays, bread plates and special rooms designated especially for foreign visitors.

After Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944, it had almost no contact with the outside world. Until the 1960s, few tourists visited Tallinn. But eventually, “the Soviet Union wanted their piece of the pie”, says a tour guide. In 1963, a ferry line between Helsinki and Tallinn finally opened a window to the other side, bringing in 15,000 tourists a year.

Tallinn’s first “skyscraper”

To meet the growing number foreign visitors, the Hotel Viru was built. It was Tallinn’s first “skyscraper”, a type of building that had never been seen before in Estonia. The Finnish construction company, Repo Oy, was contracted to build the hotel, because unofficially, no one in Estonia knew how to build a high-rise. The hotel opened in 1972 and was owned by the Soviet Union Foreign Tourism Office and the Foreign Tourism Office of the Estonian SSR.

While the hotel brought in much-needed hard currency, its foreign guests brought in ideas that threatened the Soviet ideology. The solution: many parts of the hotel would be bugged in order to listen in on many of its guests, especially the Estonian exiles living in the West and foreign journalists.

Sixty guest rooms were bugged and it was no secret to visiting guests. “It was not unlikely that you would get the same room each time you visited,” remarks one returning visitor to the hotel in the 1970s. Listening devices and peep holes were hidden in the walls, phones and flowerpots. “Older ladies sat in the corridors recording when you left your hotel room and the time you returned. We walked down the hall towards our room speaking about our day of sightseeing and the lady at the end of the hall held a finger to her lips, warning us we were being listened to,” remarks Ilme, an Estonian exile who visited for the first time in 1976. The bugged rooms also had their benefits. “You could say out loud in your room you needed soap and it was delivered to your door almost immediately,” says Ingrid, another Estonian exile.

There are hundreds of similar stories from foreign visitors at the time. At the hotel’s restaurant, located conveniently on the 22nd floor – officially, to offer panoramic views of Tallinn to its diners – ashtrays and bread plates held even more listening devices. “Even if you didn’t smoke, you couldn’t move your ashtray to another table. A waiter would quickly come by and place it on the table again,” says Ingrid, an Estonian exile visiting in the 1970s. “The food was plentiful and even decadent. We ate so much black caviar, something we were not used to, coming from Canada.”

The walls of the sauna were bugged to listen in on Finns discussing business negotiations to be later revealed to their business partners. Foreign journalists were targeted, as the KGB wanted to know exactly what they might say about the USSR when they returned home.

The hotel also had many celebrities visit, including Elizabeth Taylor, astronaut Neil Armstrong, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, singers Alla Pugacheva, Jennifer Rush, Nana Mouskouri and Lennox Lewis, the professional boxing heavyweight champion.

The epicentre of city’s nightlife

The hotel was well-equipped with everything measuring up to the Western standards. The restaurant had plenty of food on the menu, something unheard of in Estonia that encountered constant food deficits. The Hotel Viru offered a racy cabaret and the Valuuta Baar (Currency Bar), where guests could pay in foreign currency and unofficially request female escorts for an evening. “Everything you might want was available, so that guests never needed to leave the hotel,” says Jana Kilter, one of the curators of the KGB museum, now offering tours of the elusive 23rd floor.

If a guest wanted to leave the hotel, special permission needed to be granted. Tourist taxis were readily available to take the hotel guests where they wanted to go, while the taxi driver recorded every conversation and every destination. And if you left the hotel “too often”, a hotel clerk might have asked: “Why are you leaving the hotel so much?”

However, sometimes getting back into the hotel was as difficult as getting out. “One nuance of the Soviet hotels was that foreigners had to have a hotel card – a little piece of paper that served as a kind of pass to get past the beefy security goons that guarded the doors. These guys were presumably keeping average Soviet folks from entering, mingling with the guests etc. Presumably some of these people who wanted to get in could have been criminals, but there were also a fair number of black marketeers and people who wanted to buy hard currency on the sly,” an Estonian exile remembers.

“Anyway, we had one hotel pass for our group of 18, so at one point we were stuck outside the hotel. The guard wouldn’t let us in. We just had to wait until the end of his shift, or when he went to take a smoke break, and then we used the usual trick to get into these hotels (a trick all foreigners knew), which was just to talk really loudly in English and pretend not to understand Russian when they asked for our ‘propusk’.”

Parallel lives

Behind the scenes, the Hotel Viru was outrageously inefficient. 1,080 employees served 829 guests. The older ladies in the corridor, recording the comings and goings on the guests were chosen in particular for their perceived undesirability to foreign men, so they would not marry to escape. Maids were picked for their lack of language skills. The kitchen ran just as inefficiently. One cook would put food on the plate and two would weigh the portions to make sure nothing had been skimmed off the top.

“It all seems so unbelievable now,” says Kilter, “but it was just over 20 years ago.” In 1990, the situation was more or less the same, according to another visitor. “Getting a hotel room was easy, but there were always two sets of prices – one for foreigners and one for Soviet citizens. At the Hotel Viru, we were offered a room for US$115, an astronomical price in those days, but I had a local friend along and we were able to get the room in her name. The price was 15 rubles, which was exactly $1 at that summer’s black market exchange rate.”

The Hotel Viru’s history reveals the parallel lives that were lived during the Soviet period. There is nostalgia for the good times, for the absurdity of it all, but it is also important not to forget those that suffered under the KGB.

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Cover: The Hotel Viru in the 1970s. Images courtesy of Sakari Nupponen/Hotel Viru and KGB museum.

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