Tallinn

Tartu Town Hall Square. This laid-back classicist old town is where my Tartu office lies. Nothing beats the foggy weather during the blue hours of short late autumn days. It’s soft, sweet and relaxing for some – and, yes, appallingly morbid for others.

PICTURES: Eesti blues through the eyes of photographer Tõnu Runnel

Estonians cherish their beautiful summer, long sunny days and short fairy-tale nights. In return, most of us are inversely aching about the rest of the year – the dim, wet and somber days of fog and darkness. Then again, the bad weather is as beautiful as those sunny summer days if you only care to look. Here’s a set of pictures of memorable urbanscapes and buildings that I’ve encountered on such dim times.*

Rotermann, Tallinn. This is where I work from on my Tallinn days. Young Estonians bring their foreign friends here and take massive amounts of pics of these surroundings if they want to show off the progressive, modern side of Estonia.

Rotermann, Tallinn. This is where I work from on my Tallinn days. Young Estonians bring their foreign friends here and take massive amounts of pics of these surroundings if they want to show off the progressive, modern side of Estonia.

Rotermann, Tallinn. Repurposed old industrial quarters in a harmonious ensemble with new office and apartment buildings. The fog lets it feel bigger and more powerful than it already is.

Rotermann, Tallinn. Repurposed old industrial quarters in a harmonious ensemble with new office and apartment buildings. The fog lets it feel bigger and more powerful than it already is.

Vaksali, Tartu. The quiet beauty of unclaimed pieces of land in otherwise tightly built up central part of the town. The knowledge of the approaching build up looming in the future adds to the overall aesthetic pleasure.

Vaksali, Tartu. The quiet beauty of unclaimed pieces of land in otherwise tightly built up central part of the town. The knowledge of the approaching build up looming in the future adds to the overall aesthetic pleasure.

Vaksali, Tartu. We don’t actually need that much space during large stretches of our lifetimes. Small houses are easier and cheaper to keep, you are out on the street with just a few steps if necessary and they are just adorable — especially when contrasted by the big houses around them.

Vaksali, Tartu. We don’t actually need that much space during large stretches of our lifetimes. Small houses are easier and cheaper to keep, you are out on the street with just a few steps if necessary and they are just adorable — especially when contrasted by the big houses around them.

A lookout tower on the northern shore of Võrtsjärv. The miniature house-like buildings in lifeless landscapes add a layer of additional emptiness to the already deserted winterscape. The warmth pours into you by just standing and watching this silence.

A lookout tower on the northern shore of Võrtsjärv. The miniature house-like buildings in lifeless landscapes add a layer of additional emptiness to the already deserted winterscape. The warmth pours into you by just standing and watching this silence.

Tartu Town Hall Square. This laid-back classicist old town is where my Tartu office lies. Nothing beats the foggy weather during the blue hours of short late autumn days. It’s soft, sweet and relaxing for some – and, yes, appallingly morbid for others.

Tartu Town Hall Square. This laid-back classicist old town is where my Tartu office lies. Nothing beats the foggy weather during the blue hours of short late autumn days. It’s soft, sweet and relaxing for some – and, yes, appallingly morbid for others.

Telliskivi, Tallinn. This region sees a rapid change, where industrial buildings are taken over by the creative class. The coolest houses are too small for easy conversion, though, and so they stand there, empty and waiting for someone to figure out how to bring them back to life.

Telliskivi, Tallinn. This region sees a rapid change, where industrial buildings are taken over by the creative class. The coolest houses are too small for easy conversion, though, and so they stand there, empty and waiting for someone to figure out how to bring them back to life.

Kalamaja, Tallinn. A single house of a future that never came. A shabby wooden district in Tallinn was destined to be demolished and replaced with the cold brutalist monsters like this. The first one remained the only one. Now alone and shabby, surrounded by all-around renovation, it has turned out to be more beautiful than ever intended.

Kalamaja, Tallinn. A single house of a future that never came. A shabby wooden district in Tallinn was destined to be demolished and replaced with the cold brutalist monsters like this. The first one remained the only one. Now alone and shabby, surrounded by all-around renovation, it has turned out to be more beautiful than ever intended.

Tähtvere, Tartu. The futuristic song festival ground from the 1980ies has somehow survived the iconoclasm of succeeding decades – probably because of lack of funds. Now again it looks stylish, hip and ready for prime time, waiting for Grimes, Peaches and why not Kraftwerk – with a thousand background singers, of course.

Tähtvere, Tartu. The futuristic song festival ground from the 1980ies has somehow survived the iconoclasm of succeeding decades – probably because of lack of funds. Now again it looks stylish, hip and ready for prime time, waiting for Grimes, Peaches and why not Kraftwerk – with a thousand background singers, of course.

Kuressaare. The unexpected fairy tale castle on the sea shore of the beautiful wooden town of Kuressaare deserves thousands of visitors on its grounds all year round. Thankfully both the castle and town are relatively quiet most of the year – and you can often have it all for yourself.

Kuressaare. The unexpected fairy tale castle on the sea shore of the beautiful wooden town of Kuressaare deserves thousands of visitors on its grounds all year round. Thankfully both the castle and town are relatively quiet most of the year – and you can often have it all for yourself.

Karlova, Tartu. Often noteworthy houses survive only because they are left to die. Either the owners are too poor to destroy it through too eager renovation – or the modernist city planning fad was bogged down before taking down the whole district. This is the case here – the Soviet overlords once again wanted some real houses and highways instead of decay and poverty. Thankfully, they faded away soon after.

Karlova, Tartu. Often noteworthy houses survive only because they are left to die. Either the owners are too poor to destroy it through too eager renovation – or the modernist city planning fad was bogged down before taking down the whole district. This is the case here – the Soviet overlords once again wanted some real houses and highways instead of decay and poverty. Thankfully, they faded away soon after.

Karlova, Tartu. My favourite architectural subgenre – cute houses too tiny for living with your family. Did I forget to mention that it was originally meant for *two* families? One for each one-room storey. Now it’s the entry point into a wonderful secret mini-district with a number of equally beautiful, yet a bit bigger homes.

Karlova, Tartu. My favourite architectural subgenre – cute houses too tiny for living with your family. Did I forget to mention that it was originally meant for *two* families? One for each one-room storey. Now it’s the entry point into a wonderful secret mini-district with a number of equally beautiful, yet a bit bigger homes.

Mändjala, Saaremaa. It’s easy to make a horror movie anywhere in the Estonian countryside during the cold season. Then again, you could also make a feel-good movie right here – it’s only how you manipulate the picture, and your thoughts.

Mändjala, Saaremaa. It’s easy to make a horror movie anywhere in the Estonian countryside during the cold season. Then again, you could also make a feel-good movie right here – it’s only how you manipulate the picture, and your thoughts.

Toomemäe, Tartu. These houses have been a huge, derelict canvas for artists and taggers for as long as I can remember. Prime real estate, just the owners aren’t ready for prime time yet. This and a few other houses in Tartu have massive portraits featuring local heroes on their walled-up window slots.

Toomemäe, Tartu. These houses have been a huge, derelict canvas for artists and taggers for as long as I can remember. Prime real estate, just the owners aren’t ready for prime time yet. This and a few other houses in Tartu have massive portraits featuring local heroes on their walled-up window slots.

Kalamarja, Tallinn. Somehow, we have learned to build houses, but not yet the space between them. Absurdly hilarious fence systems coupled with negative space for parking and lifeless, micromanaged lawns. You can sometimes only tell the difference between jail architecture and nice residential developments by measuring the height of the fences. Until landscape architects are discovered, I and other photographers can enjoy the pure form these buildings and their desolate surroundings pose.

Kalamaja, Tallinn. Somehow, we have learned to build houses, but not yet the space between them. Absurdly hilarious fence systems coupled with negative space for parking and lifeless, micromanaged lawns. You can sometimes only tell the difference between jail architecture and nice residential developments by measuring the height of the fences. Until landscape architects are discovered, I and other photographers can enjoy the pure form these buildings and their desolate surroundings pose.

Raadi, Tartu. The pleasure of comparing the poetic, faded realism to the naive ideals of modernist planning – both necessary ingredients for this beautiful outcome. This beauty is hidden to the muddy backstreets near the former Soviet military zone – a region still almost if undiscovered by the municipality and therefore a great destination for visiting pearl hunters.

Raadi, Tartu. The pleasure of comparing the poetic, faded realism to the naive ideals of modernist planning – both necessary ingredients for this beautiful outcome. This beauty is hidden to the muddy backstreets near the former Soviet military zone – a region still almost if undiscovered by the municipality and therefore a great destination for visiting pearl hunters.

Annelinn, Tartu. I grew up in a similar “mikrorajoon” close to this one. You only have one childhood and it doesn’t matter that much if it takes place in a Soviet modernist dystopia or anywhere else. What I don’t know, though, is why it still attracts me now – is it slight nostalgia or just the promise of impressive shots? Even worse – I actually like it as one part of the complete urbanscape.

Annelinn, Tartu. I grew up in a similar “mikrorajoon” close to this one. You only have one childhood and it doesn’t matter that much of it takes place in a Soviet modernist dystopia or anywhere else. What I don’t know, though, is why it still attracts me now – is it slight nostalgia or just the promise of impressive shots? Even worse – I actually like it as one part of the complete urbanscape.

Sadam, Tallinn. Where else would you expect to stumble upon the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art – if not in a derelict industrial building destined for demolition (and replacement with posh residential/commercial district)? Hope this one, too, will outlive the current short-sighted overlords and eventually get those posh new houses around it, not instead of it.

Sadam, Tallinn. Where else would you expect to stumble upon the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art – if not in a derelict industrial building destined for demolition (and replacement with posh residential/commercial district)? Hope this one, too, will outlive the current short-sighted overlords and eventually get those posh new houses around it, not instead of it.

Old Town, Tallinn. For years, I didn’t see the Old Town too much – it was out of my usual routes in Tallinn and seemed to be serving only souvenirs and alcohol to tourists. Now it has changed to the better, offering a lot to both locals and visitors. Also, the visitors seem to be much more diverse. Maybe ourselves, too.

Old Town, Tallinn. For years, I didn’t see the Old Town too much – it was out of my usual routes in Tallinn and seemed to be serving only souvenirs and alcohol to tourists. Now it has changed to the better, offering a lot to both locals and visitors. Also, the visitors seem to be much more diverse. Maybe ourselves, too.

Go out and enjoy the Eesti blues, this is in a way even better than the beautiful summertime – because you can be pretty sure about the exclusivity of the experience – you won’t meet pretty much anyone else.

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Cover: Tartu Town Hall Square. This laid-back classicist old town is where my Tartu office lies. Nothing beats the foggy weather during the blue hours of short late autumn days. It’s soft, sweet and relaxing for some – and, yes, appallingly morbid for others. * Please note that this article was originally published on 17 January 2017.

A global climate hackathon in Tallinn to focus on mobility

The Estonian capital, Tallinn, is joining more than 100 cities around the world to host a 24-hour hackathon, Climathon, that is dedicated to solving climate challenges.

Climathon is a global movement that gathers experts, students, startups, think tanks, innovators and developers around the world to find innovative solutions for environmental problems in their cities.

In Tallinn, the hackathon will focus on mobility – on promoting walking, cycling and public transport, and reducing the number of cars. It will look how and with which solutions it is possible to reach different target groups, to form attitudes and habits, and to crush myths about car-oriented mindset and the urban environment.

“Building more roads and offering larger free parking spaces have not resolved traffic congestion issues nor environmental problems in any city. This is no task well solved by just offering free public transportation,” the organisers behind the Tallinn hackathon said in a statement. “It is necessary to gain further understanding of the reasons for the rapid motorisation of the Tallinn region and what needs to be done in order to make public transportation, walking and cycling more attractive than habit of driving from door-to-door.”

Changing the city environment

According to the organisers, “moving around Tallinn by any form of transport is difficult, inefficient, stressful and time-consuming”. The hackathon will aim to find answers to several questions: Can all these forms be developed equally? How much does a car-oriented city cost to the public sector, businesses and families? Will Tallinn evolve towards becoming a car-dependent city? Does Tallinn need bolder decisions to become a city that is not car-oriented? How to make proposals more attractive for decision-makers and how to communicate the need for a change?

The organisers said that as it stands, the development of public transport and cycling paths has not had a significant impact on car use in Tallinn. “We have the knowledge, goals and examples from other cities, but these have not been implemented to change the city environment.”

Tallinn’s Climathon, taking place from 26-27 October, is organised by Cleantech ForEst, an Estonian non-profit that funds early stage green technology startups, advances environmental education and supports energy experts.

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Cover: A Tallinn tram (the image is illustrative/Wikimedia Commons).

The people have spoken: 33 ideas on how to make Tallinn great again

A recent event in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, organised by Estonishing Evenings and Estonian World, featured a discussion on how to make Tallinn so awesome that people would want to stay and never leave again – this is what the audience came up with.

“A good city is like a good party – people stay longer than really necessary, because they are enjoying themselves,” Jan Gehl, a renowned Danish architect and urban design consultant, said. On 17 September, the English-speaking event series, Estonishing Evenings – co-organised by Estonian World – asked exactly that: how to make Tallinn a good city.

In between presentations by the city planner and architect, Yoko Alender, and the Telliskivi Creative City founder, Jaanus Juss, we asked the audience – roughly split 50/50 between the non-native residents and Estonians – their feedback and ideas what to improve upon in Tallinn.

First, the good news. Here are the things people like about Tallinn: green spaces, the clean air, the Old Town and the varied architecture, feeling safe and secure, the city being walkable and human-scaled, the trams, the access to the waterfront and the sandy beach, modest advertisement (not too many public banners), the innovation and the start-up friendly infrastructure, such as the Telliskivi Creative City and the Ülemiste City, for example. Some people also noted positively that the city is accessible for children.

Now, it gets trickier. Those who said before the event that “Tallinn is already great, there’s nothing to improve”, might be in for a second thought. We asked the audience what both the city government and the city residents could improve in Tallinn. The list of ideas on what to develop, upgrade and refine, is long – and please note that these ideas highlighted here were written down by approximately 100 people in just about twenty minutes. Shouldn’t we ask more often what the city residents want and expect?

How could the city government improve Tallinn?

Plan and create more bicycling paths.

Bicycle paths should be kept clear also in winter.

Introduce smart traffic management: real-time analytics about traffic; historical trends; predict traffic patterns; optimise traffic signal times; dynamic bus routes.

Develop a more efficient public transport network and transport connections across the capital and for people who live outside of Tallinn but work in the city; improve the traffic speeds in the city centre.

Develop a night bus network.

Introduce a more convenient public transport to the nature spots outside the city.

Densify the city centre – no more urban sprawl, please.

“Desovietise” city planning and the infrastructure.

Create more free space for people and activities; people should feel they have ownership of public space – currently, many people don’t feel so.

Improve the waterfront; improve access to the seafront from the Old Town.

Encourage refurbishment of old buildings.

Transform abandoned fields around Lasnamäe into cool parks.

Instead of building more and bigger shopping malls, legislation should provide incentives for creating smaller shops.

Support the neighbourhood shops; provide incentives to establish shops and bars across Tallinn, not just in the city centre.

Preserve the greenery.

Provide more recycling facilities in the urban space and increase awareness about waste.

Build more public restrooms.

Inform non-native residents and the newly-arrived people on their rights and opportunities to participate in the local decision making.

Inform non-native residents and newcomers about Tallinn’s helpline 1345.

The Tallinn city government should take more into account the initiatives of the community organisations – currently, when these interfere with city policies, the progress is slow or stalled.

Introduce a universal civic education not just in Tallinn, but across Estonia.

Listen more and gather opinions from disadvantaged people in Tallinn; set up a dedicated website for the socially disadvantaged.

Build better homeless shelters.

The city should be all about people and their wellbeing.

How could the residents of Tallinn improve their city?

Motorists – have more respect for bicycle users and please, don’t drive too fast in the city.

Take advantage of the opportunities carpooling could offer.

In the winter, get ice off of sidewalks in front of your buildings.

Local community organisations should be bolder in their criticism of city government’s policies if they disagree – currently, there are signs of reluctance to criticise, which is detrimental to transparent and democratic society.

Be more active in local elections.

Join social movements and be more involved; volunteer.

The residents of Tallinn could cooperate more and develop better community relations; more trust and empathy are needed.

Become more foreigner-friendly.

Finally – smile more!

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Cover: A viewing platform in Tallinn’s Old Town (photo by Thomas Haltner/the image is illustrative).

Mercer ranks Tallinn 87th on quality of living

The Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranks the Estonian capital, Tallinn, 87th in its 2018 index.

The survey’s important criteria are safety, education, hygiene, health care, culture, environment, recreation, political-economic stability, public transport and access to goods and services.

Tallinn is given the same rank as Limassol, Cyprus, coming after Athens, Greece (86) and before Durban, South Africa (89).

Riga, Latvia, comes in 90th and Vilnius, Lithuania, 81st. The Finnish capital, Helsinki, is ranked 32nd. Moscow, Russia, comes 167th and St Petersburg even lower than that, 173rd.

Vienna is leading

The best city in the world, according to the survey, is Vienna, Austria. The Austrian capital has been ranked first for eight consecutive years.

Vienna is followed by Zurich (Switzerland), Auckland (New Zealand) and Munich (Germany).

On the other hand, the worst city by quality of living is Baghdad, Iraq, preceded by Bangui, the Central African Republic, and Sana’a, Yemen.

The Mercer Quality of Living Survey ranks 231 cities; the quality of living survey is conducted to help governments and major companies place employees on international assignments.

The survey also identifies the cities with the highest personal safety ranking based upon internal stability, crime, effectiveness of law enforcement and relationships with other countries.

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Cover: Lasnamäe district in Tallinn (the image is illustrative/courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Estonishing Evenings: How to make Tallinn great again?

The Estonishing Evenings series continues in the Estonian capital, this time discussing how to make Tallinn so awesome that people would want to stay and never leave again.

“A good city is like a good party – people stay longer than really necessary, because they are enjoying themselves,” Jan Gehl, a renowned Danish architect and urban design consultant, has said.

On 17 September, the English-speaking event series, Estonishing Evenings, will discuss how to make Tallinn that city – so awesome that people would want to stay and never leave again.

The evening will start with a presentation by the Estonian architect and city planner, Yoko Alender, who will answer the following questions: What makes a city great? How do history, business environment and politics shape a city? How has history shaped Tallinn?

A small discussion round will follow, collecting ideas and suggestions about what developments and changes could be done in Tallinn.

Jaanus Juss, the founder and CEO of the Telliskivi Creative City, will end the evening by sharing his story about the creation of Telliskivi – a success story on how a derelict Soviet-era industrial complex was converted into a vibrant hub for over 250 companies.

The event, taking place at the Erinevate Tubade Klubi (the Club of Different Rooms) at the Telliskivi Creative City in Tallinn, at 7:00 PM on 17 September, will be moderated by Silver Tambur, the editor-in-chief of Estonian World.

Organised in partnership with Estonian World and the Telliskivi Creative City, the Estonishing Evenings series runs English-speaking events that host different speakers expressing their viewpoints and experiences on hot topics and matters concerning both the locals and non-natives living in Estonia. Founded in 2017, the series has become the most popular monthly event in Estonia that is conducted in English.

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Cover image by Aron Urb.

PICTURES: Eesti autumn through the eyes of photographer Tõnu Runnel

The Estonian summer is a great nostalgic brand, a destination on its own. But once the autumn hits, everyone leaves. Not just the migratory birds and the summer-Estonians of the world, but also those who go to school and work in our few bigger towns. They leave their country houses, put on straight faces and go to meet their new beginnings.*

Paljassaare, Tallinn. In the end of summer, the weather starts to change. More clouds and rain, lower temperatures. Beaches are the first places that get left behind.

Paljassaare, Tallinn. In the end of the summer, the weather starts to change. More clouds and rain, lower temperatures. The beaches are the first places that get left behind.

Meelva, Räpina. The landscapes start to go through dramatic changes. The fog visits more often, the fields turn gold. Yet the trees don’t yet give in staying as green as ever. Some evenings are still relatively warm, the days are still long. It’s still kind of a summer in case it isn’t raining.

Meelva, Räpina. The landscapes start to go through dramatic changes. The fog visits more often, the fields turn gold. Yet the trees don’t yet give in staying as green as ever. Some evenings are still relatively warm, the days are still long. It’s still kind of a summer in case it isn’t raining.

The Old town, Tallinn. The rain isn’t bringing escape from the heat anymore. Instead, it makes you think about cardigans, gloves and curling up indoors, in front of fireplaces. The universally shared feeling that this year, summer almost didn’t get started before it was already over.

The Old town, Tallinn. The rain isn’t bringing escape from the heat anymore. Instead, it makes you think about cardigans, gloves and curling up indoors, in front of fireplaces. The universally shared feeling that this year, summer almost didn’t get started before it was already over.

Rotermann, Tallinn. Soon enough, outdoor restaurants fall into desolation. Restless people proclaim to move to the Mediterranean – or Bali – and leave this upcoming hell for good. How could you survive seven months without sipping your morning coffee outside, on the balcony? No more shorts? Come on.

Rotermann, Tallinn. Soon enough, outdoor restaurants fall into desolation. Restless people proclaim to move to the Mediterranean – or Bali – and leave this upcoming hell for good. How could you survive seven months without sipping your morning coffee outside, on the balcony? No more shorts? Come on.

Supilinn, Tartu. But not all is lost. The autumn is not so much about the endings as it is about the new beginnings. The autumn is the time to rouse from the midsummer laze, move back to towns, back to work. Schools claim our children – the traditional start of school on 1 September is like an unofficial national holiday. Everything is new.

Supilinn, Tartu. But not all is lost. The autumn is not so much about the endings as it is about the new beginnings. The autumn is the time to rouse from the midsummer laze, move back to towns, back to work. Schools claim our children – the traditional start of school on 1 September is like an unofficial national holiday. Everything is new.

Lake Meelva, Põlvamaa. And on the weekends you can head back to the countryside. There are all those new activities waiting for the adventurous. The forest berries and mushrooms you used to pick with your grandmother. Remember those? For years you didn’t care. Now, a bit older, you gather your friends and go wandering in the autumn forest anew. In a few years, you’ll be bringing your kids along.

Lake Meelva, Põlvamaa. And on the weekends you can head back to the countryside. There are all those new activities waiting for the adventurous. The forest berries and mushrooms you used to pick with your grandmother. Remember those? For years you didn’t care. Now, a bit older, you gather your friends and go wandering in the autumn forest anew. In a few years, you’ll be bringing your kids along.

Meelva, Räpina. And all that food that gets ripe in the end of the summer and the beginning of fall. The abundance of fresh ingredients demands our attention. As the weather grows colder, we gradually rediscover ovens and long-baked foods.

Meelva, Räpina. And all that food that gets ripe in the end of the summer and the beginning of fall. The abundance of fresh ingredients demands our attention. As the weather grows colder, we gradually rediscover ovens and long-baked foods.

Kirna, Alam-Pedja. Slowly, more colours seep into the landscapes. One by one, the different botanical species decide, enough is enough, and let go. From green to red and brown – under the blue array of clouds – the whole palette is out there.

Kirna, Alam-Pedja. Slowly, more colours seep into the landscapes. One by one, the different botanical species decide, enough is enough, and let go. From green to red and brown – under the blue array of clouds – the whole palette is out there.

Toome, Tartu. Then the leaves start to turn in tides – the golden apex of the autumn is upon us. A dreadful time for all the diligent park supervisors who try to mitigate everyone’s awe with their gasoline-powered leaf blowers. That’s the actual beginning of the autumn –  the first loud scream of the first blower when first yellow leaf falls from in the park.

Toome, Tartu. Then the leaves start to turn in tides – the golden apex of the autumn is upon us. A dreadful time for all the diligent park supervisors who try to mitigate everyone’s awe with their gasoline-powered leaf blowers. That’s the actual beginning of the autumn –  the first loud scream of the first blower when first yellow leaf falls from in the park.

Karlova, Tartu. I wandered into this courtyard and complimented the locals for the beauty of it. Their tired response: “Yeah, right, it will be November in no time" – alluding that this all is just deceptive pre-rot. Yes – all those leaves are beautiful only until it’s not your responsibility to clean this mess up after the show.

Karlova, Tartu. I wandered into this courtyard and complimented the locals for the beauty of it. Their tired response: “Yeah, right, it will be November in no time” – alluding that this all is just deceptive pre-rot. Yes – all those leaves are beautiful only until it’s not your responsibility to clean this mess up after the show.

Kassitoome, Tartu. It’s not a very long show. Not every year the fall of the leaves is accompanied by the sunny weather. But then they get in sync and it will be really powerful, like a bunch of dragons lying in their piles of gold.

Kassitoome, Tartu. It’s not a very long show. Not every year the fall of the leaves is accompanied by the sunny weather. But then they get in sync and it will be really powerful, like a bunch of dragons lying in their piles of gold.

Karlova, Tartu. Everyone jumps on this short golden period with their cameras – it really is beautiful. There’s more you can do with the autumn colours than just shoot the golden dragon piles. A touch of yellow is enough to give quite a different look to your ordinary scenes too.

Karlova, Tartu. Everyone jumps on this short golden period with their cameras – it really is beautiful. There’s more you can do with the autumn colours than just shoot the golden dragon piles. A touch of yellow is enough to give quite a different look to your ordinary scenes too.

Lake Meelva, Põlvamaa. The winter draws closer and the nature falls silent. No need to join the nature and start hibernating, though. Instead, it’s the best time to wander in the woods and marshes – the mosquitoes are gone, it’s quiet and inviting outdoors.

Lake Meelva, Põlvamaa. The winter draws closer and the nature falls silent. No need to join the nature and start hibernating, though. Instead, it’s the best time to wander in the woods and marshes – the mosquitoes are gone, it’s quiet and inviting outdoors.

Lake Meelva, Põlvamaa. You can have it all – the entire lake. The whole forest. All the streets in a village. No one is usually there – except you. And it’s more beautiful than ever. If only there were more light, more hours in a day. By the end of November, it’s starting to get dark already after three o’clock in the afternoon.

Lake Meelva, Põlvamaa. You can have it all – the entire lake. The whole forest. All the streets in a village. No one is usually there – except you. And it’s more beautiful than ever. If only there were more light, more hours in a day. By the end of November, it’s starting to get dark already after three o’clock in the afternoon.

Vaksali, Tartu. When the leaves are gone and the snow hasn’t arrived yet, the cityscapes go through an intermission that is hard to swallow for many of us. But, somehow, some parts of the town actually become more picturesque during this time. The old wooden districts, where houses aren’t disconnected from the street by large gardens, turn on their most painting-like faces.

Vaksali, Tartu. When the leaves are gone and the snow hasn’t arrived yet, the cityscapes go through an intermission that is hard to swallow for many of us. But, somehow, some parts of the town actually become more picturesque during this time. The old wooden districts, where houses aren’t disconnected from the street by large gardens, turn on their most painting-like faces.

Juuru, Raplamaa. And there it is. The first snow sometimes covers the gardens already in October, but most years, the truly frosty winter doesn’t arrive before January. It’s a long and dark November and the many following months. Still – with the occasional colder weather every now and then there’s a higher chance of seeing the sun.

Juuru, Raplamaa. And there it is. The first snow sometimes covers the gardens already in October, but most years, the truly frosty winter doesn’t arrive before January. It’s a long and dark November and the many following months. Still – with the occasional colder weather every now and then there’s a higher chance of seeing the sun.

Mardu, Soomaa. The late autumn is a fine time. If you feel the cities turning too gloomy, get out every now and then. Take your friends and discover the woods – it’s the opposite of gloom there.

Mardu, Soomaa. The late autumn is a fine time. If you feel the cities turning too gloomy, get out every now and then. Take your friends and discover the woods – it’s the opposite of gloom there.

* This is the fifth part of the Estonian urban and landscape photo series, originally published on 5 December 2017. The first one, Eesti Blues, was published on 17 January, the second one, Eesti noir, on 6 February, the third one, Eesti mist, on 25 April, and the fourth one, Eesti home, on 6 June

Cover: Narva-Jõesuu. Without people, the modern urban architecture and cityscapes are sometimes hard to distinguish from prison complexes. Still – as in this case there are no barbed wires and the sea on the backdrop so aptly symbolises freedom, this time it must be a beautiful, brutal city park. Add just the right kind of turning of the weather and you get a magnificient photographer trap.

UPDATED: Are house owners in Estonia racist to foreign tenants?

Racial discrimination in renting apartments has been turning into a critical problem for expats living in Tallinn, Toyon Mas, a master’s student at the University of Tartu, writes.

The question has been raised after a post made by one of the potential foreign tenants from Cameroon in a Facebook group called “Expats in Tallinn”. His post claims his experience of finding an apartment is “horrible”, and even “at least 30 calls a day” resulted in “sorry, the apartment is for Estonians only”. One of the replies to his comment, made by a woman who now has Estonian citizenship said, “… I am Estonian and when I moved back to Estonia I didn’t get 5 flats. Because I am [a] Muslim…”

Of course, there are several counter-experiences like expressed by this comment: “I remember a landlord who owned several properties who once told me the exact opposite. He was only renting to foreigners because he always had troubles with Estonians not paying the rent.”

The language barrier

Several issues have been brought up through this post. Some people living in Estonia shared their experiences by commenting to this post. The language barrier is one of the issues that can be considered as potential source of misunderstanding. Besides, the fear of not getting rent, fleeing to another country without notifying the owner, damaging the property, curry smells, cultural uncleanliness, fear of religious aggression, xenophobia – all of these factors are causing problems to house owners to let apartments.

Estate agents who, in exchange for broker fees, work as a “middle man” between the owner and potential tenants lack language skills and even sometimes don’t understand how to convey a message correctly to the potential tenants as well as the owners. Therefore, misunderstandings occur on both sides.

As sometimes the broker fee is too high, it leads to the possibility of leasing directly from the owner instead of involving a broker. Such a situation benefits the owner as they don’t give a proper contract to the tenant – ie, showing less rent for tax benefit, taking the rent in cash and not giving rent receipts to the tenants.

Brokers and landlords differ in their response

Estonian World contacted a number of estate agents for a comment. Regarding language skills, real estate broker Marika, wishing to remain anonymous, said, “I don’t see language as a communication problem. I get help from my colleague if necessary. What we do is just explain the requirements of homeowners to the potential tenants.”

Another broker, Merike, again wanting to be anonymous, replied, “One of my homeowner clients was very unhappy with black tenants because they didn’t know the Estonian language. As a result, they couldn’t understand the electricity bill.” She also added, “My homeowner client doesn’t like the Asian style of cooking because it makes the kitchen dirty.”

However, Angelika, one of the homeowners, who is originally from Russia, told Estonian World that race and nationality did not matter to her. “I check the tenant’s ability to pay the rent and cleanliness. I give them my conditions in the contract and if they agree, we go for the deal.”

Owners rejecting Asians because of their cooking style

Do Asian spices create a problem for the owners? We asked a South Asian couple, Rinku and Shawon, who said, “We rented a flat after ten attempts in Tartu and were compelled to leave our previous place because of cooking smells.”

Can a proper lease contract bring a solution?

“Renters in Estonia are hostage to homeowners. My husband wanted to transfer to Tallinn but couldn’t because of the accommodation problem. If you want to rent, you must pay a lot of money,” Rinku said. “We were asked to pay at least three months of rent in advance because we are Asian. Otherwise, the house cannot be rented although in the advertisement, only one month rent in advance was requested. Even though we were willing to pay the security deposit, at the last moment some homeowners rejected us because of a trust issue. They said Asians were not reliable although we were about to sign the lease.”

Kadri, a Nigerian student at the University of Tartu, and a friend of Rinku and Shawon’s, added that she tried looking for flats but couldn’t find one within her budget. “If I find any, when I go to see the flat, homeowners attitude shows unwillingness to rent to Nigerian.”

The month of August is considered to be a peak time for foreign tenants as more international students arrive every year and the competition and the uncertainty of finding an apartment become acute. Racism is repugnant but what would you do if you were a house owner/tenant?

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Cover: During the racial segregation in the United States, signs like these were normality – this era is now long past in the developed societies (the image is illustrative).

Tallinn city government’s response to Estonian World’s editorial

Priit Simson, an advisor to the mayor of Tallinn, responds to the editorial Estonian World published on 10 July.

The lesson of the so called “racism scandal” is this – we need more communication and less phobias. It’s easy to awake phobias these days and it’s quite hard to chase them away, once they are created.

Tallinn city government’s summer days on 29-30 June included a role play, devoted to the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. Many of the Estonian famous enterprises were “represented” by the city government’s workers. One of the city departments played the fishermen, the others were the oil shale miners, which explains why they wore helmets and had dark faces – as the miners sometimes do.

No harm was intended and please accept our apologies if anyone feels offended. Race was not the topic of the evening.

What helps? “Talk to people” is a good old recipe. If the editors would have made the same effort to ask for the city government’s comment, as they spent on writing the editorial, a lot of useless confusion would not have been born.

Priit Simson

Advisor to the mayor

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Cover: Tallinn city government’s offices (the image is illustrative).

Editorial: When the Tallinn mayor and his deputies lost the plot

The head of the traffic department at the Tallinn Transport Board appeared to poke fun at black people, cheered on by the city’s mayor, Taavi Aas, and deputy mayor, Aivar Riisalu – all wittingly or unwittingly engaging in a racist practice.

It has emerged that during the Tallinn city government’s summer days on 29-30 June, Talvo Rüütelmaa, the man in charge of the Estonian capital’s traffic department, attempted to captivate people around him by engaging in what appears to be the practice known as “blackface” – a form of theatrical make-up used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a caricature of a black person. In an earlier private Facebook post, Rüütelmaa also mocked the integration of refugees.

The practice gained popularity in the United States in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, when white actors would routinely use black grease paint on their faces when depicting plantation slaves and free blacks on stage. Taking place against the backdrop of a society that systematically mistreated and dehumanised black people, they were mocking portrayals that reinforced the idea that African-Americans were inferior in every way.

While this racist practice spread to other countries around the world, the turn of the tide was marked in the country where it started – it effectively ended in the US with the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Over the following decades, this silly mockery has increasingly found itself out of date in a modern society – it’s regarded as an embarrassing anachronism, scorn upon by any sensible human being.

Ignorance is not an excuse

The three Tallinn officials in the centre of this travesty – Talvo Rüütelmaa, Taavi Aas and Aivar Riisalu – were all born during the Soviet occupation. It’s entirely possible that the Soviet education system didn’t enlighten these men about the racist connotations of blackface. But it’s not an excuse anymore – Estonia has been part of the free world for the best part of the last 30 years.

In 2015, the Estonian Rescue Board faced a massive public backlash after it had conducted an exercise practising how to “put down a mutiny by the refugees” – the imaginary refugees had their faces painted black and on top of that, held bananas in their hands. It’s inconceivable that none of the men at the centre of this latest ridicule did not know about that incident.

The man who really ought to know better is Taavi Aas – the mayor of the presumably progressive European capital – Tallinn. The former CEO of a dairy cooperative has had enough time to learn the ropes, having served in the Tallinn city government under the wing of former mayor Edgar Savisaar since 2005. Serious questions are now being raised about Aas’s intellectual capabilities.

All three men ought to make a public apology – and fast.

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Cover: Taavi Aas (left) and Talvo Rüütelmaa (in the middle) poking fun at black people (courtesy of Facebook).

Tallinn nosedives in the global financial centres index

The Estonian capital has fallen from the 44th position to 79th in the Global Financial Centres Index.

Since 2007, Z/Yen Group, a London-based commercial think-tank, and the Shenzhen-based China Development Institute, have published the Global Financial Centres Index. It’s a study of the competitiveness of financial centres based on several assessments from an online questionnaire. Additionally, over 100 indices from organisations, such as the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the Economist Intelligence Unit are used to compile the ranking.

The ranking is an aggregate of indices from five key areas: “business environment”, “financial sector development”, “infrastructure factors”, “human capital”, “reputation and general factors”.

According to the latest ranking, London is still holding the top spot as the world’s leading financial centre, narrowly beating New York. The two global alpha cities are followed by Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo in the top five.

Although it may come as a surprise that Tallinn is in the global financial centres top 100 at all, the Estonian capital has lost much ground compared with the previous index, falling by 35 places to the 79th position. Tallinn is still ahead of Moscow (83), the capital of Russia; Helsinki (85), the Finnish capital; and Riga (87), the Latvian capital. However, Stockholm, the Swedish capital, is at 42.

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Cover: A business district in Tallinn city centre (the image is illustrative).

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