A Tallinn tram in the city centre. Photo: Pjotr Mahhonin/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

Tallinn finally connects the city centre to the airport

After decades of talk, the city of Tallinn has finally connected the city centre to Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport via a tram link.

The public tram route number four has now been extended to serve the airport. The new extension opened on 1 September, and from October, there will also be a glass gallery to connect the terminal with the tram stop next to the airport.

From Mondays to Saturdays, the first tram will arrive at the airport at 5:25am, and on Sundays at 5:45am. The last tram from the airport to the city centre leaves at 12:45am, allowing passengers arriving on the last flights to use public transport to reach the city centre.

The cost of the tram ticket, when bought from the driver, is a whopping €2 (in comparison, the public transit ticket in New York City costs $2.75 or €2.31). However, people registered as Tallinn residents can use the public transport for free.

The journey to the city centre takes approximately 15-17 minutes.


Cover: A Tallinn tram in the city centre. Photo: Pjotr Mahhonin/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

Zaha Hadid Architects to redesign Tallinn’s Old City Harbour

Zaha Hadid Arcitects, the London-based and internationally renowned architecture and design firm, will draw up the development plans for the Estonian capital’s old harbour.

The Port of Tallinn launched an international competition for the Masterplan 2030 for the Tallinn Old City Harbour in 2016 with plans to introduce more urban development in the area, alongside its port functions. The state-owned port operator aims to transform the area into an urban space that is both attractive and easy to traverse.

On 29 August, the Port of Tallinn crowned Zaha Hadid Architects a winner among the three finalists, praising its innovative and integrated approach to Tallinn’s maritime gateway. “Zaha Hadid has very skilfully created a balanced connection between urban space and the port area with some carefully considered access roads and traffic solutions,” Valdo Kalm, the chairman of the Port of Tallinn, said in a statement.

Among other aspects, the architectural jury evaluated how well the ideas worked with the surrounding environment, how fresh and innovative the solutions were and how feasible it would be to realise the ideas.

The Port of Tallinn plans to complete the Masterplan 2030 for the Old City Harbour by the end of 2017 and give a green light for first new developments in 2018.

World famous architect

Zaha Hadid Architects was founded in London by the Iraqi-British architect, Zaha Hadid (1950-2016), who was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004), equivalent of the Nobel Prize of architecture. Her firm’s major works include the BMW Central Building in Leipzig (Germany), the Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza (Spain), the Guangzhou Opera House (China), the Riverside Museum in Glasgow (UK), the London Aquatics Centre (UK) and the Port Authority Building in Antwerp (Belgium), among many others.


Cover: Zaha Hadid Architects’ concept, Streamcity (Zaha Hadid Architects.)

Art on the fly: artists display their works at Tallinn Airport

Travellers can get away from the regular airport buzz at Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport and enjoy artworks in a quiet gallery.

Tucked up on the second floor of Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport is a small area known as the Gallery. An elevator ride takes visitors to the small, cosy and quiet space where one can escape the movement of people below. It’s also an area where local artists exhibit their work on a rotating basis.

The Gallery, which is free to visit, has been open since November 2014. According to Martin Grünberg, the Gallery’s contact person, “everyone can apply” to get their works displayed. The only stipulation when it comes to the actual art is that there is “no racial abuse, no religious, no explicit nudity or otherwise offensive works”.

While most of the artists who have displayed their work, such as Alisa Jakobi; Toomas Altnurme; Tõnu Kirves; Piret Rohusaar; Uku Põllumaa; Andrus Raag; Tiiu Esnar; Rein Mägar, are from Estonia, not everyone is. For example, Jose Corominas comes from Spain and Anatoly Stakhov is Ukrainian.

Searching for the deeper meaning

The current artist being showcased is Liis Koger. Koger, who was born in Pärnu and graduated from Tartu University with a visual arts degree in painting, now lives in Tallinn. She has been creating abstract art since 2013 upon graduating. Her works have been shown in exhibitions in Italy, the UK, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Moldova and Estonia.

While some might say abstract art is just a mess of nonsensical splatters and splotches, for Koger each canvas is an “individual, a spiritual practice”. One gets a sense that her paintings search for “the deeper meaning of it all” in a “how does it affect you?” way. It is not about what is there, what is seen. It is about searching for something deeper and that parallels the allure of travel, as well.

We often travel to enrich our lives. It’s not just about where we go and see – it is the deeper, lasting impact made by the people and places we’ve experienced. Art has the same effect. Once our travels are completed we want “the memory to last, the dream to never go away”.

As the number of passengers passing through Tallinn Airport grows, its art space becomes more appreciated – it is a way to spend some time away from the buzz below. The artwork also adds to the ambiance. The next time while at the airport, take some time to visit the Gallery. Relax and enjoy the artwork on display.


Cover: An exhibition at the Gallery, Tallinn Airport.

Tallinn to see a full-distance Ironman race

In August 2018, the Estonian capital, Tallinn, will be the host of its inaugural full-distance Ironman race.

Tallinn will become only the second capital in Europe to host an Ironman event, sharing this with Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. The Tallinn race will be the second Ironman event in Estonia after the 70.3 event to be held in Otepää in June 2018.

A full-distance Ironman is the toughest sporting event in the world, consisting of a 3.8-kilometre (2.4-mile) swim, a 180.2-kilometre (112-mile) bike race and a full marathon – a run of 42.2 kilometres (26.2 miles).

The Tallinn race will begin with a single-loop swim in the Baltic sea near the Seaplane Harbour museum. Athletes will then continue onto a two-loop bike course that leads along the coastline and nearby villages. The final four-loop run takes participants through the historical city centre of Tallinn and finishes on Freedom Square.

“With its long and colourful history, Tallinn and its people are looking forward to applauding the triathletes’ commitment to Ironman,” the deputy mayor of Tallinn, Mihhail Kõlvart, said in a statement.

Ironman Tallinn will offer 40 age-group qualifying slots for the 2018 Ironman World Championship being held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, as well as a professional prize purse of USD40,000 and 2,000 points for the Kona Pro Ranking.

General registration for Ironman Tallinn will open at 5pm (1700 hours) local time (Eastern European Summer Time, UTC+3) on 28 August 2017.


Images courtesy of Ironman race.

Tallinn now considered a beta level global city

According to the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network, Tallinn, the Estonian capital is among the beta level world cities.

Since 1998, the geography department of Loughborough University in the United Kingdom has created a bi-annual categorisation of world cities into “Alpha”, “Beta” and “Gamma” tiers, based upon their international connectedness. The university’s think tank, the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network (GaWC), studies the relationships between the world cities in the context of globalisation.

The GaWC examines cities worldwide to narrow them down to a roster of 307 world cities, then ranks these based on their connectivity through four measurements: accountancy, advertising, banking and finance, and law. The think tank places more emphasis on economics than political or cultural factors.

The existence of a stock exchange and major financial institutions; major manufacturing centres with port and container facilities; centres of new ideas and innovation in business, economics, culture and politics; high percentage of residents employed in the services and the IT sector; high-quality educational institutions, including renowned universities, international student attendance, and research facilities are some of the prerequisites required in order to qualify as a world city.

Integration with the global economy

“Alpha” cities are most integrated with the global economy. This pack is still led by the two “usual suspects” – London and New York City, which are considered vastly more integrated with the global economy than all other cities. The Anglo-American metropolises are followed by the eight cities that fill the advanced service niches for the global economy – Singapore, Hong Kong, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Dubai and Shanghai.

The “Beta” level municipalities are cities that link moderate economic regions into the world economy and are classified into three sections, Beta +, Beta and Beta – cities. Tallinn falls into the latter category. The Estonian capital shares the Beta – status with such well-known international cities as Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Minneapolis and Seattle (both the US), Manchester and Edinburgh (both the UK), Stuttgart and Cologne (both Germany), Lyon (France), Calgary (Canada), Antwerp (Belgium) and Rotterdam (the Netherlands).

Tallinn’s close neighbour, the Finnish capital, Helsinki, is rated slightly above – it’s a Beta + city. The Latvian capital Riga and Lithuanian capital Vilnius rank below as Gamma + cities, which link smaller economic regions into the world economy.

According to the latest available data, there are over 90,000 active companies in Tallinn, out of which approximately 15,000 have a foreign participation. The population of the city is slightly less than 450,000.


Cover: Tallinn’s city centre business district (image by Rasmus Jurkatam.) See the full list by the Globalisation and World Cities Research Network.

The Port of Tallinn fifth busiest in Europe

The Port of Tallinn is the fifth busiest passenger port in Europe, handling about 9.3 million passengers per year.

The Port of Tallinn is the fifth busiest port in Europe, handling about 9.3 million passengers per year.

The Port of Tallinn is the busiest in Estonia, and it’s made up of four harbours, including the Old City Harbour, Muuga Harbour, Paljassaare Harbour, Saaremaa Harbour and Paldiski Harbour.

Currently, passengers can travel from Tallinn to Helsinki, Stockholm, Mariehamn and St Petersburg.

The busiest sea port in Europe is Dover – that is also the busiest in the world. The Port of Helsinki, however, is catching up and is on a path to overtake Dover as Europe’s busiest port either in 2017 or 2018.

The third busiest port in Europe is the Port of Stockholm, and the fifth busiest the Port of Calais in northern France.


Cover: A cruise liner stopping in Tallinn (courtesy of Port of Tallinn.)

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.


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

Tallinn Airport’s WiFi is the second best in the world

The top 20 airports worldwide for the best WiFi access reveal that Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport in the Estonian capital takes second spot.

The shortlist is compiled by the tech watchdog, Rotten WiFi, and it is based on the survey that tested WiFi speed and quality in 226 airports worldwide. According to the report, the United States and Thailand stand out most, with seven and six airports featuring on the top 20 global list respectively.

“While overall internet speed improved across all airports this year, it was the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, USA, the topped the list. The Arkansas airport had average download speeds of 42.17 Mbps and a customer satisfaction rate of 8 out of 10. Taking second spot is Estonian airport Lennart Meri Tallinn with 38.30 Mbps followed by last year’s number one spot holder Don Mueang International Airport, Thailand, left this year with avg. download speed of 37.10 Mbps,” the report said.

Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport is the only truly international airport in Estonia, although Tartu Airport hosts flights to the Finnish capital, Helsinki. In 2016, it was voted the third best airport in Europe and the ninth best in the world, based on the overall experience determined by travellers who had taken the survey conducted by the Sleeping in Airports guide.

Cover: Library at the Tallinn Airport.

Tallinn introduces driverless shuttle buses

The Estonian capital, Tallinn, has introduced driverless shuttle buses on its streets that will soon start operating a short route; riding the shuttle, as all public transport in Tallinn, is free of charge for the town’s residents.

The driverless Easymile shuttle buses will start operating a route between Viru Square and the Tallinn Creative Hub, which is one of the main venues of the Estonian presidency of the council of the European Union.

Before taking passengers, the buses have to go through the Estonian Road Administration checks that are required for all buses before they enter into service.

A single shuttle carries up to eight passengers at a time. A presenter will be onboard the bus to explain the technology.

Increasing competence in driverless technology

The shuttles were transported from France to Estonia and they will be operated by Milrem, a home-grown developer of unmanned tracked vehicles. The company will be in charge of training presenters, as well as the technical maintenance of the vehicles. Cyber security will be provided by the Estonian software company Guardtime.

The Estonian ministry of economic affairs wishes to increase competence in driverless technology at the national level, as well as in universities and businesses, in order to be prepared for a more extensive introduction of the technology. To this end, there are plans to test the technology of various producers of driverless vehicles and identify their benefits and limitations.

The testing of driverless vehicles has been allowed on Estonian roads since March 2017. The condition is that the vehicle has a designated person who can take over the controls if necessary.


Cover: Driverless shuttle in Tallinn. The images are courtesy of the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Tallinn to get a new English language school

The Estonian government has issued an education licence to the International School of Tallinn that will start providing English-language education based on the globally recognised International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum.

The new school will be based at the Ülemiste City, a business park on the territory of the former factory complex in Ülemiste neighbourhood, and will start this autumn.

The school was founded by Mainor, a private company that started as a small but influential consultancy even before Estonia regained independence in 1991, and later developed into a substantial conglomerate with almost 20 subsidiaries and interests in education, metal and wood industry, energetics and real estate. The company is also the developer behind the Ülemiste City.

According to Kadi Pärnits, the chairwoman of Mainor, the company established the international English-based school because they saw “a clear need for it in the market”. “People from more than 50 nationalities work at Ülemiste City every day and in addition to that, Estonian migration statistics have been positive in the last couple of years and we expect a significant growth in immigration,” she said in a statement.

The aim of the International School of Tallinn is to provide education from primary classes until the end of upper secondary school. According to the founders, the new school has placed a lot of emphasis on multidisciplinary integration, developing general competences, problem solving skills and creative and science-based teaching. “To create additional motivation for studying, different digital solutions will be used.”

In 2017, the school will start with two composite classes on the first floor of the Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences building. In 2018, two new classes will be opened and the school will move to a new building at Ülemiste City.

Estonia needs more people from abroad

Pärnits said Estonia’s general policies on foreign workforce play an important role in the successful development of the school – a hint of the growing pressure by the local entrepreneurs, who expect the government to be more flexible in relaxing immigration laws and attracting foreign talent. “Internal resources of Estonia’s labour market are mostly exhausted and it is inevitable that people from outside the country have to be involved,” she said.

According to her, right steps have been taken to address the problem, but to achieve considerable results, a more forceful and systematic approach has to be adopted. “We need a smart and productive migration policy, which would enable to involve people whose expertise we are lacking; who would help to support our country and who would carry on our culture here as well as in the whole world.”

Pärnits noted that more attention should be given to how the adaption of the new people has been organised, as there are currently many shortcomings. “It is important to agree on common purposes and to join forces in the public and private sector, so that the foreign specialists and their families would feel welcome in Estonia – only this way they will stay with us for a longer period of time and will contribute to the development of our country.” She added the new international school is a step towards this goal.

The only other English-language school offering the IB Diploma in Tallinn is the International School of Estonia, established in 1995.


Cover: In 2017, the school will start with two composite classes on the first floor of the Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences building. In 2018, the school will move to a new building at Ülemiste City.

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