Estonian for Beginners

The Estonian language is a hard one to learn belonging as it does to the Finnish group of languages, and seeming to have little in common with English. It does, however, have some interesting words which are easy to pick up.

My long-time favourite Estonian word is pood which roughly translates as shop or store. It can be compounded, which means that you can put another word / noun in front of it to define what kind of shop it is. Though, you can just have a pood on its own if you so wish. A shopkeeper is a poodnik, which I think is a lovely word.

On my last trip around Tallinn, I was on pood alert and tried to get photos of as many poods as I could. I clocked up a mobilipood, an alkoholipood and a telefonipood.


Pood Sign

Pood Sign

Another favourite word is turg. A turg is a market, both the indoor and outdoor kind. I like the Sadaama Turg which is a Russian outdoor market over by Balti Jaam in Kopli. At this market you can find anything from homemade pickles to washing detergent. It is a great place to pick up things which are truly representative of the country such as local drinks, sweets and glassware. I got a fantastic Christmas Tea Light a few years back and a friend a Christmas bauble. The Viru Turg is a great place to go if you want to buy handmade woollens  such as sweaters, hats, scarves and mittens. Nordic-Scandinavian sweaters are fashionable these days and this is the place to buy them. There is a more adhoc market if you go through the Viru Gate and turn right. Alongside the wall runs a series of stalls which sell handmade woollens and tourist souvenirs.

Sadaama Turg

Sadaama Turg

Now you have got to grips with turg and pood I am going to throw in jaam. This has got nothing to do with the sweet fruit stuff you put on your toast or a pile of cars blocking the road. It is more like a station or interchange.  A jaam is a transport hub. So, if you want a bus station you look for a bussijaam. The railway station in Tallinn is called Balti Jaam. A station-master is a jaamaülem and a station platform is a jaamaplatvorm. A radio station is a raadio (saate) jaam. A yardmaster is a jaamadispetšer. A stage is a jaamavahe. I am sure that there are lots more jams to be made.

And finally for this posting, the word trahter, means inn or tavern. An innkeeper is a trahteripidaja. I have noticed that inns, as opposed to pubs and bars, are indicated by a picture of a draught of beer with hops and wheat. The difference between an inn and a pub is that they are a) quieter, b) pleasanter to sit in, c) serve traditional ales and lagers and d) do not attract hen/stag parties. There are many pleasant pubs in Tallinn selling good food and beer but I like a traditional inn. The one pictured below is also a brewery, which makes it double special.


Kochi Aidad

Kochi Aidad

The Forgotten War

One of my reasons for revisiting Tallinn in October was to find out more about the armed resistance movement in Estonia during the period 1944-1956. The reason for my interest being that I have been writing a novel based in Tallinn and touching on some of the events of that period and felt that I needed to know more. There is only so much information you can glean from the Internet – you just have to be there to soak up the atmosphere and to experience things for yourself.

I spent several hours at the Museum of Occupations, which is a wonderful museum devoted to firstly the occupation of Estonia by the Nazis and then by the Soviet Union. I was lucky in that during the week of my visit the museum had a special exhibtion on the Forest Brothers, the resistance fighters who were mainly based in the forests.

The exhibition consisted of a reconstructed cabin similar to the ones the Forest Brothers built in the forests, one of the boats which people used to escape from the Nazis, several of the suitcases people took with them when they fled and a film about the resistance movement.

For my novel, the most useful things to see were the cabin and the boat as I have my hero escaping to the West by boat in 1956 just as the Iron Curtain was being clamped together more securely.

I found it interesting that although Estonia was a neutral country and did not take part in World War 2 both Nazi Germany and Communist Russia thought they could send troops in and take over. I guess they got away with it since the Baltic States were so far behind enemy lines and close to Russia that the Allies were unable to protect them.

I understand that the Forest Brothers were really doomed when the KGB found their safe house and the registration documents of their members. In addition, the Soviet Secret Services were able to intercept radio broadcasts and spies from the West, thereby depriving the Resistance Movement of information, equipment and support. By the time of the Hungarian Revolution and the crackdown on disidents in 1956, most of the Forest Brothers had been captured.

On my return I have been reading a book I picked up at the Museum of Occupations, called “The Forgotten War” by Martin Laar. It is a short book, only 47 pages long, and merely skirts the surface of the resistance movement. However, it is a good brief introduction to an aspect of armed resistance which we don’t hear much about in the West.

On my last day in Tallinn, I happened to wander round the port area and came across a little exhibition celebrating Estonia’s freedom. There were some photos of the resistance fighters and a little bit about them. There were also photos of Tallinn as it had been before the Nazi invasion. It was a totally different world full of individualism and colour. This is a world which largely disappeared until the 1990s.

Last week I discovered that the National Archives are held in Tartu and will be trying to use them to find out more about this important period in Estonia’s history.

The Museums of Occupations, Tallinn

The Museum of Occupations, Tallinn

Soviet Nostalgia 2

Hammer and SickleSoviet Nostalgia banner

One of the great things about having been born and grown up in western Europe is that I can have a benign interest in things Soviet because I was never directly affected by Soviet Dictatorship. I marvel at the amazing size of the Soviet statues which once adorned the great cities of the Eastern Bloc because they pose no threat to me and I never experienced the repression of life, soul, liberty and hope that they represented.

I can, on the other hand, appreciate the awfulness of Soviet style town planning and building since a lot of it was copied in the UK. The other day I saw a photograph of a highway in Tallinn which looked very similar to the bit of the North Circular Road here in Neasden. Both highways and bridges were constructed in dark grey unyielding concrete with no aesthetic features whatsoever. From the top of the footbridge which spans the North Circular near Neasden Shopping Centre (which resembles more a shanty town or a rundown street Cuba than a modern British shopping centre) you can see the Socialist Monument of Greyness and Ineffectiveness which is Brent Civic Centre. The Red Army may never have made it across the Channel but their style of architecture certainly did.

When I come across monstrous housing units I feel rather at home. The dull greyness of concrete was not only legacy of the Soviet Union in Tallinn. The Soviets did occasionally put up some interesting buildings and create nice places for people to live in. I am thinking here of some of the new buildings which were put in Havirov, in the Czech Republic. On the main street up to Bludovice Hill there were some dramatic, if not imposing, low level buildings built in the 1950s. I also recall seeing a a sweeping semi-circular building in the industrial city of Ostrava, which had been built in Soviet times. They could, when they wanted, provide decent living spaces.

I was thinking about the remnants of the Soviet Era in the Czech Republic when I visited a couple of cafes  in Tallinn. There were similar to ones I used to frequent in my early years in the Czech Republic. In both countries the cafes / restaurants had huge plate glass windows looking out on the street. There was always a little counter behind which stood some shelves displaying alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages such as local liqueurs, beer bottles, bottles of brightly coloured soft drinks and the occasional bottle of spa water. If they were available the shelves might also hold packets of domestic cigarettes and chocolate bars.

They were guarded by a couple of stout ladies in a pinny. Somewhere in the vicinity would be the equipment for making tea and coffee. Coffee, for the most part, consisted a rough grains of fresh coffee which sat at the bottom of the cup to which was added boiling water. The trick was to add sugar and then give the liquid a vigorous stir. With luck the coffee grains would sink to the bottom of the cup and stay there. Get it wrong and you ended up drinking mouthfuls of wishy washy water with grit. On special occasions you could have the coffee in a glass with some liqueur such as advocaat or Irish cream. Topped with a head of shaving foam cream from a canister this was a stylish drink and well worth a few extra Czech Koruny.

The two cafes in Tallinn which are Soviet Era in decoration, are Kohvik Energia and Kohvik Narva. I recommend both for a little nostalgia trip. Narva always seems to have a queue of people buying its bread rolls and the Energia does a smartish trade in people buying “open face” sandwiches and traditional cakes. Sitting in either of them transports you back at least 25 years.