This is the sixth, and final, in a series of travelogue posts about an Erasmus+ cultural heritage, study trip undertaken by Jackie Sangster from the Learning & Inclusion Team at Historic Environment Scotland.
Day 6 Freedom
It seemed the time was right, that on our last day we would visit the purpose built Vabamu Museum of Occupations & Freedom. This museum is powerful. I was immersed in the stories from the outset. The interpretation for me was second to none. The use of technology was intuitive and successful. The virtual reality experience of decorating a sparse Soviet apartment was enjoyable. The carefully curated objects and archives reinforced the narrative, all about Estonia’s recent history, making us think about the value of our freedom. The various films with real people relating their personal stories and recollections were the highpoint – genuine, heartfelt, matter-of-fact & authentic. Not surprisingly, the museum touched Maarika most intensely.
Personally I know a woman, who as a small child fled, from Estonia to escape the Russian invasion of 1940. She has led an astonishing life. Knowing her, and her family well, made this museum & especially the permanent exhibition, ‘Freedom Without Borders’, resonate for me. I was also able to draw some parallels in my own life. Having grown up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I am all too familiar how violence & conflict impacts on life. In fact, afterwards another group member & I were wondering why Belfast did not have such a museum. It saddens me to say, I don’t believe the peace process has reached maturity yet.
Whilst at Vabamu, I read that one of the aims was to create a museum that touches people from all around the world, not just Estonians. It is safe to say I was touched by this place. Later in 2018, I will be attending the Museums Association conference in Belfast. The theme is Dissent: inspiring hope, embracing change – having the courage to challenge traditional thinking to transform museums and society. I think Vabamu has set the standard. #Vabamu
A leisurely lunch & to our final stop Tallinna Teletorn the TV Tower & some matches. After a tour providing the context of the tower’s history. Construction began in 1975 and it was completed for the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics and Tallinn was the host city for the sailing events. The 170-metre-high observation platform and landmark opened for the occasion. Today TV Tower is one of the most important symbols of the restoration of Estonian independence. In August 1991 radio operators risked their lives to protect the free flow media and declaration of independence. We enjoyed the interpretation of these events in a humorous almost slapstick film, nonetheless enjoyable as an overseas visitor.
After taking in the 360 degree vistas of the city & surrounds from the viewing platform we descended again to see the temporary exhibition called “No Bananas Today” – Time Travel to Soviet Daily Life. This was another take on the interpretation of Estonia’s recent pasta and a peek behind the Iron Curtain.
In 1992 I was lucky enough to spend the summer travelling in Russia, so seeing this exhibition brought many memories back through the little details, especially the reconstructed sets of shops, cafes & homes under Communisim. I devoured each interpretation panel as they were loaded with anecdotes about how people endured the Soviet regime by scrimping, saving, stealing or swindling the system. Life was hard and relentless but this exhibition explored what can be now be considered as absurd.
Finally, back to our hotel in the district of Nõmme & for our farewell dinner with Maarika and joined again by Riin at Mimosa to indulge in some contemporary Estonian cuisine.
Spontaneously after dinner, our super hosts decided we needed an unscripted, late-night adventure to see the whimsical Glehni Castle or Jälgimäe Manor. So off we went in the dark to find this medieval castle-style building. Created by Baltic-German owner Nikolai von Glehn in 1886. It has a number of curious features, including an organically formed palm house. Nearby are his statues of Estonia’s epic hero Kalevipoeg, known as the ‘devil statue’ and another of a dragon which looks more like a crocodile.
Tallinn’s district of Nõmme was founded by Nikolai von Glehn in 1878 as a summerhouse district, now it’s referred to as the forest city suburb. The development started around the railway station. In 1926 it was granted town rights, but in the beginning of the Soviet occupation in 1940, it was unified to Tallinn and remains as one of the eight districts of Tallinn today.
As if the day couldn’t get any better Riin also invited us into her Nõmme home, this was such a privilege. It was a Soviet house build in a street for artists. Therefore the design incorporated extra studio space and more windows to allow light to flood in. Riin had bought her home form the original owner-occupiers, both of whom had spent their lives working there. They were elderly when they left and Riin acquired a vast hoard of artwork with the house. Some of which was contributed to The Art Museum of Estonia collections. The studio still contains much of their collection & there are sculptures all over the garden. From what I could see in the dark, the fabric of the house for me was exquisite in its simplistic design and built to last surrounded by the forest, idyllic.
It was time for bed.
Day 7 Departure Day
Homeward bound & time to leave Estonia. This study trip exceeded expectations with a great group of heritage sector colleagues, I believe we learned more about Estonian cultural heritage than any of us ever expected to. Hopefully this report encapsulates just some of the joy had on this learning journey. As for our host Maarika, Eesti oli imeline – head aega ja tänan teid väga.
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