Tallinn Old Town

Reflecting on my trip to the Estonian capital last month, I can say I noticed some things I have not previously been aware of even though that may have more come about from my own previous ignorance.

Firstly, it is important to know that the history of Tallinn–of Reval, of Koluvan, of Lindanise–spans firstly many centuries and secondly many cultures, of whom nearly all have left some mark. A wandering around the capital can lead you on streets financed by German merchants that gave birth to Danish legends and which were partially uprooted by Swedish axes or Soviet bombs.

One of these items I thought of going to investigate up close, but did not, was the famous Danse Macabre by Bernt Notke that I think I have seen once before. The thought behind it–of everyone’s equality–is probably more to my liking now than fifteen years ago. However, the motivation to spend an exorbitant sum to go into a museum for a few tens of minutes did not exist. Clearly, one can become too comfortable with the free museums offered in some other places…

Tallinn’s depth of history also means that one needs to know where they are going or what they are doing if they are looking for something specific. For me, this time round, I was not looking for anything else than an opportunity to see what was there.

The Danish gardens by the Old Town, the city perimeter, the abandoned modern fortifications… and the list goes on–what do you want to see? A Soviet-style prison? Also there. A Hansaetic guild house? Go and take a look…

A lot of these places, naturally, carry their own local myths and legends, and even if I was more able to differentiate between their varying history; I had also forgotten some, if not most, of the legends that accompanied these sights.

A medieval atmosphere definitely existed though I have previously laughed at some writers who have mentioned Tallinn as the ‘medieval’ city of Europe; of course, this atmosphere won’t be found on the Town Hall Square at bars charging €5.50 for a beer while grumpily acknowledging your presence. Instead, one needs to know which places are worth going to, or at least be willing to experiment outside of the traditional options (probably best defined as the ones which are easily signposted). The advice of Mr Cowen to look for places (especially for food) out of the way and frequented by locals won’t go amiss.

A final surprise which was pleasant at least to my mind was the plurality of street musicians. The good weather naturally helped, but it was an absolute delight to stroll down a street while decent (folkish) music played aloud. It was even possible for me to leisurely listen to these tunes–something which might be less true for the tourist of the cruise ship who is sailing out again in four hours’ time…

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