Category Archives: Tallinn

Balt zuhause

Despite writing these words in a cozy hostel in Prague, I felt the urge to – at least partially – reactivate this blog for I remember my original purpose of having started it back then in 2010.
Back then, in 2010, it was more of an uninformed attempt to establish my first written words to an outside audience, who suggested I should blog about my ERASMUS experiences in Tartu, Estonia. And so I did, with gusto and endurance.

And now, about 5 years later, I consider myself at home in the once alien place that I thought would remain a one-time endeavor and feeling more and more incorporated.

And yet, despite not knowing, what the concept of “The Balt” might even be, I feel more at home in my current situation than I felt for the main parts of my adult life in my native Germany. Maybe it is the novelty of being away from the familiarity that is my home, but I reckon understand the – or a – Baltic lifestyle a bit better and enjoy mingling with it.

Hrmph, not sure why I wrote all this, it just felt right to try to revive this blog and to see whether it is worth maintaining, as I might be less of a traveler now, but still curious about the places I am engaging with. Whatever, I am gonna have some Czech beer now…

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Anno 2010: Do’s and Don’ts in Estonia

After having spent the last couple of months in Estonia, I grasped a sense of what might be appropriate behaviour or action and what might be considered as rude or even dangerous. Maybe this entry will help those who are planning to come to Estonia sometime in the nearby future (just remember: starting soon, Ryanair will fly from Bremen to Tallinn straight!). Do’s and Don’ts which could occur during your trip:

Don’t take your cigarette box outside when smoking. If you do so, most likely you will find yourself in a situation with 3 guys around you “asking” for a cigarette or three. Pretend you left your box inside and say you are “terrible sorry”. I learned this habit just weeks ago after having calculated that during the previous months I surely must have handed out about 4 of these packs.

Do drink Vana Tallinn with Kefir. Just do it. I really despise Kefir, but in a glass mixed up with Estonia’s finest liquor it is a must!

Don’t mess up with the Russians. Sadly enough, 20 years have passed since Estonia gained freedom from the USSR but still the Russian population in the country is barely integrated. Attempts made by the Estonian government either seem fruitless, but I’d rather think that many Russians lack the interest of adapting to the “new” independent Estonia. During my stay, I have encountered numerous encounters where Russian people would cause troubles with the local community. Even those students that live with me in the dormitory lack the interest of simply saying “hi” on the floor. Some cities, such as Narva in the North-East witness a Russian-speaking population from up to 95%. I do not want to disrespect Russian people in general (and those I met and know earlier are among the nicest people on earth) but those I have seen in Tartu and Tallinn are those I’d rather not meet again…

Do listen to Estonians sing Karaoke. It is pure fun attached to a short moment of disbelief. Fun, because they sing western songs in Estonian (due to the ban of western music during the long period of the USSR) and disbelief due to the lack of talent among those who frequently re-enter the stage to perform!

Don’t think Germany is cold. Estonia is cold! I once woke up at around 10ish in the morning to -21°C. With that kind of weather you have very little options but staying in and having a tea after another. My beard got frozen within minutes and I need to be really careful not to go outside with my hair still being wet. I could easily break a dreadlocks or two :). So, Germany, I enjoy your weather very much these days.

But:

Do (!!!) come to Estonia asap! It is a place to be right now. It is a country from which one most likely has very little expectations or pre-defined images, so new impressions every day! I have not one day regretted to have come here. You will feel that too! Don’t wait!


Day #118 after arrival – Comparing Estonia and Germany (part 2)

After my 1st comparison between Germany and Estonia only four days after having arrived to Tartu, I now have had some more time. This time these differences are much more sophisticated, as I have been watching, witnessing and interacting within the society for quite a while now…

1) The University

Coming from a University of Applied Science it has been a real challenge to me. being a number in a rather big classroom with no personal interaction from the lecturer refers to a concept which I appreciated to have gotten to know, but I still prefer the idea of communication within classes. This is not much a difference between two countries, I know. But I was aiming at showing the differences. Despite being a highly accredited university within the region, Ülikool Tartu lacks efficiency and clear focus. Maybe that may be different for my perspective of being an ERASMUS student, but I am shocked regarding the lack of clarity among certain factors.  Teachers missing without notifications, teachers answering private calls during class, no predefined schedule, no ideas regarding the assessment. I have spent hours discrediting the Hanze for its unclear structures and its complicated means of communication, but now I gained awareness that maybe this is no Dutch or an Estonian issue, but one that spreads across higher education institutions. The image below shows a procession of Estonian societies during a torch walk from the Vanemuine Theatre towards the University’s main building.

2) Snow

I have seen snow and cold weather in my life. Yet I have barely even been exposed to -19°C and heavy wind at 9pm at night. It is slippery, my beard keeps freezing, snowball fights with Americans seem like modern warfare and sledding down one of the highest hills within the country –  all that is what, all that is what makes a winter in Tartu being much more interesting than a winter in Germany or the Netherlands.  Of course, I really miss the Christmas markets in Oldenburg or watching the arrival of Sinter Klaas in Groningen, or the winter festival nearby the waterside in Groningen, but for 1 winter, these new impressions are highly valuable to me!

3) Public Speaking

I admit, German and Dutch are not among the most beautiful languages in the world, no doubts about that. But let it be due to linguistic history, roots of people or general an ability to speak to a crowd of people, but the language of Estonian is not mad for public speaking. The language is not as “lively” as Spanish or Italian, but also – rather stiff – languages like Russian or Norwegian sound more cheerful and thus more entertaining than Estonian. I witnessed a speech by the dean of the university the other day and even though I give some room for interpretation (in addition to zero understanding of the language itself), it was very difficult to follow, since I could not reckon a rhythm in the speech. One needs to know that the language per se is not well elaborated, in terms of number of words. Rather, the end of main words is being changed according to the meaning of the word or its usage. So sentences sound long while in fact very little words have been used and only changes have been made to the endings. Therefore, the rhythm is not a present as I am used to be hearing and thus, it does not sound sweet!

4) Christmas markets

a. They do have them here in Estonia (though “only” in Tallinn and Tartu), and they are clearly related to their German heritage (I will not go too much into detail here regarding the history, but my people have been the ruling elite in the region for several centuries). A big tree, highly illuminated (and thus disobeying the Kyoto protocol) with cards to Santa, written by kids stands in the middle of the Raekoja plats, leaving only limited space for the boat. The boat? Yeah, the boat! For a second successive year, a big wooden ship has been transported to Tartu, offering people to enter it, hold seminars and workshops on it, chop wood for the open fire, drinking hot spiced wine (Höögvein in Estonian) or Solyanka (Russian-style meat soup). The fountain, which has been covered in previous blogs is frozen (so is the river!), but with temperatures around -19°C at night that is no surprise. Now before I post this blog, I will publish a link about the boat in Tartu. I don’t want to mention too much right now, but you got to give it a glance, you might find someone you know…!

http://www.reporter.ee/2010/11/26/hansalodi-jommu-tommati-joulukuuks-kuivale-maale/

118 days in Tartu, times have passed so fast; it seems just as yesterday that I left the base. Only some weeks are left, but I am sure I will make the most out of it and the end of my ERASMUS will witness a sort of payback….So stay tuned!


SeaBattle: a boat full of Spanish people, a stomach full of acid liquid

Three days ago, I packed my suitcase, I packed my flatmate, I packed a bottle of pepper vodka and off I went to Tallinn. Why? Because we went to do SeaBattle! SeaBattle is an organized 3-day trip from ESN groups all across the Baltic Sea Region (thus Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Denmark). Only students studying in these countries were granted permission to participate and among those few tickets which were issued (only 50 for Tartu students, 90€ each) at the beginning of September, I can call myself lucky to have gotten a one. Leaving for Tallinn on Monday noon, it did not take long till we had finished our first pint of beer in the bus. Yet I was very tired from lack of sleep in the previous nights, so I decided to take it easy for the moment. It proofed to be a wise decision on my side. Once in Tallinn, we had about 1 hour to spare before being allowed to enter the boat – named Queen Baltic. We used that time to buy cheap smokes and drinks in nearby shops – again a very wise decision, taking into consideration that we were about to ship for one of the most expensive countries in Europe – we were heading for Stockholm, Sweden! 17 hours of pure fun, drinks and waves lied in front of us, just waiting to be used.

Well, technically that could have been true. However, after 3 hours of sleep in the previous night, 5 cans of beer, about 3 sips from my pepper vodka, disgusting food (included in the price) and a really rough sea caused my stomach to scream for salvation, a favour I happily granted it by lying down most of the time. So I went to bed at midnight and would eventually get up at 2am to walk around and explore the events of SeaBattle. Honestly, I was barely interested in that, since I realized that most people on the boat were either drunk, on the best way to get drunk or already too drunk from the reasons which caused my stomach to rebel as mentioned above…

The next morning, unlike most (and especially my boat roommate) I was completely sober, had a shower and ambitions to take the bus trip we have paid for the evening before. But hold on… There were no busses. The guided bus trip, as we believed would follow was more a guided walking trip in a feelingly cold Stockholm by some Swedish students, who managed to read out loud from Wikipedia-articles without knowing any real inside into the city, expect for naming the place where “Lady Gaga played last month…”. 🙂 That is what I call money spent wisely… Stockholm is a great city, but spending 6 hours in the shivering cold with prices for coffee around 3,50€, it sorts of loses its magic.

After having spent the ridiculous amount of 9,80€ for a small Falafel and a black coffee, we headed back to the boat. A small nap in the bed later (2 hours) I was ready to rock the boat. By that time, all the students from Sweden and Norway have entered as well and got prepared for a night of pure insanity. A much more relaxing sea helped a lot to enjoy the evening, but still I was not fully satisfied with the decision of actually having participated in the entire trip. I mean, electronic music, simple-minded security forces and clearly overcharged beer are not what I call a great evening out. Yet I enjoyed it very much to be on the open water, having one or two good conversations with people and the experience of getting sea-sick 🙂

Before I finish this post, one remark about the Spanish: They are everywhere. They come to get to know more Spanish people. They stand in circles of approximately 50 people and scream “España España” for hours and hours, causing my weak stomach to further deteriorate… Surely wonderful people when individual or in small groups, but in large groups really obnoxious to get along with…

In conclusion: It maybe was not the best idea to purchase a ticket for the trip, but in the end I am glad to have done this, so I know what not to do in future times 🙂


2 months in Estonia – Evaluation of a situation

Today, 2 months ago, I have grabbed my suitcase, I have grabbed my bag. I have said “Goodbye” to those I am going to miss and then: I was sitting in the airplane, taking off for a 5-months adventure to Tartu, Estonia!

Now, exactly 2 months later, I thought it might be time for an evaluation, in addition to posting a new bunch of pictures! The time being here kind of flies. It is hard to imagine that 2 months have passed already. My weeks at the Ülikool pass by so quickly that I sometimes feel I have missed a week or two. Before I noticed it is weekend again, and then Monday, and so on…

What have I seen from this country so far? I have been in Tallinn for two days, only walking around the Old Town and watched football in the national stadium. I have taken a train to Tartu (and I am still receiving “thumps up” for my Stalin-reference on the waggon-quality. I have spent a day sightseeing in the South, including the oldest tree, the highest mountain, the deepest lake and an interesting walk in the sump.

I have watched football in Tartu, I have bought Tofu in a store, I became a regular at the open food market (which offers the lowest prices for fresh vegetables and fruits in the city).

I have experienced a student city in which students form, change and rearrange the city and especially its nightlife with tremendous pace. All sorts of different music offer a wide variety, next to bars and pubs and clubs… The clubs are crap, like clubs normally are, but the pubs are worth visiting. The price level in Estonia in general is very “consumer-friendly”, though with the € coming soon, a tiny but constant rise in prices is notable (Tallinn has become almost as expensive as some German cities).

It has not quite been halftime for my in Estonia, but since I feel the time rushing through, I need to plan my time more wisely. What definitely is my list is a 4-day trip to Moscow, starting in less than 2 weeks. My Russian is still “under construction”, but I reckon I could use some catchy phrases to get along 😉 In addition, I will have a day trip to Viljandi sometime in October, for sightseeing the city and watching a football match over there!

My resume after 2 months: I like it! Tartu is a great city, Estonia is a great country and the Baltic Area is a good place to spend a semester abroad!


Arrival in Riga, Latvia: Hot, sweaty but boy, what a coffee!

Just landed in Riga, Latvia from where my journey to Estonia will continue. In Bremen, I had to pay the ridiculous amount of 50,00€ for the 6 kilograms I had packed extra 🙂 Flight was easy-going and now I am waiting inside the airport for my 12 o´clock coach towards Tallinn, Estonia`s sparkling capital, which will hold the title “European Capital of Culture” in 2011. In Tallinn I am planning to stay for two nights, eventually watching semi-pro European football and getting used to the country, culture and language.

But right now, I am simply enjoying a good mug of coffee, purchased with an excitingly new currencies (which name I have already forgotten!)

Update 1: Got on the coach at the bus station. Included in the fare is a bottle of water and studentu brokastis!

Update 2: Despite only being applicable to the taxis, but I feel quite “home” already: They have yellow license plates…

Update 3: Crossed the Latvian-Estonian border some minutes ago! Estonian border control checked our passports, so business as usual!