Category Archives: Tartu

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…


Termination of ERASMUS: The Payback…

Now, as I pack my stuff in my dorm in Tartu, aiming to spend some days in Lithuania before finally going back home, I promised myself to have 1 final post about my time in Estonia. However, this time, I won’t be talking about the snow, the trips or the various drinks you should try while being here. No, this time, I’ll pay back! I will mention most if not all of the things I witnessed here during the last 5 months that i consider worth mentioning and will share them with you. If I am offending someone who reads this: It was not my intention 🙂 Let the show begin…

Spanish people: Absolutely fantastic people. As individuals. In a group, a bunch of impervious folks with no intention to harmonize with anyone else but Portuguese. I tried at several occasions to enter the group, but, with 9 out of 10 conversations in Spanish, sort of impossible for me. Knowing about Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions I should not be surprised, but I haven’t seen that intense behaviour in action so far.

Russian people: I have written so much about them during my time here that I cannot really add anything new. They are still the most unpleasant people I have met during ERASMUS and I have not yet seen any solution for this. It is not just me who is saying that. They were actually the reason we had the door locked at almost all times. I do not want to sound disrespectful to Russians in general and those I know better are perfectly nice people, but I hope I’ll never meet any of them again…

My mates from the apartment: No, nothing negative to mention about them, leaving aside several late night Skype calls in the kitchen or early Sunday morning uses of the mixer that woke me up. But they were among the best people I have met in my life and I am really glad we lived together. I am not speaking for my liver, which honestly is happy that ERASMUS is over, but I had a fantastic time with you guys! You are all aces in my book and I am looking forward to meeting you again, eventually in 2016 here in Tartu for a great revival 😀 Over the last months, we have collected money from plastic bottles. Now, at the end I am very glad to mention that we managed to gather 27,80€ in total!! This money will shortly be donated to good causes in Nepal and Bangladesh. I am happy that we accomplished that, thanks again guys 🙂

The University: Beautiful from the inside, catastrophic from the inside. Weak organization, teacher without much knowledge in teaching, unequal treatment of students. I am glad to have studied at a Research University for once, but I thought it would be set up much more Ivy league-alike.

Sharing a 16m2 bedroom with another guy: Very interesting for a couple of weeks, very exhausting for 5 months. Although he is a really great guy, I am so looking forward to having my own room again with a little more privacy.

Estonia: Great country to live in…for a few months. Not a place I could spend the rest of my life. Many aspects of the daily life are tempting for a longer stay, such as the Wi/Fi everywhere, the strong infrastructure and of course (for one that comes from a rich country) the very moderate prices for pretty much everything. But still, it was only a step on my path to yet again somewhere else…

Tartu: If I was to life in Estonia, Tartu would be the only choice. It is the best town in the country, with the best varieties to have a decent life. Nonetheless, the city is marked as my ERASMUS-place so living here will never be the same again.

The Germans: We are everywhere! Everywhere! You cannot stop us. We take your city on a horseback and stick in big, German-speaking groups. And we love potatoes, litres of beer and watching football. In a way, we are like the Spanish. But we speak English much better… 🙂

What I learned: Talking in terms of studying, I have learned various things, which may or may not help me for my future professional life. I am sure that knowing about Lithuania in the 15th century and the Sumerian cosmogony will barely benefit me in pursuing a career in the non-profit sector, but I am nonetheless glad I got the opportunity to get familiar with it. Having learned Russian and having gotten an insight into Public sector marketing, however, are really beneficial for me! Speaking life, I have learned a lot more. Living with strangers, adapting to different habits, different styles of speaking English, learning. I have met people here that really helped me gaining new insights into the world (mostly while having a beer somewhere) and I have seen things and places I probably would never have seen in my life if it wasn’t for people and situations here!! I am so glad I decided to have come here…

What I will miss: Living in a dorm (even though right now I am happy it’s over), the city and its amazing bars, pubs, shops, streetlights, pretty much everything. The guys from the apartment (a lot!) and the very international atmosphere ERASMUS was providing us with throughout the entire 5 months. In addition, I will also miss the monthly rent, which in total (more than 5 months) added up to a little over 520€!!

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Thank your for following my blog! I hope, you had a good time reading my stories from Estonia, Sweden and Russia. I hope y’all will stay tuned and check out this blog again, because soon my stories will cover my life in Buea, Cameroon! Thank you!! 🙂


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 🙂


Tartu for 2 days: An alternative tourguide

Here is what you should do, when all over sudden you discover 2 free days in your schedule and you happen to be somewhat close: Visit Tartu! Plenty of books describe plenty of things to do, see, buy, eat… But only a truely young student who is doing his ERASMUS in that city can tell you the truth! So listen and listen carefully…

Dependent on your budget, get a fancy hotel or a less fancy hostel. Hotel Dorpat is highly recommended, with a breath-taking breakfast, decent rooms and with an amazing view at the river. In case of less money, get yourself a hostel room at Raatuse 22, this happens to be the place I currently stay (yes, we have a hostel in the dorm! We also have a sports bar and a driving school…).

Well, fresh up a little, we are going for a walk! We shall start at the Raekoja plats (town hall square), where all the nice little cafés are located. Passing it on the right side, we stand at the beginning of the Toome Hill. Have a walk! Especially in early autumn, when the leaves keep falling and the sun shines its last hours of the year, then having a long walk through the hill of Tartu might even be inspiring. Various monuments, some cafés and of course the Tartu cathedral welcome you!

After you finished your highly exhausting walk (about 1 hour) step down and find your way trough the Ülikooli street towards the Ülikool Tartu (the university – for reasons beyond my understanding situated in the “university street 🙂 ) Have a look inside! You may find yourself buying a ticket for a classical concert in the main hall or, due to lack of alternatives, just walk around. The building looks very impressive from the outside but the inside can easily be covered in 12 minutes. Step out again! Turn right! Head for café Werner – without any doubts the best in town, in Estonia, probably even in the entire Baltic Sea Region! Sit down, order a coffee (or 2, or 3) and try every sort of cake they offer – every singe one! It is worth it. The restaurant upstairs is less favourable. To have a decent dinner, either go to Pierre or Volga. Fair prices for good food in a warm atmospheres. Not recommended for Vegetarians (nothing in Tartu is much recommended for my people! The national/regional cuisine is really dependent on meat and fish), but a wide range of traditional Estonian/Georgian/Russian food is available. You will need it for the night. The nights are what makes Tartu the most interesting town in the entire country! Start your night with a decent housebeer at Püssirohukelder, preferable on a Monday, because then you might see crazy Estonians doing Estonian karaoke versions of popular songs. The housebeer costs 28eek per litre (that equals 1,80€ for a litre!). Don’t stay too long…

Next, hit the Illegard. Three beer = 80eek. Great deal. A much better deal is the five hotshots = 100eek. A hotshot is a drink consisting of espresso, Galliano and cream. Drink 1 (maximum 2!), leave the premise. It is time for Genialistide Klubi. Now it has an entrance fee of 5oeek, but when you make it at the right night, you won’t regret it. It welcomes the most interesting bands that come to town, have decent reggae parties and even a smoking room (a smoking room!). Hold your position for about 2 hours, than make your way to Zavood – the holy Zavood! End the night in Zavood, that is the only place to do so. Drink a “Funny Suicide”, have a plastic beer outside the ally and meet (weird) locals. Actually all those who got me “inspired” about my “Talking Politics” post some weeks ago I have met in Zavood. Leave when it starts raining (and believe me, it will start raining). Grab a bite to eat on the way home. Take-aways offer the cheapest alternatives at night, such as wraps, burger or onion rings. Sleep well – but not too long! See, if you sleep to long in Tartu, especially during the long, cold winter (September – June) you are running risk of missing the daylight for quite some time. After yet another breakfast, take on your good shoes, we are going for a walk. Destination: Supilinn. Within meters away from both Zavood and Genialistide Klubi you find the poorest area in the city but also the most interesting one. Old wooden houses from the 19th century present themselves in only a few streets which are named after vegetables, indicating that Supilinn used to be a place for “ordinary people”. Afterwards, have a coffee/tea in the Ülikooli Kohvik situated next to the main university building. Of course you can also return to Werner and try yet another mouth-watering cake 😀   The art museum (Tartu Kunstimuuseum) at Raekoja plats 18 offers a compact overview about current and recent Estonian painters and costs only 35eek entrance.  For the evening, I suggest eating out at either Pierre, Volga or Café Noir, all within minutes away from the theatre. The theatre? Yes, the theatre! The Vanemuine theatre at Vanemuise 6 hosts latest adaptations of plays to more than moderate prices. After the play, conclude the night with a walk along the river Emajõgi and finally fall asleep in whatever place you have booked in.

If you would come right now, the following images might be waiting for you…


Living with strangers – 6 boys, 1 kitchen and a constantly blocked drain…

I have planned this post since my semester started in early September. However, due to several circumstances I have never found the time to actually finish it. So I am doing to now. Two months have passed since my roommates moved in, 10 days after me. 3 Germans, at once! The one Slovakian came some days later. So in total we are 4 Germans, 1 Estonian and 1 Slovakian on very limited space. But living is extremely easy with the 6 of us 🙂 We never fight! We never have to wait in line for toilet or shower! And we barely ever steal food from each other! Well, milk is an exception, so is shower lotion and sometimes beer, but these are rare examples. We do have sort of a “living community”. Toilet paper and washing powder is bought at an equal level, we sometimes do the groceries together and cooking/eating together became close to be the norm. Not just eating – drinking became a major event in our close to daily  routine 😀 We soon decided to collect and gather all the empty bottles (beer and water alike) to create a huge amount of deposit in our kitchen and in our rooms. At one point, however, we could not store it anymore, as it has become a distraction from moving freely. So we agreed on returning the bottles and to get a nice bottle of Vana Tallinn for the money back. Well…with weeks of effort, we had to work quite hard to actually collect, store and move the bottles…

After about 1 hour of feeding the bottle machine outside a nearby supermarket, we received a paper worth 223EEK, about 15€. That money we reinvested in the above mentioned Vana Tallinn, a 6er beer (after all, we had to start all over!) and some cheap crisps. The current level of bottles is reasonable, but not as dramatic. We surely will milk the famous cash cow soon to live off the interests 😉

The next big event which is taking place within our kitchen is the donation act. We agreed to collect all coins (because the Estonian coins are worth equal to nothing) in a pint glass. Once it is full, or December (when half the team is moving out) we will bring them to a bank, get the money and donate it. Through a friend of mine back in Groningen, I became acquainted with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA). Among other things dedicated to the public good, they offer to purchase small objects for certain countries to improve the living standards in developing countries. So one does not just give money blind-folded, but actually buys a good which is needed desperately. We unofficially agreed upon going for a 18$ purchase of books for a rural area in Nepal, and I am encouraging everybody to follow our lead!

Our kitchen is our meeting point. Not just for the 6 of us, but also for the frequent visitors we have. Our wide variety of food, snacks and beverages, along with a welcoming atmosphere have helped us develop a decent level of reputation among the Raatuse inhabitants. Unluckily, there are some factors which sometimes tend to bother me heavily. Just two days ago I woke up by the voice of a girl in Bratislava, Slovakia, talking to my flatmate via Skype. His extraordinarily loud voice tied up to a disturbing tone has been the cause for regular wake up calls. Also, his English is sometimes a bit awkward to fully grab, so we experienced several funny anecdotes, such as when I had asked him, whether he already had chosen his classes for school and he repeated thoroughly that he does not like coffee… 😀 But we do have a very good community, without any major problems. Even the cleaning aspect has been reconciled properly – we don’t! The toilet gets a regular lemon-chemistry-flavoured drink overnight, the two towels are getting washed ever now and then and the shower slowly turns into a bath, thanks to plenty of hair on the floor… We clean the kitchen and the kitchen utilities on a regular base, but again our boy from Bratislava sort of has a different opinion towards drying the plates after having washed them so next to the wake up phone calls we also wet our pants when reaching for the top shelf to grab a wet plate… But these are minors and we tend to laugh about it. Actually, living with strangers (well, most of them are no stranger to me no more) is great fun, since you get to know and see habits and pattern that might be alien to you. New recipes from exotic places like Konstanz, Tartu or Bratislava (worth mentioning at this point is the ESN food festival which took place some weeks ago – Latvian garlic-bread and Italian chocolate-rolls are way more interesting than German potato soup…) gave the little extra to my study abroad and besides that, I will leave the house with a basket full of addresses to spend a visit to sometime…

Before this post will be published, I again want to thank everyone who participated in my last SOCIALVIBE activity. In total, we helped recruiting 12 new blood donors – thanks!! Starting today, we have a new organization we can support – Raising Malawi. This organization is aiming at reducing poverty among the millions of children and orphans in the country. Please do not get disillusionized by Madonna’s face in my blog… Thanks in advance for doing the short activities by clicking on it. Your time can make the difference…