Tag Archives: Estonia

The Roman, the Greek and the Nazi(s)

How overdue this blog is can easily be defined by the time past between my last publication here (August ’12). But even to a wider extent by the strong urge I have had to write this piece – which dates back many, oh so very many years. It may have first manifested itself inside of me during the school-year 2003/04 that I spent living in Cork, Ireland. Over there, in a overly catholic boys-to-men-school I was first being introduced to the idea of having foreigners tell me what they know – or thought to believe – about Germany and its past. Spoiler alert: it is not a very happy story! Of course not, how could it be?! Well, truth be told: my classmates back then were 15-16 years old and still had a few years of school in front of them. And even I had three more years to go afterwards. But then again, these 3 years – speaking about the history class in particular – were filled with one subject: Ze Zermans.
Okay, now here is, what I remember from all in all 9 years of more or less intense history-learning in various schools:

There once was a German Empire. Then they fought a war, lost it, got blamed. Started a second war, lost it. And rightfully so: got blamed. And then there were two German countries until David Hasselhoff miraculously reunited them, full stop.

Well, this is mind and taking those few weeks in middle school into account, during which the teacher would playfully explain the Romans and the Greeks (and we are talking a few weeks only!) I have absolutely no idea about any other country or historic events. For all I know, Germany could be only 150 years old and the riverbanks from where I am currently typing these words got drawn here like in SimCity. If it was not for the English classes in which we scratched on the surface of history of all major English speaking (and the U.S.) me knowledge would be even more limited.
What is bothering me immensely is my lack of wisdom regarding my own national identity and how this may be perceived elsewhere. I was being “honored” by Estonian nationalists back in 2010 with them telling me that I should be proud of “the” past. Shocking for a person like me, being brought up in a school system that for 9 consecutive years indoctrinated my mind about Germans and Germany being the source of all evil.  That persons’ believe put aside, I wish I could, in that very moment, have been able to explain my knowledge more thoroughly – but nah. I was merely given the tools to accept all blaming and beating for something in the past.
But in today’s day and age, I strongly develop the urge to educate myself about the history of others, coz I want to understand the bigger picture. And maybe, just maybe, it will help me to understand why the German-centric view in school is as it is. For I am still afraid to raise my voice about the international beating I sometimes had to endure abroad. Don’t get me wrong, what happened was the ultimate hate crime – yet the school system still teaches us that it was my personal fault. Mine…?!

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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!


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!


Little text, many pictures

Okay!

Right now I have very little new material to present to you, so I decided to post a few pictures I have taken recently. I will comment on them if needed 🙂

Grand Opening of my faculty in the festive hall of the main university building. I am officially enrolled in “Social sciene and education”, but most of my courses actually are from different faculties, mainly theology…

Café “Werner“, located in Ülikooli street (and only 100m from the main university building) offer a fantastic range of cakes and cookies, not to mention superb coffee or chai. Upstairs, the restaurant proidves small but nonetheless tasty dishes to fair prices.

The ESN (Erasmus Student Network) organises a lot of different activities for its members, including a monthly bier bingo at Illegard, a place again situated within 3 minutes from the main building. Bier Bingo is bingo while drinking beer. And: I won a round! I was awarded a free pizza from the pub which I shared happily with my table.

This picture was taken standing very close to the raekoja plats. The blue tent is set up at the beginning of the cathedral hill which leads to the cathedrale itself following the Lossi street. This park is the only public place in Tartu where drinking outside is permitted (and therefore frequently used!). From this spot, it is 100m to the university, 100m to the Illegard and about 300m to my dorm at Raatuse.

On top of the hill, one can see the remainings of the Tartu Cathedral, of the city’s landmarks. Almost entirely a ruin by now (due to lack of care from the Swedish emperors at that time in the 17th century) has a small part been renovated and hosts the Museum of the University of Tartu.


I am in “Zavood” on Monday, I am in “Zavood” on Tuesday and of course on Friday, too

Finally, I became an ERASMUS student! It has been 7 days since my German flat mates arrived. Yes, I said Germans, coz now 4 out of 5 people living here actually are from this country. However, it is much fun. We all speak English with each other at all times, disregarding our national language. But since approx. 40% of all ERASMUS students living in this house speaks German, I will run no fear of losing my national identity.

Now, despite this huge amount of Germans (and btw, I met a guy from Oldenburg), we have people from pretty much all over the world living here. Mainly European (guess what ERASMUS might stand for) though, but there are people from the US, Canada and even the UK. So it is really international.

Being an ERMAUS student is sooooo much fun! It basically involves drinking at evenings, eating out at night and dancing in the mornings. And in the way people say that “all roads lead to Rome” the young people of Tartu have a saying that “all people end up in Zavood”! It is so true! Zavood is the last place of the dark, a marvelous spot to end a great night out. I have been there only three times but each time I ended up there, I met a bunch of fantastic people who are most willing to talk to me for ages and ages. Despite those 1 or 2 misleading creatures that consider my national heritage as something heroic, I have so far not encountered anybody who was not thrilled by me.


Day #4 after arrival – Comparing Estonia and Germany

It is Monday noonish so I have spent about 100 hours in Tartu so far. The city is still rather empty (since classes won’t start for another 9 days) but especially at night there is a lot of traffic on both roads and pedestrian streets. The main reason for that may be the film festival Tartuff, which had its last day of action on Saturday evening, when locals performed what I would describe as singer/songwriter music. Besides that, of course, films were shown on a huge (huge!!!) inflatable screen in front of the municipality. May it be the heavy rain caused the moderate amount of people interested or it was due to the movie, which stared Corinna Harfouch and Bruno Ganz in the 2009 “Guila’s Verschwinden”but attendance was low. Myself, however, capable of understanding German enjoyed the evening a lot 🙂

Well, after four days living in Tartu, I dare to make first initial comparisons between both countries, if possible, despite knowing that neither country share many similarities.

#1 – the rain: when it rains, it rains a lot! For hours and hours, including thunder and lighting. The streets are empty (luckily for most pedestrians, cafés are omnipresent and cheap!) and the air cools down much quicker than in Germany.

#2 – eye contact on the streets: While being in Oldenburg, I experienced that most people keep their eyes straight and avoid holding eye contact for too long. However, in Tartu it seems to be considered impolite to not at least give the passing person a quick glance!

#3 – acceptance towards customers in cafés: Since I am still waiting for the internet to be made available in my appartment I am spending most of my day in the nearby kohvik metro and refreshing my webmail account, hoping for salvation – but nothing so far. However, I am sitting here for hours only rarely drinking my coffee, ordering even more rarely and taking up space for more “suitable” customers. But so far, I have not experienced any hard feelings from the staff nor the other people. I have witnessed differently in Germany.

These are the first differences I could come up with. Surely over the next few months, I will find more; they shall find its appreciation here, too. Now I will get my residence permission done!

Nägemist!