Jonathan Sumner Evans
Sumner Evans
Software Engineer at Automattic working on Beeper

Tallinn, Estonia

Posted on in Baltic Cruise and Northern Europe • 1295 words • 7 minute read
Tags: Estonia, Tallinn

Today we were in Tallinn, Estonia. We arrived in port at about 7:00 and, after breakfast, we went out to meet our guide at about 8:30. Unlike Russia, there was no passport control or anything (which was quite refreshing). Our guide’s name was Siljva (or something like that) it was pronounced like Sill-vuh. Her English was very good and she was very well educated (she is writing her thesis to become a information technology lawyer). She was able to answer our questions much more easily than Maria in St. Petersburg.

We rode in a van to the old town where the driver dropped us off. I am going to give you an overview of the history of Estonia, then an overview of the history of Tallinn and then describe the main events of the day.

The Estonian people are descendants of the same tribes that populated Finland and Romania. These people groups migrated from Siberia. The Romanians obviously went further south while the Finns went across the Baltic. Our guide said that Finnish and Estonian are very similar and she can understand Finnish without much trouble. Despite their close proximity to Russian and the other Baltic States, the Estonians consider themselves to be Northern Europeans (like the Finns, Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians).

The Estonians were conquered by many foreign invaders. In the medieval times up to the Victorian age, Estonia was conquered by the Danish, the Swedes, the Russians, and maybe some other nations. I can’t remember the exact order. The Russians ruled Estonia when WWI broke out. After the communist takeover in Russia and the subsequent withdrawal from WWI, Russia relinquished claims to Estonia. The Estonians seized the opportunity and declared independence. From 1918 until WWII, Estonia was its own nation. During WWII, Nazi Germany invaded and conquered Estonia from the Russians and then the USSR reconquered Estonia. In 1991 after the wall came down, Estonia again became a sovereign nation. Since their independence, the Estonians have literally pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and are now the most successful of the Baltic states.

To achieve this economic success, the Estonians took a very radical approach for the time and region. They embraced capitalism and conservatism (even though there they refer to it as liberalism). They have a flat tax of 21% and a 20% sales tax, but no corporate tax. This encouraged a lot of foreign investment and jump started their economy. Unlike many European countries, pensions are low, unemployment benefits are low, and welfare is virtually nonexistent. This lack of financial burden has helped Estonia become very prosperous. Estonia is a member of NATO, the EU, and is part of the Eurozone which encourages investment.

Since they were able to start from scratch, they developed the concept of an e-state. Every person has a card which identifies them electronically. They use this to vote, bank, file taxes, create businesses, use public services and a bunch of other things. They even have a concept of e-residency. Anyone can become an e-resident of Estonia and use the public services. For example you can create a business in Estonia from the US and you can do your banking online and everything. If you are a business wanting to get into the Eurozone, Estonia is the way to go.

Twenty-five percent of Estonians are ethnically Russian. Many of them are not integrated into Estonian society which is a major concern especially after what happened in Ukraine. Estonians are considered the least religious country in the world. Only 10% consider themselves to be “religious”. Of that 10%, the majority is Lutheran (Estonia converted to Protestantism from Catholicism after the Reformation) and most of the rest are Russian Orthodox.

Estonians view the Russians as foreign invaders. Our guide said that many Estonians believe that it is only a matter of time before the Russians will be back. Our guide said that many believe that Estonia survived so many foreign conquerors in part because of their unique language which helped them keep an national identity.

Our guide said that everyone who comes to Estonia (especially Tallinn) love it and would like to come back. I have to say that I would like to go back someday as well. She said that because Estonia is not a very well known tourist destination, we should tell people about it when we got home. Well, I am recommending Tallinn to you right now. I’m not saying this because she told us to, but I truly enjoyed my time in Estonia.

Tallinn itself is a beautiful city. The old town is one of the best preserved medieval towns in the world. In many ways it reminded us of small German towns. Until the end of the 1800s, the city was divided into two parts, the upper city and the lower city. Each part had different rulers with different laws. The upper part was where the important people lived, and the lower part was where the workers lived. (For those of you who know Denver, think of the upper town as Cherry Creek and the lower town as Commerce City, just way smaller.) Even today you can still see some of the differences. The lower part of town is filled with tourist shops, whereas the upper town is less of a shopping district. To get from one town to the other, there were only two ways: the short leg and the long leg. Tallinn has been nicknamed the limping city because of this. The gates at each of these were closed at 21:00 each night so that no one could pass through.

We began our tour in the upper town. We went into two churches, a Russian Orthodox church and a Lutheran cathedral. A service was being held in the Russian Orthodox church while we were there so we were able to see a very different kind of worship. It did feel a bit awkward to be watching a church service as a tourist, but I’m sure the people are very used to it. One interesting thing about the Lutheran church was that it was decorated with a wooden coat-of-arms for every royal family in Estonia. We took the short leg down into the lower city and saw the main square. We were able to walk into the oldest pharmacy still in use which was founded in like 1620 something I think. We got to see both modern medicine and very old medicine.

After our tour finished, the guides showed us the place where we were to meet our driver later that day at 13:00. We had lunch at a cafe, and some of the people in the group shopped. Then we went to the van and drove to an old Soviet military base where we were going to do some 4-wheeling. Mrs. Gina had organized this expedition, so we went with them. Even the twins (who are twelve) got to go on their own ATV. We got suited up and then headed out. I had a ton of fun, but I think mom and Tom had the most fun. They would drop back and then gun it at full speed to catch up to the rest of the group. The Coco boys tried to pass each other and got in trouble. The guide stopped and said “no racing”.

It was an entirely different environment than at home. We didn’t sign any waivers or anything. I think it might be some of the leftovers of the Soviet era.

After dinner, I ran into the Ure family (the ones that I played soccer with) out by the ping-pong tables with some other kids. We spent the evening playing card games and chess and talked about our time in Tallinn. It was a very enjoyable evening.