Doors of Tallinn

The Old Town of Tallinn has lots to offer — cobbled streets, limestone fortress walls, church steeples, old typography over some medieval looking inn, hand-drawn wooden carriages from which emanate fragrances of sweetened almonds and much more. It is the most well-preserved walled city which has earned the Old Town of Tallinn the tag of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I come from Mumbai, which also used to have fortifications. Not one bit of the erstwhile fort wall was left behind when the city authorities, then under British rule, decided to take the fortifications down between 1860-1874 for the city to grow. So I can only imagine that wall around the then H-shaped Bombay island.

Tallinn’s Old Town has a lot of its 13th century walled city plan, still in place. In a way, Tallinn’s Old Town is like a time capsule if you can unsee the touristy mores present all around you. Things can get overwhelming soon. It can then get tricky to focus on any one thing.

Keep your eyes peeled to check out these doors which are full of character in the Old Town of Tallinn

After many hours of walking spread out over three days, one thing started to emerge in the old city to me — the doors of houses and buildings which had retained the aesthetic of the eras gone by.

I forget what this establishment was, but the angled design on the door and the sculpture above it, made this one stand out

I was in Tallinn during the summer of 2017. Considering its geographical location, it’s safe to say that the cold climate dominates the city. The doors, therefore, were made out of wood — most of the ones that piqued my fancy at least.

Doors in Mumbai (back in the day) had a character to them, till everything became a sun mica polished affair with grilles on majority of them, to give an illusion of more space in this city. Doors in my native place and other rural parts of India that I have been to, still retain some character and you can see the wooden texture without much embellishments.

This was the door to a church, but the intricate woodwork deserved a place in this post

In Tallinn’s Old Town, doors to some buildings looked like they were just meant for one thing — arrest your attention. It made me wonder, how many feet must have passed through these doors, from the many centuries past. Oh the stories they could have told, if only they could speak. Most of the doors were closed, hinting at residential properties. Only the souvenir shops had open doors, thereby inviting you to closely observe them.  

This souvenir shop in the Old Town which had a basement shop made use of the door as a hanger on

There was nothing elaborate in terms of design when it came to most of the doors. It went with the philosophy of the more modern architecture I had observed during my week long stay there. While function trumped form for most of the doors, it was the little things that differentiated them from one another.

Doors of some of the residential buildings

An overuse of red with green demarcations on one door to the light brown pastels on the other. From a diamond shaped design on one, to the wooden portion in the top half replaced by glass in some. Floral flourishes on some to others which were intriguing enough to lead you down an underground cellar. Considering most of the structures are made of stone, inside the Old Town, painted in light pastel shades, the only dark colour profiles were seen on the doors of these buildings.

This was an entrance to an underground bar

There is one door in particular that is quite popular in the Old Town. It is the door that leads to the house of Brotherhood of Blackheads  — a brotherhood of unmarried, legally dependent, jobless German youth who could get acceptance to the Great Guild — a collective for artisans and merchants who were operating in Tallinn from the 14th century till around the 1920s.

The door stands out from all the others, and why not? The facade of the door was designed in the 16th century. The last members of the Blackhead brotherhood were around till the 1940s, before being sent away by the Russians. The distinguishing factor of the door on this house is the presence of intricate art work on the top portion of the door, with a wooden bust of their patron, St Maurice. The brotherhood exists in Hamburg, Germany, to this day.

The doors on buildings on the outskirts of the Old Town weren’t as well maintained

There were parts of the city where the doors didn’t seem like they had kept up with their contemporaries. Here, I realised, the crowds were also non-existent, so there was fairly little incentive to ensure the door looked its best. The doors here had the paint peeling off, the inner wooden texture visible and appearing brittle. Basically, a door screaming for a paint and polish job.

I would have loved to talk to the residents living behind those doors. But on my first day in Tallinn, my walking tour guide had informed me that Estonians are generally quite reserved by nature, and will not immediately strike a conversation with random strangers.

I tried my luck with some strangers on the street, but to walk up to a house to speak to the residents was a bridge too far, for an introvert like me.

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Tallinn by the beach on a balmy July afternoon

Tallinn by the beach on a balmy July afternoon

Taking random paths while travelling is one of my favourite pastimes. In Tallinn, the old city does tend to grow on you after a couple of days. For someone afflicted with the golden-age syndrome, the old city can be overwhelming. Lest you are determined to discover some portal that will take you back a few centuries, like Owen Wilson’s character in Midnight in Paris, I’d say it would be a good idea to get out of the fortified old town of Tallinn.

Estonia is a sparsely populated nation of just 1.3 million inhabitants. Tallinn, its capital city, is where a third of that population lives. And still, there were only pockets of places where I could find a crowd. I can’t put my finger on it, but wherever I went in Tallinn, there was this thought at the back of my mind always: “Tallinn is on the verge of becoming a hotspot, give it five years.” The possibilities for that happening were palpable, outside its main tourist draw.  

The skies were ominous as I decided to park myself by the shore

After exploring the Kalamaja neighbourhood, with its Soviet-era wooden houses, I was longing to check out the sea-facing portion of Tallinn. According to Google Maps, I wasn’t too far from the shore. I followed the Maps, in the direction of the light blue area close to a spot called Kalarand — the Baltic sea. Its first sight just filled me with immense happiness. All the exhaustion from the five hours of walking done before that, kind of evaporated. I always feel at home in any city, which has access to a water body in the form of a lake, river or a sea. It just gives me some much needed extra energy after I am weary from travel. Blame it on growing up in Mumbai, with its access to the sea. I’m at sea when I am in land-locked areas.

A quiet moment with friends. Also a great place to work

The beach or rather the sandy portion of the shore, looked like it hadn’t or wouldn’t in the near future, at least, see any major development. But sitting there on a warm by breezy July afternoon, was probably a good decision after hours of walking in the Old Town. There weren’t many people around. Two grannies, who could be tourists or locals, just sitting together but staring into the horizon. Not speaking a word to each other. Another youngster just parked his bike behind me, and took out his laptop. The calm sea with its waves lapping by the shore gave him the perfect lo-fi ambient sound to focus on his pending work. A father-son duo were sitting on the rocks ahead, with the son trying to play the stone surfing game.

When I parked myself there along with these people, the atmosphere looked dramatic in the sky. I wasn’t carrying any umbrella on me and was afraid that it would pour any moment. But it was a good idea to stay on, as the sun was out soon enough.

Somewhere on the right hand horizon, were a few boats and a cruiseliner

The promenades were not neatly demarcated and there were a lot of pods which had rusted iron bars exposed. The aqua blue of the water was wonderfully complementing the royal blue sky, which was impregnated with clouds. In the far distance, I could make out some boats and a cruiseliner.

As for me, I was reflecting on the time spent during my close to three month fellowship stint in Germany. I felt like writing something, but decided against it. At that moment, I just wanted to be present with nothing to do. In the now. There would be enough opportunities to put pen to paper later. After ages, I had taken a vacation where I had no agenda for the rest of the next couple of days as I had stretched what could easily be done in three days to almost five days.

The skies cleared after a while giving lovely blue hue

After around 30 minutes of just sitting there and doing nothing, other than watching the waves, I continued the onward journey along the shoreline on the left first, and then on to the right. I passed by the Seaplane museum, but I really did not have the mental agility to do a museum tour after that 30 minute break at a random run down beach. If I had a bike, I would have carried on further, but knowing the frequency of the buses here, I did not want to take any chance walking more than I had for the day.

While exploring around the shore, I came across a gate which had a tiny opening. I looked in and saw a glimpse of an abandoned place. It piqued my curiosity and I decided to check out the place later. I never did that, and while writing this blog post when I looked up the map, I realised that I had missed out on seeing an important slice of Estonian history — the Patarei Prison.

No, I don’t regret not seeing it. It was just meant to be a chill day after all.

The glimpse of the abandoned Patarei prison in Tallinn
Father-son duo making the most of the sunny day
On the way back to my hostel, I passed by this remnant of the Tallinn past
Doesn’t look like this shore is getting any love from the Estonian authorities any time soon

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