For lovers of alternative-style, underground art projects, this might be your place. The Estonian Museum of Temporary art (EKKM) is the place where interesting and unusual projects are presented here regularly in an old factory building. EKKM has an emphasis on non-commerical projects which are rejected by bigger sponsors and often presents politically or socially delicate exhibitions. When Tallinn was European capital of culture in 2011, EKKM had an exhibition called "Lost in Transition", a kaleidoscope of the effects on life in Eastern Europe when the Iron curtain fell down. It ranges from a video from Moldova (which is still shaken from back and forth between communism and capitalism today) to photo series about a Latvian chap and his life in the UK. Many of them had a humorous touch.
The place is everything but wheelchair friendly with the upper floors only accessible via sets of scary stairs. EEKM doesn't charge any entry fee, but is happy about any donation.
The great Guild Hall does not resemble that big from outside, but it was once the second-largest building built for non-religious purposes in Tallinn. Built between 1407 and 1417, it was used as the headquarter of the Merchant’s Guild. Here, the wealthy and mighty came together and the mayor of the town was always chosen out of the members of the guild. This was at the peak of the Hanse’s importance, and just a few decades later, the star of this old union began to sink.
The Guildhall now houses the Estonian History Museum which takes you from the earliest settlings through the middle ages and the soviet era to present-day Estonia. The exhibition is worth seeing it and it takes about an hour to go through. It has a modern layout with a good balance of explanatory boards and multimedia equipment. The exhibits are located on three floors, though the basement is often used for special activities or temporary exhibitions. Admission price was 5 EUR for adults, 3 EUR for children/concessions (as of 2012).
Soviet Life exhibition
When Tallinn became the European capital of culture in 2011, tis exhibition was presented to the public for the first time. 20 years after Estonia regained independence, many of the exhibits survived this time by luck only – similar items of that area were tossed away destroyed or disposed otherwise as they were seen as symbols of Soviet power or of a life with many restrictions.
In this exhibition, everyday life in the Soviet Union comes back to life. It shows typical products, typical living rooms typical vehicles and many many more. Some items show how cretive people were with the items given by the Soviet regime, inlcuding the tuning of a lanmower and a home-built vacuum cleaner. Unfortunately, most of the description was in Estonian only with few exhibits also ahving a Russian and/or English description. Though mainly aimed at Estonians (and other former Soviets), everyone can get an insight in a world which meant everyday life for a large part of the world's population. A small shop sells some surplus items (for example old telephones) which will help to maintain the collection.
The Soviet Life exhbition was open in the summer of 2011 and 2012, hopefully it will return in the summer of 2013. It is located in one of the former factory buildings of the Rotermann quarter. Though it lacks the magic of the wonderful KGB exhibition in Hotel Viru, it has a lot of potential which will hopefully be developed in the upcoming years.
The highlight on my two most recent Tallinn visits! Viru Hotel was built in the 1970s as a reprensentative hotel for foreign guests and a source of foreign currency. Built in the middle of the of the cold war, it is no wonder that the KGB got involved in construction and operation of the hotel. The Hotel Viru KGB Museum shows how the KGB operated in the hotel and puts this story into a broader historical context. Therefore, you will also get an idea how life in Tallinn was like for the employees or other Tallinn citizens. The museum is housed in the secret 23rd floor which was not accessible to the public. The official statement was that "technical rooms" were installed there - and in some way, they were technical indeed. One room is preserved in the state is was left by the KGB in the 1990s, while another contains many items related to the hotel directors. The others contain a lot of items and pictures related to the hotel. The guides did not work in the hotel during the communist era, but have collected a lot of anecdotes from former employees. Both times, they were able to bring back the era of the cold war back to life and make us get a feeling how it was like in the hotel in the 1970s and 1980s. The guides were really friendly and eager to answer any question, even if the question is politically delicate.
Entry to this museum is only available as a guided tour which takes around an hour. It is recommended to do a reservation via e-mail or at the reception desk. Showing up is possible as well, but as only a limited number of people is allowed in the museum, you may be turned away. Please check also for the times when a tour in your language is on offer. English and Finnish areoffered at least once a day, other languages on request. Price was 7 EUR per person, while hotel guests pay only 5 EUR. A discount ticket for one of the bars or nightclubs of Hotel Viru is included. One of my favourite places in Tallinn and surely a must-do!
The Museum of Occupation is a reminder of Estonia's hard 20th century history in which is was mostly under occupation from the Soviet Union as well as (briefly) Nazi Germany. There isn't a ton of actual artifacts in the museum, but it's fairly cheap so I'd say it's worth checking out.
The vast majority of the content is video-related. Each "station" has a handful of items on display from a certain time period, as well as a monitor that continuously plays a 20-30 minute clip explaining that period of occupation. You can listen in either English, Estonian, or Russian and while the videos are informative, they are just so long that it's not feasible to stand there (or sit, at some stations) for the duration. I think they need to come up with a better way to exhibit the information in a more meaningful/less time-consuming matter, but it's a good start I guess.
The coolest part is probably all the old Soviet statues in the basement. It kind of felt like you were in the movie Goldeneye (the part where 007 "reunites" with 006) and there were some interesting figures.
I've got mixed feelings about running a Museum about torture instruments during the medieval times. I've seen these Museums pop up here and there in Eastern Europe as well (Prague and Bucharest). I think guides should be present to give a deeper and knowledgble presentation than the information signs on the object. These objects are an important if frightful rememberance concerning the cruelty of mankind. But guides should be present if anyone has further questions. This is the only museum of this kind I've ever visited and I wont visit another again.
Also ticket was a bit overpriced.
This museum tells the history of Tallinn city and a lot of Estonian history as well. Very very nice museum. We visitied on a Friday last Friday of the month which meant free enterance to all its exehibitions. We started on ground floor which told us about the developement of Tallinn city then proceeded up the stairs. I'd recommend this museum to anyone. Five stars! *****
Without meaning to, I seem to have embarked on a mission to tick off the 'danse macabres' (Dance of Death) murals in European churches!
The Danse Macabre is a powerful medieval symbol of the inevitability of death, which was particularly meaningful at a time when the continent was swept with wave after wave of pestilence (most notably the Plague), famine and armed conflict. The scene depicts people from every walk of life (from emperors, kings and the Pope, to children and cripples - and everyone in between) being lead in a dance by skeletons, sending the unequivocal message that nobody can cheat the inevitability of death, regardless of their social status.
The 15th century Danse Macabre by Bernt Notke is housed in the Niguliste Museum, and is probably its most famous exhibit. As a piece of artwork, it is duly sobering and cautionary, but having been lucky enough to see the rarely mentioned Danse Macabre in Wolgast and the stupendous one in Hrastovlje (my all time favourite by a country mile), I can't say that this one appealed quite as much. Apart from being incomplete, I think that I failed to connect with the style of painting, which is much more baroque than the others I've seen (never a good thing in my book!). This is a much more sombre piece of work - by contrast, the Hrastovlje mural is wryly humerous and features the merchant trying to bribe one of the skeletons to avoid his fate!
The museum occupies an old church which was reconstructed in the Soviet era, which also hosts organ recitals at 16:00 on Saturdays and Sundays (we happened to be there for one, and the acoustics were splendid), so check the website for programmes.
The rest of the museum is interesting, but contains a surprisingly small number of exhibits. Other than the Danse Macabre, perhaps the most interesting aspect is the poster exhibition on the reconstruction of the building after it was devastated in the Second World War.
The photo is from the funky Gingerbread Mania exhibition, where a Danse Macabre has been created out of gingerbread in a witty reference to Tallinn's most famous artwork. Hilarious (and, in all honesty, I think that I preferred this more digestible version!)
Having just written up my tips on the Museum of Occupation and the Estonian Parliament building, I am cynically tempted to suggest that the 'puppet theatre' might have aptly described the Estonian parliament under Soviet rule, but I am determined to shrug off the gloom of the previous subject matter and write about something altogether more cheerful!
Puppetry appears to play a prominent role in Estonian culture, and it was therefore a little surprising that the NUKU puppet theatre and museum is very new, having only opened in March 2010 (other references say that the theatre has been going since 1952, presumably on another site?).
Unfortunately we didn't have the time to go in, but all the reviews I have read of the performances are glowing, and many comment that they are as enjoyable for adults as for children. In addition to the puppet theatre, there is a museum housing all sorts of puppet-related memorabilia, which sounds fun.
I was captivated by this stunning sculpture outside the entrance: Tallinn features a number of these sculptures which protrude out of the wall, and the effect is impressive. This particular chap is Ferdinand Veike, the founder of the Estonian State Puppet Theatre: in 2009, he was still going at the age of 85, as was his puppet Buratino (a sprightly 55)! The expression on the puppeteer's face is so gentle, and you can just imagine him holding an audience of children in his thrall!
When (and not if) we return to Tallinn with our children, this is top of our list!
I wasn't really sure what to expect of the KUMU art museum, and with it being located in Kadriorg - a little bit out from the town centre - it would have been easy to use the bitingly cold weather as an excuse to give it a miss. What an oversight that would have been.
Sunset in mid December is about 15:30, and by the time we made it to KUMU (which closes at 1800), it was pitch dark. The ultra modern steel and glass structure rose suddenly into view above the snowy parkland setting, and the initial impression was extremely imposing.
KUMU may be imposing, but it's not intimidating, and it is the sort of art gallery that even non art buffs will feel comfortable wandering around (although on a Sunday afternoon, there were also the requisite quota of earnest, arty types in black turtlenecks and Serious Spectacles).
There is a focus on Estonian art, and in particular, the wonderful Soviet realist exhibits caught my eye and imagination. I find this particular artform fascinating, and would personally have been happy to see more of this, although I can understand that relics of the repressive former social order may be uncomfortable viewing for Estonians so soon after eventually securing their independence. There is also a good collection of 18th, 19th and early 20th century paintings - see the travelogue below for some of my favourites. As usual, the recent stuff was lost on me, but I think that one of the beauties of visiting art museums is to be challenged by the work - even if you detest it, it's an interesting process of self discovery to interrogate why you react so strongly to a particular piece.
One of the temporary exhibits on display when we visited was a collection of work by Estonians who were either living abroad, or who had been born overseas of Estonian parents. In truth, I would have struggled to identify more than a couple of pieces that I would have given wall space, but I thought that it was an interesting and appropriate topic for an exhibit. There was also a Constable exhibit, but I didn't come all the way to Estonia to look at rural East Anglian landscapes!
For me, the absolute highlight of KUMU is a gallery devoted entirely to busts. This is located in one of the 'pointy ends' of the building, so the display space is a peculiar shape, and the curators have taken advantage of this to adopt a striking layout. Busts are displayed on shelves from floor to ceiling on the walls of the gallery, and on the floor, heads are displayed in closely spaced lines. There is a seemingly random mix of shapes, sizes, subjects and mediums - for example, a squalling bronze baby behind a classical marble head and in front of a clay model for a Stalinist era statue: this is an incredibly effective means of conveying the diversity of humanity that you find even in a closely confined space, and I found it very moving. I also have to confess that walking up and down the lines and looking over shoulders reminded me of my days envigilating exams when I was a university lecturer!
KUMU has a restaurant and a cafe - neither of which we had the opportunity to try - as well as a terrace which must be lovely in good weather.
Don't miss KUMU - it really is one of Tallinn's highlights, and an interesting counterpoint to the medieval character of the city centre, as well as being an excuse for an outing to lovely Kadriorg.
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