Friday, 31 January 2014

Friedrich Kreutzwald - The Father of Estonian Literature

A few weeks ago I made the interesting discovery that the famous Estonian writer Friedrich Kreutzwald is in my family tree. He is not a blood relative but his cousin married into my family, hence making us related by marriage. He is a key figure in Estonian literature, as Shakespeare and Chaucer are in English, and I am thrilled to have this association with him.

If you are Estonian, you will know exactly who Friedrich Kreutzwald is. If you're not then here's a summary.

Friedrich Kreutzwald is the author of the first original work written in the Estonian language. He is considered the father of Estonian literature and was one of the leaders of Estonia's national awakening as well as a driving force in Estonian intellectual life.

26th December 1803 - 25th August 1882

Born on Boxing Day 1803 in Kadrina parish, Viru county, Friedrich Kreutzwald was the son of a farmer. As a boy he attended Rakvere district school and completed his high school education in Tallinn. For several years Kreutzwald worked as a teacher in both Tallinn and St.Petersburg before furthering his studies at Tartu University.  In 1833 he graduated in the field of medicine and married his sweetheart Marie Saedler in the same year. They later had three children - Alexis, Adelheid and Marie. For 44 years Kreutzwald was the town physician in Võru and received many honorary doctorates for his work.

In addition to his successful medical career Kreutzwald was also a prolific writer. One of his most famous works is the national epic "Kalevipoeg" which is based on Estonian folklore. Kreutzwald penned many moralistic folk stories that earned him a great amount of acclaim as a writer.

Some of Kreutzwald's works include:
Plague of Wine (1840)
The World and Some Things One Can Find in it (1849)
Reynard the Fox (1850)
Wise Men of Gotham (1857)
Old Estonian Fairy-Tales (1866)

Kreutzwald died in Tartu in 1882 and many monuments have been errected in his honour. They can be found at Kadriorg Park in Tallinn, Vabaduse Puiestee in Tartu as well as in his home town of Võru. To further pay tribute to his work, streets have been named after him, postage stamps have been released bearing his image (1938 & 2003) and even a hotel in Tallinn has been named in his honour.

Monument commemorating the work of Kreutzwald in Võru

Friedrich Kreutzwald has made a priceless contribution to Estonian literature which will be enjoyed by many generations to come. 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Joys of Searching on Osta

A few weeks ago I was looking on the Estonian auction website Osta in search of some of my great grandfather's postcards when quite by chance, I came across an old Tartu school girls photograph. As my grandmother was born in Tartu I was naturally curious to take a look at the photo. When I clicked on the link,  I was surprised to see my grandmothers face staring back at me. I couldn't believe it! I contacted my father and uncle immediately to get their opinion to determine whether it is in fact her, and the consensus was - it is! It was a great find on Osta and I'm so very happy I found it.

However, I am still unable to determine which school these girls belonged to, if anyone knows, please contact me via Facebook.

As for my great grandfather's postcards, I am yet to buy one from Osta. Every time I manage to locate one, I'm always too late and disappointed to find the auction has ended. The good news is however, my wonderful cousin Jaanus recently attended a stamp/coin/postcard fair in Tallinn and met a collector who owned five of my great grandfather's postcards! He sold Jaanus three of them but didn't want to part with the other two.  Now I have these postcards in my collection, making me a very happy woman indeed!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The best things in life are free!

Hugs, laughter, sharing, family, happiness, love, kisses and friendship.
Very true!

Thursday, 23 January 2014


Tallinn 4-6 July 2014 

This is the story of time manifesting itself in our ancestors’ heritage and us shaping our time through our own touches, contacts, caresses and impacts.
Song and dance celebrations are an old and very important tradition for Estonia and Estonians (the first song celebration took place in 1869 and the first dance celebration in 1934) and these celebrations are nowadays held every five years. In 2003 our tradition of song and dance celebrations was entered to UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Read the history of Estonian Song and Dance Celebration.

Ticket sales will begin on February 1, 2014.

Information about the beginning of the ticket sales:

The programme

Friday, 4 July 2014.

2 p.m.  ­ The main rehearsal-performance of the 19th dance celebration Puudutus (The Touch). Location: Tallinn, Kalev Central Stadium. Length: about 2 hours. Open air. Admission with tickets.
6 p.m. ­ The first performance of the 19th dance celebration Puudutus (The Touch). Location: Tallinn, Kalev Central Stadium. Length: about 2 hours. Open air. Admission with tickets.

Saturday 5th of July 2014

11 a.m. The second performance of the 19th dance celebration Puudutus (The Touch). Location: Tallinn, Kalev Central Stadium. Length: about 2 hours. Open air. Admission with tickets.
2 p.m. ­ Procession. The route of the about 5-kilometer-long procession has its beginning in the centre of town and the procession will end at Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. The procession can be followed by everyone without a ticket throughout the whole length of the procession.
8 p.m.  The first concert of the 26th song celebration Aja puudutus (Touched by Time). Location: Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. Length: about 4 hours. Open air. Admission with tickets. The beginning of the concert is estimated. The concert will begin right after the end of the procession.

Sunday 6th of July 2014

11 a.m. The third performance of the 19th dance celebration Puudutus (The Touch).  Location: Tallinn, Kalev Central Stadium. Length: about 2 hours. Open air. Admission with tickets.
12 a.m. The second concert of the 26th song celebration Puudutuse aeg (The Time to Touch). Location: Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. Length: about 7 hours. Open air. Admission with tickets.
The performances and concerts of the song and dance celebration are held in the open air. 
In the course of three days the participants of the dance celebration (altogether about 8,500 performers) will give three identical performances (on the 4th, 5th and 6th of July). All of the performances take place in Tallinn, at Kalev Central Stadium, and the number of seats is limited. The audience will watch the performances on the grandstands of the stadium.
The joint procession of the song and dance celebration participants will take place on July the 5th and The procession will begin in the centre of Tallinn and will then proceed to Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. The journey from the centre of town to the Song Festival Grounds is about 5 kilometres long and it can be followed by everyone without a ticket throughout the whole length of the journey.
The procession will be followed by the 1st concert of the song celebration at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. The concert begins with joint choirs (altogether about 20 000 performers). This year the concert will be about 4 hours long and the repertoire will consist of the beloved Estonian choral music performed at song celebrations over the years. The audience needs to purchase tickets to listen to the concert.
The 2nd concert of the song celebration will take place on the 6th of July. This concert is about seven hours long and will consist of the performances of various choir types and orchestras.The audience needs to purchase tickets to listen to this concert, as well.
Different tickets can be purchased for the song celebration concerts. The first rows are usually equipped with individual seats. The rows behind these seats are equipped with benches and the area behind the benches – the biggest area of the song festival ground – is for those who buy a general admission ticket.
The prices of the song and dance celebration tickets will most probably be in the range of 10 to 25 Euros.
It is important to note that no matter what the weather conditions the performances will all take place in the open air.
Therefore, considering the changing nature of the weather in Estonia in summer, the audience must be prepared both for very hot sunny weather as well as for wind and rain.
It is highly probable that umbrellas and other such items are not be allowed to the song and dance celebration performances, hence the audience needs to wear suitable clothes and take along a raincoat, just in case.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Estonian Love Quotes

I've always been fond of inspirational quotes and cute romantic expressions however finding then written in the Estonian language can often be tricky. I've managed to locate a few online that I find quite touching and deem worth sharing.

English translation - "One of the best moments in life is seeing the other person smiling....and even more beautiful is knowing that you are the reason for that smile."

Translation - "The best things in life are the people you love, the places you've seen, and the memories you've made along the way."

Translation - "At the right moment, one quiet hug is worth a thousand words."

Translation - "Happiness is to feel the joy of life. Happiness is when you can share the joys. Happiness is when you love, and fall in love. Happiness is when someone is on your side."

Translation - "You came into my life like a morning sun what wiped away the darkness of the lonely nights."

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

An Estonian Pioneer - Elvy Kalep - Estonia's First Female Pilot

Not everyone is aware of the story of Elvy Kalep. She was a courageous woman with an adventurous heart who was also quite talented artistically. As Estonia's first female pilot Elvy Kalep was an inspiration in the aviation industry.

Born Alvine Johanna Kalep in Parnu county in 1899, Elvy was an only child. Known to get up to a bit of mischief in her youth, Elvy was sent to Russia in 1916 to stay with an aunt but got caught up in the Russian revolution. She was eye witness to some horrific events. Elvy was later evacuated and spent time living in China before returning to Estonia in 1926.

On the 1st of August 1931 Elvy Kalep passed her final flying exam and became the first Estonian woman to receive a professional pilot's licence.

During her flying career Elvy toured North Africa, Asia and Europe and was good friends with American pilot Amelia Earhart. Elvy was involved in the promotion of aviation during the 1930s and joined 98 other women to form the group known as the "Ninety-Nines" which is now an international organisation.

Elvy with Amelia Earhart and fellow pilots

Roller skating at a promotional function

In 1936 Elvy combined her love of flying and writing and published the childrens book "Air Babies".

Later in life Elvy made a living from her leather paintings which were sold around the world. She died in the USA in 1989 at age 90. 

Further reading:,3269383

Friday, 3 January 2014

Memorial Day for the Those Who Fought in the Estonian War of Independence

There are several days in the Estonian calendar which mark pivotal events in the country's history. Today is one of them.  On the 3rd of January 1920 at 10:20am, the ceasefire which marked the end of the Estonian War of Independence was declared. This news was greeted by wild jubilation all across Estonia.

The Estonian Army which fought in the War of Independence consisted purely of volunteers. The war claimed 5,000 Estonian lives and left 15,000 injured. Many Finnish soldiers and the British Royal Navy also aided the Estonians in their quest for freedom.

Memorial services will be held all throughout Estonia today in rememberance of our brave soldiers who secured our beloved country's freedom and independence. All Estonians are deeply grateful for these soldiers' courage, commitment and sacrifice. They will never be forgotten.

The Estonian Army High Command who led Estonia to victory

The very first Estonian Independence Day celebrations in 1920

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The Extinction of the Baltic German Population in Estonia

For over 700 years Baltic Germans called Estonia home.  The first Germans came in the 12th Century with the Christianisation of Eastern and Northern Europe and further waves of German-speaking merchants, crusaders and missionaries came in the decades that followed.  Their descendants would later make up the local German-speaking population which remained in Estonia and Latvia for countless generations thereafter.

The Baltic Germans formed the social, political and commercial elite in the territories which later became Estonia and Latvia.  The descendants of the crusaders formed the population of feudal landowners and the traders’ descendants formed the urban elite.  Indigenous Estonians and Latvians were for many centuries serfs and did not enjoy the same rights that the German minority did.  As influential as the Germans were, they never comprised more than 10% of the local population.

Both Estonia and Latvia have been occupied by foreign empires for most of their documented histories including the Danish, Swedish and Russian empires and later the Soviet Union.  The German minority managed to hold on to their hegemony throughout the centuries, even as the lands they controlled fell to other powers.  The various empires essentially gave them free rein or stewardship over the lands.  Their privileged position came to an end with the rise of Estonian and Latvian nationalism in the early 20th Century and the birth of the independent Baltic States.  Since the Germans had lived relatively peacefully alongside the respective indigenous populations, many of them stayed and took on either Estonian or Latvian citizenship, successfully integrating into life in the young independent republics.  Many Baltic Germans intermarried with the local populations over the centuries and their descendants came to love Estonia and Latvia as their own countries, despite their German ethnicity.

The rise of Nazism in Germany and Stalinism in the Soviet Union would, however, permanently alter the destiny of the Baltic Germans.  Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s and ambitions of conquering Europe led him to sign a secret pact with Stalin known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.  Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania fell under the Soviet “sphere of influence” and Hitler successfully persuaded the great majority of Baltic Germans to resettle in newly conquered Polish lands which had been annexed to the German Reich, before the Soviet invasion which occurred in 1940.  Any Baltic German who wanted to emigrate could.

Many Germans did not want to leave the only home they had ever known with the first wave but once the Soviets had occupied the Baltic countries, many Germans got a taste of how horrific life would be under Soviet rule and petitioned the German government to be allowed to resettle.  This resulted in a second wave of resettlement to the new “German” lands known as the Nachsiedlung and effectively emptied the Baltic region of nearly all its ethnic Germans.

Soviet occupation after WWII from 1945 to 1991 meant that the Baltic Germans never returned and ceased to exist as a separate ethnic group.  However, their legacy in Estonia and Latvia remains with the many manor houses they built, language (30% of Estonian vocabulary comes from Low German), work ethic and Lutheran Christianity.  

© Tania Lestal 2014

Baltic Germans leaving Estonia in 1939

Baltic German resettlement