Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Farewell 2019, Hello 2020

As 2019 comes to a close and the dawn of a new decade is upon us, its time to reflect at the year that was and take any lessons learnt into the new year. Some of you may have had a wonderful year and achieved great things, some of you may have struggled whilst others may have experienced loss in some way. For me, I had some nice moments during 2019 but it was also the year I lost my mother and so I will always remember 2019 with some sadness. I feel very optimistic about 2020, I see myself doing many wonderful things but it saddens me that my mother won't be there to share it with us. She loved to be a part of everything.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Piparkoogid - always a favourite at Christmas time

It's always nice to hear from readers who appreciate my blog posts. Colin in Australia recently contacted me to say he has been using my piparkoogid recipe for the past six years with great success.  This year he shared some of his delicious biscuits with some of his Estonian friends who were thrilled to taste them as they reminded them of home. They brought such joy!

Colin kindly sent me these photos. His piparkoogid look amazing!

His friends were so impressed that they gave Colin this baking award.
Well done Colin! Proud of you!

Neil in Ireland also contacted me during the festive season. He and his Estonian wife Triin love to bake piparkoogid with their two children at Christmas time. Neil gets his dough sent over from his in-laws in Estonia. It doesn't get any more authentic than that!  

Thanks for sharing everyone! Have a wonderful 2020!

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Merry Christmas! Häid Jõule!

Christmas is the most important holiday celebrated in Estonia. For Estonians, Christmas is a mixture of the traditional, the modern, the secular and the religious. Everyone starts their celebrations today. Merry Christmas everyone! Enjoy the festivities!

Saturday, 21 December 2019

How to make Glögi - Estonian mulled wine

A favourite drink at Christmas time is of course mulled wine. The hot beverage is known by many names in different countries, in Estonia it's glögi, Scandinavians call it glögg and for German speakers it's known as Glühwein. Although glögi and Glühwein are similar in nature, there are two major differences between the drinks. Glögi has a stronger alcohol content compared to Glühwein and water is not added to the mix when it is made.

If you have tried glögi while you have been in Estonia and would like to try making it for yourself, here is an easy recipe for you to follow. Glögi is a traditional Estonian Christmas drink that is wonderfully delicious and will indeed get you feeling merry!

Glögi recipe

One bottle (750ml) sweet red wine
100ml spirit (vodka, rum, brandy or whisky)
8 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 orange (squeezed plus zest)
1 lemon (squeezed plus zest)
3 slices fresh ginger
Cardamom seeds from two pods
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp nutmeg
10 tbsp almonds
10 tbsp raisins

In a large saucepan pour the wine, orange and lemon juice then add the cloves, cardamom seeds, ginger, cinnamon, nutneg and sugar. Add your spirit of choice then mix in a bit of citrus zest. Cook on medium heat for 10 minutes to allow the sugar to disolve and flavours to blend together in the wine. Do not boil otherwise the alcohol will evaporate. Place almonds and raisins in each mug. To serve, strain the mix and pour over the almonds and raisins. Ensure you have a spoon at hand to scoop them up at the end.

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Estonian video game Disco Elysium wins big at Games Awards 2019

Estonia may not be known for its video games but a few days ago the team at AZ / UM won four times at the Games Awards 2019 held in Los Angeles. AZ / UM  took home more awards than anyone else on the night making Disco Elysium one of the most successful video games of the year. Disco Elysium won Best Narrative, Best Independent Game, Best RPG and Fresh Indie Game (ZA/UM). 

Disco Elysium was released in October 2019 and is praised for its depth, memorable characters, customisation, and storytelling.  Disco Elysium is a role playing video game in which the player is a detective that solves  a crime.  

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

6 things you didn't know about Estonia

1. The world's first Christmas tree was erected on Tallinn's Town Hall Square in 1441.
It was a tradition started by Baltic German merchants who decorated the first tree with fruits and small toys. The tradition soon became popular in Germany then spread throughout the world after Queen Victoria in England had a Christmas tree placed in her palace (at Albert's request).

2. Many Estonians have 'kodu nimi's' (home names). This is an affectionate name used within the family that starts at childhood and sometimes continues through to adulthood. Sometimes the kodu nimi resembles the first name or sometimes it is a completely different name. For example my grandfather's name is Alexander but everyone in the family called him 'Buba'. My father's kodunimi is 'Didi' and my cousin Ralf was often called 'Kroosu'. Names such Juhan often have the kodunimi 'Juku' and Jaanus, 'Jansu'.

3. The Estonia word for football is 'Jalgpall'.  Leg ball.

4.  Santa Claus is called 'Jõuluvana'. This word literally means Christmas old.

5. Estonia has one of the largest collections of folk songs in the world. Over 133,000 songs on record.

6.  The coldest temperature ever recorded in Estonia was -43.5C on 17 January 1940 in Jõgeva.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Estonian Christmas gift ideas for 2019

It is hard to believe that Christmas is only a few weeks away and another year is almost over. Where has the time gone? Now that we are all starting to prepare for the festive season,  no doubt Christmas gift ideas are not far from our minds. If you are having trouble deciding what you buy your loved ones this year, here are a few suggestions.

2019 was a big year for Anton Hansen Tammsaare's Truth & Justice (Tõde ja õigus). Volume I was published for the first time in an English translated paperback.

In celebration of EV100 a new Truth & Justice film was released in cinemas earlier this year and is now available on DVD.

For those fluent in Estonian, a new complete edition of Tõde ja õigu is now available in bookstores.

In terms of music, Jaak Joala's  'Arm mu ainus aare' is the number one selling album in Estonia at the moment.

For those who missed this year's Estonian Song Festival, this might interest you.

If you like collector coins, this is definitely one to add to the collection.

When celebrating, you can never go wrong with a bottle of Vana Tallinn.

Always practical - an Estonian wall calendar.

Or, if you are like me and love Estonian handicrafts, something from The Estonian Handicraft House might interest you.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Estonian education ranked 1st in Europe

Here's an interesting article published by the BBC about Estonia's education system. Pupils in Estonia have outperformed teenagers in other European countries in Pisa tests. Great news!

To read the full article, please click here: Pisa rankings: Why Estonian pupils shine in global tests

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Estonian chocolate maker wins prestigious award

Chocolala, an Estonian confectioner based in Tallinn has won silver and bronze medals at the International Chocolate Awards that were recently held in Italy. Chocolala won silver at the  World Final for their dark chocolate balsamic vinegar ganache truffle and bronze for their lemon, honey, rosemary caramel fruit paste. This is the fourth year Chocolala has won at the competition.

Chocolala is located at Suur-Karja 20 in Tallinn. The premises feature a shop, chocolate museum and workshop. They are open everyday. 

For more information, please refer to their website: Chocolala

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Bank of Estonia releases new University of Tartu commemorative coin

A new two-euro coin went into circulation yesterday dedicated to the centenary of the first Estonian language university. The University of Tartu was built in 1632 and in the early days of the Republic of Estonia, it layed the foundation for higher education in the Estonian language and made an immeasurable contribution to the development of the Estonian state, society and culture. 

As 100 years have now passed since this important event, the Bank of Estonia has minted one million commemorative coins of which 17,500 are of high quality BU finish (brilliant uncirculated) and available on a coin card.

A postage stamp dedicated to the Estonian language university was also put on sale yesterday.  Both the coin and the stamp were designed by artist Indrek Ilves.

Monday, 18 November 2019

The Tallinn Christmas Market is now open!

Earlier this year the Tallinn Christmas Market was voted the best Christmas market in Europe. Now, with the start of the new season, the Tallinn Christmas Market can delight people once again as it was officially opened on Friday. Estonia was the first country in the world to have a Christmas tree erected in the Town Square, it's a tradition that dates back to 1441. On Friday the new Christmas tree on Tallinn's Town Hall Square was lit up for the first time. 

The Tallinn Christmas Market offers an excellent selection of Estonian food, drink and locally made handicrafts.  Live music and entertainment is held regularly on stage and Santa's house is a must-see. The Tallinn Christmas Market is open everyday until 7th January 2020 

Saturday, 16 November 2019

How to weave baskets the Estonian way

I love handicrafts, especially Estonian handicrafts. This video demonstrates the art of basket making using Estonian native materials. The video is in Estonian with English subtitles.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

The forgotten work of Johannes Letzmann

Estonia has produced many great minds over the course of its history but not all of them have received the recognition they deserved. One such man was Dr. Johannes Letzmann, a pioneering Estonian meterologist in the field of tornado research.  Letzmann's research in the 1920s and 1930s into severe storms and atmospheric vortices was far more extensive than anything which had been conducted in the United States at that time.

Johannes Peter Letzmann
19th July 1885 - 21st May 1971

Johannes Letzmann studied meteorology at the University of Tartu from 1906 - 1913. His career studying tornadoes began in 1918 when he met the esteemed scientist Alfred Wegener who introduced him to his copious European tornado climatological and other studies. In 1924 Letzmann was awarded a PhD by The University of Helsinki.

Letzmann conducted most of his research in Tartu however he did spend a year at the University of Graz with Wegener in 1928. Eleven years later Letzmann was offered the position of professor of meteorology at the University of Graz which he held until 1945. While there he built a "Forschungsstelle für atmosphärische Wirbel" (Research Centre for atmospheric whirls). After World War Two Letzmann could not return to Soviet-occupied Estonia so he chose to remain in Austria.

In 1962 Letzmann retired and spent the rest of his days in a hostel for Baltic Germans located in Langeroog, Germany. For decades Letzmann's work lay forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1990s.

In 1991 Richard E. Peterson from Texas Tech Universtiy published this 19-page biography about the immense value of Letzmann's work, complete with photographs, drawings and charts: Johannes Letzmann: A Pioneer in the Study of Tornadoes 

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall

Thirty years ago today the Berlin Wall was torn down. When it stood, it was among history’s darkest symbols of a divided Europe. When it fell, it became the beginning of the end of communist tyranny and led to the path for Estonia to regain its independence.Thirty years ago today Europe changed for the better, the world changed.  The wait was finally over.

The Foriegn Ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania released this joint statement.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

FIA World Rally Champions 2019: Ott Tänak & Martin Järveoja

After winning race after race across Europe this year Ott Tänak has been named FIA World Champion for 2019 with his co-driver Martin Järveoja. Ott will now go down in history for being the first Estonian to win the World Rally Championship. Ott has made Estonia so very proud! Congratulations!

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Ancient gold bracelet found in Saaremaa

Earlier last month amateur archaeologist Jegor Klimov made the discovery of a lifetime. With the aid of his metal detector he came across  a 1700 year old sacifical site on the island of Saaremaa. The site contained a treasure trove of ancient artifacts including silver and gold plated brooches and belt plagues but the most exciting item amongst the collection was the massive gold bracelet that dates back to the 3rd century. Nothing like this has been found in Estonia before.  It's a rare find. 

The value of the bracelet is believed to be between  €300,000 - €400,000.

Friday, 25 October 2019

PiparkoogiMaania / Gingerbreadmania 2019/2020

The theme for this year's exhibition at PiparkoogiMaania has been named 'Mythology'.  The month long exhibition held annually in Tallinn will see a variety of delicious  treats crafted into mythological creatures and objects relating to Estonian folklore. The exhibition opens on 5th December 2019.

Mütoloogia / Mythology

More information about opening hours, prices and workshops can be found on the PiparkoogiMaania website Pparkoogimaania.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Death in Estonia

Following on from my last entry, here are some useful terms and facts relating to death in Estonia.  Currently the Estonian death rate stands at 11.9% per 1000 of the population. According to the latest figures released by the Estonian Bureau of Statistics, over 14,000 people died in Estonia last year.

Traditionally Estonans prefer to be buried rather than cremated and their are certain customs associated with that. Preparing the body for the burial and selecting the right clothes is very important. After the funeral a feast follows in honour of the departed. It is also common in Estonia to take photographs at funerals as it is generally one of the few times, apart from weddings, when the whole family gathers.

Monday, 21 October 2019

My absence...

If anyone has been wondering why I haven't written much during the past few months, there is a very good reason. My mother has been very ill and sadly she passed away in August. I flew to her side twice this year and have spent the past three months in Australia, caring for her and then her affairs. It has been a very sad time for me and my family. Her demise is still incredibly shocking to me as my mother was the healthiest person I knew - by far. She didn't drink, smoke, always ate very well, lots of healthy fruits and vegetables and walked a lot. She avoided chemicals, excess sun exposure and medications. She didn't even like to take Panadol for a headache. That's how health conscious she was. So for her to have a tumour in her kidney, then develop a secondary cancer near her stomach is truly shocking for me. People who lead healthy lifestyles don't deserve to get sick. It's not right. I always thought my mother would live well into her 90s, like her aunt. Sadly she only made it to 70.

I'm no stranger to grief and loss, I have experienced it before but pain has a way of lingering until you find a way to deal with it. Having my mother's things around me does provide comfort and I always like to have lots of photos on display. I've made a nice little shrine dedicated to my mother on my window sill. Candles shine bright in her memory. 

Losing a mother is a significant event in one's life. It' happened to me much earlier than I expected which is why I feel so overwhelmed and shocked. Christmas will be tough for me this year as will be all future birthdays as our birthdays were a day apart. We shared many bonds and that was just one of them. 

Monday, 14 October 2019

Baltic Cup Tallinn 2019

Last week I was sitting in the lounge room with my family in Sydney when my youngest brither rang to say he was in Tallinn. I had no idea he was in Estonia and to my surprise he was there playing AFL representing Poland! I couldn't believe it! For the past few years he has been living in Ktakow so it made sense that he would be playing for the Polish Devils. No doubt he was the only Estonian on the team! I'm so proud of my brother! 

My brother rang wanting our father to help him brush up on his Estonian. I heard the word 'naised' spoken so I had a fair idea what the plan was after the game! The lads had a great time in Tallinn.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Fragments of 100 Viking swords unearthed in north Estonia - ERR NEWS

Archaeologists have discovered fragments of about a hundred Viking swords, the largest find of Viking swords in Estonia to date, in northern Estonia.

The fragments were found in two closely located sites in a coastal area of north Estonia, in the territory of the ancient Estonian county of Ravala, late last autumn. 

The finds consisted of dozens of items, mostly fragments of swords and a few spearheads. 

Mauri Kiudsoo, archaeologist and keeper of the archaeological research collection of Tallinn University, told BNS the two sites were located just 80 metres apart. The swords date from the middle of the 10th century and are probably cenotaphs, grave markers dedicated to people buried elsewhere.

The reason why the swords were not found intact, Kiudsoo said, is due to the burial customs of the time. It is characteristic of finds in Estonia from the period that weapons were put into the graves broken or rendered unusable.

While the Ravala fragments constitute the biggest find of Viking-era weapons in Estonia, more important according to Kiudsoo, is the fact that the grips of the swords allow us to determine which type of swords they are. They have been identified as H-shaped double-edged swords. This type of sword was the most common type in the Viking era and over 700 have been found in northern Europe.

Kiudsoo said that by 1991, eight more or less intact type H swords and about 20 fragments had been discovered in Estonia but the number has risen to about 100. The overwhelming majority of the Estonian finds have come to light on the country's north coast, which lies by the most important remote trade route of the Viking era. 

Since the Ravala finds date from the middle of the 10th century they prove for the first time that type H swords were in use in the territory of Estonia in the 10th century, Kuidsoo said. 

Source; ERR NEWS

Sunday, 11 August 2019

The 27th Estonian Song Festival (2019)

If you weren't able to make it to Tallinn this year for the 150th anniversary of the Estonian Song Festival, then you can watch the spectacular event here. It's simply wonderful!

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Kaitseliit: The Estonian Defence League

Today I am going to write about the Estonian Defence League known as the Kaitseliit. I am proud knowing that my grandfather Alexander was a member of the Kaitseliit's Tallinn brigade (malev) from 1938 until 1939. His unit was the Põhja Malevkond. In 2004 this unit was renamed Põhja Kompanii.

What is the Kaitseliit?

The Estonian Defence League is a voluntary national defence organisation operating in the jurisdiction of the Estonian Ministry of Defence, organised in accordance with military principles, possessing weapons and holding exercises of a military nature. The purpose of the Defence League is to enhance, by relying on free will and self-initiative, the readiness of the nation to defend the independence of Estonia.

Estonian Defence League troops at the parade in Tartu (1925)

The Kaitseliit was established on 11th November 1918 and operational in Estonia until 1940 when the country was occupied by the Soviet Union. In 1990 the organisation was restored. The Kaitseliit is divided into 15 regional units called malevs whose areas mostly correspond with the borders of Estonia's counties.

The League has 16,000 members. Together with its affiliated organisations Women's Voluntary Defence Organisation (Naiskodukaitse), Young Eagles (Noored Kotkad) and Home Daughters (Kodutütred), the Estonian Defence League has a total of 26,000 volunteers.

Last year saw the Kaitseliit celebrate its 100th birthday.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Thousands Gather in Tartu for Song Festival

Almost 20,000 people attended the main concert of the Tartu Song Festival on Saturday, the first event to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Song and Dance Festival.

Around 9,000 singers and musicians, and the same number of spectators, gathered in the city's song festival grounds after a procession through the town. 

The line-up featured songs by well known composers such as Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis, Gustav Ernesaks, and Miina Härma, which were accompanied by the Vanemuine Symphony Orchestra. 

Speeches inspired by the first song festival were made by President Kersti Kaljulaid, and poets, writers, editors, from Finland, Latvia, and Estonia.   

The Song and Dance Celebration will take place at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds from July 4 to July 7. Dancers and choirs from around the world will take part in the celebrations. 

The first nationwide song festival was held in Tartu in 1869 and has taken place every five years since. The concerts are featured on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Source: ERR NEWS

You can watch some of the procession here:

Sunday, 23 June 2019

What is JAANIPÄEV? (St. John’s Day in Estonia)

One of my favourite Estonian YouTubers, Artur Rehi, made this video about Jaanipäev. Tonight Estonians will come together and party until the early hours of the morning. Tomorrow is a public holiday in Estonia that goes to show just how important Jaanipäev is in Estonian culture.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Estonian Javelin Thrower Magnus Kirt Shines at the Ostrava International Athletics Competition

29-year-old Magnus Kirt holds the Estonian record for javelin throwing at 89.75m, yesterday in the Czech Republic he beat that record at 90.34m. That's an excellent result and he's left handed too!

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Johannes Carl Assmuth: the man behind the winning choir of the first Estonian Song Festival

As the 150th anniversary of the Estonian Song Festival approaches, now is the time to take a look at its history. The event originally began in Tartu as a competition for male church choirs and brass bands and has since bloomed into something much bigger and spectacular. Today,  male, female, children and mixed choirs  participate in the event dressed in the national costume.

Tallinn's Jaani Kirik (St.John's Church)
Produced fine male choirs.

Singing has always been apart of Estonian culture and Estonia can boast one of the largest collections of folk song in the world.  Johann Voldemar Jannsen initiated the first Estonian Song Festival as part of the Estonian National Awakening movement. His daughter Lydia Koidula penned the lyrics “Mu isamaa on minu arm”, a song that performed regularly to this day.

For centuries the church played an important role in Estonian lives. Local parishes were the keepers of family records and song often united people. By the 1860s the men's choir at St. John's Church in Tallinn had earned itself a reputation of producing fine singers. The cantor of that church Joahnnes Carl Assmuth (my fourth great uncle) was a respected man in Tallinn at the time and was the head of the men's choir. When his church heard the news about the first ever Estonian Song Festival they decided to take part in the event. It wasn't an easy task however, they had to borrow wagons for the journey to Tartu, which in those days took four days. It was well worth it though for they won the competition!

Elfriede Lender, the founder of the first Estonian-language girls' school in Estonia and wife of former Tallinn Mayor Voldemar Lender, had this to say about Johannes Assmuth:

'I liked the clerk of St. John's Church, Assmuth, who looked like a clergyman with his intelligent face and great beard. He was a well-known figure in Tallinn and considered to be a great story, especially as he had the same surname as one of St. John's Church's teachers (Alexander Carl Woldemar Assmuth (1845 - 1929). People used to talk about them having the same family name and differentiated them by saying the teacher was German and the cantor was Estonian'. 

("Ka meeldis mulle Jaani kiriku köster Asmuth, kes oma intelligentse näo ja suure habemega nägi välja nagu vaimulik. Ta oli tuntud kuju Tallinnas ja temast peeti õige palju lugu, eriti veel sellepärast, et tal oli sama liignimi kui ühel Jaani kiriku õpetajaist (Alexander Carl Woldemar Assmuth (1845 - 1929)). Inimesed arutasid omavahel, et sakslasel ja eestlasel oli sama liignimi, seega peeti õpetajat sakslaseks, köstrit eestlaseks. -- Elfriede Lender:.)

Song Festival Grounds Tallinn

The Estonian Song Festival is a truly wonderful event cherished by all Estonians. Every five years the event takes place and sees tens of thousands of people singing together. It is a magical, emotional and deeply enriching spectacle to behold.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Saturday, 15 June 2019

78 years since the June 1941 Soviet deportations

Around 10 000 people were deported from Estonia by Soviet authorities on 14 June 1941. While embarking trains fathers were separated from their wives and children and taken to labour camps. The members of their families were mostly deported to the Kirov and Novosibirsk oblasts of the USSR. Many families were never able to reunite. This video interviews survivors who were deported in 1941 and 1949.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Remembering the victims of the Soviet mass deportations

Today Estonia honours the victims of the June mass deportation with a “Sea of Tears” in Tallinn. On the 14th of June 1941 the Soviet authorities deported approximately 11,000 people, including children and the elderly to remoted areas in Siberia. Many perished in the harsh conditions, few made it home. Such crimes should never be forgotten.

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Estonia ranked the best country in the world for digital life

Estonia ranks 1st out of 68 countries when it comes to the best and worst countries to live a connected life. This is according to the first Digital Life Abroad Report from the biggest online expatriate network, InterNations, which broke down the best and worst countries to live a digital life abroad.

The results, based on the group’s annual expat insider survey, reveal Estonia, Finland, Norway, Denmark and New Zealand are tops when it comes to offering a digital environment. Expats in these countries are very satisfied with their unrestricted access to online services and the possibility to pay without cash almost anywhere.

Monday, 10 June 2019

Nedsaja Küla Bänd - Sinna ja tänna

A few years ago I attended the Ostrova Music Festival and had a fantastic time. It was so unlike anything I had experienced before. I would love to go back again but unfortunately I can't this year. Here's one of the bands due to perform on July 20.  Sounds good!

Friday, 7 June 2019

Estonia gains a seat at the UN Security Council

Fantastic news! Estonia has gained a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for 2020-2021, following a vote at the international body's headquarters in New York.

To learn more, you can read the full ERR News story here: Estonia gains non-permanent UN Security Council seat Well done Estonia!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Estonian students win the European Statistics Competition

What's Estonia like, according to a team of Estonian high school students? What do official statistics tell us? Students from Hugo Treffner Gymnasium in Tartu explain it all in their award-winning video.

Over 12000 students from 14 countries participated in the competition. In the senior age group (16-18), the first prize went to team Radiaator (Estonia). Their video effectively compares Estonia to its European neighbours in a fresh and extremely well executed animated production. Their clever visuals and overall message convinced the jury to award them first place.

Winners of 'Laulupidu 2069' drawing contest revealed

Yesterday the winners of the drawing competition  'Laulupidu 2069' were announced. 720 drawings were submitted from children across Estonia depicting the song festival of the future. Three winners were chosen from each age category and the drawings are currently on display at the Solaris Shopping Centre in Tallinn. 

Estonia definitely has some talented young artists. Here are some of the winning entries.

By Anton Žigadlo

By Anita Nõmmiste

By Igor Zolin

By Merilin Poll

By Melissa Veetõusme

More information about the compeition can be found here: