Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Outdoor exhibition on the streets of Kalamaja “Lost Fragments of Kalamaja. Pictures from family photo albums”

I was very happy to learn about this exhibition today as my family used to live in Kalamaja. For over twenty years, from 1918-1941 my grandfather's uncle, aunt, cousins and grandmother all lived at Köie 1a-1. A former neighbour, Riina, lived in the same building as my family and recounts her childhood there.

My grandfather Alexander with his parents outside Köie 1a in 1923.

Riina - Life at Köie 1a during the 1930s/40s

In 1918, Riina’s mother moved with her mother and father to one of the many Lender-type rental houses that belonged to businessman Wahl. The daughter of the family, who had studied to become a business servant, married a long-distance sea captain and they too settled in the same house. They had two daughters: Riina (born 1941) and Katrin (born 1947).

There were eight apartments with water closet and two with dry toilets in the basement in the Köie 1a building. It was said that Wahl had ordered the project designs of the buildings directly from the architecture bureau of mayor Lender and had the Suur-Laagri, Vana-Kalamaja and Köie street houses built in a square formation. The backyard of each house had a garden with flowerbeds and bushes. Later, the garden parts were removed and the area between the houses became one common courtyard where over 30 children of the area would play! There were also Russian families in the Köie 1a building, but all children talked to each other in Estonian. There was no fighting. Sometimes the girls would organise performances in the yard, they even sold tickets. The girls also played rotten egg, hide-and-seek, double dutch, hopscotch, ball and uka-uka.

The older children made the so-called slaube in the corner of the yard, where they would sit, smoke and listen to the Voice of America on the radio. Sometimes they played volleyball or basketball. Younger children had their own playground in the yard; the smallest ones had a sandbox. The children of the entire area were attracted to play here also because of the so-called Tarzan rope hanging on the big willow tree and which they used to swoosh down from the roof of the shed. They went to watch the Tarzan starring Johnny Weissmüller in the Lembitu cinema on Kopli street for all the pocket money they had earned and for many times. When they played spies, the bigger children would sometimes let the smaller ones in. Some would hide themselves and the others would look for them. They would play across half of Kalamaja, through cellars, over fences and it would take many hours. The bigger boys did shot put, trained with dumbbells, played chess, corona, table tennis and had fights with the hoodlums of Pelgulinn. One of the boys had a girlfriend there and when he sometimes walked her home, it would often end in with a fight.

Riina’s grandmother (born 1887) who was extremely caring towards all people and animals sometimes called the children from the yard to eat in the kitchen or sent pies or sprat sandwiches out to the yard. Grandmother would flavour the sprats with the famous spice mixture of Tallinn sprats that she brought from work at the fish factory. In addition to the kick sleds and heating materials, they held two barrels in the basement – one for sauerkraut and the other for salted mushrooms. The basement also housed the common laundry with a big cast iron pot and laundry roll. At home, it was Riina’s job to clean the copper door handles and curtain holders, take out ashes from under the stove. When grandmother would make ice cream with the ice cream machine, Riina had to crank. Grandmother, who was called áma, was able to make delicious food out of nothing. Riina’s favourites were minced meat sauce with boiled potatoes, cabbage pie, snowball soup and Napoleon cake without jam. Grandmother bough a beautiful celluloid doll for Riina and made an entire wardrobe for the toy. From pants to coats – grandmother also sewed clothes for the entire family. From his voyages at sea, father brought back crayons, books and other nice things for his daughters.

Riina’s mother had a diploma in business service. She was employed in a fabric store in the city centre, later in a flower shop and was always tastefully dressed, hairdo with water curls, lipstick, painted nails and even pedicure done. Following her mother, Riina also started to go to the same hairdresser and manicure ladies to pretty up. During the summers, Riina stayed in the family summer house in Nõmme. In winter, the first thing to do after school was to take out the kick sled and start racing along Köie street. The slope was steeper, and the curve was sharper than today. Once a week, a farmer with horse carriage would sell milk and vegetables in the yard. Horse manure on the street was picked up to fertilise flowers and berry bushes. In Riina’s childhood Kalamaja, everyone had their belly full and something exciting was always happening and she still tells the stories with great pleasure to everyone.

More stories from the area can be found here: Lost Fragments of Kalamaja. Pictures from family photo albums.