Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Head uut aastat!

Happy New Year everyone! May the coming year be filled with much prosperity and joy!

2014 - The Year That Was

2014 proved to be an eventful year for Estonia. We experienced many joyful occasions, achieved several social and technological advancements and witnessed some shocking global events which left us shaking our heads in astonishment. Estonia has increased its visibility in the world and continues to go from strength to strength.

Here are some of the highlights of 2014.

The 26th Estonian Song and Dance Celebration drew the highest ever number of participants and spectators. Over 153,000 people attended the performances. Song is one of the staples of Estonian culture.

With Russia's annexation of Crimea, fomenting conflict in Eastern Ukraine and repeated airspace violations of other sovereign countries, old fears, memories and mistrust have been abruptly brought to the surface.  President Obama's visit in September gave Estonia the support and assurance it needed that NATO will defend every square inch of its territory if invaded. Estonia may have been alone before, but it's definitely not alone now. 

Estonia is one of the most advanced e-societies in the world. In 2014 Estonia launched the world's first e-residency scheme that has attracted worldwide attention. It is another world-first innovation originating in Estonia to add to an ever growing list. 

Sunday, 28 December 2014

In Memory of My Estonian Grandmother

2014 commemorated several historic events. It marked 100 years since the outbreak of World War I which precipitated the Estonian War of Independence.  My grandmother Hertha would also have turned 100 this year on 22nd February if she were still alive. Sadly she passed away in 1989 at the age of 75.

My grandmother Hertha often used to say she should write a book about her life because she had had such a colourful and eventful one. She was born in Tartu, moved to Germany with her Baltic German husband at the start of World War II and then eventually settled in Australia. For a ten year period from 1939 until 1949 her life was in a state of limbo as a result of war, occupation, being displaced and living in fear that she may be repatriated to her Soviet occupied homeland.  Even after she relocated to Australia she maintained a deep fear and loathing for the Russians and she always referred to them as that - never as 'Soviets', 'Red Army' or 'communists' etc. In her opinion the Russians were far worse than the Nazis and the massacres of civilians in Nemmersdorf and Metgethen perpetrated by the Red Army is proof that they were at least as evil. Unfortunately my grandmother never got around to putting pen to paper, not even in diary form, so many of those life experiences stayed private and simply went with her to the grave.

My favourite photograph of my grandmother.
She was born Hertha Lindser in Tartu on the 22nd of February 1914. 
Three people dear to me share my grandmother's birthday.

My grandmother never told us the full story of her life. No doubt there were turbulent times, painful memories and things she simply wanted to forget. For the past twenty years I have been trying to put the pieces of her life together and its only been through my persistent research that I have finally managed to fill in many of the gaps.

My grandmother Hertha left Estonia with her Baltic German husband Helmuth Pralitz and his cousin Armin Kraemann during the first wave of the Baltic German Resettlement Program. Unfortunately Armin (pictured here with my grandmother) did not survive the war. He died in Hamburg in April 1945.

For several years during WWII my grandmother lived in central Poland in the city of Łódź.

Zoo Camp Hamburg

My grandmother's marriage to Helmuth did not end well and in 1944 they parted ways. It was during this time that the Red Army were advancing in Germany which forced my grandmother and thousands of others to flee to the West. After the war my grandmother and uncle Kuno sought refuge in the displaced persons camp in Hamburg known as 'Zoo Camp'. It was here that my grandmother met my grandfather Alexander.

SS Dundalk Bay

My grandparents sailed separately to Australia. My grandmother and her young son Kuno sailed to Australia on board SS Dundalk Bay which departed from Italy. They arrived in Australia on the 10th of April 1949. After arriving in their new adopted country they were sent to a processing centre and then stayed at the Uranqunity Migrant Centre in New South Wales. My grandfather had already been living at Uranquinty for several months prior to her arrival.

My grandparents in Australia with my father, uncle and great-grandmother.

My grandparents married in Wagga Wagga in 1949. They spent several years living in Queensland before moving to the Sydney beachside suburb of Manly. They had two sons.

It was never my grandmother's intention to permanently settle in Australia, she had dreams of living in America but unfortunately her immigration application was rejected  Even in the 1960s she still hoped to move to the USA but by that time my grandfather was settled in Australia, he liked it there and didn't want to start over again. Manly is an absolutely beautiful part of Australia, the perfect place to raise a family. My family still live there today.

In 1989 my grandmother passed away while living in Manly. It was a direct result of her smoking, a dreadful habit she had developed later in life. I wish she had lived longer but unfortunately that was something out of my control. I was only thirteen years old at the time. I would love to have heard more about her stories and life experiences to gain a better understanding of the woman she was.

Sadly, this generation of Estonians are slowly leaving us. Everyone who left Estonia due to the war and occupation are now in their senior years, many of them aged in their nineties. It is important for us to record and preserve their stories as they are the ones who remember Estonia during its first period of independence, before everything changed.  Everyone I have spoken to who lived in Estonia during the 1930s all have glowing praise of how wonderful life used to be there before the Soviet invasion and occupation. Earlier this year I was in contact with a distant relative who now lives in Brazil.  She recounted her father's words to me of his life in Estonia before he was forced to flee. He said, - 'no matter rich or poor, everyone was happy in Estonia - it was a wonderful place to live'.  And from all the photographs I have seen, I have to agree!

Tallinn - A Winter Wonderland

Sunday morning delight - here's an old postcard of Tallinn / Reval. I've recently started collecting old Estonian postcards and as you can see, this one is quite lovely. Tallinn has always been a beautiful city but it's even more spectacular when covered in snow!


Friday, 26 December 2014

The Best Gifts Come From Estonia!

Call me biased, I don't mind, but gifts from Estonia are definitely my favourite! I'm always on the lookout for interesting new things each time I visit Estonia and I'm never disappointed. During my recent trip I found a few more delights in Tallinn that I naturally couldn't resist taking home with me! 

I simply adore this Estonian folk tea towel. It's so cute!
I'm not sure if I'm going to use it for its intended purpose or use it as a wall hanging decoration. It can work either way!

I tried Vana Tallinn Glögi for the first time this year. I bought a bottle at Tallinn Airport on my way home and planned to save it for Christmas but unfortunately it didn't turn out that way. I gave in to temptation and consumed it weeks before the big day! Shame on me!
This Song Festival colouring book caught my attention at the airport. I really like the designs!

Two of the newest additions to my home - my new Singer sewing machine and fabric from the Estonian village of Nõo where my family are from. With so many creative ideas swimming around in my head, I simply can't wait to get started and wear this fabric with pride! I think it is absolutely wonderful that Estonia has these national costume fabrics where each village has it own unique design.  All Estonians know just how important it is to stay connected to our roots. 

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Today is Christmas Eve - the most important day on the Estonian calendar! In 2005 Christmas Eve was officially declared a public holiday in Estonia to enable everyone to prepare for the festivities set to take place in the evening. There is nothing more splendid than celebrating Christmas at night!

Merry Christmas everyone! I wish you all a wonderful, joyous and delightful festive season!

A Estonian Poem for Christmas

This short Estonian poem is about wanting to come home for Christmas to enjoy the festivities with loved ones. As this will be my fourth Christmas spent away from my family in Australia it seems quite fitting. During this time of year it can be quite tough being apart from the people you love particularly when they live at opposite ends of the globe - but at least we have Skype! Hopefully next year, if all goes to plan,  I'll be able to enjoy a big family Christmas once more! Can't wait!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Finding the Perfect Christmas Tree in Estonia

Did you know that in Estonia you can go to the state forest, select your own Christmas tree and pay via SMS? Well you can! It's a brilliant idea that allows you to find the perfect tree for your home without too many restrictions and you have such an abundance of choice! The RMK mobile application makes it easy by advising users which forests they can visit - those which are not protected or private. More information can be found here:

Last year a records 8,700 Christmas trees were brought home from the state forest. Click here to read more:

First Day of Winter 2014: The Winter Solstice

Yuletide has officially begun in Estonia and so too has winter! Tallinner's woke up this morning to a beautiful covering of winter snow. Enjoy it everyone!

December 21 - When Christmas Really Starts in Estonia!

Today is Toomapäev, the day of St. Thomas that marks the start of Yuletide, Jõuluaeg, in Estonia. Traditionally Toomapäev is considered the true start of Yuletide celebrations in Estonia where homes get into serious Christmas mode from this day forth. In order to peacefully usher in the holidays, home historically underwent serious major cleaning on this day. Walls and ceilings were cleared of soot and grime hence the phrase 'Must -Toomas välja!' (Black Thomas out!)

With only a few sleeps remaining until the big day is upon us, I'm sure preparations are underway in every home to make this day as joyous as possible!

Tallinn - simply spectacular at Christmas time!

Friday, 19 December 2014

A Great End to the Week!

The week ended on a perfect note for me. My latest recipe was published in the UK's Take a Break's  - My Favourite Recipes  magazine in which I'm also featured on the front cover. Cooking is one of my many interests and whenever I come up with a good recipe, I often like to share it!  

Many of my recipes have been published in this magazine.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Christmas Gift Ideas From Estonia

In a week's time Christmas Day will be upon us and if you have left your Christmas shopping to the last minute and are in search of gift ideas, here are a few suggestions for you. Estonia produces a wonderful range of unique handicrafts and other goods that are sure to delight your nearest and dearest. Here are some of my favourite Estonian retailers.  Everything can be purchased online!  







Kalev Chocolates 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Weekend in Tallinn

I had a great time during my recent trip to Estonia. As always I returned home with wonderful memories, kilos of Estonian black bread and of course there are the photographs! Visiting Tallinn is a must during the lead up to Christmas, it's a magical, enchanting place that easily captures the heart. Usually after a trip to Tallinn, visitors simply can't wait to go back - there are so many wonderful things to discover! I'll be back in Tallinn again in next to no time!

Here are some highlights of my trip.

Simply wonderful! 
The Tallinn Christmas Market appears to be getting better and better with each passing year!

Much joy and merriment has taken place on this stage.

The perfect Christmas market -  cosy, inviting and delightful!

Some of the Estonian handmade goods on offer.

Happy Santas  - sure to bring a smile to everyone's face.

I love these doll magnets dressed in the national costume.

I didn't spend all my time in the city centre during my trip. I like to do new things too!
 On the agenda was a trip to the Estonian History Museum. 
(Formerly Maarjamäe Castle)
It's definitely worth a visit!

A few minutes walk from the main building is the old stables that now houses a new exhibition. 'The German Occupation of Estonia 1941-1944'. 
The exhibition opened on December 4.

I found the Estonian History Museum quite fascinating. 
One of the many things that caught my attention are these posters from the 1930s that encouraged people with German surnames to change them to Estonian names. A book with suggested Estonian names and spellings was also on display. 

During this time many people Estonianised their surnames. My family included.

Couldn't resist another trip to the Christmas Market!

The Tallinn Christmas Market is great by day, magical at night!

No trip to Tallinn is complete without a snapshot from here!

'Elron' and 'Laulupidu' the top Estonian search words on Google in 2014 | News | ERR

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Estonian Christmas – Past & Present

Christmas in Estonia is without doubt the highlight of the year. It is the most anticipated, cherished and sacred day, one which has filled people's homes with joy and merriment for centuries. Like other important holidays on the Estonian calendar such as Jaanipäev (Midsummer's Day), Mardipäev (St.Martin's Day) and Kadripäev (St.Catherine's Day) the Estonian custom is to always celebrate these special days on the eve rather than on the day itself. The celebration of Christmas in Estonia has its roots in pagan traditions. In fact, many of the traditions we now think of as 'Christmas' were originally pagan and subsequently 'Christianised' as the religion spread across Europe. Estonia and the Baltic region in general was one of the last areas in Europe to succumb to the Christian religion, doing so in the 13th century. By that time Christianity had already existed in England for six hundred years.

There are many ancient Yuletide traditions in Estonia, many of which are no longer practised today. One of the most popular ones was bringing home Christmas straw and spreading it around the floor. It was a great favourite for the children who never tired of playing games on it. Another popular tradition that ceased last century was the making of special Christmas Crowns, they were designed to look like church chandeliers. Today, Estonian children practise a relatively new tradition of placing a slipper on the window sill at night time. The cheerful Christmas elf Päkapikk waits until the children are asleep then comes and fills their slippers up with sweets!

The Christmas season officially starts in Estonia on Advent (1st December). This is when people start opening their Advent calendars and lighting candles at home. People also visit cemeteries at this time of year and place lit candles on the graves of departed loved ones. Entire cemeteries become illuminated with candles during the Christmas period, quite a beautiful sight to behold!  

One of the oldest traditions on Christmas Eve is the President's declaration of Christmas Peace, a practice that has taken place for the past 350 years. This custom began during the time of Swedish rule upon the orders of Queen Kristina.   Attending church on Christmas Eve is still very much practised in Estonia despite religiosity being  a fraction of what it once was. 

Although Christmas in Estonia is no longer focussed on the religious aspects as it once was, its focus is very much on family and friends coming together, exchanging gifts and eating copious amounts of food. No Estonian Christmas dinner table is complete without blood sausage (verivorst), pork, potatoes and herrings prepared in every way imaginable with sides of sour cream, mustard, and sauerkraut. And to wash it all down there is always beer or mulled wine. For a sweet treat you would be hard pressed to find an Estonian home without piparkoogid - Estonian gingerbread.   Everyone loves it!

In recent years the Tallinn Christmas Market has earned the reputation of being one of the best in the world. There you can find a treasure trove of delightful handmade goods ranging from knitwear, candles, toys, traditional Estonian food and drink in addition to items made of leather, wood and iron. The Christmas markets are open until the 6th of January which is the last day of the Christmas season in Estonia. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

'Tangerines' nominated for Golden Globe | News | ERR

The Estonian-Georgian film Tangerines is among the nominees for the Golden Globe for Best Foreign  Film. The winners will be announced on January 11.

Tangerines' nominated for Golden Globe | News | ERR

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Monday, 8 December 2014

Rakvere's Christmas Tree Attracts World Attention

Rakvere's local council has outdone itself this year by producing one of the world's most innovative Christmas trees. Designed by Teet Suur and built by local students using waste wood from local mills, the tree has caught international attention.  Rakvere's Christmas tree stands just over 10 metres high and is illuminated green at night - definitely a sight to behold! The Huffington Post has included it among the 14 most notable Christmas trees in the world for 2014.

The Huffington Post: The Most Over-The-Top Christmas Trees Of 2014