Friday, 31 October 2014

Where to Buy the Estonian National Costume

For some time now I have been searching for places that make or sell the Estonian national costume (rahvariided). Often while I have been in Tallinn I've wandered the streets hoping to come across a shop that sells such fabrics but it is not as easy to find as I originally thought. Traditionally, people used to make their own national dress but these days most households don't own a loom and therefore need to rely on others to produce the garments for them.

I've been advised that a full Estonian national costume could cost up to 1500 Euros to make. It may seem like a lot of money but when you consider the amount of work that goes into making one, it's well worth the investment.  It's yours for life and you can pass it down to future generations as is the custom.

If you're like me and have found it a bit difficult locating these suppliers, the list of contacts below might be of interest to you. Fabric is generally priced at 55 -145 Euros per metre.

Traditional Estonian fabric can be purchased from here:

Kodukäsitöö oü

PDF contact list of people who make the Estonian national costume.

                 Järva-Jaani, Järvamaa                                    Reigi, Läänemaa

                   Tarvastu, Viljandimaa                               Setu, Petserimaa

                      Pühalepa, Hiumaa                                            Muhu

The Estonian National Costume Album was published in 1927 by the Estonian National Museum. You can download the free e-book by clicking on the below link.
The Estonian National Costume Album

Next year, a new course will start in January teaching students the art of making the Estonian national costume. Details can be found here:

Additional reading - The Estonian Folk and Art Craft Union

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Baltic Germans Began Leaving Estonia 75 Years Ago

75 years ago in October 1939, the vast majority of the Baltic Germans started leaving Estonia under the Baltic German Resettlement Scheme. For over 700 years these families had been the ruling class in Estonia and made up approximately ten percent of the population.

Prior to the all-out Soviet invasion of the Baltic States scheduled for the summer of 1940, the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union permitted Baltic Germans to leave prior to the event.

Approximately 65,000 Baltic Germans were resettled from Estonian and Latvia to the Warthgau and other Polish areas that were conquered by Nazi Germany during the war.

Both the Estonian and Latvian governments published books listing the names of those who left. The entries lists the persons' names, date of birth, birth places and addresses. These books can be found in the respective national libraries.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Explore the Language Tree!

More interesting information about languages from around the world can be found at Ethnologue.

Monday, 27 October 2014

2014 Estonian Film Festival Germany - Eesti Film 102

Four locations - Bremen, Kiel, Hamburg and Berlin.

11 - 15 November 2014.

Film programme - Mandariinid, Vanamees, Ussinuumaja, Äge and Kolm.

For further details:

Click here to download the film programme.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Remembering the Victims of the 1905 Revolution Massacre

On 16th October 1905 a horrific event took place in the centre of Tallinn.  During a peaceful demonstration held at the New Market, Tallinn's inhabitants gathered to call for civil rights and to protest against Russian autocracy.  Under the orders of  Governor Lopukhin, General Voronov and Captain Mironov, the Russian Army opened fire upon civilians, killing 94 people and wounding over 200. It was a bloodbath seeing partially decapitated bodied strewn across the marketplace and some bullets reaching a distance of 2 km away.

The history leading up to the event.
After Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (8th February 1904 - 5th September 1905) the Tsar had lost both strength and prestige. After this weakness was exposed a revolution broke out in Russia which set off a series of strikes and political meetings taking place in factories and educational institutions.  These revolutionary activities also proliferated in Estonia, giving rise to the Estonian national awakening.  Both socialists and nationalists in Estonia wanted to limits the rights of Baltic Germans and put an end to Russification. Those passionate about the cause of ending German hegemony often took matters into their own hands and burned down manor houses all over Estonia. Harju county was the hardest hit with 70 manor houses set ablaze. Official records state that 114 manors in North Estonia and 230 manors in Livonia were affected by arson, looting and destruction during this time.

New Market in Tallinn was located where Tammsaare Park and the Estonian Theatre stands today.

It was not only the military who were firing upon civilians at marketplace that day but also aristocrats, the sons of manor owners who wanted revenge for all the burnings and vandalism inflicted upon their estates. My great, great grandfather Alexander Otto Lesthal, a former manor steward and Pirita tavern owner who was also the representative for St.Petersburg Kalinkin beer in Tallinn was a witness to the 1905 massacre. His colleague, Aleksander Rannamets later included his account in a memoir that was published in Vaba Maa (Free Country) newspaper in 1935.

Alexander Lesthal's eye witness account:

On the day of the bloodbath, Alexander saw several young aristocrats going into a large stone building in the same vicinity, opposite the marketplace. Guns were strewn across their flabby bellies. Alexander then pushed open his living room window and placed the tube of a sound amplifying device to his ear in order to gain a better understanding of what was happening around him. Gunshots were ringing out everywhere and he then saw the smoke of gunpowder exiting one of the windows from the stone building's third floor. Afterwards people gathered around a podium and shouts sounded out "Dead, dead! ..... Look he's still alive" etc. Alexander's heart could not take it but he feared to get any closer in case they fired fort a second time.  He acknowledged that he knew quite a few of those young barons involved.

The horrific event took place on 16 October 1905 (old calendar) 29  October (new calendar). In Estonia the calendar changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar on 14.2.1918.

The original 1905 wooden monument located where the Estonia Theatre stands today.

The funeral procession that took place on 20 October 1905.
It was attended by over 4000 people.

Final resting place. Rahumäe Cemetery, Tallinn.

In 1935 the Vaba Maa newspaper published the 1905 memoir of  elderly Harju County tavernkeeper Aleksander Rannamets. The five page series, nr.243-247, October 15-19, 1935 described the political upheaval in 1905 including his conversation with Alexander Otto Lesthal relating to all the manor burnings that were taking place at the time. Aleksander Rannamets owned the Niida tavern in Jöelahtme parish, Harju county.

Honouring the victims of the 1905 massacre is this granite monument at Rahumäe Cemetary. Created by sculptor Juhan Raudsepp, it symbolises the wheel of history.

The 1959 monument behind the Estonian Theatre, the site where the massacre took place.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

'From Estonia to Ukraine' - The Charity Concert Held in Tallinn on 21.10.2014

Last night at the Nordea Concert House in Tallinn some of Estonia's finest entertainers gathered to perform at the 'From Estonia to Ukraine' charity concert. The charity concert featured some of Estonia's most respected musicians including Ivo Linna, Tõnis Mägi, Lenna Kuurmaa, Birgit Õigemeel and Ott Lepland, Special guest was Ukrainian folk rock group Haydamaky. The funds raised will go towards the much needed medical supplies for those affected by the Ukrainian conflict.

You can watch the full concert by clicking here:
Video: Tallinnas leidis aset heategevuslik kontsert 'Eestilt Ukrainale' | Menu | ERR

New Virtual Exhibit: Refugees from the Baltic Countries in German DP Camps 1944-1951

This year marks 70 years since thousands of people from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania fled to the west to escape Soviet terror. A new virtual exhibit has been created by the three national archives of the Baltic States to educate readers on this pivotal period in history. The new website has a wealth of information including facts and figures, historical documents and photographs.

Please click here to read more;

Over 80 displaced person camps existed in Germany after WWII.

Refugee children in Hamburg. ca.1945

The Baltic University Pinneberg.

Both my grandparents were in DP camps located in Hamburg. My grandfather Alexander was a student at the Baltic University.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Estonian Birthday Greetings

A few weeks ago one of my relatives celebrated their birthday and I noticed some nice Estonian birthday greetings were posted on Facebook. Following on with this theme I decided to research a little bit more into this area to see what other light hearted birthday greetings I could find  Most native speaking Estonians would be familiar with these verses but if you are Estonian by descent and reconnecting with your roots, you might find these of interest.

Rohkem kui järves vett,
rohkem kui seebil mulle, 
rohkem kui kärjes mett. 
Soovin õnne sulle!
Palju palju õnne sünnipäevaks!

More than water in the lake,  
More than bubbles on soap,
More than honey in the comb.
I wish you good luck!
Happy happy birthday!

Päeva järel läheb päev,
jälle käes on sünnipäev -  
tordi päev, kingi päev,   
rosinates kringli päev! 

Day after day goes,
again, this is a birthday - 
Cake day, gift day,
raisin kringle day!

I quite like this one too but a few of the words are a bit tricky to translate into English. It basically means may your days be full of sunshine, pockets full of money, head sometimes drunken dizzy, heart never ever filled  until you reach one hundred years!

Olgu su päevad päikest täis,
taskud raha täis,
pea vahel täis,
süda mitte
kunagi täis,
kuni saad sada aastat täis!

Here's one more popular Estonian birthday verse. 

           Kõik kreemid ja tordid ja vaarikamoosid,            
kõik ilusad soovid ja punased roosid,
täna Sulle need tahaksin tuua
ja klaasi shampaniat koos Sinuga juua.

All the creams and cakes and raspberry jams,
all the lovely wishes and red roses.
Today I would like to bring you these,
and a glass of champagne to drink with you!

No Estonian birthday is complete without the traditional kringle and a glass of champagne!

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Story of an Estonian Family's Struggle to Migrate to Australia

Over the weekend the Daily Mail published an interesting story about Estonian Sylvia McNeall and her family's struggle for survival.  They lived through the Russian Revolution, the bombing of Berlin and fled war´torn Germany to find a safe haven in Australia.

You can read the full story by clicking here:
The story of an Estonian family's struggle to migrate to Australia

Saturday, 18 October 2014

24 Hours on Tallinn's Forest Island | News | ERR

Residents of Tallinn receive free public transport to the island of Aegna. Click here to discover more about this fascinating island.
24 Hours on Tallinn's Forest Island | News | ERR

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Tallinn Airport Among the Top 10 Best Airports in Europe

According to a poll conducted by Tallinn airport was voted as one of the best airports in Europe by travellers in 2014. To read the full results, click here : Best Airports in Europe 2014

Win a Trip to Estonia! The Shake it to Estonia Competition!

Got a dream to visit Estonia? Well now's your chance! The Estonian Tourist Board in conjunction with Enterprise Estonia are running  the 'Shake it to Estonia Competition'. The competition is currently running until the end of November 2014 and all you have to do to enter is make a short 15 second Instagram video of your 'Best Shake'. A panel will select the best video. Easy!

The prize
Return flights to Tallinn for you and two friends.
Three nights accommodation in a four star hotel for you and your guests.
Return transfers.
Dinner package.
Two activities from the 'Shake it to Estonia' destinations list.

For the full competition details, please click here: Shake it to Estonia Competition

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet Spoke with CNN's Amanpour

Yesterday Foreign Minister Urmas Paet spoke with Christiane Amanpour regarding the situation with Russia and Ukraine.

You can watch the full interview via the CNN website here:

For a bit of trivia, here are three interesting facts about Foreign Minster Urmas Paet.
1. Urmas Paet  is the longest serving minister since the restoration of Estonian independence.
2. He studied political science at the University of Tartu.
3. Mr Paet speaks five languages - Estonian, English, German, Finnish and Russian.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

NATO Review Photo Story: Estonia

In 2018 Estonia will celebrate its 100th birthday but half of its first century was spent under occupation.  Check out this NATO Review photo story which captures some of the most historic moments - good and bad - in the country's first one hundred years.

Estonian history in pictures - 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Return to Geislingen - A Short Film by John Ulo Kuhi

Return to Geislingen will appear in this year's EstDocs Short Film Festival in Toronto. Geislingen was one of the largest DP camps in Germany after World War Two. It housed approximately 5000 Estonians.

Tallinn - A Tour of the Old Town / Un tour dans la vielle ville

Every year almost a million people visit Tallinn via cruise ships. This lovely video takes us on a walk through Tallinn's Old Town where we can see some famous and familiar sights. Made by a French national this video captures the essence of this beautiful city!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Ruins of the Vastseliina Episcopal Castle, Estonia

Vastseliina Episcopal Castle was built in 1342 on the land of the Bishop of Tartu and became one of the most powerful fortifications in old Livonia.

During the Middle Ages the castle was well known for the holy cross in its chapel and as  a popular destination for pilgrims. a visit gave them indulgence for 1 year and 40 days as decreed by Pope Innocent VI.

The castle was destroyed in the Great Northern War by the armies of Peter the Great. Today, you can visit the castle tower, light a candle in the sacred place and enjoy night concerts surrounded by beautiful nature.

It's definitely worth a visit if you're ever in southern Estonia!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The History of the Lestal Family

If your surname is Lestal or if a member of your family was born with the name Lestal, then you are probably aware that the name is quite rare, unique to the country of Estonia. Although Lestal may not sound like a typical Estonian surname like Sepp, Tamm or Saar, it is very much an Estonian name originating from the small village of Järiste located in Nõo parish, southern Estonia. Nõo parish consisted of 10 manors and all the farms in Järiste village belonged to Luke manor. It is here at Luke manor that the Lestal family has its roots.

Nõo parish is located Tartu county in southern Estonia. 

According to the Estonian Biographical Centre all individuals with the surname Lestal are related and can trace their family history back to one common ancestor - Jüri Lestal. Like the vast majority of early Estonians, the Lestal family were initially tenant farmers who, in time, became better educated and later led professional careers.

The exact date Jüri was born is not known, however it is believed to be some time between 1730-1740 as his first child Sammel was born in 1761. Unfortunately many of the church books from Nõo dating back to the early 1700s were destroyed by fire making it nearly impossible to research further back in time. Jüri was born prior to the introduction of surnames in Estonia which means he was known according to the farm he inhabited, a common practice in those days. Jüri was known as 'Lesta Jüri' or  'Jüri of Lesta' as he was the master of that farm. The Estonian language's unique grammar later saw the name evolve into "Lestal" (literally "of Lesta") and in some branches of the family a Germanised spelling of the name 'Lesthal' was used.

When surnames were given out by local authorities during the mid 1800s there were 285 farms in Nõo parish with 43 of them belonging to Luke Manor. Surnames were derived from a number of things; amongst the most common were the former household masters, landscape terminology, plants and animals. The name Lestal comes from the Estonian word 'Lest' which means flounder, a type of fish. When used as a noun it is quite common to see the word 'lestal' appear in sentences relating to fish or fishing.

For example:
Lestal on maitsev liha - flounder has tasty meat.
Lestal, kuid tulemusi polnud - went fishing for flounders but without results.

This is a basic outline of the Lestal family tree dating back to the mid 1700s. It is impossible to include everyone on a single page but I have done my best to record the majority of Lestals who survived to adulthood. It is interesting to note here that during old times in Estonia, roughly half of all children born in each family died before their 15th birthday. So many children died at age 3 months, 2 years, 6 years etc. My great, great grandfather Alexander Otto Lestal had twelve children in total but only six made it to adulthood. Losing children at a young age, often due to tuberculosis was commonplace all over Europe during that time.

Most common first names in the Lestal family tree:
Male: Jaan, Hans, Johann, Peter and Karl.
Female: Mari, Ewa, Ann, Liso and Wio.

1721 farm list from Järiste village (German name for this village was 'Klein-Gerrist').  
This document was made shortly after the Great Northern War when Estonia went from Swedish rule to Russian.

1804 year book of all the farms in Järiste village.
The farm list mentions the farmer's name, how many people lived on the farm and the number of animals.

Jüri Lestal's grandson Johann Lestal, my great, great, great grandfather became steward of Luke manor  in 1840 which was considered quite a prestigious position in those days. All of Johann and Madlene's children were born in the steward's house at Luke manor, one of the few buildings that still exists there today. Three of their sons became pharmacists as well as several of their grandsons.

1850 Luke manor people count document recorded by steward Johann Lesthal for manor owner Carl von Knorring. The left page lists males and the right side females.

It is not known exactly when members of the Lestal family started moving away from the Nõo area. In the mid 1800s Lestals began appearing in Tallinn with some travelling on to Finland and Russia in search of economic opportunities. In Hungary, the village of Hangony and the surrounding area is home to over a dozen households with the surname Lestal. When they first arrived and how long they have been there for, I do not know.   

Due to the occupation of Estonia in 1940 which didn't end until 1991, many members of the Lestal family sought refugee in other countries until their homeland was free again. Many of them never made it back but their descendants did, eventually finding their way back to Nõo. Today, members of the Lestal family, small as it is, can be found in Australia, Canada, United States, France, Spain, Russia and Hungary. 

Traditional belt design from Nõo.


The Estonian national costume of women from Nõo.

Estonia Ranks 4th in the World on the English Proficiency Index (EF EPI)

The seven countries with the best command of English as a second language are all small European nations, whose size compels them to adopt an international outlook. Sweden takes the top spot followed by Norway, Netherlands and Estonia.

Click here to view the full worldwide results:

Monday, 6 October 2014


Always a great place to visit!

The Most Popular Surnames in Each European Country

Estonia: Tamm

A Dozen Questions about Estonia

The Estonian Institute in conjunction with the Baltic Film and Media School at Tallinn University, have created a new website introducing Estonia and Estonians through film clips, quizzes and language tests. The project aims to inspire and educate those interested in Estonia.  Check it out!

Click here to learn more:

Sunday, 5 October 2014

"Estonia in Canada" Documentary by Emma Soolepp

One of my distant cousins now living in Canada recently produced this short documentary which is currently part of the Estonian Documentary Film Festival in Toronto.

Read more about EstDocs 2014 here:
Emma Soolepp, Linda Soolepp (Lestal) and Kristina Soolepp