Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Estonia Ranked 8th in the World for Economic Freedom

Estonia has attained yet another prestigious global ranking. Up three place from last year in the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, Estonia now ranks 8th in the world, 1st in the EU and second in Europe behind Switzerland.   The index, compiled by the Heritage Foundation, attributes Estonia's success to minimal state interference in the economy, a prudent fiscal policy, a commitment to open markets and overall regulatory efficiency.

The countries for Estonia to surpass next year are Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Switzerland, Canada and Chile.

2015 Economic freedom heat map: Europe.

More information can be found at the Heritage foundation website: 2015 Index of Economic Freedom

First EU Plane Carrying 40 Tonnes of Relief Lands in Ukraine. Estonia is Among the Supporting Countries.

To learn more, you can read the full European Commission report here:
Humanitarian aid for Ukraine

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Remembering Estonia's Jews Lost During WWII -:- Holocaust Memorial Day and a Brief History of Jews in Estonia

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

On this day many countries remember 6 million Jews, 1 million Gypsies, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people and 9,000 homosexual men who were murdered by the Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945.

Like most European countries, Estonia was not spared the horrors of the Holocaust.  Prior to 1940 Estonia had been home to a relatively small but thriving Jewish community of just over 4,000.  They were Estonian citizens and 200 of them had fought for Estonia in its War of Independence, helping to win freedom for themselves and their fellow countrymen.

Estonia had had sporadic contact with Jews since the Middle Ages but very few had settled on the territory before the 19th century.  Tallinn was home to just 40 Jews in 1830 with former tsarist soldiers and tradesmen making up the community’s first members.  In 1865 Russian Tsar Alexander II decreed that Jews could settle in Estonia.  By 1866 there were 50 Jewish families in Tartu. Tallinn’s first synagogue was completed in 1883 with Tartu’s following suit in 1901.  By the end of the 1800s Estonian Jews had made their way from humble beginnings as small merchants to become active in academia with 100 Jewish students studying at Tartu University.  Some of them excelled in athletic endeavours too with brother and sister Sara and Rubin Teitelbaum being the best known examples.  Sara set 28 national records in various athletic events and her brother Rubin won the Estonian weightlifting championships 7 times between 1927 and 1933.  However, their young lives were cut tragically short.  Sara died in 1941 of tuberculosis aged just 30.  Rubin had remained in his hometown of Tallinn at the time Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Estonia in 1941.  He was imprisoned and murdered a few days later.

Tartu Synagogue 1901

Jewish life really began to thrive after Estonia established independence.  The first Estonian Jewish Congress was held in 1919 and the young Estonian Republic was very tolerant of cultural, religious and ethnic minorities, including Jews.  Liberal laws regarding minority rights allowed Jewish cultural life in Estonia to thrive.  Literature societies and theatre companies sprang up everywhere.  On 12th February 1925 the government passed the Estonian Minority Law which was one of the most liberal in Europe at the time.  By then there were 3,045 Jews in the country; more than the required 3,000 for official recognition as an ethnic minority which they were given in 1926.

By 1934 there were over 4,000 Jews in Estonia officially represented by the Juudi Kultuurivalistus (Jewish Cultural Council).  More than half of them worked in business and services and over 11% had a higher education.  There were Jewish kindergartens, schools, credit unions and even a doctor’s association.

Cultural and religious freedom ended for Estonia’s Jews in 1940 when the country was invaded, occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union.  Cultural associations were banned and between 350 and 450 Estonian Jews were deported to Siberia (10% of all Estonian Jews), a fate they shared with nearly all Estonian intellectuals.

On 22nd June 1941 the Germans had marched into Estonia and driven the Soviets out.  75% of Estonia’s remaining Jews had managed to flee to Finland or the Soviet Union before the advancing German army reached the country.  Once Tallinn fell to Germany on 28th August 1941 the SS Sonderkommando 1a unit led by Martin Sandberger systematically murdered nearly all of the 950 or so remaining Jews.  These mostly included the old and sick as well as rabbis, professors of Jewish studies at the universities and Estonian Jews who had converted to Christianity.  Suspected communists were also murdered by the SS.

German map of the Baltic region showing the numbers of murdered Jews.

So thorough was the onslaught that fewer than a dozen Estonian Jews survived the Holocaust and at the Wannsee Conference on 20th January 1942 the country was declared “cleansed of Jews” (Ger. “judenfrei”).  The Germans constructed around twenty more concentration and labour camps on Estonian soil to which 10,000 more Jews from elsewhere in Europe were brought to be murdered. Vaivara and Klooga were the largest of such camps.

Holocaust memorial at the former site of the Klooga concentration camp.

On this day Estonia remembers its fellow citizens who were murdered and driven out of their homeland between 1941 and 1942 for no other reason than being Jewish.   We also remember other Jews who were brought to occupied Estonia and murdered.  They are gone but their presence in our country and the contribution they made to Estonia both before and after independence was won will never be forgotten.


During the Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1991 a number of Russian speaking Jews from elsewhere in the Soviet Union migrated to Estonia and the country is once again home to a small Jewish community numbering about 1,000.  The modern Tallinn Synagogue was dedicated on 16th May 2007 in the presence of then Estonian president Arnold Rüütel.  The city is also home to a Jewish kindergarten and community centre.  Estonia’s “live and let live” values and political freedoms are once again enabling this small community to flourish.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

15 Estonian Books Every Estonian Should Read

There are certain literary works which leave their mark on a nation's psyche.  Throughout time literature has not only shaped Estonian culture but has also in turn been shaped by it. These books, produced by some of Estonia's most talented and gifted writers have inspired us, enlightened us and educated us in the realms of fantasy, realism and history. There are many Estonian literary works held in high regard in Estonia that have also found success abroad. During the past century, many of Estonia's finest novels have been translated into other languages with Finnish, Swedish, German, Latvian and Russian being the most popular.

While Tammsaare may have penned the great Estonian novel Truth and Justice which took until 2014 to be translated into English, it is Jaan Kross who is recognised as being Estonia's greatest ever writer. Kross' work has been both nationally and internationally praised, receiving numerous awards including several nominations for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

If you are yet to discover the wonderful world of Estonian literature, now is a great time to start. The chilly winter months are an ideal time of year to lock yourself away and curl up with a good book. Here is a list comprising 15 of Estonia's finest literary works that every Estonian should read at least once in their lifetimes. These books will not only entertain, they will also take you back into pivotal periods of Estonian history and give you an accurate picture of the Estonia of yesteryear. If these books are not already classics they are certainly destined to be.

15 Estonian Books All Estonians Should Read

1. Truth and Justice I (Tõde ja õigus) by A.H. Tammsaare.
If you don't want to read the complete five book series, volume one is a must!

Translated into English 2014.

2. Spring I (Kevade) by Oskar Luts.
Part one was published in 1912, part two in 1913.


3. Son of Kalev (Kalevipoeg) by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald

The national epic.

4. Avanger (Tasuja) by Eduard Bornhöhe


5. Names in Marble (Nimed marmortahvlil) by Albert Kivikas


6. Milkman of the Manor (Mäeküla piimamees) by Eduard Vilde

Translated into English 1976.

7. Kadri. Stepmother. (Kadri. Kasuema) by Silvia Rannamaa


8. The Tzar's Madman (Keisri hull) by Jaan Kross

Translated into English 1992.

9. Werewolf (Libahunt) by August Kitzberg


10. Treading Air (Paigallend) by Jaan Kross

Translated into English 2003.

11. The Same River (Seesama jögi) by Jaan Kaplinski

Translated into English 2009

12. Toomas Nipernaadi (Toomas Nipernaadi) by August Gailit


13. Old Barny aka November (Rehepapp) by Andrus Kivirähk


14. The Night of the Souls (Hingede öö) by Karl Ristikivi.


15. Old Estonian Fairy Tales by Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald

Translated into English 1953.

Friday, 23 January 2015

New Estonian Film '1944' to be Released in Cinemas on February 20

Elmo Nüganen's long awaited feature film '1944' is due for release on Independence Day and will be screened in cinemas across Estonia. The new historical film depicts life during WWII through the eyes of Estonians who are wary of both sides - The German Army and the Red Army. This is undoubtedly one of the 'must see' films of the year.

You can watch the trailer here:

Friday, 16 January 2015

Estonian Film Festival Munich 12 - 15 March 2015

I was delighted to discover that the Estonian Film Festival is once again taking place in Munich this year. The four day event will see a total of eleven films screened including the acclaimed 'Kertu', 'In the Crosswind' and 'To Breathe as One'.

I can't wait to go!

For full programme details, please click here Estonian Film Festival 2015

Palju õnne sünnipäevaks vanaisa!

Happy birthday to my beloved Estonian grandfather Alexander who would have turned 93 today!
You are dearly loved and missed.
Puhka rahus.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Estonian-Georgian Film "Tangerines" Has Made It to the Oscars!!!

All Estonians are smiling with pride today with the news that the Estonian-Georgian film 'Tangerines' has officially been nominated for an Academy Award. 'Tangerines' has made it to the final five in the Best Foreign Language Film category with the winner being announced on February 22nd.

The nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film are:

'Tangerines' by Zaza Urushadze - Estonia
'Ida' by Pawel Pawlikowski - Poland
'Leviathan' by Andrey Zvyagintsev - Russia
'Wild Tales' by Damian Szifron - Argentina
'Timbuktu' by Abderrahmane Sissako - Mauritania

This is the first time an Estonian film as been nominated for an Academy Award.

More information can be found at the Academy Awards website: 87th Academy Awards

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

"Destination Australia" - Add Your Family's Migrant Story

The National Archives of Australia recently updated their "Destination Australia" website in which you can now easily add your own family's migrant story complete with photographs. Some of the new features of the website include the ability to tag a person, or add a comment or location to existing photographs. The website contains a wealth of information and is a great platform for bridging the community together.

Please click here to share your family's migrant story: Destination Australia

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

New Book - 'Perekonnaloo uurija käsiraamat' - A Guide to Researching Your Family History in Estonia

Tartu University professor and author Aadu Must last week released his newest book Perekonnaloo uurija käsiraamat. The 392 page hardcover book provides readers with a practical and insightful guide into researching family history in Estonia. Must draws on his knowledge as an historian and archivist and reveals the wealth of information preserved in Estonia's archives. The tens of thousands of documents are an invaluable source of information not only for individual family research but also for the history and culture of the entire Estonian nation.

Perekonnaloo uurija käsiraamat is a must for anyone seeking to discover their family history in Estonia. The book is available from all good Estonian book stores.

Aadu Must has been an honorary member of the Estonian Genealogical Society since 2002. 

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Tallinn: 'Name a Tram' Competition

It's time to put on our thinking caps and get creative! Tallinn's public transport company TLT has asked for help in naming their new fleet of trams. A total of 20 trams built by Spanish company CAF will soon go into service in Tallinn.  The first tram arrived recently and was named Moonika. 15 more trams are due to arrive this year and the remaining four will join them in 2016.

TLT has called on the public to submit name suggestions with brief explanations regarding the choice and will award each winner a prize.

Submissions are to be sent via email to:

Good luck to all those who enter!

2015 is the Year of Music in Estonia

Renowned Estonian composers Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis are celebrating their 80th and 85th birthdays respectively this year. Hence, 2015 has been declared a national year of music. To learn more about the musical year ahead, please click here - 2015 is the Year of Music in Estonia

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

A Nostalgic Looks a Tartu's Cafe Athena

It's common for travellers and locals alike to walk past old buildings completely unaware of their history.  I must admit I love discovering places in Estonia that still exist from my grandparents' era. Even though some elements may have changed over the years such as new owners, new lines of business or alterations to the building, very often a building's unique character will remain unchanged.  This is certainly the case for Kohvik Athena in Tartu, now known as Restoran Volga.  

Built in 1783 by pastor Theodor Oldekop, the three storey stone building has changed hands and names many times in the course of its history.  It became a cafe and cinema in 1923 and was a popular meeting place for Tartu's high society in the pre WWII era.  The cafe's name changed from 'Athena' to "Ateena" in 1937 then changed its name once again in 1946 to become the "Ateen" restaurant.  

When the building became a cinema in 1923 it was one of five cinema buildings in Tartu. After the ravages of WWII ended in 1945 it was the only one which had survived. From 1946 to 1994 the Ateen restaurant remained a popular meeting spot in Tartu. Nearly everyone who has attended the University of Tartu surely has a tale or two to share from their experiences here, the live music and alluring dancefloor has always created a hub of activity. 

In the autumn of 1933, when my grandmother Hertha was 19 years old she worked as a waitress at Cafe Athena and naturally had her own experiences. From an insider's point of view she would have seen things that perhaps visitors might not. For example, although Cafe Athena was a very stylish and elegant establishment there was also a shady undercurrent as well. Women of the night often used to meet their clients there and waitresses sometimes diluted the vodka with water to make 50% more profit. They may not have done it to everyone, most likely to those unsavoury characters!  

The Ateen Restaurant closed in 1994 and did not re-open until 2006.  In 2009 the restaurant underwent extensive refurbishment.

Today the Ateen Volga Restaurant is considered one of Tartu's finest dining experiences.  Walking into this restaurant is like taking a step back in time.  The art deco interior features a colourful, serrated, backlit ceiling and arched pillars restored to their original 1930s look.  The interior walls are adorned with mahogany panels, capturing the elegance of a bygone era.  The dancefloor has always been a central feature of the restaurant and Friday night remains dance night even today.    

The Ateen Volga Restaurant is regarded as a symbol of Tartu and one of the city's most beautiful restaurants. Located at Küütri 1, 51007, Tartu - it's definitely worth a visit! 

Monday, 5 January 2015

Friday, 2 January 2015

Looking Forward to a Great 2015!

A new year is now upon us and I must admit I'm feeling rather positive and optimistic about it. As I exchanged my 2014 calendars in my kitchen and office for those of 2015, I  felt a breath of fresh air waft into my home. Despite the fact that the past few years have been rather challenging for me, I am happy with what I achieved last year and feel as though great things are brimming on the horizon. I'm looking forward to see how it all unfolds. Have a wonderful 2015 everyone!

I absolutely love Estonian folk art and thrilled to see some amazing designs in this calendar.
 Looks great in my kitchen!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

A Perfect Start to 2015!

After looking outside the window this morning I was absolutely delighted to see perfect weather for New Year's Day. What a great way to start the year! Naturally I couldn't resist grabbing my camera and going out for a stroll in the neighbourhood to take a few snapshots. It may not be Estonia but Germany can be pretty stunning in the winter too!