Friday, September 12, 2008

The Best Part

Day 185
I woke up later than I had meant too. That was kind of surprising. My bed was in a really bad spot, in the attic right by the steps. I had expected to be woken up whenever anyone was on the stairs.

My first stop was the Dome Cathedral. It is the oldest cathedral in Estonia, dating to 1240. The interior was pretty interesting with the shields of medieval families on the wall. It was kinda creepy.

After checking out two areas that overlook the old town. Tallinn is really a beautiful city. I could get comfortable here.

My next stop was the Occupation Museum. This was about the Russian and German occupations. I sprung for an audio guide. It was a bit odd, it started explaining about why the museum should be there. It wasn't the usual its important to remember our history stuff, it was more like a list of reasons that would be good to give to protesters.

In 1939 a non-aggression treaty was signed between German and the USSR. Germany had dibs on part of Eastern Europe, while Russia got the other countries. Estonia belonged to Russia. First bases were set up and then, in 1940, Russia formally occupied Estonia. This sent Estonian modernization back decades. The Russian government actively tried to erase Estonian history.

In August 1941 the Nazi army arrived. There was no Estonian army at this time. Estonian men were at first given the choice to join the German or the Finnish armies. Eventually this was changed and they were all drafted for the German army. One man smoked a cigarette and left the rest in the box. He wrote a note on it that they were for his return. Only one is missing to this day. Thousands of Jews were deported to concentration camps. In 1944 75 thousand people fled the country, most went to Sweden or the US.

After WWII Russia once again had power. In 1956 the first USSR tv was created. The 60s brought a more relaxed environment, however they are still not remembered as happy. This was when the last of the resistance movement was killed. The 1970s brought a rise to new political resistance as well as advanced KGB methods. On August 1, 1987 a political rally was held and to everyones surprise it wasn't stopped. In 1988 the underground papers went above ground. When the USSR fell in 1991 Estonia became an independent country.

In the basement of the museum there were broken Lenin and Stalin statues. It was really creepy.

Even though my trips to the former communist countries have been quick and scattered I think there there is some type of nostalgia in some countries. In Budapest there is a communist themed restaurant, in Leipzig there is an advert that no one well let be removed. When I was in Berlin 6 years ago there was a bit ugly building that had been a rec center and event hall, it was in bad repair and full of asbestos, still people were fighting to save the building. On this last trip it was no longer there. Two years ago when I was in Bulgaria I saw a protest trying to bring back communism. There was none of this in Estonia. It will be interesting to see how each of the former Soviet Satilite countries remember the past. Whether it is hatred, nostalgia or a bit of both. Most of Eastern Europe became independent only 17 years ago and some of them are still fighting for independence. Kosovo only gained independence about 6 months ago, Montenegro about 2 years ago. This will be an especially interesting part of my trip.

I spent some time wandering and digesting the museum before heading to the City Hall Museum. I had wanted to climb the tower, but it was closed for the winter. It was too bad really, the highest outhouse is there. The museum was a bit pathetic. Originally imported goods were stored here, especially wine. When the tax collectors visited the merchants they would give them so much wine that the tax guy would owe the merchant money. That was really the most interesting thing I learned.

After blogging a bit I headed back to the Monks Bunk. There was a bunch of people around and we watched a few movies. We ended up going to a nearby basement bar for a few drinks. Its just wonderful. I walked back with an Australian guy named Joe. He was on his first trip. I dont think I even knew where Estonia was on my first trip.

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