THE EMPTY STREETS OF TALLINN
Updated: Jul 16
On March 9th 2020 I arrived in Tallinn to meet my wife Anastasiia for a few weeks together, before flying to Norway for a gig in Arendal. After that her Schengen Visa would expire and we wouldn’t see each other for months. There were plans to move her to Saint Petersburg but it would be up to a year before she could even visit Ireland and the absence of a D Visa and the new regulations surrounding it would make this trip exceptionally important. I had Anúna Corporate performances scheduled for the 2nd and 15th of April and tickets purchased to fly over and back from Tallinn to Norway.
Tallinn has been a very special place for us. We celebrated our marriage there in October with the help of our friends and family who flew from all over the world. Christmas there was particularly beautiful and the proximity to Russia and the fact that Estonia is in the EU made it a perfect place for us to spend time together.
The day we arrived news was spreading rapidly that there was a chance that Europe would lockdown. It wasn’t something that affected us at all. We only had this three week window and
absolutely nothing was going to prevent our time together from happening. I had flights booked to and from Dublin in early April and then flights and accommodation booked in Norway. Anastasiia was going back to Moscow on April 26th for an undetermined amount of time. The year-long saga of Irish entry visas was nearly over and this was a welcome respite before the inevitable separation.
Coffee on Harju 19:00 on Monday March 20th
We marvelled at the lack of tourists and the calmness of the people we encountered over the first couple of days in Tallinn. We ate in our favourite restaurants which were eerily empty and spoke to Estonians who shrugged and seemed nonplussed by the whole thing.
On March 13th I received my first gig cancellation in Dublin. An avalanche followed. 2020 and most of 2021 were gone. My business was finished in a matter of less than a week. The Americans were flying home. After a few days restaurants and bars began to shut. We only discovered later that they did this voluntarily. They never officially locked down in Estonia. Apparently life went on pretty normally outside the Old Town though many people did isolate themselves. Suddenly all of the flights were cancelled and Dublin and Moscow shut down. We were stranded. Before that moment Anastasiia could have left. I could have flown back to Ireland as most people did. There was no way that I was leaving her. As an EU citizen I was safe but her Schengen Visa ran out on April 26th, a long time in the future. We would be fine.
Then they cancelled St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th and we knew that things would not be fine at all.
View of Raekoja plats taken at 18:20 on Thursday March 23rd
Tallinn is old. It’s modern history begins in the 1200s but it’s much older than that. It’s name derives from the Estonian word for Danish Town, which is what it became in 1918 when Estonia became independent. But its name for a thousand years has been Reval. It’s relationships over the centuries with Germany, Russia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden, I will write about in another blog. It retains an almost perfectly preserved medieval city, complete with walls and towers. This is mainly due to its status as a trading centre over the centuries. The new city and the remnants of the Soviets surround it but essentially it’s completely intact.
This was the Tallinn we knew. We were married in the Hopneri Maja on the town square and celebrated in Olde Hansa. We had wandered through the streets in hot summer and freezing winter. We spent a week in the Autumn writing songs, sketching and filming and just spending time together. It became our only home.
After the virus hit Europe, the city sat in complete silence for two months. The streets were empty. It wasn’t a lockdown. The restaurants and bars simply had no one to serve. We walked through it’s lanes and across it’s squares together for weeks. We drew and photographed it’s buildings and felt the peace and oddly reassuring weight of a thousand years fall on us.
Even now walking down the same streets it’s impossible to convey how unique the experience was. The tourists had completely vanished. The local Estonians kept to their homes and lives outside the Old Town. We walked for days rarely meeting another person. The supermarkets on the edges were all open and nearly empty. We walked up Toompea Hill to the viewing areas alone and looked out over the city. It was empty and silent. Just the two of us and a few stragglers somewhere below us lost in the middle of a global disaster.
Anastasiia on Kohtuotsa vaateplatvorm March 16th
By my birthday at the beginning of May, the people of Tallinn started to reclaim it. Cafes and bars opened and restaurants struggled to provide work for their staff as the previously invisible Estonians felt the spring coming. One day it was ours, the next it was gone. The unique experience never to be repeated had abruptly ended.
Tallinn will forever be special to us. It became our place when we had nowhere and it became our house when we had none.
When I asked Anastasiia whether she wanted to fly home at the beginning of March before the borders closed she looked at me with her strange green and gold eyes and said “I am home”.