Past and future collide in Tallinn - G&M
Tallinn is making up for lost time. Having endured a Nazi invasion and decades of Soviet rule before gaining independence 22 years ago, the Estonian capital is still very much like a freshman at university, relishing a taste of freedom, revved up on Red Bull and ready to party.
And yet, wherever you go, history smacks you on the back of the head like an ill-advised shot of Jagermeister. Remnants of the past are juxtaposed against a kind of frenetic, youthful joy and capitalist ambition. If you want to experience a society at a cultural and temporal crossroad, visit Tallinn.
The allure of Old Town
For most visitors, the main year-round attraction is the medieval Old Town.
This pedestrian-friendly core is partly framed by turreted city walls, which embrace a maze of cobblestone streets and a Town Hall flanked by cafés and handicraft shops.
A 16th-century stone tower still stands atop Toompea (“Castle Hill”), while a heavily ornamented, onion-domed Orthodox cathedral from the late 19th-century presides over a square nearby.
For an old-fashioned feast, sit down for a meal of bear, wild boar and elk at Olde Hansa, which is kitted out with iron candelabras, tapestries and minstrels playing in a gallery.
If it proves too rich, head over to the Raeapteek Apothecary Museum on the Town Hall Square: Among disturbing displays of jarred toads, burnt hedgehog and dried deer penises – all of which have far surpassed their “use-by” date – you’ll find modern medicines and wrinkle-reducing creams for sale.
After dark, the Old Town pulsates with an eclectic nightlife. Hipsters groove to wax-spun tunes from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s at Kohvik Must Puudel (Black Poodle Café), a basement dive outfitted with retro furnishings, while a few blocks away at Club Privé, men in black leather dance atop glass platforms while girls in skimpy “police” uniforms distribute shots.