Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

9th May 2011

A kök and a narrow passage
Posted by at 7.06pm | No responses | Out and About

Kiek in de KökBelieve it or not, this is part 5 of the Tallinn blog. Read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

Tallinn’s medieval city walls are still largely in existence and have been lovingly preserved. At various strategic points towers were built. One of the largest is Kiek in de Kök in the west of the Old Town. The name is low German for “Peek in the Kitchen”, because from the windows on the tower’s upper floors it was possible to see straight into the homes of many of the city’s residents.

(Incidentally, we didn’t visit it at night as the picture suggests – the photo here was snapped by Andrew during our nocturnal wanderings the previous night. Between us we managed to miss taking any photos during our actual visit. D’oh!)

The tower has now been rebuilt as part of the city museum, housing various artefacts, mainly of a military nature. Excellently the internal structure has been preserved, meaning the various rooms and galleries are accessed via the original medieval stairways. That means – yes! – more steep, narrow passageways.

It’s great that the building is still in such a great condition. On the other hand, it does make access a little awkward, and by the time we got to the top of the tower I was feeling more than a little knackered, even though we stopped en route to explore the various galleries. Most of the exhibits focused on war, weapons and ancillary military matters, a subject which does not interest me greatly. In fact, I don’t seem to have taken any photos at all.

View of the Estonian capital city, TallinnWhen we finally reached the top, annoyingly there was a café but no evidence of anyone in attendance on the till, so no way of obtaining any form of refreshment to celebrate. There were some excellent views from the top of the tower however.

The lack of café was disappointing as Andrew and I were both flagging by this point and in need of lunch. We therefore left the tower behind and found a small eatery nearby, where we eagerly consumed a baguette and yet more Saku. Suitably nourished, we headed back to Kiek in de Kök for the second part of our visit: the Bastion Passages.

As previously discussed, Tallinn’s Old Town is surrounded by medieval fortifications built on a hill. Underneath runs a series of passageways, built to allow soldiers to move easily and safely from one area to another without becoming a target for attacking enemies. However the story does not end there as we were about to find out. We joined about 20 or so other brave souls for a guided tour of the passageways.

Prior to heading down into the passageways themselves, we were treated to a short video history of the area, introduced by an animated character known as the “Ülemiste Elder”. An ancient myth states that the Elder lives in Lake Ülemiste in the south of the city and will flood Tallinn when the city is “finished” – therefore Tallinn is required to continuously expand and change to avoid this. So now you know.

Bastion Passages, Kiek in de Kök, TallinnOur guide recommended that we wrap up warm, and there was even a selection of coats and blankets on standby in case anyone needed them. The reasons for this became obvious when we walked through the doorway into the tunnels and we were immediately hit by cold, damp air. More steep staircases were in evidence, with the additional hazard this time of water on the floor.

The guide was keen to point out that the tunnels are not underground as such – rather, the passageways were built at ground level, then soil piled on top of them. They are of quite substantial construction, which explains why they have survived mostly intact over centuries, except for one part which is now flooded, and a second part which is closed to visitors due to becoming a nesting spot for a rare, protected species of spider.

The tunnels of course, have been long disused for their original purpose. However in the 20th century they were repurposed in various ways. They functioned as air raid shelters during World War II.

During the Cold War they were equipped to function as a bunker in the event of a nuclear strike (on display was a Soviet-era radiation suit, which our guide used as a jumping-off point for a Chernobyl joke). In the 1980s punks (banned by the Soviet authorities at the time) met secretly in the tunnels. Less romantically, their most recent use was by Tallinn’s homeless population. This was illustrated by an attractive photo of one of the last “residents” being forcibly removed in the early noughties.

One of the grimmest parts of all was the tale of a priest who, centuries ago, made the mistake of criticising the Russian Tsar’s decadent lifestyle. For his trouble he was thrown in a cell in the passages and bricked up inside, with just a small hole left to pass him food and water. He remained inside for several years before his eventual death.

The train to the FUTUREFor the final part of the tour we were escorted to this incongruous-looking “train” which, our guide promised us, would take us to the FUTURE! After some trouble getting us all squeezed in, we set off on a very slow journey, being entertained on the way by a video showing the amazing achievement of humans in building vast cities or something. Andrew liked it thanks to a brief glimpse of a Boeing 787.

The FUTURE, as it turned out, was a small room with a slideshow imagining how Tallinn could develop between now and 2219 (which marks 1000 years since the city’s founding). It was largely tongue in cheek, although the photoshopped picture showing the Old Town partially obliterated by skyscrapers sadly didn’t seem too far-fetched.

There was also a display of modern items (cars, clothes, etc), showing how archaelogists of the 23rd century might interpret them. Condoms were described as being necessary due to “man’s inability to control his urges”, which strikes me as the wrong message. Sex is fun, people – have as much as possible!

And that was that, the end of the tour. It lasted about 90 minutes in total and was informative and fun. Highly recommended!

To be continued…

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