aegna notes

Aegna is an island in the Bay of Tallinn, one of Estonia’s many islands (1,520 is the official count), but one of a handful that caters to travelers. It’s a fairly recent tradition of mine to visit a new Estonian island every year. Last year, we ventured to Kihnu for my wife and daughter’s double birthday. This year we picked something a little less touristy to visit together.

The boat to Aegna leaves from the Kalasadam (“The Fish Harbor”), which is situated beside the Linnahall, a Soviet monstrosity if there ever was one, that occupies prime real estate. Nine years ago when I was penning stories for the seminal regional newspaper, The Baltic Times, I wrote a piece about the possibility of a Tivoli-like theme park being erected on the site. Today, the vast hall, assembled for the 1980 Olympics, is in even more terrible condition, graffiti everywhere, small weeds writhing out of the cracks of the crumbling concrete. And for too many, this is their first impression of Estonia.

The trip to Aegna takes about an hour and 15 minutes. It was choppy both ways — several passengers got sick. I saw one person yack in a garbage can, and a grown, fit woman lying in the floor with her hands over her eyes. But I managed to keep my breakfast down and was rewarded with a pretty island of thick forests, boggy patches, sandy soil, well-kept paths, uprooted pines, silence and serenity.

I think Aegna’s greatest asset is its abandoned military installations, most of which date from the First World War. When Epp heard this she was truly impressed, because 1915 seems like a very long time ago (even though my grandmother was born a month after the Armistace and she’s still alive). But, still, so much has happened since then, that walking among military ruins from 1915 is a bit like looking at those photos of Titanic lying at the bottom of the sea, that same, “Men really lived here? Who were they? What were they thinking?”

I’ve seen a few too many scary movies (and read too many Stephen King books) but these thoughts were racing through my head when I ventured into the forests to check out the beach battery installation alone. This may sound creepy, but the farther in I went, the more thoughts came to me, as if I could not see the shadows of the men who lived in those buildings, but instead feel their feelings, moods, sensations. I didn’t see anything, but I felt lots of things, most of them somber, a few ominous.

Maybe it’s because I recently read A Farewell to Arms, and something was similar, those men sitting on the Italian front so long ago, waiting for something to happen, those men sitting on this little island in the Baltic so long ago, waiting for something to happen.

There are several sandy beaches in Aegna, and this has to be the place’s best-kept secret. While others drive down to Pärnu for the full effect or even tough it out at Pirita Beach in Tallinn, Aegna’s beaches were, at least on that windy day, completely deserted, and we had one all to ourselves. We barely made it there, because wild strawberries abound, and my Estonian entourage went into foraging mode, as Epp (and Kaja and Anna) think that it is their duty to consume any and all wild strawberries they can find. I told them, “Look, you can’t eat them all!” And Epp replied, “What do you mean, I can’t eat them all?”

Like I was challenging her foraging skills or something.


17 thoughts on “aegna notes”

  1. It doesn't look like it belongs there and I don't know what I'd do with it. That area could be turned into a Tivoli-like park, or just a green, open-air market (like the Esplanaadi in Helsinki) — but right now, it's just a waste of space.


  2. True. For a while it even served as a helicopter landing patch. By the way, there's an interesting parallel to your WWI experience: I was there enjoying sea veiw fith a friend, and a Finnish coulple approached us, asking if the building was a fortification from the World War I. Considering the state it's in it might as well have been. By the way, have you ever been inside it? The interior is surprisingly elegant, top notch design of its day.


  3. The man who designed the building, Raine Karp, is something of a synonyme to bombastic architecture of the late-Soviet era, he also designed the National Library, considered his Magnum Opus. If you think the Linnahall is a monstrosity, I wonder what will you make of that. But I also have to say one good thing about him – he knew how to handle lime stone.


  4. I remember buying wild strawberries from children on the steps of the Linnahall. They're better straight from the plant, of course, but I was happy to give the kids a few kroons.


  5. “And for too many, this is their first impression of Estonia.”

    Estonian friends advised me to go there and I think it is a great place. If Belgian friends visit me I always take them to the place and they love it and I have the impression that a considerable amount of other tourists agree. Not everything has to be clean and tidy (and often boring).


  6. I visited Linnahall recently, while waiting for ferry to Helsinki. It's such an architectual oddity, isn't it. On the day there were groups of South-East Asian tourists there. Skipping down the stairs, taking lots of pictures and giggles all the way. Theres something about this building that captivates people. Allows your imagination to run wild.

    To me it reminds of as if it could be the regional head office for Umbrella Corporation (to those of you whos usual weekend passtime is reading up about macroeconomics of Post-Soviet societies or bible studies – it's an evil organisation from British cult classic Resident Evil). You can just imagin all these experiments going on in the underground laboratories. Brilliant!

    I think they should find a proper function for it and renovate it. Just Google it and check out the interior – reminds me of that church in Helisnki, carved out of rock. It's magnificent!

    And I must agree with Temetsa. Whenever I got people from Estonia visiting Britain, they all want to see the back alleyways, dodgy inner city markets and whatnot. Grim reality has it's followers also.


  7. Can I just confess, I somehow like Linnahall… Ok, it's ugly as hell and worse, but I like the abandoned, shabby atmosphere there next to the open sea. It's hard to explain, it's an eerie place. The Soviet architecture was quite nazi like (unsurprisingly), and this is a brutal building violating the landscape, and I'm not comfortably whimsical about it, but it does have a presence.


  8. Giustino, have to disagree with you on Linnahall. It has the same architectural DNA as the National Library.

    Buildings, like everything, just need to be maintained.

    Of course, now it might really be a lost cause… but that doesn't reflect badly on the architect and builder.


  9. Giustino, have to disagree with you on Linnahall. It has the same architectural DNA as the National Library.

    Buildings, like everything, just need to be maintained.

    Of course, now it might really be a lost cause… but that doesn't reflect badly on the architect and builder.


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