Rediscover Tallinn

4 min

As a tourist, when you think of Tallinn, the old town’s cobblestone streets and red rooftops are usually the first things that come to mind.

However, there are other places of historical value in the city that continue to offer something to discover, even for the local people. The most prominent of these are the territories of former large industrial enterprises, where a whole new life is bustling.

Just a few steps from Tallinn Old Town is the Rotermanni Quarter, the founder of which was Abraham Rotermann, a hat maker from the heart of Estonia, Paide. He obviously had no idea at the beginning of the 19th century that business would be thriving there almost two hundred years later. The quarter, however, has a much newer look now, because the two world wars and the Soviet era in the Baltic States had a devastating impact on the original buildings, and following the restoration of Estonia's independence in 1991, the reconstruction of the buildings was considered to be unrealistic.

The Rotermanni Quarter used to be the place where threshing machines were produced. There was also a linen-cleaning factory, a bakery, a wool and spirit factory, a cold store, a timber compay, a porcelain- and glass-decorating factory, a knitting workshop, and one of the first car dealerships in Estonia. These industrial buildings, which have survived until today, are now used alongside modern architectural constructions.

The new buildings of the quarter were not allowed to be built higher than the former grain elevator – 24 metres. The unofficial symbol of the Estonian industrial landscape, the ground floor of the elevator hosts several eateries today, such as meat lovers’ favourite Pull, the cosy wine bar Flamm, Asian restaurant Toa, and the BrewDog and Taptap brewery bars. Nearby old buildings include a renovated grist mill, wheat and rye mill, sample mill, boiler house, power plant and carpentry shop. These have been divided into many restaurants and shops. In addition, Tallinn's old salt complex, which houses the Estonian Museum of Architecture, is a short distance from the quarter.

Local attractions

Walking from the city centre towards Kalamaja, the Telliskivi Creative District hides behind the capital's railway station. The site of a former large factory, which repaired the locomotives of the Baltic Railway from the second half of the 19th century until its closure, and manufactured and repaired wagons and carriages, was one of the first of its kind to be built in isolation further away from the main city buildings. Most of the factory warehouses and workshops on Telliskivi Street have been demolished or rebuilt, with a locomotive depot, now a market known as Depoo, being the only building still standing.

The complex, where hundreds of people once worked on locomotives and wagons, is now a favourite area for leisure and recreation, with its small restaurants, eateries, bars, and shops offering Estonian produce and creations.

At the beginning of summer 2019, world-class photographic art also reached Telliskivi – an internationally renowned photography centre, Fotografiska, opened its doors there. It is without doubt a place for culture and art lovers, which deserves to be visited whatever the season. For example, in December, the award-winning British photographer Mandy Barker's exhibition 'Sea of Artefacts' will be adorning the walls of the centre. You can also be inspired in the adjacent Vabalava theatre centre, which offers a programme focusing on contemporary performing arts.

From a submarine factory into a fantasy world

Most recently, the area of the former Noblessner shipyard, which is located along Kalaranna Street, has undergone a refurbishment. The history of this quarter goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, when Tsarist Russia began to build its navy, and the Scandinavian-based entrepreneurs from St. Petersburg, Emanuel Nobel and Arthur Lessner, set up gigantic production buildings and housing for workers and company executives.

This place, where during the last century submarines were built, is today a district of luxury seaside living and business. Everything is thought of here, even entertainment and taste experiences. The former ship systems factory has established itself as the cultural heart of this modern. The former foundry has recently become the Proto discovery plant, with exhibits showing the local industry here during its prime, and of Estonian industry in general. Have you ever flown a hot air balloon, driven a self-steering car, or sent a rocket into space? In the fantasy world created by Proto, you are able to experience these things and much more with the help of virtual reality. 

Beer lovers will probably be interested in the rather hipster Põhjala brewery. Kai art centre also offers dining and drinking venues. For those who are interested in Estonian and Scandinavian artists' work, the Staapli 3 gallery and art café is the best choice. A gourmet restaurant, 180°, offers fine dining, with the Michelin-star-awarded German chef Matthias Diether in charge of the menu.

Text: Martiina Raudsepp
Photos: Triin Marie Juss, Rasmus Jurkatam