Text and photos by Marika Mayfield
This summer I had the opportunity to be a part of the BaltHerNet Summer School, which took place in Haapsalu, right on the coast of Estonia. I had never been there before even though I graduated high school in Estonia and lived there for total of 5 years.
My trip began at 10:15 am from Tartu, where a bus left from in front of the former National Archives of Estonia building (they are in the process of moving into their new location on Nooruse street, giving the archives the nickname Noora). We arrived in Tallinn at around 1 pm and switched buses to join the other summer school participants continuing our journey to Haapsalu. Before arriving in Haapsalu, we stopped in Taebla at the Ants Laikmaa Museum located at his house, which he was not able to see fully completed. Ants Laikmaa was the first internationally educated Estonian painter. The house is big and beautiful, but also cozy. The top floor, where his studio was, had all kinds of little nooks and crannies with window seats looking onto the backyard. Following the house tour, we walked to Ants Laikmaa's resting place through an apple orchard in the process of being restored.
Ants Laikmaa Museum
Our guide discussing the house with Mai Raud-Pähn
We stayed in the Haapsalu vocational school dorms, which are similar to the Tartu College rooms with a shared kitchen. The first lecture was given by Tiina Kirss on the topic of life stories and the importance of recording memories. One questions that Tiina brought up stayed with me: Is a life story equal to history? As Tiina discussed, often the interest in discovering the history in one's family occurs too late, either as a result of the physical loss of a loved one, or in the form of a less tangible loss of their memories.
Tiina's lecture was followed by the general meeting of the BaltHerNet members. An overview of the past year's activities and financial statements were accompanied by a discussion of the coming year and plans for future summer schools, conferences and youth seminars.
For me, being a food lover, the meals in Haapsalu were of particular interest. I was very happy to see that there were three different fish dishes for dinner that night, in addition to about 3 or 4 different meat dishes and salads. There was herring with sour cream and eggs, smoked salmon roses and creamy salmon and broccoli salad. Dessert was also delicious! We had a kama and cookie cream parfait with berries. This dinner was perfect considering the choice for the evening film screenings. We watched two films: Happily Australian but Estonian too and Toidutoojad: ajaloolised eesti toiduärid Torontos (Food: A Treasury of Estonian Heritage). I went to bed happy and full, with food in my stomach as well as on my mind.
Sunset at the Haapsalu vocational school
I was pleasantly surprised with delicious Estonian oatmeal with strawberry jam for breakfast and much needed coffee. Our morning of lectures began with Maie Barrow, who introduced the exhibits that have taken place in Australia. She also discussed the numerous activities that take place in the Australian-Estonian community, including many activities familiar to the Toronto Estonian community such as scouts, guides, and volleyball teams. Vera Nikolajeva Oinets discussed the exhibitions that have been put up in Krasnojarski Krai in Russia. These include an exhibition of Estonian postcards and a huge 2 metre knitted mitten. She also introduced an upcoming exhibition for the winter season of 2016 about traditional Seto lace.
Estonians from home and abroad participating in the summer school
Another note on the food... at the coffee breaks we were presented with what looked like a big box of freshly picked chanterelle mushrooms. They turned out to be sweet cookies that tasted amazing with the coffee.
The second lecture session began Ain Dave Kiil also attending the summer school from Canada, but from Alberta and not Toronto. He presented all of the exciting historical preservation ideas regarding Alberta Estonians in the form of a heritage exhibit and book. Piret Noorhani concluded the session by giving an overview of all the news and exhibitions that have taken place at VEMU over the past few years. She compared the difficulties of creating the first exhibit about Tartu College on its 40th birthday and the more recent exhibitions, for which we have had to find creative installation solutions.
After lunch, Merike Kiipus discussed the Estonian Literary Museum archival library and introduced the small exhibitions they have started to put on display with books and publications suitable for the Year of Music (2015) and the Year of Sea Culture (2016). Merike also reminded us of the very successful children's book exhibition, which had over 5000 visitors in 1987-1988. Liina Rebassoo introduced the new permanent exhibit for the National Archives of Estonia. She showed us images and plans for how people will be moving through the exhibition space. It will look like a labyrinth and will present Estonia in the 1920s. Two others from the National Archives of Estonia, Birgit Kibal and Liisi Taimre, introduced a new website, topothek, where people can upload their own personal photos and create an online archive accessible to the public.
The final lecture session opened with Mai Raud-Pähn's (the oldest summer school participant at age 95!) short overview of a more recent exhibition at the Estonian House in Stockholm, Sweden. The exhibit was the story of three refugee boats that travelled from Estonian to Sweden during the Second World War. Riina Reinvelt from the Estonian National Museum gave us a preview of what exhibitions will be coming in the fall of 2016 when the new building is opened. The new permanent exhibit will be very personal and include individual stories to go along with a general overview of Estonian history. Audiovisual material created especially for this exhibition is in the process of being filmed. The lectures concluded with Sander Jürisson's discussion about the much debated new name for the Museum of Occupations - Vabamu. The museum will be closed for a year beginning in the fall 2016 for renovations and the placement of new exhibits.
An interesting meeting/discussion about the upcoming Estonia 100 celebrations concluded the official part of the day. We heard about ideas from Australia, which include the possibility of a sculpture and a number of Estonian concerts. In Sweden plans are being made for collecting life stories and mapping out the trails of Estonians in Sweden. The Estonian National Museum is planning an exhibition about the re-establishment of Estonia's independence and the new Dance Festival Museum is planning to publish a book about the dance festivals that took place behind the Iron Curtain.
As the sun began to set, we drove to Nõva, a small beach village, to see a church and visit filmmaker Marko Raat at his summer home. At the church, Piret played us a nice tune on the organ :)
Our guide at the church in Nõva
Piret Noorhani playing a little tune on the organ
We had a picnic dinner with Marko and were treated to a preview of some of the audiovisual material that will be used for the Estonian National Museum permanent exhibit. A screening of Fast Eddy followed. As I had already seen the film, I walked down to the beach to watch the sunset. It was very windy, but still warm and beautiful. A great way to end the interesting day of lectures.
Lea Kreinin enjoying the sun at our picnic with Marko Raat
The final day of the summer school was full of walking around and getting to know the city of Haapsalu. Unfortunately, I was unable to visit all of the museums planned for the afternoon, but the city tour in the morning was very informative and a great chance to enjoy the sunny weather. Kalev Jaago met us by the Haapsalu castle and gave us a tour explaining archaeological history along the way. We also stopped to see where the Valge Daam (White Lady) shows herself during the late summer months when the moonlight shines just right. We walked along the small streets of Haapsalu looking at the architectural details and enjoying the breeze. We walked along the water and stopped at the Aafrika rand (Africa Beach), where there is a playground with safari themed play structures.
After lunch, I had to catch a bus to Tallinn to begin my journey back to Toronto, but first my mother and I stopped at famous cookbook author Anni Arro's cafe right outside the castle walls for a cappuccino and cake.
I enjoyed my time at the BaltHerNet summer school very much and it didn't feel like "school" at all! I strongly recommend participating in the next summer school if you get a chance! Not only do you get to hear about all the interesting cultural activities taking place or in the process of being created, you get the opportunity to learn more about the different cities in Estonia.