In this crazy car-centred era, Estonia has witnessed a comeback – lots of us have become obsessed with two-wheelers.
Be they motorbikes, bicycles or scooters, in this grey and changeable climate we also welcome them as sweet harbingers of spring, quite like the first flies or butterflies.
The history of the indispensable two-wheeled means of transport dates back to olden days. After all, there had to be a way of getting to one’s destination, especially in the countryside. Before the war a lot of people lived in the countryside and it was popular to do things together. Young people organised outings on all sorts of wheels, they formed bike associations and societies. Lots of group photographs were taken on those outings, which show that the bicycles got more and more modern over time. The photographer who captured all these events also arrived on a bike.
So little by little, by the end of the 1930s, a true cycling culture had developed in Estonia. After Denmark, it was the number two country in the world with most bicycles per inhabitant.
Valdur Mikita, an Estonian writer and semiotician, says in his book “The Linguistic Forest” that for an Estonian the bicycle is not so much a means of transport as an instrument for widening the senses. Riding in the saddle of the iron horse changes the rider’s mood and linguistic intuition. Riding a bike is both a liberating and inspiring activity.
The exhibition in the Photo Museum illustrates the Estonian cycling culture by means of two excellent examples. The bicycle was both a tool and a prop in a photographer’s work and there used to be a large number of biking photographers in Estonia.
Thanks to these photos we can see how the bicycles developed from the beginning of the 20th century until the Second World War, how things changed together with the fashion and practical needs.
Everything repeats itself in this world. There’s a hipster girl on a lady’s bike ringing the bell in the cobblestone streets in the Old Town of Tallinn. Watch out on the narrow streets – don’t get run over by a daring elderly lady riding a scooter!
Estonians also have their own “tour de öö”, a night bike tour, uniting both the young and the old.
People travel in distant lands and on dangerous roads on their bikes. But they always get back home.
Curators: Taavi Veiler, Merili Reinpalu
Designer: Anne Järvpõld
Translation: Ülle Allsalu
Thanks: Mall Parmas, Sander-Ott Eelmaa, Heiki Muda, Elo Selirand, Meelis Kütt, Aivar Rääk, Annely Miil