Lost Fragments of Kalamaja. Pictures from family photo albums

Outdoor exhibition organised by the Kalamaja Museum on the streets of Kalamaja “Lost Fragments of Kalamaja . Pictures from family photo albums”

This outdoor exhibition by the Kalamaja Museum is like travelling through time into the everyday life of the district of yesteryear. The exhibition includes valuable visual material shared by former and current inhabitants responding to the museum’s call. Photo albums have been the most precious treasure people have carried with them on their difficult journeys through life. The photographs are accompanied by short texts based on interviews, giving an idea of how people lived in one of Tallinn’s largest suburbs 50, 60, 70 and 80 years ago. The photo stands are placed at or near the houses where the photographs were taken.
At the addresses: Vana-Kalamaja 7, Valgevase 14, Tõllu 7, Kungla 13, Kungla 53, Uus-Kalamaja 9, Soo 42, Noole 5, Köie 5, Kalju 7, Soo 11, Soo 31 / Kalju 2, Malmi 8

See the places HERE

You can find the translations of the photo stands below the picture.

We would like to thank everyone who has shared their family story with the museum!
New and old stories are still welcome: 

Exhibition team:
Curator Tuuli Silber; consultants Laura Jamsja, Kristi Paatsi; artist Anne Järvpõld; editors Maarja Valk, Kadri Toomsalu; photographs of objects Meeli Küttim; technician Andres Lall

Translations of the photo stands:

Kalju 7

No cars drove on Kalju Street 70 years ago. However, days were filled with passionate dodge ball battles, and in winter kick sled competitions and ice hockey matches were held. The boys built scooter-like bikes from wooden surfaces and old ball bearings bought at a flea market. The boys driving along the surrounding streets caused a huge commotion. It was especially frustrating for the residents of the ground floor. Behind the house at Kalju 8 was an old ice cellar, the roof of which was good to be sled down. There were a particularly large number of children of different ages living there. The more adventurous boys built a sports field in the yard of the house at Kalju 7 with their own forces, where a basketball ring was made from a barrel rod. In winter, fire hoses were borrowed from the firehouse shed on the corner of Suur-Laagri and Vana-Kalamaja to irrigate the hockey field. Children from all over the neighbourhood went there to play sports. As the apartments were small (18 square meters), then Rein (b.1938), until he turned 18, slept on a mattress on the floor that had to be rolled up every morning. For the first time, he had the chance to sleep in his own bed when he went to the army. And since the room was cramped, people rushed to the yard whenever possible. Thanks to their love for sports, physical education played a big role in the later life of many of the “Counts of Kalju” of that time (as they like to call themselves now). They also went ice skating on the Schnelli pond skating rink, but skating with a neighbourhood girl could be a risky business because that would sometimes spark fights with some guys from the Pelgulinn neighbourhood. The girls of the neighbourhood were fiercely protected from strangers. Love for sports and Kalamaja’s childhood memories still bring together energetic old gentlemen and ladies from all over Estonia at least once a year in a café or at someone’s party.

Köie 5a

Madis’s (b. 1954) mother Selma moved with her daughter from Saaremaa to Kalamaja to be with her mother and father. As the apartment was small, the father built for his daughter’s family a small separate house from the collapsed gate shop, which had a stove and one room. There was no oven. Water was brought from the laundry room with a bucket. However, people washed themselves in the small sauna house in the yard. Logs were brought by cart from the log yard at Köie Street. At first there was no furniture, people slept on the floor. Only later I managed to get a bed, table, chairs and shelves. Madis was already born in Tallinn. There were many children of the same age in the neighbourhood. They played together both on the street and in the log yard. Children went to hunt for apples in the neighbourhood, although the house garden had its own pear and apple trees.

With my friend Heiki we played spy game and ball games, but also organized a magnificent concert in the yard. Chairs were placed in the yard, tickets were made from tree leaves, which were checked by biting, the first row cost 2 kopecks and the second row 1 kopeck. The stage was an extra bed, costumes were coats made of blankets, crowns we made ourselves — and then the Toreador was performed. Long after that, there was talk in the neighbourhood of the Opera House at Köie 5. Madis studied first at a nearby school located at Vabriku (former Ivan Rabtšinski) Street, and then continued at Tallinn School of Music. Later he became a conductor. Even before starting school, he sang in the J. Tomp’s Boys’ Choir, then in the children’s ensemble of Estonian Radio and later in RAM. In 1965, her mother got an apartment in Mustamäe, but Madis’ destiny brought him back to Kalamaja with his family to live on Kopli Street (1978-1997). By now, however, Madis’ daughter Tuuli, who is an artist, has made her own nest on Tõllu Street.


Soo 42

Merje’s (b. 1962) father Inno worked in television as the first operator, and therefore they had a telephone — a rare thing at that time. When someone called him, he had to go to the scene immediately. Her family also had a proud BMW 326 sedan, which was around thirty years old, but her father, who was interested in technical things, was able to keep the car going. Father went to work by car and drove Merje to school. They also drove with family and friends to pick berries, mushrooms, to ski in winter, to the beach in summer, and to hike around Estonia. They also visited Latvia and Lithuania. Merje had no brothers or sisters, but beloved toys are still cherished and preserved at her home now in Õismäe. The once so coveted doggie named Krässu, made in the German Democratic Republic, which was previously visited several times in the toy shop Sipsik on Viru Street, is spending its retirement in the museum’s toy collection, and perhaps will be displayed in some exhibitions in the future. There were no children of the same age here or in the houses nearby, except for one boy, who often came to visit his grandparents. Together they sometimes played inside, sometimes in the garden, where apple trees and berry bushes grew. However, the children were not allowed to take anything from there themselves, and in autumn all the harvest was divided between the apartments as part of doing things together. Merje’s mother Õie worked at Estonian Radio, but later as a kindergarten teacher to get a place for Merje in kindergarten. According to Merje, she has not tasted since then such delicious meals as the meals prepared by her mother in the oven of the wood stove in Kalamaja, although her mother cooked and used the same recipes later in Õismäe too.

Uus-Kalamaja 9 (previously 29)

The blood of Kalamaja flows in the veins and heart of Helle (b.1947). His father and aunt were born here, whose mother Maali (b. 1880) moved to town from the seaside village of Pärispea, and Helle’s mother Leili from near Lake Ülemiste. The four people lived on 18 square meters, in the front room behind grandmother’s partition wall. Helle’s father Leonhard (b. 1912) was a skilled tinker in the Krull Machine-Building Factory, and in retirement he was a demanded worker in the neighbourhood. Helle recalls the time she lived here: “It was such a beautiful time. There were few people. When we opened the windows on a Saturday or Sunday morning, we heard the call to get some milk! Then came the horse and the cart, large bowls of milk on top. The farmer got ready and started selling milk.” To scare off hunger, grandmother gave Helle salted flatfish or a tail of herring to eat. Her grandmother also helped other people – she had healing abilities. We always had spice sprats at home. Grandmother had brought a very old spice mill from Pärispea, with which the necessary 14 ingredients were finely ground. Fish was brought from the countryside and her mother salted the fish and taught even Helle to do that. Her mother worked first as a weaver in a private company, then as a marker at the Army’s table factory near the Seaplane Harbour, and later as a crane driver at the Krull Machine-Building Factory.

The factory gave them a bigger apartment on Kotzebue (Käspert) Street, but it became cramped when Helle’s brother got married and had children. Like many current children of Kalamaja, Helle went to the Gustav Adolf Grammar School. Team spirit and getting together were important back then. If an additional specialty had to be chosen at the end of secondary school, the whole class chose the profession of a weaver. During the internship, she worked as a typist, cyberneticist and sock weaver in the Red Dawn. At the age of 25, Helle managed to get her first separate rental apartment on Paldiski Road, but her heart still remained in Kalamaja. Thanks to several apartment changes, Helle moved to Salme Street, where in the 1990s she got to know the lower strata of society, which she could not even imagine. In the end, she managed to buy an apartment on Valgevase Street, where Helle is spending her retirement and is still participating in local events to the best of her ability.

Valgevase 14

Jaan Põlten (b. 1867) from Väike-Rõude lived with his family on Suur-Laagri Street, being a house owner there as well. According to old documents, he held the position of cart driver and innkeeper. The energetic man bought a plot of land on Valgevase Street and in 1934 a nice Tallinn-type rental house with 8 staircases was completed, and a few years later another apartment on the attic floor was completed. The two-room apartments also had a kitchen and toilet, sheds on the ground floor and a shared laundry room. The part of the lower floor originally planned as a business space became a small rental apartment with a kitchen for tenants with fewer opportunities. The homeowner died as early as 1939, but his daughter Emilie-Marie was allowed to live here with her husband Anton and daughter Enna during the Soviet era after the nationalization in 1940. Thanks to the current owners of the old house, who are historically renovating the house, some of Enna’s toys found in the old wardrobe have also reached the museum collection. Enna’s father Anton was a carpenter with golden hands, but he was also a shoemaker for his family and acquaintances. His tools have also survived to this day. The business space on the ground floor was used by the sock factory Red Dawn, later as a storage room for the Suva sock factory. It is quite rare that the house also has its own logo and website, where the story of the house is also beautifully written http://www.valgevase14.ee/

Kungla 53

At that time, mother Katherine, a bookkeeper at the Estonian Railways, father Oskar, a master of the Luther Factory, and daughter Ingrid (b. 1932) lived in a two-room apartment at Prii 15 at the time. Ingrid recalls: “There was a grocery store on the ground floor of our house where I could buy the Chick Cake (4 cents each) and candies Drop of Milk (2 pieces for 1 cent). There were 4 more children my age living in the house, with whom we played inside or in the yard. The housekeeper and the housewife lived on the ground floor with their three children, but it was forbidden to play with them.” At the age of 4, Ingrid went to the German-language private kindergarten on Niine Street, where great emphasis was placed on polite behaviour and table manners. For example, the table was covered with three pairs of knives and forks, and children were taught which fork to use for what and when. Among other things, they learned to eat oysters! Appetizer, salad, soup, steak and dessert were served on the table. We were served a little of everything, but you had to know the order in which to eat them. At home, Ingrid spoke German with her mother and Estonian with her father. My mother was an active lady who bought herself a camera. Photography was a rather rare hobby among women at that time. Photo albums were also among the few things they managed to take with them when they were deported to Siberia. Below is a photograph of August 28, 1941, when, after the departure of the Russian forces, all the house inhabitants were lined up in the yard, because at that moment it seemed that the war had ended. In reality, one occupation was replaced by another for 3 years. The windows were glued across with paper to make it safer during bombings.

Malmi 8

The parents of Krista (born 1948) and Andres (born 1946) were service employees – mother Ilse (born 1923) was an accountant and father Eduard (born 1921) a middle manager. The shared apartment on the second floor housed two other Russian families: a navy officer father and housewife mother with two daughters, and a welder and radio communication specialist with their small daughter. Krista earned her pocket money by taking care of little Larissa. Krista and Andres went to the Vabriku street primary school and then went on to Tallinn Secondary School No 42.

The kitchen had a wooden stove, which was mainly used by mother. Neighbours were in awe of the delicious meat the Estonian lady cooked. Russian housewives used to make delicious pies and cakes and fried burgers. Very often they made soup on their portable stove. Krista’s family had a small electrical stove in their room and sometimes mother used to make cocoa, porridge or spoon pancakes there. At one point, the wooden stove was removed and replaced with several gas stoves.

In the kitchen where there was just one sink with cold water which was used by all 11 residents for washing their faces and brushing their teeth and there was also one water closet in the hallway. During the weekends, mother heated water, brought it in with a bowl where the children could wash themselves.

The family often went to the Kalma sauna, too. On Sundays, mother always curled her hair and wore a different dress with a nice brooch. There were no fridges; instead there were pantries in the hallway. The family made so many preserves that they lasted until fall and winter. Father used to fish and hunt with his friends and mother had to preserve the catch.

The house had a cosy outdoor area with fruit trees and bushes. Boys loved to kick the ball in the back part of the yard. Girls played egg, shop, house, walked with their dolls and doll prams.

The ground floor of the neighbouring house had a wood workshop. The bakery on the corner of Malmi and Kopli streets sold old kinds of bread, meat, jam and curd pies baked in oil. There was a time when sugar was sold by kilograms to the residents. There were sugar queues and children were taken along so that they could buy more sugar. Children got candy, ice cream or pocket money for helping out. Krista had only good memories of the school. There were sports grounds and school garden where during the socially useful work classes children were taught about plants and how to plant, weed and make flowerbeds.

Homeroom teacher would often take children to museums, art exhibitions, excursions and theatre. Once they went to an excursion to the Jahu street plant of Kalev candy factory where soft merengue, marmalade and cookies were made and they would allow the children to eat as much soft merengue as they could.

Andres was a very good pupil, additionally, he was involved in various sports and became a youth master in swimming. In the fifth grade he was sent to the extraordinary pioneer camp ARTEK in Crimea as a reward. Krista sang in the school choir, which won first places on several competitions for youth choirs and participated in the song celebration. Krista enjoyed being a little octobrist and pioneer because these activities were active and organised fun events. For example, they were pen pals with German pioneers. Heljo, the homeroom teacher of first grades translated the letters of all the children into German. In winter they would go to skate on Snelli pond and by the power station. The electrical bulbs would glow, music would play and boys would take the hands of girls and skate in pairs. On Sundays, be it summer or winter they went to the Lembitu cinema on Kopli Street. The children also used to visit the library at Tööstuse Street. When the family of Krista and Andres got a new three-room apartment in Mustamäe in 1966, they left the neighbours with kind-hearted sorrow and tears in their eyes, and children kept getting together even later. Krista remembers her childhood and school with a sense of gratitude and even today goes for walks in Kalamaja to discover its changing features.

Tõllu 7

As a worker of Factory No 9 (former Krull’s Machinery Factory), Robert got an apartment in the newly built house in 1948 when their second child Raigo was born. This house, as many others in the area were built by the German prisoners of the last war. The nearly 60 m2 apartment with ceilings of over three meters had all the conveniences: central heating, bathroom, water closet. The kitchen had a wood fire stove and a little pantry. The house was heated with coal from the boiler room in the cellar and its dust was a big nuisance for the owners of the windows that were facing the yard. The house had hot water on Fridays and Saturdays. During the second half of the 1950s, gas was brought to the house and the wood stoves were replaced with gas stoves. Raigo had few toys – small animals of wood and stone, tin crane, train and his favourite teddy Tönda who fell victim to the moths. The family would sleep in one room, in the living room they had furniture, but also VEF radio and from the end of the 1950s – black and white TV Rekord. Father had a motorcycle with a side-car for which he built a garage in the yard. In the middle of the 1950s they managed to get a telephone and during the second half of the decade – a passenger car Moskvich M-401.

They bought their food from the local cellar shops. The nearest of them was the cellar shop on the corner of Kungla and Tõllu streets, which operated until March 2019 and was the last consecutively working shop in Kalamaja, which had been operational since the times of the pre-war republic. They also went to the Kalinin region market with mother near the current Mööblimaja to buy bread, butter and milk with tins. The greatest pleasure was to eat fresh warm bread with butter and cold milk! There were no fridges, and milk was stored in a pantry or cold water. Butter was placed in salted water to make it last longer. The boys did not go to the kindergarten, but they were taught by a Russian tutor Evgenia who had been serving in the court of the czar when she was young! They used to play in the sand box in the park, which now has the Salme Cultural Centre. There were also ruins where people would herd their goats and mother sometimes bought goat’s milk from one of the ladies.

The yard was shared with the surrounding houses and there were many boys together. The main things played were football, volleyball and dodge ball, sometimes corona and table tennis. The battleground of the spy games reached from the gardens of Tõllu Street to Leigeri Street, all the holes in the fences were mapped in the brains of the boys. On the track in the back yard of Vabriku 14 they would practice discus throwing and track cycling and in the cellar of one of the houses on Kungla Street they trained with weights and dumbbells.

Then the music craze took over! From Valdur’s apartment they drew the line into a cellar box and listened to their favourites, Bill Haley and Elvis Presley on the loudspeaker. Later, the lines were lead to the apartments of all they boys, they kept in contact by phone and friend Valdur would organise the best of concert. For approximately a year they even had a band. They built an amplifier set and guitars by their own drawings. None of the gang members live in Kalamaja anymore, but the lives of those boys are still related to their hobbies of those years.

On the photo: Õie, Riho, Raigo with Tönda the teddy in 1948.

On the photo: in the yard of Tõllu 7, circa 1951–54. Back: Ants and front: Enn Kungla from 12a.In the background: Tõllu 3 building.

On the photo: young people from Tõllu 7

Soo 11

When grandmother Elfriede Margarethe and grandfather Adolf of Ülle and Enno moved to Soo 11 with their 10-year-old twins Evi and Ago in 1933, it was because it had a beautiful manor garden with many types of trees from the czar’s times. The maple avenue reached up to Niine Street. Even the apartment was 118 square meters with a large tub and tub oven in the bathroom.

Adolf (born 1887) was a founding member of the Estonian Voluntary Firemen’s Association, house owner and businessman. Elfriede was a housewife. Very often they would host important guests in the apartment. There was a maid who took the children to and from the school, did the laundry and heated the five stoves of the apartment. Grandmother did not allow the maid to go into the kitchen, she did everything herself. Ülle still makes her soups, for example, the entire family’s favourite spinach-milk soup or milk-vegetable soup, but also burgers and pastries. The family went on summer holidays in the fashionable resorts of the time – Pärnu and Narva-Jõesuu.

Evi, the mother of Ülle and Enno went to the Tõrvand-Tellemann lyceum on Narva road and belonged to the Kodutütred association. Later she studied and worked as a nurse. Thanks to her tall stature and beautiful figure, she was invited to a cover photo shoot of Maret straight from the street in 1939. Father Feliks had been four times Estonian master in 4×100 m relay when he was young and played violin, studied medicine in the University of Tartu, but was then conscripted by the German army and ended up in Siberia for ten years. His chemistry studies really paid off at the prison camp.

Ülle (born 1954) and Enno (born 1960) had a very colourful childhood, “there was a never-ending scandal with the neighbours,” they reminisce. The authorities had placed mixed families speaking other languages to live in the other rooms of their home, the kitchen was shared. But playing in the sandbox they quickly learned Russian. In the 1970s, the boys had their own gang of around 40 boys of 13-17years old. A father of one of the boys made metal badges for everyone in the gang. They played basketball, spies and hockey, raced around on kick sleds. Climbed on top of things and fell down. The streets were not sanded to make it less slippery back then and the snow packed by cars was excellent for gaining proper speed. Enno had one year in his life when he was rarely without a cast – he had in total 7 broken bones! Later, that young man from Kalamaja was elected the elder of the same city district, taught history in school and it was his initiative to bring the retro trams into the Tallinn landscape. Ülle maintains the venerable atmosphere at home and collects nuts for her grandchildren from under the only hazelnut tree that has been preserved from the times of the manor. If the grandchildren would move here, they would be the fifth generation in the same apartment.

There was a barbershop in the basement of Soo 11

On the photo: Ülle, Enno, Elfriede Margarethe in 1961.

Evi during photo session for the Maret magazine in 1939.

On the photo: Adolf Valm (Timoska), head of the Northern Fire Division

Noole 5

Mati (born 1938) spent the first years of his life with his grandparents and brothers and sisters of his mother in Paide, in a real household with animals and birds. At the same time, his mother Hilda was working in Tallinn, on Maakri Street at a hair salon that belonged to her mother-in-law Helmi. Helmi also did ladies’ hairdos there. Once it even happened that the 15-year-old Mati got locks.

Helmi did so well that she bought a two-storey rental house with eight apartments on Noole street and the only two-room apartment became the home of Mati and his parents. It was the family’s duty to collect rent and keep the surroundings in order. Mati, too, had to take the hose to water the street so it would not generate dust, and had to pull weeds from the side of the street. The hardest job was cleaning out snow in winter and wheeling it into the yard. The heap of snow became a good place to sled, but there was not enough space to go far. The good order around the house was checked by a strict police official who even wrote tickets sometimes. In the yard, there were sheds where one of the neighbours kept goats. The people in the house were on friendly terms with each other. They went to each other’s birthdays and in 1955/56, when father bought the television set, everyone came to watch it. There were a lot of guests. For example, in the 1950s during the song and dance celebration, all the family members from Paide who were folk dancers stayed at their home, sleeping on the floor.

Mati’s grandfather who in his youth had served as an officer in the czar’s bodyguard unit in Russia had his own company with a brigade of plumbers. Mati’s father Karl also learned the trade with him and then passed the knowledge on to his son. Father, who had golden hands, built into the apartment a heating system that had radiators and was heated by the stove. He also built a water closet and brought a water pipe to the laundry in the yard. As the plumber’s work was rather dirty, they often went to the Kalma sauna where they often had to stand in line for more than an hour.

Mati started school on Vabriku Street, for the second year of school he was transferred to Tallinn Secondary School No 1 (current Gustav Adolfi Gümnaasium). That was the hotbed for many good athletes. Mati started playing basketball and was also involved in athletics and cycling. During winter, they played ice hockey on Köie Street or Snelli pond with the boys and raced on high speed with the kick sled down the Schmidt hill. No sand was sprinkled on the streets back then.

In summer, the same hill was good for racing down with scooters (self-made scooters with ball-bearing wheels). They went to swim near the fish market where the warm cooling water from the turbines of the power station gushed straight into the sea from a large pipe. There was a restricted military area near the hangars of the seaplane harbour, but sometimes they managed to sneak in to jump into the giant mountain of sawdust. The friends also went to watch moto racing at the Kloostrimetsa circuit, cut out photos of athletes from newspapers and pasted them into notebooks. For example, Erik from Kalju Street was already a famous racer and a great role model for the boys of his neighbourhood.

As time went on, keeping the house in order started to be too much for the family, and in 1972 they managed to get an apartment in Laagri. The building was given to the state together with the tenants. Later the building stood empty and burned down, as many other wooden buildings with similar destiny. Thanks to the sports, Mati is still active and sometimes takes a walk on the streets of Kalamaja.

On the photo: front: uncle Paul, Mati, …., back: mother, aunt Ellen, father Karl, aunt’s husband in 1940.

On the photo: with guests on New Year’s Eve in 1940

On the photo: front: Mati’s father Karl, back: grandfather Karl welding

On the photo: family folk dancers from Paide at Noole street in 1950.

Kungla 13

During the Soviet times, the first floor of Kungla 15 was occupied by the Housing Board, during the 1970 there was a kindergarten for a short period, thereafter the Red Corner where they would hold the wedding of the youngest daughter of Velly and August who lived on the upper floor as well as all the important birthdays of the family. August, who was born in 1913 in Omsk in a family of expatriates, came back to Estonia during the war and married Velly from Järva County, their first child Mati was born in 1943. During the March Bombing, the mother was hiding with the child in the stone-built laundry in the yard when they were targeting the Volta factories nearby.

The laundry was an important part of life. Laundry days were during the weekends. Father would make fire under the large water container already five o’clock in the morning. The washing was done in large bowls on the washing table. In the rolling shed, a man’s strength was needed to roll the laundry straight – on a large wooden laundry roll with a box of heavy stones for press.

There were in total three children in the family: Mati (born 1943), Õime (born 1947) and Urve (born 1954). The five of them lived in two walk-through rooms. Father was electrician, mother stayed at home. Life was poor. When the third child was born, life had progressed. When Urve went to school, the mother managed to get a job as a line worker in the local plant of the Norma factory where they made tin boxes for dry foods and toys. Õime got her first doll when she was five years old. Their main toys were slings and high wooden stilts. Girls played hopscotch, house, shop and hide-and-seek in the yard of the big house across the street. It had many good corners to hide in. The street was a place to communicate – all the children and parents knew each other. There were not many cars, even the motorcycles came later. In the back yard of Kungla 15, there was a playground with a sandbox and a big swing, which attracted all the neighbourhood kids. In the neighbouring apartment, there was a bitter widow, the old Laami woman as they called her, who could not stand children and was always cross with everyone. Before the playground was built, the yard had berry bushes and fruit trees and the people of the house would grow food for themselves during hard times.

All the children of the family went to the school on Vabriku street, as did Urve’s children and grandchildren later. Although Urve was the leader of pioneers at school, they always celebrated Christmas at home. The secretly kept a radio under the bed – they had to pay radio tax for having it or face going to jail during the times of Stalin. Father would play accordion at birthdays and weddings. At home, grandmother would always sing. Many of the songs sung were from the repertoire of the most popular artist of the time – Artur Rinne. It was fashionable for young people to write song lyrics in notebooks and cut out photos from magazines.

Grandmother lived on Timuti Street in Pelgulinn and to visit her they crossed the railroad bridge, which has now been demolished. You had to have courage to go, because the boys living there were hoodlums. The houses in Pelgulinn also had yards with berry bushes and fruit trees. Grandmother made jam and grew peppermint for tea. She made beautiful handcraft and knitted anything the children needed to wear. The times were poor after the war and there were many flea markets. From there they bought Mati’s clothes, which were later worn by Õime and even Urve got some. Everything was used up. On the corner of Vabriku and Kungla streets, Urve went to a fun singing and dancing class for children. In addition to everything else, grandmother sewed and embroidered all the costumes she needed for that. The minuet dresses were especially fancy, as father made wire rings to put under the dresses. They performed at all culture houses across Estonia. As mothers and fathers were working, grandmother would take care and feed Urve as well as her friend from across the street. There was so much snow in winter that they would jump into the heaps of snow from the second-floor window. To keep away cold, children had to eat lingonberries all winter long. The berries were picked from Nõva and kept in water in a jar. To make it sweet, sugar was put on bread with tiny bit of water, and peppermint tea was drunk. Later, sometimes they could by Komeet or Teekonna candies from the shop in the basement of the house across the street. The girls say they had a happy childhood and they still keep in touch with those they went to school with, although none of them live in the area anymore.

Õime, Urve and Mati with mother and father in 1955.

Playground of Kungla 15 in 1958.
Urve in the children’s hobby class in 1960.
One of Urve’s many songbooks

Kalju 2 / Soo 31

Anneliis’ (born 1941) grandmother was a babysitter in St Petersburg when she was young. There she learned to cook well and met her future husband Gustav who was an active and enterprising man. In addition to being the fire chief, he belonged to the council of the power station, city government and owned a printing house in the Old Town. That is how he came to buy the house on the corner of Kalju and Soo streets where he lived with his wife and three children. Gustav also donated money for the building of the Estonia theatre. During the visit of Nicholas II to Tallinn he even went on board the czar’s ship to welcome him with salt and bread.

The family lived in the biggest apartment that had water closet, there was a small groceries shop on the corner of the house on the first floor and one of the basement apartments was occupied by the janitor.

Anneliis’ mother worked as an accountant and her father was a supplier. The family read a lot. Father managed any job well. Thanks to him, Anneliis would be able to fix her own shoes even now, because she used to watch her father repair shoes. Father also loved to fish with his friends and used to press his ties and trousers himself. During the weekends, the father and daughter would saw wood for the coming week with their two-man saw. In winter, Anneliis and father loved to go sledding at Schmidt hill on their kick sled and skiing in Mustamäe.

The garden had flowers, berry bushes and apple trees, climbing on the trees and shaking the apples down was Anneliis’ job. At first, the girl played outside with her cousin, later she often went to the big courtyard between the houses on Köie and Suur-Laagri streets that belonged to businessman Wahl. That was where her good friend Riina lived. The great-grandmothers of the girls had already been good acquaintances, their mothers, and grandmothers even friends. The grandmothers of both girls were wonderful cooks and thanks to them, children were always fed well. For example, áma (as Anneliis’ grandmother was called) made herring sauce, lamb with turnip casserole, and doughnuts in oil. Typical Sunday dessert was thickened cranberry juice with runny whipped cream or snowball soup. For birthdays, áma always baked kringle and Napoleon cake. Every morning, mother whipped egg yolks for Anneliis, sometimes with cocoa, sometimes with coffee, sometimes even with soft butter. The cellar was for storing wood and briquette, in the hallway there was a large tub with homemade sauerkraut, which was eaten by spring. They also preserved plums and apples, which were eaten as desserts on more festive occasions. Sometimes they could by egg ice cream with crunchy waffle from the kiosk in front of the Kalma sauna. There were ice cream carts on the streets. When staying at home with her grandmother in the evenings, one of the favourite pastime activities was solitaire. She also collected candy wrappers. Anneliis and Riina started school from Vabriku street. Later, the Estonian-language classes were transferred to Secondary School No 1 (currently Gustav Adolfi Gümnaasium). There were annual dance courses and school parties where the girls could wear their best dresses. They often went to the cinema, sports competitions and walks around the town.

Everything good in Kalamaja is still dear to Anneliis who still lives in the area. She is most saddened by the traffic that is too intense. It seems incredible that 75 years ago she learned to skate in the middle of the road on Kalju Street where there were no cars during the entire day.

On the photo: Anneliis in 1952.

On the photo: Gustav and the people of the house in 1914.

On the photo: Shop on the corner of Kalju 2 / Soo 31, beginning of the 20th century

On the photo: Anneliis’ mother and grandmother on the stairs of their house


Köie 1a

In 1918, Riina’s mother moved with her mother and father to one of the many Lender-type rental houses that belonged to businessman Wahl. The daughter of the family, who had studied to become a business servant, married a long-distance sea captain and they too settled in the same house. They had two daughters: Riina (born 1941) and Katrin (born 1947).

There were eight apartments with water closet and two with dry toilets in the basement in the Köie 1a building. It was said that Wahl had ordered the project designs of the buildings directly from the architecture bureau of mayor Lender and had the Suur-Laagri, Vana-Kalamaja and Köie street houses built in a square formation. The backyard of each house had a garden with flowerbeds and bushes. Later, the garden parts were removed and the area between the houses became one common courtyard where over 30 children of the area would play! There were also Russian families in the Köie 1a building, but all children talked to each other in Estonian. There was no fighting. Sometimes the girls would organise performances in the yard, they even sold tickets. The girls also played rotten egg, hide-and-seek, double dutch, hopscotch, ball and uka-uka.

The older children made the so-called slaube in the corner of the yard, where they would sit, smoke and listen to the Voice of America on the radio. Sometimes they played volleyball or basketball. Younger children had their own playground in the yard; the smallest ones had a sandbox. The children of the entire area were attracted to play here also because of the so-called Tarzan rope hanging on the big willow tree and which they used to swoosh down from the roof of the shed. They went to watch the Tarzan starring Johnny Weissmüller in the Lembitu cinema on Kopli street for all the pocket money they had earned and for many times. When they played spies, the bigger children would sometimes let the smaller ones in. Some would hide themselves and the others would look for them. They would play across half of Kalamaja, through cellars, over fences and it would take many hours. The bigger boys did shot put, trained with dumbbells, played chess, corona, table tennis and had fights with the hoodlums of Pelgulinn. One of the boys had a girlfriend there and when he sometimes walked her home, it would often end in with a fight.

Riina’s grandmother (born 1887) who was extremely caring towards all people and animals sometimes called the children from the yard to eat in the kitchen or sent pies or sprat sandwiches out to the yard. Grandmother would flavour the sprats with the famous spice mixture of Tallinn sprats that she brought from work at the fish factory. In addition to the kick sleds and heating materials, they held two barrels in the basement – one for sauerkraut and the other for salted mushrooms. The basement also housed the common laundry with a big cast iron pot and laundry roll. At home, it was Riina’s job to clean the copper door handles and curtain holders, take out ashes from under the stove. When grandmother would make ice cream with the ice cream machine, Riina had to crank. Grandmother, who was called áma, was able to make delicious food out of nothing. Riina’s favourites were minced meat sauce with boiled potatoes, cabbage pie, snowball soup and Napoleon cake without jam. Grandmother bough a beautiful celluloid doll for Riina and made an entire wardrobe for the toy. From pants to coats – grandmother also sewed clothes for the entire family. From his voyages at sea, father brought back crayons, books and other nice things for his daughters.

Riina’s mother had a diploma in business service. She was employed in a fabric store in the city centre, later in a flower shop and was always tastefully dressed, hairdo with water curls, lipstick, painted nails and even pedicure done. Following her mother, Riina also started to go to the same hairdresser and manicure ladies to pretty up. During the summers, Riina stayed in the family summer house in Nõmme. In winter, the first thing to do after school was to take out the kick sled and start racing along Köie street. The slope was steeper, and the curve was sharper than today. Once a week, a farmer with horse carriage would sell milk and vegetables in the yard. Horse manure on the street was picked up to fertilise flowers and berry bushes. In Riina’s childhood Kalamaja, everyone had their belly full and something exciting was always happening and she still tells the stories with great pleasure to everyone.

On the photo: Riina’s grandfather and grandmother in 1912.

On the photo: Köie 1a in the 1930s.

On the photo: Riina’s mother and grandmother in the yard of Köie street in 1933.

A company in front of the house in Köie 1 in 1934, butcher shop in the basement on the right.


Vana-Kalamaja 5

Alide was born in 1907 on the sea-side end of Vana-Kalamaja Street. Together with her mother Elisabeth, father Aleksander and brother Johan (born 1905) they rented a one-room apartment in one of the houseowner Luts’ houses at Vana-Kalamaja 5. Alide sang in the famous Leimus Children’s Choir, brother Johan was good at drawing, but taught himself to play guitar. Together with three-four local boys they were famous across the city as birthday singers who could be ordered for midnight or early morning to surprise the birthday child and wake them up by singing. They played guitar, mandolin and sang. Back then, singing someone up for their birthday was all the rage. Johan’s entrepreneurial and adventurous spirit showed already in the sixth grade. When he came back from school with a note in his journal, they would have strangers who were selling at the market by the Tornide square sign the note for candy money. Nobody was supposed to see the note at home! As a young man, Johan travelled across Europe with his friends. In 1925, he travelled by sea to find work in Brazil with two friends. There were more people going from Estonia, with and without families. Johan had Estonian boys he knew already there to meet him at the port and they saved him from the hands of local farmers. The farmhands were almost like slaves who had to toil for a certain number of years in order to pay for their housing and food, in a climate that was unsuitable for Estonians. With the help of his acquaintances, Johan managed to get a job at construction and later at sea. Alide received the last postcard from Brazil in 1939. They made inquiries about him through the international Red Cross and posted ads in newspapers, but there has been no sign of Johan since then.

Heda-Ursula (born 1934) managed to live only a year in the home of her mother Alide at Vana-Kalamaja 5. Then they moved to Vasalemma for the work of her father who drove a road planer. But they still visited Kalamaja, because grandfather who had become a widower, had found a new wife Antonie and a home on Kungla street. They used to visit them on Sundays to eat roasted potatoes and meatloaf and celebrate Christmas with the blood sausage made by the lady of the house. Mother Alide used to tell Heda stories of the life in the Lutsu house and skating on Kotzebue pond.

Vana-Kalamaja 5 in 1927.

On a construction site in Brazil in 1926.

As a sailor in Brazil in 1930.