We are getting there

Competition between Russia and the West over the Baltic region is not new.  Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania occupy a strategic location in the flat borderlands of northeastern Europe, making them attractive to powers with regional ambitions.  Attempts to control them began in the Middle Ages, with a period of Scandinavian domination in which Sweden and Denmark took prominent roles. By the end of the 18th century, the Baltic States were swept into the growing Russian Empire. Their subordination was briefly broken by a short period of independence in the early 20th century, before Nazi Germany invaded during World War II. Not long after, the region was annexed into the Soviet Union.

After regaining independence in 1990 just prior to the Soviet Union's collapse, the three nations entered a new phase: integrating with the West. It culminated with each of the Baltic States joining the European Union and NATO in 2004.

But Baltic accession to the two Western bodies did not end Russian influence in the region. All three nations still have substantial ethnic Russian minorities: 24 percent in Estonia, 27 percent in Latvia and 6 percent in Lithuania.

Still, in 2019 the Russian influence is prominent in the 3 Baltic States. It will take a while to clean up the mess that the Russian occupation left behind. But as they say… “We are getting there”

Tables are set and everybody is getting ready to welcome party members at "Paviljonas", a popular place among young people. Pylimo g. 21B, Vilnius 01141, Lithuania.

Local restaurant in Vilnius busstation.   Sodų g. 22, Vilnius 03211, Lithuania

Local restaurant in Vilnius busstation.   Sodų g. 22, Vilnius 03211, Lithuania

Emanuelis Kyklys has turned coffee making into an art. In his coffee shop "Crooked Nose & Coffee Stories" he serves freshly brewed coffee by the cup. You can smell 3 different coffee beans and choose wich one will be grained.   Šaltinių G 20-17 Vilnius 03213, Lithuania   

"Cozy Old Town Lofts"     Aguonų g. 5  Vilnius 03213  Lithuania

Backstreet alley in the old city of Vilnius. Lithuania   

The old city of Vilnius is since 1994 on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Because the pensions are low, many older people have to sell their homemade items on the street. There are numerous public markets in Vilnius. 89% of their turnover is made by selling to tourists.    Vilnius, 03213,  Lithuania

The governments of the three Baltic States are negotiating about a railway line that should connect Vilnius with Riga and Tallinn. There are plenty of plans but negotiating with three countries and three governments is a very difficult task. In the meantime buses run daily between the three capitals. It took about 4 hours to drive from Vilnius to Riga.  Cemetery on the road to Riga, Latvia.

Local cafeteria in the bus station of Panevèzys, Latvia

Parts of the city of Riga, seen from the top of the "Academy of Science" building.  Riga - Latvia.

The old city of Riga is since 1997 on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

In almost every street in the city of Riga, old buildings are being demolished or restored.

Look around downtown Riga today, and things still seem positively bright, at least on the surface. Hotels shimmer with lights, most historic buildings have been recently remodeled, and there seem to be more imported luxury cars on the roads here than in Los Angeles. But drive 20 minutes in almost any direction from downtown, and one sees fresh scars of the economic recession developing on top of older ones caused by the legacy of the Soviet occupation.

This 81 year old woman is to embarrassed to show her face. She sits everyday on the corner of the street begging for a few euros to buy some food. Old town Riga, Latvia

In the "Maskavas Priekšpilsēta"  (Moskow Suburb) older people go to cheap restaurants where they get a hot meal for 3 euros.

Svetlana is proud to be able to cook for the disadvantaged people of Riga.

Old and new buildings seen from a backstreet alley in old town Riga.

Room for more. Design Apartments, Kalku Iela 4,  Riga.

Backstreet alley, Kalku Iela 4,  Riga.

Rīgas Centrāltirgus

Riga Central Market is Europe's largest market and bazaar in Riga, Latvia. It is one of the most notable structures from 20th century in Latvia and has been included in UNESCO World Heritage Site list together with Old Riga in 1998. It was planned from 1922 and built from 1924 to 1930.

The main structures of the market are five pavilions constructed by reusing old German Zeppelin hangars and incorporating Neoclassicism and Art Deco styles.  The market is 72,300 square metres (778,000 sq ft) wide with more than 3,000 trade stands.

Riga Central Market  Nēģu iela 7, Latgales priekšpilsēta, Rīga

Sunshine, a very populair dance café-restaurant among young and older people who love American food and country dancing. Live bands perform here during  the weekends. Sunshine, Kaļķu iela 17, Centra rajons, Rīga,

The road from Riga to Tallinn takes about 4 1/2 hours by bus.  Forests cover about 50% of the territory of Estonia, or around 2 million hectares, and so make out an important and dominating landscape type in the country.  Forests are one of the most important renewable resources and living environments in Estonia. Forest protection and management have various impacts on the environment, economy and social life. In recent years, forest harvesting has reached the level of 10–11 million cubic metres. Due to active use of forests, greater importance should be attributed to forest protection, regeneration and maintenance works.

Birch is a humble, sensitive tree with a powerful force. Estonians believe that the wood of birch reduces anxiety and the fear of the future.

Tallinn, Estonia’s capital on the Baltic Sea, is the country’s cultural hub. It retains its walled, cobblestoned Old Town, home to cafes and shops, as well as Kiek in de Kök, a 15th-century defensive tower. Its Gothic Town Hall, built in the 13th century and with a 64m-high tower, sits in historic Tallinn’s main square. St. Nicholas Church is a 13th-century landmark exhibiting ecclesiastical art. Tallinn's Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997

Maria and Liili of the Medieval restaurant "Olde Hansa" Old Town Tallinn.

Remains of the old Patarei prison. This was once one of the scariest places in Estonia, back when the Soviets used it as a high security facility from 1920 onwards. The Patarei Prison was only closed in 2002.

The Rohuneeme Boulder.   My friend Arno told me that this boulder was a gift from Finland.  During the last ice age large masses of rock, often as big as a house, have been transported by glacier-ice, and have been lodged in a prominent position in the glacier valleys or have been scattered over hills and plains.

Noblessneri valukoda. Remains of a  former Russian concert hall. The Noblessner area features fascinating industrial architecture from early 1900s that is being fixed up little by little and opened to the public.    Peetri 10, 10411 Tallinn, Estonia

Kumu is an art museum in Tallinn, designed by the Finnish architect Pekka Vapaavuori. The museum is one of the largest museums in Estonia and one of the largest art museums in Northern Europe. It is one of the five branches of the Art Museum of Estonia, housing its main offices.  Kumu is an abbreviation of the Estonian "Kunstimuuseum"

Aleksandr Savchenkov, painter and owner of the Ichthus Art Studio. The art studio is hidden within the cellars of the  Dominican medieval Monastery Claustrum.   Müürivahe 33, 10140 Tallinn

As a child I played here on this Russian army base. Everyone who lived in the area knew it was a fake base. Not operational. Soldiers and personnel took care of the daily operations. The rockets in the silos were made out of cardboard. The Russian soldiers left everything behind after their withdrawal from Estonia.

The Baltic sea and the beginning of the imaginary bridge to freedom.

 "Eesti Kommunismiohvrite Memoriaal"         Estonia's Victims of Communism 1940 - 1991 Memorial.       Pirita, 12011 Tallinn, Estonia

Estonia lost every fifth person of its population of slightly over a million as a consequence of the terror imposed by the occupying regime.

More than 75,000 people from Estonia were murdered, imprisoned or deported.

The Memorial to the victims of communism is dedicated to all of them.

The people and nation of Estonia established the Memorial in 2018 in memory of Estonia’s victims of communism.

Story shot on the Leica CL

A huge thank you to Bodo Philipp at Leica Store Berlin

and

To my Estonian friend Arno Valgma (UWP D93) and his family.
 

Photography  © Dominic Verhulst 2019