Images courtesy of TheTallinnCollector.com
The Soviet relic has turned a complete one-eighty in half a dozen years: from something being avoided in a conversation to mega-awesome retro consumer products and nostalgic memories. Coca-Cola, Jenkki and McDonalds can kindly fuck off, because they have no idea, what true opression feels like. Kelluke, however, does. Regatt ice cream, too.
A young swedish lad, Tomas Alexandersson, recently started a website called The Tallinn Collector. He posts, you’ve guessed it, soviet-era photos of urban Tallinn. We had a chat via Skype, where i tried to get more info on this mysterious man and his internet page.
Firstly, i would like to know, what were you doing in Tallinn for 8-ish years? Just being a regular student or… ?
I was actually working all of those years. From 2005 – 2011, so around 7 years, actually. I worked mostly as a journalist/writer for a magazine called “The Baltic Guide”, which is a free tourist guide you can get in the ports around the Baltic Sea. I also worked for two other swedish companies, dealing with home shopping/e-commence and the other one as a writer, doing media analysis for swedish companies. I first visited Estonia in 2004. Then my interest started for the country.
Was it love at first sight?
Oh man, it was! Jaama turg, Humana, Stockmann, hapukoor… I loved it all!
So you firmly decided, that you had to find a job here or was it just a coincidence?
Coincidence. A scary one. A couple of weeks after my visit, the online shopping job was available at a swedish employment site. I got it within a few days.
/// “So you’re telling me, that we aren’t at Valli Baar?”
Whats so special about hapukoor?
Smooth and useful for everything. Almost like ketchup. You burn your skin… Hapukoor. Food too salty… Hapukoor.
Don’t you guys have that stuff in Sweden?
Not really. Only keefir. Not really the same, you know? Kohuke is also something very alien to us. Also, you have astelpaju. There’s plenty of good things from Eesti!
I’m willing to trade estonian hapukoor for swedish Thunder Frosted snus. FYI.
We have a deal!
Anyway, you mentioned some specific places, which you remembed from your first visit. Do you think, that Tallinn was or is a sort of a urban safari? Sovietish urban safari.
Yes. The architecture is very different from what we have here in Stockholm, outside my window. I remember Sakala Keskus in Tallinn. Linnahall, how my heart almost stopped! Balti Jaam. The Standard house in Kopli. Also Vabaduse Väljak as a huge, strange parking lot. I came to Tallinn in october/november. It was dark, cold and grey. I remember, that it felt like home.
Did you live in a shady part of town?
Not really. I got one 3-room apartment in Vanalinn, Pikk street.
Damn, thats fancy as fuck!
I know! Today, I know “how swedish” i was. Thinking everybody lived in Old Town. After a week, I understood the situation. During my stay, I changed apartments atleast 10 times.
Worst place you found yourself living?
I think the apartment at Kaarli pst. A huge “modern” glass house. Rent was high as hell! Posh neighbours and also these riots outside my window. Russians being angry about that statue. That sucked! I moved, when I could go outside after a couple of weeks.
That’s a smart decision. All of the years you stayed here, did you collect the soviet era photo books over time or you just realized, that “man, i need to share everything” and just got every book in one day?
From day 1 I was a fan of Uuskasutuskeskus, Keskturg, Balti Jaam, Humana and random shops around the city. I bought everything retro, vintage, sovietish I could find, including the books I now use. It might sound strange, but to me, as a swede, soviet related stuff have always been something exotic and “forbidden”. So all the books i currently use are from Tallinn. Of course, I’ve been buying some more now, but it’s not that one day i bought all of them, to start this website.
Did you have The Tallinn Collector website idea years ago? How it came about?
Yes. I just didn’t know, what I would do. Now, when i’m doing my tourism studies, I’ve been getting a more clear vision. I have used the name Tallinn Collector for a while, as a nick name for fun. My Eesti friends first thought, that it sounds like some crazy man, a la bone collector. But I found it fun, sharp and connected to my work.
Is the website purely your hobby and a personal project or is it backed up by some scholarship or private funding?
Right now it’s purely a hobby and personal project. I’m also alone on this one. I bought a scanner, a new Mac and took a course in web design.
Did you ever consider contacting the original photographers or archive museums and get the proper negatives scanned? But i have to admit, the slight texture on your published scans looks awesome.
Yes. I’ve done my research. The sad part is, lots of the authors are dead. I’ve only been in contact with one person. Also the problem is, that the photos were made during soviet times. Owned by companies, that are no longer running. I really want to point out: This work, I’m doing, is made with all the respect for it’s authors. I just want to highlight them, so to speak.
Whats your schedule considering the updates? a couple of times a month?
2 new posts every day! I have a very impressive archive, so far. But could change. I got around 50 guidebooks, so I will survive for a while!
How did the initial promoting go? I got your newsletter, because i was signed up months ago, but what about regular media?
Promotion is great now. I actually did not do anything before. Funny you ask, I never thought about it, until now. I’ve been contacted by Visit Estonia and by some estonian newspapers and hotels in Tallinn. Feedback right now is great!
Did they offer you something you can’t refuse?
Yes, 15 minutes of fame!
Is the website just going to be strictly about Tallinn or have you thought about including other estonian cities over time?
I have some material of Tartu, Pärnu and also a bit of the bad brother, Narva. But Tallinn is the main target. It’s what I had in mind.
Do you think Tallinn will loose its magic, when we are finished renovating most of the old soviet factories and other buildings?
Yes, definitely! Already, within tourism, we can talk about “underground” tourism and heritage tourism, as the biggest trend. People, who want to see the bad, rough, old. Tallinn is a good example, I think, when they clean up too much, we might loose the proper aesthetic. We’ll see.
Yeah, then you can make another website of Tallinn, from 1991-2020.
Have you ever thought about starting your own tourism business? Seems that you know alot about Tallinn.
Yes, many times. I regret some small things. I have been a bit too shy and less business-minded. Nowadays, Tallinn has a lot of, lets’ say, “soviet-tours” – urban sightseeing. My goal is to somehow work with swedish-estonian tourism. I, of course, hope my project will connect me more to it. I also think The Tallinn Collector is an interesting point of view in tourism. So I believe I can create something great with it! I’m also very passionate about Estonia. If Estonia only knew, ha!
It’s time to wrap things up. Is there something you would like to say to finish this interview?
I hope this project of mine will not just only be an entertaining and retro eye-candy kind of thing. I really hope this could be considered as an important, interesting, educational material to discuss and analyze. That’s a wrap!