The tram to Kopli, Tallinn, Estonia.

In my estimation, an urban destination is significantly enhanced if it has trams, and Tallinn is lucky because it has four lengthy tram routes which carry passengers to some very interesting parts of the city. For my last post about Tallinn, I want to reveal what you can see if you take the tram from Telliskivi in Kalamaja to the terminus in Kopli. But first, some notes which provide context for the photos.

We returned to the tram stop at the north end of Telliskivi and took the number 2 to the end of the line in Kopli. The tram went through areas where housing mixes with industry, harbour facilities and a ship repair yard. Most housing is contained within Soviet-era apartment blocks about four storeys high. Although houses dominate the streets of Kalamaja and some old wooden houses exist in Kopli, the further we got from Kalamaja the poorer most people seemed to be. When we arrived at the point where the trams turn through a half circle to return to the city centre, a massive stone building called the Estonian Maritime Academy blocks the view to the west. The academy is a vocational university.

We got off the tram in Kopli and walked to a small Russian Orthodox church built overwhelmingly with wood. Nearby, just across the railway leading into a harbour with restricted access, is a terrace of wooden houses overlooking the sea.

Kopli stands at the end of a peninsula overlooking the Gulf of Kopli to the south. To the north is a desolate sandy beach which, that day in late February, was bordered by frozen sea water.

We walked along the main road to the tram stop before the Kopli terminus, noting that a kiosk and a small shop meet the basic needs of the local people, a majority of whom now live in Soviet-era apartment blocks half hidden among trees to the south of the main road. A few old wooden houses also lurk among the trees and they looked interesting enough to justify a return visit. But I knew I would have to be careful with my camera because some of the local young and middle-aged males seemed to be unemployed and were not always engaged in lawful activities.

While Hilary rested at the hotel I caught a tram to Kopli, but got off at Sitsi where there are excellent views over the ship repair yard mentioned earlier. The area around Sitsi has an interesting mix of Soviet-era apartment blocks, wooden houses of different ages, breeze block and plaster houses of recent pedigree built by a few families that have benefited from capitalist economics, patches of mud and grass enclosed by the apartment blocks, fenced-off yards full of wood and metal items, rows of wooden huts and brick outhouses, and a few drab shops, bars and cafes. Stucco walls once brightly painted have been discoloured with damp, and large wheelie bins litter the open spaces behind the apartment blocks. Most inhabitants of the area are poor and some feel compelled to look for recyclable items in the wheelie bins. Small groups of men loiter near the tram stops hoping to sell drugs to passersby. In the distance is a vast industrial complex, most of which is built with brick. The industrial complex looks abandoned, but it is possible that some parts are used for storage purposes. Lots of muddy paths lead among the trees and the buildings, thereby providing people with the most direct routes from one place to the next, and many people use the paths to exercise their dogs (sadly, not all the pet owners pick up their dogs’ excrement).

I got onto the tram and broke the journey twice to briefly examine the immediate areas (I found environments similar to the one around the Sitsi tram stop, so the camera remained quite busy).

Keen to re-connect with Tallinn’s more gritty and edgy side, I caught a tram to Sitsi for another lengthy walk around the streets where, simply by turning a corner not previously noted, new but interesting views open up. Areas of this nature, with their wooden housing, their ill-kept communal areas, their washing hung on lines between rusting metal poles, their garages, huts and outhouses constructed with wood and brick, and their large but abandoned brick-built factories (the factory near Sitsi gleamed in the late afternoon sunshine. Shadow emphasized the detailing on the external walls), are fascinating places to visit. True, you have to be careful where you point the camera, and you run the risk of encounters with dogs’ poop, barking dogs behind wire or wooden fences and men suffering from drug or alcohol addiction, but how else can you connect with a city’s more marginal delights?

I walked Hilary back to the hotel but was out almost immediately, one last visit to Kopli my intention. I tried to get into the harbour behind the Maritime Academy, but only people with passes or goods for transportation could proceed beyond a barrier across the road. Instead, I looked at trams parked in a shed beside the Maritime Academy, then walked in a south-easterly direction through some trees and over very damp ground ineffectively drained by ditches and shallow pools of stagnant water. Some very large wooden houses stood among the trees, as did a few Soviet-era apartment blocks a little further away.

As I took a few photos of the wooden houses, a woman approached me with a wary look on her face. She was walking four of her dogs with her daughter aged about fifteen. Once the woman was reassured that I was not up to mischief, we had a chat about Kopli in the past. She said that Kopli had once been a small village detached from Tallinn a few kilometres to the east. Between the two world wars, the building which is now the Maritime Academy had been built as Tallinn University’s science faculty and, following its inauguration as a teaching and learning facility, academic staff built themselves wooden houses among the surrounding trees so that they would be close to their place of work (my informant insisted that some of Kopli’s surviving wooden houses once belonged to the academics, but most of the houses had been in much better condition in the past). The woman could remember that Kopli remained a village until “Krushchev built his houses in those blocks over there,” and she pointed through the trees toward some of the apartment blocks with their discoloured stucco peeling from the brick below.

“Krushchev’s houses. His houses ruined the village and brought in many Russians from far away to work in the harbour and the local factories. The growth in the number of people, and the changing nature of the population, led to a lot of heavy drinking, domestic violence and other crime. But, for the last two years in July, people in Kopli have organized events, a sort of festival, to celebrate the history of the area and to encourage people to take greater pride in their community. With a little effort, Kopli can be beautiful and peaceful again.”

I agreed with the woman about Kopli’s future prospects. In fact, Kopli is fascinating, which is why I had come back. I continued walking around for another half hour, on this occasion concentrating on the south side of Kopli overlooking the gulf with the same name.

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