The Tallinn City Museum (Linnamuseum) is located at 17 Vene in the Western part of Old Town. The museum charges four euros (around five US Dollars) admission. This museum is closed on Mondays and national holidays. The museum opens at 10:30 AM each day and closes at 6:00 PM between the months of March and October. It closes opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 5:30 PM the rest of the year. This tour is free with the Tallincard.
There is no grand entrance to the Tallinn City Museum. It is located in a house that has been a part of Tallinn history for centuries (since the 14th Century). The house has served a variety of purposes during that time, but was converted to use as a museum in the 1960s. There have been a series of renovations, with the most recent being completed in 2000. The unassuming residential-like entrance hides many secrets waiting to be discovered.
On the day of my tour, there was a group of schoolchildren just beginning a tour with their teacher. Some of them were wearing period hats, which was kind of fun. As I meandered around the exhibits on the first floor, I wished that I spoke Estonian so I could eavesdrop on the teacher. He was engaging the students around a large mock up of the city in the center of a room that sits adjacent to the entrance. The model of Tallinn was very detailed. The perimeter of the room was adorned with a variety of artifacts and historical notes presented in several languages (English being one of them).
The first floor also had a large fireplace and the receptionist. The rest of the exhibits are on the second and third floors. The second floor had an extensive history of Tallinn's seafaring heritage. There were also some ancient artifacts displayed from various eras of Tallinn's history beginning with shards that dated back 5,000 years. The second floor also contained history of the town councils (complete with dressed mannequins), brotherhoods, and exhibits from the Danish occupation.
There is an exhibit that is sort of between floors in an ante room that appeared to be centered around Tallinn's international relationships. The center of the room is empty. The exhibits are enclosed in glass cases around the perimeter of the room. The exhibits contained items collected from a variety of cities that I believe may be sister cities to Tallinn. This room has some interesting artifacts, but can be perused rather quickly.
We spent most of our time on the top floor of the museum. This area housed an exhibit about a family that had once occupied the house where the museum is located. More of this exhibit spilled into an adjoining room, which seemed to focus more on art. There was a historian was tending to the exhibits. The following room housed artifacts and posters of Tallinn's occupations (modern). The schoolchildren were still on a lower floor and my wife and I were the only other people in the museum at the time.
As we walked into the occupations room and began looking at the posters, the historian walked in and began talking to us. I am ashamed to say that I do not remember his name, because I specifically looked at his name-tag (it may have been a variation of George). He was twelve during World War II. Our new-found historian friend took us on a walk through Estonia's modern past and enlightened us in depth about the twentieth century occupations. He also had a great deal to say about propaganda. We spent about an hour in this exhibit conversing with the historian, but mostly listening with fascination.
Among the things I learned from our friend was that occupiers always came to Estonia as liberators. A variety of posters showed how Estonians celebrated the arrival of their liberators only to suffer under the harsh regime of oppressors. We also discovered some interesting facts about World War II. After Germany ceded the Baltic States to Russia in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Russians inducted thousands of Estonians into the military. When the Germans "liberated" Estonia, they also inducted young Estonian men into the military. This resulted in an entrenched battle fought on the Eastern border of Estonia that involved many Estonian soldiers on both sides of the front lines.
Our historian friend then told us about the singing revolution, which is available in more depth in the following room. A small room next to the occupations room has three hours of video dedicated to the three year singing revolution in Estonia. The singing revolution started as a somewhat spontaneous movement that ended up enduring for years. During this period, Estonians (as many as 300,000, gathered to sing national hymns that were banned under Soviet occupation. The song festival fairgrounds is a tourist attraction that is located a couple of miles from Old Town. Because of the weather, we did not make it out to the actual fairground location. But the history of the non-violent revolution in Estonia was engaging.
Tallinn City Museum has many great artifacts that highlight the 5,000 year history of Tallinn. The five dollar admission charge is well worth the money. Between the fascinating exhibits, rich history and amazing personal experiences that our historian shared with us, we learned a great deal about historic Tallinn. The City Museum is well maintained, the artifacts are arranged into logical exhibits, the artifacts are diverse and interesting and the rich history is a story that captures the imagination. A must-see if you visit Old Town Tallinn. It will give you a frame of reference for the rest of your visit.