Interview: Tomas Alexandersson, The Tallinn Collector
Ever wonder what Tallinn looked like during the Soviet period? What did tourists do for entertainment? We caught up with Tomas Alexandersson, otherwise known as the Tallinn Collector, to talk to him about his fascinating and unusual website. The Tallinn Collector website collects images from old guidebooks about Tallinn from 1935-1991, and gives a glimpse into the history of tourism during the Soviet period.
TBG: What is it about Tallinn that has you so intrigued?
TA: I think it’s the fact that Tallinn is a small city, located in a small country, has gone and is still going through many changes. Tallinn has many different interesting faces. My fascination with Tallinn is also because I am from Stockholm. It is geographically very close to Tallinn, but in many ways, still so far away.
TBG: Where do you find most of the Tallinn guidebooks?
TA: I can’t tell you all of my secret gems, because then there will be no books left for me, ha ha; but most of the travel guidebooks I find at random second hand shops. I have also found lots of books at Uuskasutuskeskus (Tatari 64), a larger second hand shop in Tallinn. It’s a great place for shopping. Balti Jaam flea market, located right by the central train station is a great venue for second hand goods too.
TBG: What are some of the more unusual things you have found in the guidebooks? Have people left any notes, travel suggestions? Or do they seem unused?
TA: They are actually pretty well untouched, with almost no marks, damages or notes. This is still very surprising to me. One funny thing though, once I found a couple of nude photos in one of the guidebooks, so if someone is missing some photos from the late 1980s, give me call!
TBG: Are there any places (restaurants, cafés, shops, points of interest) that have remained relatively unchanged since the Soviet period?
TA: A few so-called soviet chic places still exist in Tallinn and I think they are fun to visit. For example Energia Kohvik (Kaubamaja 4) in the city centre and Narva Kohvik (Narva 10), are two classic Soviet era cafés. Also Café Maiasmokk (Pikk 16) in the Old Town. I also really enjoy urban sightseeing in Tallinn, like visiting suburbs, factories or the Tallinn Zoo. Another favourite activity is to invite myself to my estonian friends' “dachas” (summer cottages) outside Tallinn. These places are very nostalgic and then I also get the chance to see beautiful Estonia.
TBG: What advice would you give to other “collectors” who would like to start exploring cities in the same way?
TA: Take your time to collect the material you are interested in, and be fair to their origin. In my case, I’m very strict about showing where the material is from. I’m not trying to claim anything, I just want to show the material for its historical value. Also, put in time, thought, heart and soul into your collecting, this is what will definitely give results.
Questions: Kristina Lupp
Photos: Intourist Postcards, Tallinn, 1980