The Estonian capital Tallinn has finally made it: After decades of foreign rule, it can present its beauty to the world in freedom.

The place is again in the middle of Europe. At half-past one, the hands of the clock stand in the Gothic town hall walls, under the 600-year-old arcades of which people – tourists, business people, young people – flow continuously. Go west sounds from their cassette recorders, go west.

A policeman strolls up from the old council pharmacy, built-in 1422. The only problem is the volume. The content, on the other hand, is now state rationale, at least figuratively: The whole country, which arrived in the European Union a year ago, wants to be part of the West. Wants to be capitalist. Rich. And a bit extravagant.

The Arabic riddle: where is the city from the port?

It is a sunny, cool spring afternoon in the Estonian capital Tallinn. Old Toomas looks calmly over the tiled roofs of the old town and out to sea. The weather vane on the tower of the town hall was already a trademark of Tallinn when Lübeck law was still in effect and the frigates from other Hanseatic cities moored in the harbour.

For centuries, seafarers found their way out here, to the north, to the west, across the Baltic Sea to their trading partners in Europe.

In the beginning, so the legend goes, the port was and then the city. The Arab explorer and cartographer al-Idrisi supports this insofar as he claimed in 1154 that he had encountered a festival that was only defensive towards the sea.

The Dane Waldemar II had not yet registered a claim to ownership, and so Tallinn only received its current name three-quarters of a century later, which means nothing more than “Dane’s Castle”: the flag of the new occupier is said to have fallen from the sky just then the conqueror had laid here and sparked the battle for the port area.

Towers against the battle

In contrast to many other corners of the city, the fortress built by the Danes on the Toompea – Domberg – successfully defied the vicissitudes of history. With its 28 towers, it is one of the best-preserved in Northern Europe; the once almost two-kilometre-long walls still seem almost insurmountable.

But appearances are deceptive: they could not prevent Swedes, Russians and Germans from moving in here repeatedly, the latter first as a representative of the Teutonic Order, then as Wehrmacht soldiers.

Today the neighbours come to Tallinn again, as friends, as tourists : Almost eight million passengers come to Tallinn’s port every year, coming from Stockholm and Helsinki, just 80 kilometres away – ten times as many as getting into the city by plane.

Pork instead of closing time

They are welcomed by an impressive panorama: the mighty onion domes of the orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral tower right up behind the port facilities. The cathedral seems to compete with secular Hermann for sovereignty on the mountain, while the St. Olof’s church and two Soviet-style hotel towers tower above everything else.

Also, the Old Toomas, the most famous weather vane in the city. But by no means the only one: at least since the 17th century, a successful trader had to plant a stately anemometer on the house gable.

The walk from the harbour to the mountain is almost as short as driving and at least as comfortable – deep potholes still pave the main streets of Tallinn. Yes, the capital itself is limping: a short and a long leg, as the two main streets call themselves, connect Domberg with Town Hall Square and the thriving city centre, which knows no shop closing.

Cannon tower with kitchen views

Even if the wallet is not easy for all locals, the departure of the capital into a new era is nowhere as tangible as here. Gone are the days when there was no pork for days and Soviet officials explained that pork was not good for health. Business with everything that was once only in the West has long lured.

The Baltic City Paper counted twenty places in the city ten years ago, there are more than 100 today – Mexicans, Indians, Germans, Australians, hardly any locals. History has also shaped the kitchen and above all the German influence has got stuck in it: Old German “Kiek in de Kök” means a mighty cannon tower from which you could look into the kitchens of the old townhouses from the beginning of the modern era, and even then Blood sausage with sauerkraut, the German-Estonian national dish, was often seen there.