martin hoffmann

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Patarei – Behind ancient bars


There is still so much footage lying around that I want to put on the blog, that I hardly know when to work on it. This time we travel back in time to my staying in Tallinn/Estonia during summer 2013. I had the chance to travel around the countryside a lot, but also the capital itself provided various treasures. On of the is an old fortress building right at the shore of the city. Being used as a prison for many centuries, it is now completely abandoned and not taking care of, so you have to dig for history lessons yourself.

The story of the walls are as varying as the history of Estonia itself. During the occupation by the Russian Empire, czar Nikolai I. ordered to build a fortress at the shore of Tallinn facing Finland, so in case of a war there would be defense. After around 12 years of construction the core part of the fortress was completed in 1840. When Estonia was seeking independence from Russia around 1918, the walls were hosting prisoners being Tallinn’s main prison.

When the Second World War started, Estonia, this little gem in the Baltics, was quickly grounded by the bigger powers. Whilst officially being politically neutral, it was seized by the Soviet Union by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1940, but because things turned out differently than agreed, quickly taken back by the Germans as they were moving East. Patarei seemed suitable for the Nazis’ terrible action and thus was used as a working and concentration camp.  Following their ethnical and fascist cleansing plans, 200 Estonian Jews were executed in the courtyard 1943.

Once the Second World War was over and Estonia was back under oppression by the Soviet regime, it remained to be a huge prison. This usage was continued even after the fall of the iron curtain up till 2002. This seems remarkable, as apparently no major renovations were ordered and the interior you can find dates back to the 1960/70s at least. The remains show that when the prison was given up, apparently everybody left rather quickly.

Nowadays you can officially enter for a little fee, however no official tours are provided nor any kind of information, not even any kind of security measures. You simply step into rotting history. It is said that after the shut down in the early 2000s, wild parties have taken place in- and outside the premise, as it is directly at the waterfront and the walls inside are thick enough to kill any noise. So it is easy to imagine that all kind of strange stuff happened there.

For further reading

Wikipedia on Estonia during World War II

SPIEGEL Online – Höllenloch mit Partystrand (German)

Deutschlandfunk – Sowjetkerker mit Partystrand (German)




Author: hoffmann.martin

cultural engineer and education hacker | interested in design, media, politics, learning, teaching, understanding

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