an American fish in & out of Estonian waters

Kalamaja’s Coolest Store


Kalamaja’s coolest store – Majatohter (House Doctor) – may also be its most important. Hidden away at no. 5 Väike Paterei, you could almost walk by it without even noticing. Thing is, Majatohter is located in a lovely 100+ year old wood building in a neighborhood filled with lots of lovely 100+ year old wooden buildings. Its muted pale yellow and gray color scheme also helps the building blend into its surroundings. But if you catch a glimpse of its old fashioned sign with its early 20th Century typeface and then head into the store, you are in for a real treat.

Crossing Majatohter’s threshold is a bit like travelling back in time. You end up in someplace resembling the 1930s – or what I imagine a 1930s store might have looked like in Kalamaja. The reason I say this is that Majatohter feels just like one of those old General Stores out West or in the rural United States with its creaking wooden floorboards and the smell of history in the air. And if you visit on a sunny day, you might even get to watch dust motes dance in the air as a nice breeze blows through the house.

But where a U.S. General Store is, well, rather general in its selection of merchandise, Majatohter is rather specialized and so I guess would classify as an Estonian Special Store. Or, to be more accurate, Majatohter’s purpose and its merchandise is very specific. As Majatohter’s very name implies, it exists to doctor or tend to Tallinn’s many other old wooden buildings – both in Kalamaja and beyond. So, if you need anything to renovate or patch up your 100+ year old wooden house, then Majatohter is bound to have it. And if your old wooden house is missing a piece of itself – a bit of wooden decoration, a metal railing, or any other detail, then there is a chance that you might find something very similar at Majatohter as well. One of the many services that Majatohter performs is that of salvage – they salvage pieces from old wood buildings so that they can be used to preserve other old wood buildings.

As you would expect, Majatohter’s cool wooden shelves are chock-full with all the things that a handyman – or handywoman – dreams about from tools to paints. But what makes Majatohter more than just a store, is its philosophy of helping others keep their old wooden houses alive and healthy. To do this, Majatohter’s site includes not only a blog filled with helpful renovation tips but also many how-to videos. And if you are more of a hands-on learner, well then Majatohter offer classes and workshops that will help you DIY.

While Majatohter is a store – a for-profit business – which might make everything that I’ve written so far seem like just ad copy, there is more to Majatohter that first meets the eye. Sharing the same building – right next door from Majatohter – you will find the Sustainable Renovation Information Center NGO (known by its Estonian initials SRIK) set up with an Estonian-Swedish grant and now partially funded by the EU. The NGO is the tail which wags the business end of the dog. And SRIK’s goal is to promote sustainable renovation by training people how to restore their wooden homes in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective manner which respects each building’s cultural and historical context. As I love old buildings – and believe everything should be done to preserve them, you can see why I might be a fan of this NGO.

And if you’ve ever walked around Kalamaja and seen how many of its lovely 100+ year old wooden buildings are still crying out for attention after 50 years of enforced Soviet neglect, then you might also understand why I think that Majatohter is probably Kalamaja’s most important store and not just its coolest. Although I live in a stone building built during the Estonian Republic back in 1938, Kalamaja would no longer be Kalamaja without all of its lovely old wooden buildings. Fortunately, there is a House Doctor on call to help keep all the wood alive and well.


Image: A Karelian wooden house spirit from the shores of Lake Oniegu (carver unknown). 

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