When people find out I live in Kalamaja, some will inevitably say – “Oh, that’s Tallinn’s hipster neighborhood.” I think I need to come up with a snappy come-back for that one – perhaps something quirky along the lines of – “Ah, if Kalamaja were all that hip, then I’d know where to find my urban honey.” Living in London, every hipster neighborhood – as well as many mainstream organizations from the National Theatre to the Canadian High Commission – all had their own urban bee hives producing urban honey which they would then sell or distribute. Urban honey is something of a hipster food thing – just like urban foraging.
Now if the implication behind their statement is something along the lines of – “Oh, you must have moved to Kalamaja because you want to be a hip” then I guess my clarifying response should be something more straight-forward along the lines of – “Well, besides being too old to be a hipster, I bought my Fish Flat twelve years ago when Kalamaja was still edgy and far from hip.” As chance would have it, I started visiting Kalamaja back in 1998 when one of my first Estonian friends moved here. Now she was a true visionary – everyone else I’d met with Kalamaja connections up until then had already moved out. As for me, I guess I just got lucky.
Some of the Kalamaja questions I get remind me of my London youth when I spent far too much time and energy trying to be a musically hip – or at least to appear hip enough so that I didn’t look like a stupid ska-loving punk. For the record, my favorite band was the Clash – I was hooked on them from the moment they released their first album. Of course, some of my true punk brethren would argue that the Clash had already sold out by releasing that first album – or even their first single. My response is that my greatest Clash moment came while watching them play at Camden’s Electric Ballroom not long after the release of London Calling – my favorite Clash album – even if there are others who would call it their sell-out “pop” album. At this point in my life, I guess I can’t be bothered with questions about who is hipper than whom and who was hipper first. However, I must confess that every time I see someone these days who is half my age wearing a Ramones t-shirt I can’t help but think to myself – “Ah, too bad they missed out on seeing the Ramones live in London.” Although, also for the record, Marky had taken over from Tommy on the drums by the time I got to see them. But the Ramones were right up there with the Clash when it came to the best live gigs ever. In case you’re interested, the Undertones would round off my favorite punk gig trinity. But enough of musical reminiscing ….
To get back to that more important issue of urban honey, I guess the real answer to the question “where is all of Kalamaja’s urban honey” is that Tallinn – unlike London – doesn’t need any urban honey as it isn’t a city that goes on forever. Instead, you will find all the fresh and pure Estonian rural honey you could ever want at any one of Tallinn’s markets. While I would buy London’s urban honey from time to time – mainly to support the bees and their keepers – I never could imagine that the honey was very “ecologically clean” – or öko as some Estonians love to say.
Although Kalamaja may not have its own urban honey – well, at least not until some enterprising young hipster appears and starts her own hives, what Kalamaja does have is not just one but two – count them two – local stores for bee keepers. I happen to think that that’s pretty cool in and of itself. Both these stores are located on Kopli Street across from the Balti Jaam train station. Both of them have been there for decades – dating back at least to the time when Estonians kept bees at their suvilas (summer cottages) to help pollinate the small fruit orchards and vegetable gardens which helped feed them throughout the dark, 50-year long Soviet winter before the return of the free-market economy.
Strangely, these two apiculture stores are so similar that they almost look like branches of the same long-vanished Soviet chain. And maybe they were. The first one is now called Mesindus-Aiandus Kauplus (The Beekeeping & Horticulture Store) and is located at Kopli 2C. As it is right next to the entrance of the Hotel Economy, I expect that most people just walk right by it never even knowing that it’s there. The second is now called Aianduspood (The Horticulture Shop) and can be found at Kopli 4. It’s also easy to miss as that street address is a mash-up of several different buildings which seems to go on and on. When its green shutters are open for business, then you will see the words Aiandus (Horticulture) and Mesindus (Beekeeping) running along the top of their windows in a green-yellow-and-red font similar to the one used by the first store in what must have been a late Soviet attempt at branding.
Both these stores stock everything a bee keeper could possibly want from box hives to honeycomb frames and from smokers to protective clothing. If apiculture is your thing, then both stores will have you covered. Both stores also sell honey (of course) as well as a full range of bee-related products from pollen to beeswax – although nothing at either place looks particularly packaged as both these retro stores seem to have been frozen in time somewhere back in the late 1980s or early 1990s.
While their beekeeping heyday may be long past (both shops seem to be focusing more on mainstream garden supplies these days), they each still seem to have a loyal – albeit older – clientele. To be honest, I couldn’t begin to tell you which of the two stores is better and, if you ask the old-timers themselves, I’m sure they’ll tell you that it all comes down to the shopkeeper they like best. Of course, it might also be possible that once you’ve found one of the two stores you would never even imagine that there might be another one exactly like it just down the street about 100 meters away. After all, when I found the second store for the first time, I thought I had simply re-entered the first store but had just forgotten its exact location and the arrangement of its shelves. Ah, the joys of getting older ….
And yet, every time I walk into the hidden world of either one of these two stores, I can’t help but start thinking: wouldn’t it be cool to keep my own hives in Kalamaja? And then I remember that I’m just an old punker rather than a young hipster. So maybe, just maybe, there’s a real Kalamaja hipster out there looking for something interesting to do …. Given that Estonia has some of the world’s cleanest air (I believe it every time I breathe it) and given that most of Kalamaja’s industry is long gone, I have a feeling that Kalamaja’s urban honey would taste quite good and would almost be öko. Until then, I’ll just stick with my Aadama Talu (Adam’s Farm) honey from rural Mustjala on the island of Saaremaa – a place where some people swear that everything really does taste better.
Mesindus-Aiandus Kauplus (Kopli 2C) is open Monday to Friday from 10 AM until 6 PM and on Saturday from 10 AM to 3 PM. Aianduspood (Kopli 4) is open Tuesday to Friday from 9 AM until 6 PM and on Saturday from 9 AM until 3 PM. Both stores are closed on Sunday as even bees need to rest.
Image Below: A week after my post on urban honey, I went to neighboring Helsinki for a visit and found that they’re ahead of the curve and already have their first urban hives. The proof is in the jar below. The label essentially translates as Helsinki Honey as Stadi — from the Swedish word for city (stad) — means Helsinki in the city’s urban Finnish slang.