A Tale of Two Tallinn Markets
Remember the heyday of Mustamäe’s Kadaka Turg (Juniper Market)? Those crazy days in the 1990s after the free-market had returned to Estonia? It almost seemed as if “anything goes” and that everything was for sale. And perhaps everyone as well …. For better or for worse, Kadaka and its pirate havens are long gone – although perhaps there might be some people out there who still feel a kind of nostalgia for that old wild west of trade. An indoor kirbuturg (flea market) has even reappeared out in Mustamäe calling itself Kadaka ….
Meanwhile, out in the eastern suburbs of Lasnamäe (Oven Peel Hill), there was a similar market called Pae Turg (Limestone Market). I say “was” although one part of Pae Market still exists – even if it is only an echo of its former wild-child self. As the Cult of the Car spreads out to Lasnamäe, it seems like developers are busy breaking off pieces of the former market, shutting them down, and then waiting to turn them into something more upscale. Although this kind of gentrification – or at least mainstreaming – is proceeding apace, there are still some old hold outs of the old order. Around the small market square, you will still find the occasional outdoor stalls selling cheap clothes, foraged berries, or some other random items. If you go inside the one surviving Pae Turuhall (Limestone Market Hall), you can get a feel for how things use to be as it still houses a collection of seemingly random businesses with a cheese mongers next to an internet café or a hairdresser shouting distance from the butcher. Sadly, the crowds seem to be dwindling as more and more car-friendly monster malls and monster grocery stores go up in Lasnamäe and swallow up all the business.
These days, back over on the other side of town in Mustamäe, you’ll find a very different kind of market – Mustamäe Turg (Black Hill Market) – almost hidden away in a panel forest of panel buildings. It is run by the same good people who run Nõmme Turg (Heath Market – see: Tallinn’s Picture-Perfect Market). While Mustamäe Market is not as pretty as a picture, it does share some design elements with Nõmme including the flower beds, water pump, town clock, and benches – although the fountain wasn’t working when I last visited. Indeed, there doesn’t quite seem to be the same level of TLC lavished on working-class Mustamäe as on upscale Nõmme. Yes, the neighborhood may be a little rougher – there are “no smoking” and “no drinking” signs up everywhere, but at least there has been a considerate effort made to make Mustamäe Market look nice. And you can even attend the same summer concert series here without having to head over to neighboring Nõmme.
OK, so Mustamäe Market many not be a “destination market” like Nõmme’s. However, if you plan to go exploring Mustamäe (see: Tallinn’s Black Hill Trolleybus), it should be one of your planned stops. As it happens, Mustamäe Market is relatively easy to get to as it is strategically located between Mustamäe’s main parallel arteries of Mustamäe tee (Black Hill Road) and Sõpruse tee (Friendship Road) and so is easily accessible by any of Tallinn’s four surviving trolleybus lines. Another reason to go is to see the market’s quirky “benches-for-one” designed for tired or older solo shoppers – or perhaps for those who don’t like sharing their benches with strangers. But if you happen to be there with friends, don’t worry, as you’ll find some regular-sized benches out there as well.
Mustamäe Market is clearly one of those “support your local market” kind of markets. The market even appears to be thriving despite the large Maxima grocery chain looming over it. Fortunately, there seem to be more than enough locals to keep this neighborhood market going in a place where public transportation is still considered to be an acceptable way of getting around town. Yes, the number one complaint of Mustamäe residents seems to be that “there aren’t enough parking places” for their cars. And, yes, one-quarter of the market’s territory is given over to parking. However, it still seems that the Cult of the Car hasn’t completely taken over Mustamäe yet. Some people, it seems, still enjoy walking around between all the remaining trees.
The rest of Mustamäe’s market quadrant is filled with two nice looking modern wooden buildings as well as a series of covered seasonal market stalls where most of the action takes place in spring, summer, and fall. While the designers built four rows with thirteen stalls each to cover one quarter of the market, only three of these rows are now being used – the fourth row running along the perimeter fence is mainly used for storage. In any case, you’ll want to walk down the central aisle running between the two twin rows as that’s where you’ll find the fresh fruits and vegetables. While the selection is not as varied as it is out at Nõmme, you can probably find just about anything you need.
Going into the two covered buildings which take up the other half of the market territory, you’ll see that one of them was intended for fruits and vegetables but is now mainly empty other than a few stalls selling fruits, flowers, as well as dried nuts and fruits. The larger and livelier hall is the meat hall where you’ll find not just meat but also butter, eggs, cheese, honey, and even a pharmacy. There is even a separate fish section in the back which reeks of fish (see my Kalamaja’s Other Market for my thoughts on fish smells). All in all, Mustamäe Market has all your essential shopping needs covered.
And while Mustamäe Market is still very much alive, its sister market over in Lasnamäe’s panel forest is pretty much dead. Clearly built at the same time, by the same company, and with the same source of funding, Lasnamäe Turg (Oven Peel Hill Market) looks quite similar down to its parking lot, its long wooden market building, and its benches for one. But take just one look at its outdoor covered market – larger than Mustamäe’s with room for 72 stall holders rather than just 52 – and you know that you’ve arrived at a ghost town. There is not a single outdoor stall still open for business. And since the flower beds have been left unattended, the weeds have now taken over. While there aren’t any tumbleweeds out there quite yet, this desolate part of eastern Tallinn looks like it’s headed in that direction.
Lasnamäe Market seems to have died for failing to take into account the three fundamental principles of real estate: location, location, location. Yes, there is a giant Selver next door. And, yes, the Cult of the Car has taken over Lasnamäe. However, the main problem seems to be that Lasnamäe’s new market was built in the wrong place on the very edge of this huge neighborhood – a neighborhood so large that if Tallinn were broken up into its constituent parts, then Lasnamäe would be the largest city in Estonia. So rather than being placed in the very heart of the neighborhood – or as close to a center as Lasnamäe actually has, the market was placed out on the neighborhood’s periphery where no one ever walks. And to add insult to injury, even its parking lot is empty. At least its main wooden market hall has found a new and somewhat parallel life as a food bank ….
As it is too sad to think of a market-less Lasnamäe, I hope that Tallinn’s city planners and developers are looking for some new way and some new place to bring a real market back to the neighborhood so that the only choices its residents face aren’t local supermarkets or something downtown. Kalamaja’s newly reinvigorated Balti Jaama Turg (Baltic Station Market) is proof that a new take on the traditional market can succeed in Tallinn. In the meantime, if you’re looking to visit a market which is off the beaten path, then you will find Mustamäe’s market at 75A on Vilde tee – a road named after the great Estonian writer from the turn of the last century, Eduard Vilde.
Support your local market!
Image: A butter spreader made from kadaka (juniper wood) by an unknown Estonian wood carver.
One Response to “A Tale of Two Tallinn Markets”
I also miss the Sunday Harjumägi music market…just some old time die-hard music fans trading and selling music…