an American fish in & out of Estonian waters

Kalamaja’s Funky New Venue: Heldeke!


Not content with being Tallinn’s foodie destination, Kalamaja now seems intent on becoming Tallinn’s new entertainment district. Although that monstrous complex known as Linnahall (Town Hall) is reverting to the gray dust from whence it came, Kalamaja’s other Soviet-era venue Salme Kultuurikeskus (Salme Cultural Center) has not given up the ghost – even if the neighborhood’s happy factory workers are long gone. The good news is that Kalamaja’s two community theaters – Teoteater (Snail Theater) and Kammerteater (Chamber Theater) – are both going strong. And these days Kalamaja can boast of two state-of-the-art post-industrial venues: VabaLava (Free Stage) in hipster Telliskivi and Kultuurikatel (Cultural Boiler) inside the former Tallinn Power Plant. While the Telliskivi Loomelinnak refers to itself as Tallinn’s “Creative City,” Kultuurikatel likes to call itself the “Tallinn Creative Hub.” Fortunately, creativity is the kind of human chain reaction which can generate even more creativity.

Enter Heldeke! stage left. Translated into English, this new venue’s name means something like “Oh, Dear!” or “Oh, Goodness!” Their logo, however, places the exclamation point not at the end of the word as would be the Estonian norm, but right in the middle. Heldeke! thereby becomes the even more tongue-in-cheek Hel!deke – adding some infernal bilingual wordplay to an otherwise mild-mannered expression. So what kind of a venue is it? Well, this self-proclaimed “hideout” describes itself as a “theater-bar-club.” As for its vaudeville-inspired shows, Hel!deke promises its visitors “comedy, burlesque, circus, music, magic,” and much more.

Perhaps it would help if you thought of Hel!deke as a kind of multi-cultural mash-up. Just like the now-defunct pub Puu (Wood) which preceded it at Tööstuse’s lucky no. 13, Hel!deke is part Estonian sauna-bar. As a result, you can still drink beer with your friends both in and out of the sauna on just about every Sunday night. But these days, Hel!deke is also part Irish pub – it does Dublin proud by hosting a folk music jam twice a month. Next, Hel!deke is also part Scottish pub – semi-permanently retrofitted to resemble a small Edinburgh theater ready to host both visiting performers and the occasional fringe show. (Don’t forget to tell your mates about their upcoming mini-fringe festival called Boom Chika Wau Wau!) But most of all, Hel!deke reminds me of an English public house – a bit of East London in the heart of Kalamaja.

Indeed, Hel!deke would thrive right alongside any number of pubs that you might find from Hoxton to Hackney Central. From Open Mike sessions (aka “Le Open Stage”) to Auction Night, from cider tastings to improv workshops, and from album launches to clothes swaps, Hel!deke seems to offer that “bit of everything for everyone” which would make any London local proud – with plenty of beers, ciders, wines, gins, whiskeys, and other such choices to wash everything down. Just don’t expect a gastro pub – or any form of “pub grub” either. Instead, Hel!deke hosts regular burlesque nights to attract new customers. These retro-risqué shows are run by Miss Chrissy Kiss – Estonia’s sultry Tease Mistress. Otherwise, you’ll find Master of Ceremonies Dan le Man (Australian Dan Renwick) behind most of Hel!deke’s other entertaining mayhem. Attracting both Estonians and expats alike, English has become this pub’s new lingua franca – barring the occasional Soirée Francophone, of course.

As I doubt Kalamaja will ever have a quirkier venue than Hel!deke, please check out their online calendar or sign up for their mailing list. Once you’ve done that, plan to escape your regular weekend routine and go see a variety show – or even go to a variety of different shows and events.  Come one, come all!


Image: Veles – the Slavic God of the Underworld who also protects poetry, music, magic, and trade – carved by an unknown Ukrainian wood carver.

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