The Overseas Supplement

This page is dedicated to special articles taken from the Overseas Supplement. The articles will appear in loose order and try to give an overview over the activities in the Canadian regional group.

 

Impressions on a Trip to Estonia and Latvia

In the summer of 2001 I made a big decision to join a group of Baltic Germans from Canada (and several from Germany and the U.S.A.) on a historical-cultural tour of Estonia and Latvia. The tour was under the direction of Prof. Dr. Gerhard von Mickwitz of Lüneburg, Germany, and Ms. Lili Kängesepp of Tartu, Estonia. We flew from Toronto to Helsinki and then took a ferry to Tallinn, Estonia, and from there 50 of us, of all ages from 87 to teenaged, toured by bus the Baltic countries for two weeks. Our primary goal was to focus on our Baltic-German heritage, to visit dozens of Baltic nobility family estates including ones of many of the tour participants, to tour cemeteries with graves of participants’ family members. A much wider itinerary was also planned for us. We toured the Estonian cities of Tallinn (Reval) and Tartu (Dorpat) and the Latvian city of Riga, many small towns and villages, dozens of beautiful churches, historical and cultural and agricultural museums, universities, and the Estonian islands. In most places Prof. v. Mickwitz had arranged for local tour guides and talks and lectures by church ministers, university lecturers, historians, museum curators and archivists, and Estonian young people. We heard beautiful organ concerts and choral concerts and chamber music concerts. Our group of 50 became extremely close, an extended family with common heritage and so many shared interests. Highpoints of the trip for me were many. I loved the beautiful city of Tallinn, the best preserved medieval city of northern Europe. I was deeply moved in the Occupation Museum in Riga where the military occupation of Riga three times in the 20th century was graphically depicted. I viewed with reverential wonder the church of the "Altgläubigen" on the Peipus Lake in southern Estonia, a church in which the elder taught us about this religious group which broke from the Orthodox Church in the Middle Ages and in which we sat, enthralled and silent, surrounded by priceless religious iconography and illuminated manuscripts many hundreds of years old. In Tallinn and especially in Riga we marvelled and puzzled at all the current extensive reconstruction of the city centres and wondered where all the money was coming from. In Tartu, at the University of Tartu, we visited a scientific archival collection honouring Baltic-German scientists, and we heard a lecture from an Estonian historical lecturer who highlighted Baltic-German achievements but also poignantly pointed out that only a handful of Estonians had ever been allowed to attend university in Estonia in Baltic-German times. In Leipaja (Libau), Latvia, we toured the wonderful baroque Lutheran Cathedral and heard a glorious concert on one of the world’s greatest pipe organs. In Rundale (Ruhental), in southern Latvia, we marvelled at the opulence of the restored palace of Ruhental, a huge palace very similar to St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace, designed by the same Italian Rastrelli for the Duke of Courland, the favourite of the Russian Empress Anna. On the beautiful Estonian island of Hiiumaa (Dagö), we learned that Hiiumaa was a closed island until 1989, that no one could leave or visit, that the Soviets had built huge airfields there for bombers and fighter jets, and that 10,000 of the 18,000 island inhabitants had died by the end of WWII after deportation to Siberia or forcible conscription into the Red Army. In the Estonian and Latvian countryside I loved the simplicity and nobility of the many country churches. In each church throughout our trip we sang; many of our group had beautiful voices and we soon became a proficient choir. The Baltic countries today struggle enormously to enter modern Europe. We were saddened by the many neglected farm fields throughout Estonia. There is very little money for fertilizers, farm machinery, or farm labour. Highways are good but traffic is light. Few can afford to own a car or pay the high costs of gasoline (11/3 times Cdn. Prices). Wages of college instructors average $400 Cdn. per month. We noted the contrast of the city centres, bursting with reconstruction for business and tourism, versus the city suburbs, bursting with abject poverty and unemployment. Most Estonians work extremely hard to make ends meet; many have 2 or 3 jobs. Goods are now reflecting the much higher prices of the rest of Europe. I am enormously grateful to our tour leader, Prof. v. Mickwitz for his great idealism in sharing Baltic-German heritage with us. Since his retirement from the University of Hannover and the University of Berlin, he has devoted himself to guiding German Balts on these cultural-historical trips. He and his Estonian guide Lili Kängsepp had brilliant organization: the hotels and food were excellent: the itinerary was wide ranging and multi-faceted; the tour bus and the Estonian driver Matti were admirably reliable; the organized talks and lectures were superbly informative. I am also very grateful to Manfred v. Harpe, from London, Ontario, who had asked Prof v. Mickwitz to arrange a tour for Baltic-Germans from Canada, and who, with great idealism, gave so much of his time to organize Canadian Balts and to make all the Canadian arrangements for the tour. Although the tour was enormously strenuous with a full program from early morning until very late at night with only an hour for lunch, an hour for supper, virtually no leisure time, and with late arrivals at hotels that changed constantly, we thrived on the stimulating itinerary that Prof. v. Mickwitz and Lili had so carefully prepared for us. ‘Baltic Boot Camp’- we called it rebelliously during the first few days, but we quickly grew accustomed to the pace and soon acknowledged and greatly appreciated the huge idealism of this wonderful man who wished to share as much as possible of his enormous knowledge and love of the Baltic countries and Baltic-German heritage. On the last day, at the monastery Padise, near Tallinn, we sang for the last time the medieval masses, canons, and modern hymns. As the beautiful music wafted to the highest reaches of this old cathedral, we wept. That evening, in Tallinn, we held a wonderful farewell banquet. The tour had been a highlight in all of our lives. The last entry in my trip diary speaks of my enormous pride in my Baltic-German heritage, the great importance to me of my own family history, and the deeply emotional ties that developed to my Baltic companions and to the Baltic countries.

Sylvia v. Berg

Reval 1630

Reval 1997

Castle Ass

Kürbis

Castle Mesothen

 

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