Not too long ago, I ventured into a museum in Tartu's Old Town only to come face to face with two porcelain figurines: one representing the Swedish King Gustav Adolf and the other his daughter, Queen Christina. They were two treasures unearthed in the building's cellar along with loads of other 17th century junk – broken plates, bent spoons, headless dolls – and the figurines pleased me because they were proof that history had really happened, that before the EU, and the USSR, and the Wabariigi Aeg, and the Russian Empire, Estonia once really had been Swedish, and Queen Christina's porcelain image looked just as natural on a Tartu shelf as President Toomas Hendrik Ilves' bow-tied portrait looks today.
Our friend Rene knows such history. As the owner of several apartments in the Old Town, he has worked industriously to take them back through time and to restore them to their essence, while at the same time blending in modern amenities to taste. He was never content to just throw up some wall paper or move some furniture around to cover up the truth: that these apartments needed radical solutions to remain functional. Staring at the naked, ancient brick walls or beams in Jaani 18-4, one is left to wonder what all of the other apartments in the Old Town look like under their sheetrock or plaster surfaces. And to yearn secretly that all of them could be restored to their natural, birthday suit form, as they truly are.
To read its base attributes does the place no justice.
"Four rooms, 88 square meters, located in a historical 18th century house across from Saint John's Church. There is a private yard and a free parking spot. All historical details preserved, only natural materials used in the renovation. Kitchen and bathroom furniture is built into the design. Possible to rent with our without other furniture. Call the owner at 5029873."
Yes, call the owner, see the apartment. Walk around inside and make up your mind or just enjoy it. The last I heard, it was going for 800 euros a month. If we weren't dragging around a caravan of three children and two writers, we might have taken it for ourselves. But since that was not meant to be, the second best thing we could do is to make sure you know all about it, and maybe even live there. If you are lucky. For my guess is that a life in such an architecture is like coming face to face with history every moment.
But for me there is personal history in this apartment. Rene bought it from my brother- and sister-in-law years ago. It's the place where I used to play with my niece when she was a little girl, and I learned a lot of my first Estonian words in there. I also watched the Estonian Eurovision competition for the first time down there, where I was to first hear the names Vanilla Ninja and Väiko Eplik. We ate piles of cutlets and potatoes around the table, and in the winter, when there was a warm, roaring fire, we would drink coffee and eat my sister-in-law's delicious cakes. Then my brother-in-law's mother would come in and tell us about how she had heard as a child that the house once housed Peter the Great's stables. I wasn't sure if it was true, but I wanted to believe it.