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History of the Embassy


It was Oskar Kallas, the first Estonian Ambassador to Finland, who bought real estate in the Helsinki Kaivopuisto region, a former bathing area which was becoming an area for embassies already before Estonia’s independence. This deed showed his brilliant sense of perspective and strategy. Though the young Estonian nation, with whom Finland had not even formed diplomatic relations, was struggling with financial and economic difficulties, it was for her that in October 1919, Kallas managed to purchase a 2 769 m2 plot of land at Itä-Kaivopuisto 21, Kaivopuisto, Helsinki suburb. This plot had had three wooden houses with 22 rooms built on it. Until 1999, this was the only diplomatic residence bought by the Republic of Estonia.

At first, Kallas had a plan to build a new three-storey house for the Embassy by bringing bricks from Estonia. The project was made by Armas Lindgren and “it would be cheaper than buying the existing house”, stated the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Cabinet on Sept. 18, 1919.

“The conditions compared to the present situation in Helsinki are fully acceptable, according to the specialists, the architect Armas Lindgren and others, and as witnesses the lawyers Schwalbe and A. Hanko,” wrote Kallas in September 1919 in his explanation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The house is quite solid, but the logs of the other two are rotting above the basement. Please give me the right to purchase the plot and provide me with experts. The decision must be quick, otherwise the purchase opportunity will pass by,” explained Kallas to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sept. 10, 1919. Only a month was given for negotiations. On Sept. 23, 1919, Kallas received a telegram saying that in principle the Cabinet has agreed to purchase the house in Helsinki.

The purchase at 430 000 Finnish marks was made by Kallas on Oct. 22, 1919, partly with the use of his personal savings and loans. “In his letter dated Oct. 10, Dr. Kallas states that he has bought a house for the Government of the Republic of Estonia. … 200 000 German marks were paid in cash. As Tallinn had given him only 100 000 marks, our chosen representative had to borrow the rest personally – and that is what he asks to be repaid as soon as possible.” (Letter from the Ministry of Finance from Oct. 25, 1919)

That it was an extremely favourable deal is indicated by the fact that in 1921, the Helsinki Magistrate estimated the value of the plot to be one million Finnish marks without counting the buildings.

As the inhabitants of the three wooden houses on the plot had valid leases, the Embassy could occupy only one five-room apartment. Therefore, the Embassy continued to work on the bottom floor of Tehtaankatu 1. Thus, the Embassy functioned in leased rooms and in the two-story wooden house on the same plot, before the present impressive, functionalist style building was completed in 1933. When Akel and Hellat were Ambassadors, work was done in the wooden house at Kaivopuisto, but this required more and more renovations, and repairs.

Hellat supported building the new house already in the spring of 1929, being in touch with Konstantin Bölau, the planner of the later building, and sent urgent demands to the headquarters in Tallinn. “All around us wooden houses are torn down and soon it will be our turn anyway, because the building representing the Estonian Government cannot be the ugliest one.” Kitchen maids and cooks stayed for a couple of weeks and left because of the cold. “An example of the weakness house's structure. If there are 50-60 people together, we place a log as a supporting beam under the ceiling of the lower floor” (Letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 3, 1929).

Ambassador Hans Rebane took Hellat as a model in sending the Ministry frantic letters, describing the decomposing Embassy building and offering possible solutions. The letter from Rebane to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated July 6, 1931, “Some years ago the issue of dividing the land emerged on the agenda... That it wouldn't be acceptable for the reputation of the country. But actually it's the opposite. It is harmful to the prestige of the Estonian state to own a large plot of land in the heart of Kaivopuisto, that is in bad order with two additional buildings that 'hurt the eye' with their decayed roofs and ugly appearance. This leaves a poor impression on any by passer and such a situation should not go on any longer.”

In November 1931, Rebane recited the wish to build a house in Helsinki by giving half the plot to a construction company. The Government supported the idea. “As I have already mentioned in the beginning, this plan (by the architect Bölau) has been approved by several older Helsinki architects and builders as a successful one. They deem the Republic of Estonia should be happy if it would own this modest, beautiful and stylish new house in Kaivopuisto. It will be prettier than the German Embassy and will not be worse than the US and British Embassies.” (The letter by Rebane to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, July 6, 1931)

On May 31, 1932, the Estonian Cabinet gave its agreement to divide the 2979 m2 plot of land belonging to the Estonian state in half, so that 1512 m2 would belong to the state and 1467 m2 would be given away as the payment for 3 600 m3 house that was to be constructed according to the agreement. Later, it was realised that the house would fit on the smaller plot and thus more than half of the initial plot was given away: 1300 m2 remained at the disposal of the Republic of Estonia, 1679 m2 was given away and the final size of the Embassy building was 3000 m3. With the assistance of Dr. E. v. Frenckell, the Mayor of Helsinki, the proposals for plot changes could be accepted in an accelerated pace – it took only a couple of weeks instead of six months. On June 10, 1933, Rebane announced to the headquarters: Today, I had reached an agreement with the builder that the corner stone would be laid on June 21 and a small ceremony will be held. “For this event I order a zinc box in which we can place a parchment with some information, some Estonian and Finnish money and so on, to be walled in the foundation.”

Initially, the construction was to be directed by the master builder Akseli Malmi (Rakentaja om, Malmi & Ääri), but he died. Rebane found a replacement in the Cyklop construction company. “The Cyklop company is reliable and one of the largest in Finland. Last year, it finished the construction of a large Waldhof cellulose factory and at present it is completing another building in Helsinki. Of the many companies, Cyklop was the only one with whom we could immediately reach an agreement, who had sufficient free capital and positive perspective of realising the other part of the land plot. This factor has been the greatest obstacle so far.” (Rebane in his letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs dated May 2, 1933). On May 5, the Estonian Government confirmed the contract made with the Cyklop Construction Company according to which Cyklop would build two new houses on the plot belonging to the Estonian state. Three houses were to be demolished. The Estonian Society of Helsinki met in one of the wooden houses, the other was occupied by the Embassy and the third was leased out.

The sidewalks were made of Estonian limestone, a stone fence surrounded the house and the pillars were made of Saaremaa (Ösel) dolomite as the architect Bölau had suggested. Rebane was not always satisfied with the course of the construction: “I do not deem the Embassy hall to be satisfactory. In its only free wall, there were two niches already, but now the final wall will have wide niches plastered. In this way the hall looks like the vestibule of a cinema... I have had to correct several faults in the construction, once an additional wall had been built. Here the supervision of the architect would have been necessary, for I cannot dedicate all my time to the construction.” (Rebane in his letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sept. 29, 1933) The Minister of Foreign Affairs appointed Ambassador Rebane and Director Möllerson (the succeeding Ambassador), than the Director of the Ministry's Administrative Department, as the representatives of the Ministry in the reception commission of the building. Despite some small misunderstandings, the construction was completed very fast, for already on Nov. 24, 1933 the committee decided to accept the Embassy Building. In 1939 and 1940, Ambassador Warma made some minor renovations in the Embassy.

As of Aug. 8, 1940, all Estonian Diplomatic and Consular representations were closed and their properties were handed over to the Soviet Union. After the German invasion of Estonia, the Finnish Government, as entitled by the Soviet Union, handed the Embassy, like all other Soviet property in Finland, over to Swedish control. The Soviet Union used the building for different purposes, among others as a library and storage rooms. In 1969, the Soviet Union exchanged the building for a building site, and in 1978, the Republic of Finland sold the whole plot to Bulgaria. They built a loft on the house that somewhat ruins the initial clear proportions of the building.

After the restoration of Estonia's independence, the issue of returning the historical Embassy to Estonia was brought up. After the negotiations for the mutual return of the Embassy buildings had been completed successfully, the Kaivopuisto house was given back to the Republic of Estonia in January 1994. After thorough reorganisation and renovation (led by the architect Olavi Nõmmik), the Estonian Embassy in Finland was formally re-opened by Siim Kallas, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Dec. 13, 1995. In November 2003, the 70th anniversary of the building was celebrated.

Written by Kattri-Helina Raba

Estonian official representatives in Finland

Estonian Envoys

Oskar Kallas

1918 - 1922

Friedrich Akel

1922 - 1923

Aleksander Hellat

1923 - 1931

Hans Rebane

1931 - 1937

Rudolf Möllerson

1937 - 1939

Aleksander Warma

1939 - 1940

 

Estonian Ambassadors

Lennart Meri

1992

Jaak Jõerüüt

1993 - 1997

Mati Vaarmann

1997 - 2001

Matti Maasikas

2001 - 2005

Priit Kolbre

2005 - 2006

Merle Pajula

2006 - 2010

Mart Tarmak

2010 - 2014

Margus Laidre

2014 -2018

 

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