“The restaurant of Hotel Viru serves excellent food,”the brochure reads, under a photo some fondue, before continuing, “and is a pleasant place to relax and rest”. These were the words in a brochure produced about Tallinn’s Hotel Viru by Intourist, the USSR’s official travel agency that dictated visas, visits and itineraries. Hotel Viru first opened in 1972, and it was one of the few hotels to accept international visitors. It also contained a KGB station for listening into foreign guests.
By the 1970s, Estonia had been under Soviet rule since 1940, with the exception of a period of Nazi occupation during World War II. It was an era when only one airline serviced Tallinn airport, Aeroflot, and visits were largely limited to within the capital itself. A ferry service opened up between Estonian and their neighbor across the Baltic Sea, Finland, in 1965.
So when Tomas Alexandersson moved from Sweden to Estonia, he was intrigued to discover tourist brochures from this era in second hand stores. At first, he was drawn to the images. “It was exciting to see the past – how places, houses, streets etc were represented.” As he trawled second hand stories for more materials, he also noticed the specific way that Tallinn was represented.
“Of course the tourist books mostly mentioned Tallinn as a beautiful city and its sights, but very often the political messages and propaganda came through these lines of text,” he writes in an email. He noticed that the presentation seemed “staged”—“like most of the images were almost part of a theatre scene background.”
After eight years living and working in Estonia, Alexandersson is now back across the sea in Stockholm, continuing to build his archive, The Tallinn Collector—some of which comes from friends, from their families, or from strangers who like the project. Atlas Obscura has a selection from Alexandersson’s archive, from the 1970s.