The Linnahall, Estonia – Connecting Dots to Osama Bin Laden? Well…

Linnahall - Tallinn, Estonia.
The Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.

The year is 1980. Tom Selleck had emboldened men across the world to grow out their mustaches. Pink Floyd created a protest message for a generation, convincing young X’ers that each of them were, indeed, just another brick in the wall. Women (and some men) matched ripped sweatshirts with high-heels. The Duck and Cover movement gained new traction as desks around America became best-in-category shields against unexpected, but imminent, nuclear inter-continental ballistic missile strikes from the USSR. Yes, 1980 was quite the year. The dystopian future appeared to be awakening, and this time, it was wearing leg warmers.

Straddling the harbor of the downtown Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, the imposing Linnahall was also a feature of 1980. Now abandoned, the enormously brutal structure was conceived and built for the 22nd Olympiad. The infamous 1980 Olympic games were held in Moscow – capital city of the former USSR, and some distance away from the nearest ocean. And so, the little known ex-Soviet nation of Estonia was selected to host the sailing events. The Kremlin decided to build the extravagantly grey Linnahall venue, to showcase the, ah, concrete pouring expertise of the rising Soviet nation.


Linnahall Tallinn - entrance steps
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.
Linnahall - abandoned, covered with Graffiti. Tallinn, Estonia.
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.
abandoned soviet building - the Linnahall - roof detail
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.

Unfortunately, the 1980 Olympics were boycotted by 65 nations, including powerhouse Olympic nations like China, the USA, and West Germany, and so the “in Soviet Russia we know concrete” message didn’t get the television airplay that the Kremlin had so dearly hoped for. Soon after the Olympics, Tallinn’s Linnahall was abandoned.

Organised by the United States, the Moscow Olympic boycott was a propaganda exercise to convince the world that a Soviet war in Afghanistan was bad. However, history tells us the war in Afghanistan was prolonged for another nine years until the late 1980’s, due in large part to the White House supplying billions of dollars and sophisticated weaponry to the militant Afghani group known as the “Mujahideen” – the rag-tag group of militants that were battling against the Soviet invaders. Why does this sound terribly familiar?


Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.
Estonia - Linnahall architectural detail
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.
estonia linnahall 3
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.
Small signs of life at the Linnahall
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.

Translated as “people doing Jihad”, the USA was financing the very group of Mujahideen fighters that would soon morph to become – the Taliban. Among these future war-on-terror-poster-boys, who in 1980 were sporting genuine shoulder-mounted made-in-America anti-aircraft-missiles, was Osama Bin Laden. When the Soviet War finally ended, Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, a hero. After all, his group of US dollar backed guerrilla fighters had managed to evict the mighty USSR from Afghanistan.

Bin Laden then continued on with the new work at hand, using his new-found military strength to continue the build-up of the secret organisation of Al Qaeda. You may know Al Qaeda for claiming responsibility for such events as the September 11 attacks, among several other particularly dark moments of the last decade or so.

This article was supposed to be about the Linnahall.


view of Tallinn from Linnahall
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.
Hot Tallinn Girls - haha
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.
Tallinn Helipad at the Linnahall
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.
Linnahall - abandoned building Estonia
Linnahall, Tallinn, Estonia.

Perhaps the moral of the story is, next time I’m in the wonderfully historical city of Tallinn during December, I’ll spend more time checking out the Christmas markets, and less time sitting atop the Linnahall, chatting with visiting French and Swedish students about just how bat-shit crazy this world truly can be.

Travel is helping me to join a lot of dots, that seemingly were always intended to have been joined.

Welcome, to 2013.


PS, I’m sure a lot of these ex-Soviet states get a little bored with western bloggers depicting their nations as, well, ex-Soviet states. However, the Linnahall is pure-evil, and deserves to be presented in the darkest light possible.

BTW, I would love to send you the next dispatch, posted from some-where random around this planet (and you'll soon find out why YOMADIC email followers are my favourite followers):

19 thoughts on “The Linnahall, Estonia – Connecting Dots to Osama Bin Laden? Well…

  1. Apparently, the Hoover dam contains so much concrete that it would be the last of humankind’s structures to disappear, were we to die out suddenly.

    Looks like the Linnahall will run it a close second… :-o

    1. That doesn’t surprise me at all, I once visited Hoover Dam. Linnahall is certainly a mammoth concrete construction, it will be there a loooong time.

  2. Did you have to shoot those in black and white or is that actually how it looks? :-) Soviet countries always make me think they only got colour recently. Not that colour would have made much of a difference with all that concrete.

    1. Hey Eugene! How’s tricks? I shot it in black and white due to the really low light (it was night time for most of the shots). It was a really high ISO – 3200 – on all of the photos, and I find that black and white comes up a little better than colour with such a grainy ISO. But you’re right, colour would have made hardly any difference in this case!

  3. Looks like it would have been a fun place to photograph. Very impressive low light capabilities of the Fuji.

    Abandoned public spaces are so few and far between!

  4. I did not know about this.

    You can’t blame the people of the former Soviet Republics for getting sick of being labeled as ‘former Soviet Republics’, but it’s hard, I would imagine, to see them as anything else when you grew up in the Cold War era. There will a day when people don’t remember those years, and I think those countries will finally have their identities which the Soviet stole back.

    1. Great points Erik. I guess it’s like the generation older than me, who seem to talk about WWII all the time (especially in Europe). To them, it was one of the defining periods of their life. To gen X’ers, it’s the cold war.

  5. I was hoping Bin Laden had participated in a sailing race or something there!!!! Anyway I know exactly what it’s like sitting somewhere probably longer than you should discussing how bat shit crazy this world is!!! Happens extremely often…. Nice summary of a terribly recent history… Not quite how I remember it from Rambo III though!

    PS. Can you install that plugin that sends emails when new comments are made?

    1. Hey Forest… you can now subscribe to comments. I also wish Bin Laden had participated in a sailing race at Linnahall, would have made writing this article easier ;)

  6. Yeah, what is it about the Soviets and they way they built stuff? So dreary and blah and just plain depressing! They were definitely all about function with not much thought given to design aesthetic. But all around lovely pics, they really emphasize the dreary aspect. :)

  7. Me and my friends were in Tallinn last year and stumbled upon this peculiar structure and walked around wondering what it was. Now I’ve stumbled on to this great blog and it’s filled in the gaps. Fascinating. Thanks!

  8. Not trying to water down any of the darkness here but I just wanted to point out that Linnahall was actually used as a concert hall and ice-hockey rink for at least 20 years after the completion. Although bizarre and abit absurd it was actually pretty cool (some may even say beautiful) before it deteriorated into the current state of neglect and dis(re)pair. Such structures can unfortunately be built (and maintained) only in places and times where budgets are not dictated by free market economy but by a totalitarian HQ somewhere. Keep up the good work Nate and if you would like to get more insight on Linnahall or other Soviet (or pre-Soviet) initiatives in Estonia, just drop me a line ;).

  9. Supporting the Mujahideen was the surest thing to do at the time, the mistake was to leave Afghanistan to its own devices after the defeat and departure of the Red Army .

    1. I’m no expert, but I’m not a fan of military intervention by countries on the other side of the planet – the track record of disaster is clear. We will have to agree to disagree, but I do appreciate your opinion.

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