Once upon a time, in the 19th century, there lived two young men. One of them was named Kristjan Jaak. He was an Estonian who was born in Riga and died in Riga, but in twenty-one years between those two occasions he managed to contribute so much to Estonian language that his birthday is now celebrated as Estonian Mother Tongue Day.
The other was Eduards. He was a Latvian who could not stand how wrong the socio-economic system of his time was, especially towards fellow Latvians; therefore, he wrote sceptical, pessimistic poetry and ended up studying law to help out the “little people” in general injustice.
They lived a generation or two apart from each other, but both belonged to the academic family of Universitas Dorpatensis, each in his own time. I had already seen the monument to Kristjan on top of Toomemägi, when in one of my first Estonian lessons we were told that he actually walked from Riga to Tartu on foot to study. “An Estonian version of Eduards” was the first thought that crossed my mind, because even Latvians who have never read the poetry Eduards wrote tend to know that he too tended to walk the route and that for him education eventually turned out to be quite deadly. Literally.
Somehow this connection made me read more about both of them and the thought that I too could walk those two-hundred-and-something kilometres between Riga and Tartu became more and more insistent. After all, religious people make all kinds of pilgrimages for all kinds of reasons – why couldn’t academic people do it too? And what better destination for a Latvian student than the place where Latvians not only went to study but also built up the idea of Latvian-ness itself? After all, one of – if not the first – occasions when someone publicly declared that he considered him a “Latvian” was precisely in Tartu.
The more I fell in love with Estonia and Estonian culture through my weekly visits to Tartu, the more insistent the idea became, and eventually, somewhere in August 2014, I asked my fellow Estophile Lauma whether she would join me in such an adventure, mainly for the reason that alone I would not make it even to the departure point. She agreed without much hesitation. Continue reading