Why the construction of Tallinn will never be complete: The Old Man of Lake Ülemiste

A word of warning; should you be out wandering through the Old Town after dark on a cold autumn night and a strange old man approaches you, be wary, for he has a question for you…

“Is the city finished yet?”

The little grey man is the keeper of Lake Ülemiste; a mythical figure who was unable to escape the rains that filled the lake and was therefore destined to watch over the waters until the time is right. Should you ever meet him, be very careful how you answer his question, for the incorrect answer could spell doom for the city of Tallinn.

In times gone by, the old man would rise out of the murky waters of Ülemiste every year and shuffle down the hill towards the Old Town. Upon reaching the gate he would ask the guard if the city was finished yet.

The guards were under strict instructions to answer the old man with a stern message. “No, this city is not finished. There is a long way to go yet and there is much to be done.”

After hearing this, the old man would mutter something under his breath, turn away and walk back up the hill to his home, submerged in the waters of the lake.

Should the guard accidentally inform the old man that the construction of the city is finished and there is no work left to do, then he would summon forth the waters of Lake Ülemiste to engulf the city, sweeping away the progress, so it could begin again. This quaint city would be no more.

Perhaps this explains why Tallinn will not stand still for one moment. Even today, construction, renovation and repair are constant fixtures of the city. From large-scale reconstruction projects to individual home improvements, the citizens of Tallinn seem determined to keep disappointing the old man with the scale and ambition of their building.

Despite this, the old man can still be seen wandering through the streets of the Old Town from time-to-time, looking for an answer to his question.

Should he find you, be very careful how you answer him.

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