Svetlana Remelgas: New Reality of Old Railway Stations

Estonian Museum of Architecture
“Railway(less) stations. Photography by Kaido Haagen”
Exhibition is open until 12.06.2016. 

Kaido Haagens’ exhibition is dedicated to railway – and railwayless – stations of Estonia. This bracketed specification in the title is not an artistic trick: a large number of stations portrayed no longer carry out the function they were born for. Many not even have rails near them anymore.

Railways are roads and, contrasted by the utter transience of this “road” essence, stations are perceived to be something stable. Turns out, they are not.

The history of railways in Estonia is a century and a half long and stations have been built all along. They are different in size and style, with a surprisingly big share of wooden ones. But as wooden architecture is abundant in Estonia, surely lots of railway stations would be part of it. These particular ones look wonderfully cozy.

Life, nevertheless, goes on, bringing changes, and some stations stop being stations. They then have to adjust to the new reality. Adjust in a totally different role, depending on the smiles of fate and current social/economical needs. As the exhibition shows vividly, these roles can be very diverse. Unlucky railway stations even happen to be left to crumble – neglected and surrounded by emptiness. But most of them face a new future, and sometimes a totally unpredictable one.

The photo that attracted my uttermost attention at first sight was of Abja station. It is shot at night and the windows shine in what appears to be a guiding light. Miraculously – or, more likely, by the photographer’s precise design, – it turned out to belong to the church today.

A grocery store, a youth centre, a computer repair service… But most of the stations came to be dwelling places and there is a kind of peculiar evolution in it. Once they used to stand on the bank of the stream of life but finally grew to bear life inside them. Thus, finding peace and rest in some form. Other stations, though, still await their new fate – and by it somehow keep the status of a waiting place.

This whole change in perspective is one of the most valuable things about the exhibition. You understand how little you know about things just by looking at them. The house in the middle of a town or in a rural area might have a history that you would never have imagined. And this goes not only for the former railway stations. What hides “behind” the facades of buildings around you? What changes have they undergone? And – how much are you actually eager to know?

Past is a strange thing. On one hand, a person (family, entity, nation itself) is nothing without it. But if you spend too much time in the past, you might get absorbed by it – and its shadows. The “Railway(less) stations” exhibition keeps a perfect balance. Photos, even the ones picturing stations that are being slowly sucked into non-existence, are nostalgic, melancholic, maybe (this special feel you get by looking at abandoned places), but definitely not sad.

And last but not least: the exhibition makes you want to travel, as you once again understand that there are lots of places in Estonia not evident to the tourist’s eye. All you have to do is unravel them.

Photo: Abja Station. Kaido Haagen.