Liis Kolle: A sense of home does not have to be explained rationally | Global Estonian

Liis Kolle: A sense of home does not have to be explained rationally

Community members and leaders


Liis Kolle

In the last months of the previous millennium, I went to Berlin to study music theatre directing, because it was not possible in Estonia at the time, and Moscow and Saint Petersburg did not seem attractive when the whole world had opened up for us. I did not think I would spend much time there and instead assumed that after having completed one degree, I would spend a year there and then I would return to my tiny homeland to start producing operas like there was no tomorrow. However, things turned out differently. It turned out there was a lot to learn, and Berlin, initially so alien to me that it took me six months to discover something beautiful there, became so dear to my heart that it became and remains my home. Yet I could not imagine my life without Estonia, where I have been able to, so to say, go to work consistently, in the Estonian National Opera, in Vanemuine Theatre and other theatres as a stage director, and at the Opera Studio of the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre to teach young opera singers. I am keeping my Estonian language skills up to date by working as a cultural journalist, mainly in the Teater. Muusika. Kino magazine, writing about fascinating events and phenomena in the German-speaking cultural scene and beyond, and about the work and success of Estonian musicians over there. The list of the latter is surprisingly long: Tarmo Vaask, Mihkel Kütson, Katrin Lehismets, Lauri Vasar, Ain Anger, Jane Tiik, Britta Bauman, Priit Volmer, Kai Rüütel, Helena Tulve, Aile Asszonyi...

People often ask me where I actually live. I am not bothered by that question because I have clearly defined my identity as an Estonian living abroad with close ties to Estonia. My homeland is Estonia but my hometown is Berlin, not Tallinn where I was born. I am sorry if this seems confusing but this is how I feel and the sense of home does not have to be explained rationally. During the coronavirus pandemic cultural life in Estonia was much more open than in Germany, so I spent more time in Estonia during these years, and I was able to complete very interesting projects with wonderful partners. Some people were understandably very confused and I had to explain repeatedly that no, I have not moved back to Estonia. Yet I still feel that I have more to say to audiences in Estonia because I know the local way of life and cultural space better, having grown up there (I am writing this in Germany). I have always hoped that as a kind of an outside observer I can provide some fresh impulses and perspectives; but naturally, I have become so immersed in German culture over the years that my approach differs from that of Estonian producers when it comes to, for example, Richard Strauss, having played excerpts of his works with students, as well as Richard Wagner’s musical drama Tristan and Isolde, which I was fortunate and honoured to produce as the first production of Wagner at the Vanemuine Theatre and which will be featured on 8 August at the Birgitta Festival at the Pirita Convent, with Aile Asszonyi as Isolde ...

It’s a small world, including the opera world, not to mention the small Estonian world. Yet it spans the whole globe and I am thrilled that in recent years, the Estonian state has begun to engage more actively with Estonians living outside Estonia, to include and value us. Tooting my own horn here, I must admit I am a “better” and more knowledgeable Estonian while living abroad than I ever would have been had I remained in Estonia, and my citizen diplomacy efforts have seen me introduce a great number of people to Estonia for the first time over these past two decades. So my wish for everyone is to take it easier and have close contacts with “our” and “your” Estonians, and while praise received abroad definitely boosts the self-esteem of a small nation, we need to notice and cherish everyone doing their day jobs, either “here” or “over there”.

Liis Kolle
Music theatre stage director (Berlin)


Veebilehte haldab Integratsiooni Sihtasutus.
Sihtasutuse asutaja on Eesti Vabariik, kelle nimel teostab asutajaõigusi Kultuuriministeerium.