Tartu, the Northern Europe city who adopted the street organ grinders.

When we think in the street organ grinder tradition, we usually think in Mexico City. Also we may think in Germany. Germany is the country with the most street organ instruments. But there is a little town within the Baltic states. This town is Tartu (in Northern Europe on the eastern coast, just in border with Russia). A few years ago created the “Street Organ Summer Days” as a main attraction in the region.

Tartu is more like a little city with a population of about 90,000 people. Since three years ago street organ grinders from all over the world get along to play. In the first edition even attended a cute Japanese girl who sings in his language with a french made street organ. The city offers the players to stay at the main plaza hotel and organize the events.

The three days activities of the organ grinders include playing the instrument in a little ship over the river which crosses the town amazing the people who listens in the shore, and activities for the kids at the park. At night the players have time and permit to play around the streets and receive tips from people enjoying in the open air restaurants.

Due to the pandemic that hit the world this year, the 2020 edition was not sure to be done. But with all the security guides and activities made primarily in the open the fest was able to be done. This year street organ grinders from Germany, Austria, the Baltic and Finland attended.

First edition of the “Street Organ Summer Days”

It is not widely known but once upon a time street organ grinders were common in Easter Europe, in places like Praha and Warsaw. At the north of Estonia in Finland at the northern city of the world –Helsinki- lives Professor Markku Karvonen who has made the studies in Finnish street-organ history. Professor Karvonen reconstructed the life of “the last Finnish organ grinder” or “Suomen viimeinen posetiivari”.

In his research found the existence of travelers organ grinders, mainly Italians living at the Nordic country. As in many cases on the organ grinder history, the place is full of tales about the organ grinders life. The tales include very humble looking guys, music instruments in very bad shape and the making of huge money collected in the streets. In any case we know for sure some of they used to sing and the use of little papers to tell the future to the people.

Old Finnish street organ grinder

Tartu, the city of the Street Organ Summer Days has a long and amazing history by itself. His origins come back to the times of fortress and castles in the early 1,000s. The city is known as the Culture Capital of the country and his scientific activity is very prominent, the Tartu’s University was founded in 1632 by Gustav II Adolph, the King of Sweden. A interesting fact is that the city was locked for decades under the Soviet Union regime, just by the 90’s was a “Forbidden City” for all outsiders and banned to sleep at and visit.

Nowadays, this town with his warm Baltic winter is at the front line world wide, making the first international organ grinders festival in a after–pandemic world. It teaches us, that joy and hope still in one of the farthest places of the globe.

Text publish by Victor Maya

Street organ grinder and mechanical music research