Alexander Nikolai von Glehn was born on 16 July 1841 in Estonia in Jälgimäe Manor and died on 7 September 1923 in Brazil. He was the owner of Jälgimäe Manor, founder of Nõmme, and head and symbol of the von Glehn family. The summer of 2021 marked 180 years since his birth.
Nikolai spent his youth in Jälgimäe Manor that was located near Reval (Tallinn). Nikolai’s grandfather, Peter von Glehn (1761–1864) bought the manor house in 1821 for about 35 000 silver roubles. He did not rule the manor himself but gave it to his oldest son Peter (1796–1843) to manage. Peter’s oldest son, who was also called Peter ( 1 8 3 5 – 1 8 7 6 ), became an internationally r e n o w n e d botanist. The manor was then handed over to his second eldest son, Nikolai, who was born in 1841. In 1866, he paid 50 000 silver roubles to his brother and three sisters for their part of the inheritance and became the ruler of Jälgimäe Manor.
N i k o l a i ’ s childhood was not easy – he lost his father when he was two years old, and his mother had to take care of the manor and the family.
His education began at Tallinn Cathedral School. After studying economics at the University of Tartu and medicine, philosophy, and architecture in German universities, the focus of his studies shifted to his hobbies – gardening, woodcarving, and poetry. After finishing his studies, he returned to Nõmme, where he planned to build his home.
NIKOLAI VON GLEHN – FOUNDER OF NÕMME
After leaving the Jälgimäe Manor to his son Manfred, Nikolai von Glehn moved to a place on the border of Nõmme and Mustamäe. A Swiss chalet style house was built first and a medieval-style castle built from stone followed later.
Von Glehn first decided to make the land earn him some money. In 1870, after opening the railway that goes through Nõmme forest and near his lands, he understood the benefits of a railway and was eager to build a resort on the “seventh verst” (distance of the station from Tallinn, known as Nõmme since 1874).
In October 1873, he opened the first vacation property. According to the legend, he said “Seie saagu lenn” (tr. “Here will be a town”). And the place did become a town – a number of industry buildings needed for a settlement popped up: a foundry and metal workshop, furniture, soap, glue, sausage and rope factories, and a post office. The nearby streets were planned and named.
The biggest achievement of the Nõmme Heakorra Selts (tr. Association of Maintenance in Nõmme) was getting Nõmme its rights as an official resort. On 14 March 1914, Nikolai II personally signed the law after it was passed in the State Council. The law enabled Nõmme to introduce a vacation tax of up to one rouble per person; the profit was used to fund the police station and resort maintenance. Nõmme received village privileges in 1917 and borough rights in 1926. In 1940, Nõmme was merged with Tallinn.
GLEHN CASTLE AND PARK
Nikolai von Glehn built the medievalstyle castle he had designed in Nõmme park for 10 years. It was completed on 1 October 1886, and was then called Kõrgepea (Hohenhaupt, tr. Highhead). He decorated the castle himself, making the necessary furniture. Interior walls were covered with his philosophical aphorisms and teachings. The only object that has been preserved from that time is an oakwood cabinet.
At the turn of the century, von Glehn went to Italy to gather inspiration, and as a result built a palm house next to the castle when he returned (1898– 1900). There are many surprising similarities between the palm house and the creative work of Antoni Gaudi, a contemporary of von Glehn. The surrounding park and palm house were both open for public; entrance fee was three or ten kopeks accordingly. Von Glehn’s spouse, Caroline Henriette Marie Berg died in 1896. Von Glehn chose her last resting place to be at the foot of the Mustamäe hillside, so that he could see it from the castle. He added ponds and ditches so that islands were formed; trees were planted on the islands, and a cross made of white marble was erected on a mound.
Nikolai von Glehn thought about putting up a statue of Kalevipoeg in the park. The eight-metre-long statue of the horned giant was completed in 1908. Von Glehn modelled the figure leaning on a club after himself. With the Dragon (widely known as crocodile) sculpture, he wanted to form a scene where a monster lurks after the hero. The locals started to call the giant statue “the Glehn’s devil”. Glehn was disappointed by that and put up a stone sign that said: “Kalevipoeg is my name and value, only fools call me the devil!”.
In 1910, Nikolai von Glehn started to build an observation tower on a mound near the castle. It was planned to be 43 metres high, but the base was too small, and the tower only reached 25 metres (75 metres higher than the sea level, the modern Tallinn Observatory). The construction lasted for a year. He set up a spyglass on the open platform at the top of the tower.
The First World War and the hostility towards Germans that came with raised suspicions that von Glehn was a spy. He was accused of sending signals to German submarines from his high buildings, as the forest was much lower back then. In 1915, the windows of the tower were bricked up and the statue of Kalevipoeg was demolished.
By the initiative of Nõmme Heakorra Selts, sculptor Mati Karmin restored the statue of Kalevipoeg. The reopening ceremony took place on 4 November 1990.
VON GLEHNS LEAVE ESTONIA. RENOVATION OF GLEHN CASTLE
The von Glehn family decided to leave Estonia during the First World War and went to Germany in 1918, later to Brazil. After they left, the castle started to decay and was in a very bad state by the 1960s – the roof and ceilings had caved in, limestone walls had partly collapsed and crumbled, stairs and stone blocks of the walls had been broken and carried apart to nearby private gardens.
The nearby Tallinn University of Technology (then Tallinn Polytechnic Institute) committed to restoring the castle. In 1965, the Academic Male Choir of TPI started the renovation, hoping to get club rooms in the castle. The choir’s baritone Toivo Ojaveski can be regarded as the author of the renovation idea.
In autumn 1965, the ruins were measured and new building blueprints were drawn because the originals had not been preserved. The plan was to restore the castle in two years, but the process eventually took 11 years – the festive opening of the castle took place on 24 March 1977. That means that this year we can celebrate 44 years since the opening of the renovated castle and 135 years since it was built.
The restoration was greatly driven by the enthusiasm of the students – designers and builders were at hand in the university. Rein Saun was chosen to be the chief engineer but he was replaced by Udo Asmus the next year, Jüri Jaama became the chief architect, and Ülo Tärno became the chief designer. The official construction process began on 1 July 1970 and there were many involved – choirs of TPI, study groups and chairs, building unit of TPI, and 13 study groups of students.
On 27 December 1976, state committee accepted the castle and evaluated its condition as “very good”. The grand opening of TPI Performers’ House was on 24 March 1977. The university’s cultural office managed the castle, with Olavi Pihlamägi appointed its managing director. The castle became a place for different events organised by TPI Student Club.
DESCENDANTS OF NIKOLAI VON GLEHN
Nikolai von Glehn eventually died on 7 September 1923 in Brazil, in Ouro Fino hospital in Minas Gerais state. Descendants of Nikolai von Glehn can be found all over the world – in Brazil, the United States, Germany. Luitgard von Glehn-Eberhard (1916–2009), who is the daughter of Manfred, von Glehn’s son, visited Estonia in 1985 while she was living in Germany. She was fascinated by Tallinn and TPI Performers’ House (Glehn Castle) and later visited Estonia again. Luitgard Eberhard was the last descendant of von Glehns to be born in Estonia.
In 2002, the descendants of Nikolai von Glehn – Adriana von Glehn, a fifth generation von Glehn and a recorder player, and his husband, a harpsichord player Alexander Pulyajev from Germany – visited Estonia and Glehn Castle. Adriana’s parents who live in Brazil accompanied them. The musicians performed in Glehn Castle on 18 August 2002. On their next visit in 2006, they brought along their little son Nicolai.
In May 2007, another descendants of Nicolai von Glehn visited Estonia – Adriana’s sister Cristina von Glehn, her aunt Mercedes Elisabeth von Glehn Santos and the latter’s husband Alvaro Santos. Mercedes Elizabeth has been an adviser for the president of Brazil and has been the Brazilian consul in Liverpool. In September 2018, members of the von Glehn family and their friends visited Estonia to hold a wedding in Glehn Castle. Von Glehn’s grandchild Mercedes Elisabeth von Glehn Santos said in Nõmme Rahu church that family reunion is very meaningful for the family because one hundred years ago the family left Estonia. “Although we are Brazilians by birth, Estonia has a special place in our hearts.”
This summer and autumn Nikolai von Glehn’s 180th birthday was and will be celebrated by the Tallinn University of Technology Museum, Tallinn University of Technology Library, Nõmme District Government and various NGOs of Nõmme with various events. The exhibition „Nikolai von Glehn – 180. Glehn Castle – 135“ is open from 1 October 2021 to January 2022 in the glass gallery of Tallinn University of Technology.
Milvi Vahtra – Bibliographer of Tallinn University of Technology Library
Translated into English by Kaarin Birk