By Kaja GrÃ¼nthal
On a weekend evening, two young men from Finland, Julli and his friend, arrive by ferry at Tallinnâ€™s main portâ€”slightly tipsy and with small bags slung over their shoulders.
â€œYes,â€ Julli admits, they came to find prostitutes. They have fifteen hours before their boat heads back to Finland.
After using the toilet and currency exchange, they call Anne. Sheâ€™s a taxi driver they know who will take them to their accommodation. Her license plate reads Anne-1.
The taxi drivers waiting by the terminal explain that most Finns ask to be taken to shopping centers or to visit acquaintances. One out of 20 asks to be driven to a brothel.
Some taxi drivers even display brochures and calling cards of the brothels: around 35 are thought to operate in Tallinn in the winterâ€”twice as many in the summer.
Brothels and pimping are illegal in Estonia. But the practice is widely visible.
Some brothels have signs reading â€œDisko, Baar, Saunâ€”24 hrs.â€ Many are disguised as massage parlors or striptease joints. The fanciest are new single-family homes, with a red light in a window.
The lodging for Julli and his friend, on the outskirts of Tallinn, looks like a small restaurant. The night begins with a pepper steak. The restaurantâ€™s full of young, drunken locals. Julli talks about his daughters, his job, and the tragic fate of his hometown in Finland. His friend moves to another table.
When Julli doesnâ€™t respond to his friendâ€™s signals about getting on with the purpose of their visit, the friend goes to the toilet, then calls Julli on his mobile, telling him to come over. There in the bathroom, they agree about ordering women.
â€œWe have rooms upstairs,â€ explained Julli.
The friend is capable of uttering only single sentences and seems to have no energy to tour the brothelsâ€”as the duo had intended. â€œAt the brothels, the women sit in a row and we choose. If it doesnâ€™t look good, we move to the next place,â€ Julli continues. â€œItâ€™s like trading horses: you check out the teeth and hooves. The only way to do it is if you are drunk.â€
Julli, who is divorced, is a reasonably good looking man. Heâ€™s healthy and holds down a job. He explained that what heâ€™d really like is a new wife to take care of the home.
â€œBut Estonian women hate Finnish men,â€ he said. â€œThey think youâ€™re a pig. You need to work really hard to change that attitude. So Iâ€™ve given up.â€
Julli squeezes his beer mug with both hands when he speaks about prostitutes: â€œThey use drugs and they have HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).â€ Knowing this doesnâ€™t stop Julli from using their services.
â€œAfter all,â€ he says, â€œeveryone uses condoms.â€ He orders more beer.
Thereâ€™s a smiling, young Estonian man at another table who walks over to clap the Finnish men on the shoulder from time to time. â€œUnion man,â€ Julli says.
The man from the union finally retrieves Julli from his talk about prostitution. They leave for the upper floor through the kitchen.
On any given weekend night in Tallinn, there are other Finnish men there for the same reason. (Estoniaâ€™s Health Ministry recently estimated that 45 percent of men using prostitutes in Estonia are Finnishâ€”ed.)
Hanski, who works in the construction industry, said heâ€™s been visiting Tallinn since 1988. Heâ€™s not worried by the news that HIV infections have increased dramatically in Estonia over the past two years.
â€œYou can tell from her looks what kind of a girl you have,â€ he insisted. â€œI have 20 years of experience.â€
Taxis pull up to another Tallinn brothel. Officially itâ€™s a striptease joint, and a hotelâ€”that charges by the hour. A dozen women sit in a row along a wall inside. The group includes two girls who are clearly no older than 16. One indicates that the girls are working. Their attention is directed either at the door or the bar. An older woman boasts that she can recognize a Finn the second he steps through the door: â€œTheyâ€™re very drunk and they say they want sex.â€
When drunk, Finns are genial clients, she says; the worst thing is when someone wants to have sex without a condom.
In the morning, just before the boat is scheduled to return to Helsinki, Julli and his friend eat hamburgers at the Viru Center. Julli walks over to shove some coins down a slot machine.
He calculates that the whole trip cost him virtually nothing. The room for one night, shared with his friend, cost them each just 400 kroons (25 dollars). The hour with the prostitute was another 400 kroons.
On the way to the port, the friend picks Julli up in his cab. The driver looks over to encourage the sleepy Finns: â€œSo what if you spent some money. You experienced some of lifeâ€™s greatest joys.â€
Arriving at the ferry terminal, the duo head for the bar. The return to everyday life always scares Julli a bit.
â€œTomorrow I will lie down at home with a hangoverâ€”and Iâ€™ll regret coming here,â€ he said. â€œThe kids will come over in the evening.â€