Tallinn’s hot new Noblessner neighbourhood is hosting a unique pop-up sauna

ZiL-131 SAUN @ Kai Art Center is a Soviet Army truck recycled into a sauna.

The ZiL-131 SAUN hosting visitors at the European Sauna Marathon in Otepää

Tallinn’s newly regenerated Noblessner neighbourhood has rapidly become one of the hottest hang out spots in Tallinn, centered around the marina alongside Kai Art Center.

Once a major submarine shipyard for Tsarist Russia, Noblessner was closed off from ordinary people for most of the past century — but has now been regenerated into a thriving seafront quarter packed with bars, cafes, and culture among historic buildings.

And it’s about to get hotter.

Starting this weekend, Noblessner will be home to our unique pop-up sauna experience: ZiL-131 SAUN @ Kai Art Center.

The ZiL-131 SAUN is a former Soviet Army truck in which visitors can enjoy good leil (sauna steam), beat themselves with viht (bundles of branches), and enjoy food and drink from the nearby bars.

We’ll be open every day from Friday 17 July to the end of the month. The open sauna is usually 5pm to 10pm when anyone can turn up, and it’s also available for private group bookings before that during the day.

The ZiL-131 SAUN is inspired by creative and quirky pop-up saunas around the world, including Red Hot Sauna in a New York fire truck, Soompasauna in Helsinki, Beach Box Spa on Brighton Beach in England, and the floating saunas of Oslo. Some of these are built with the Estonian design and technology that we export — so we thought it’s about time we had one in Tallinn too.

All of these saunas help bring diverse people together, both locals and visitors, to enjoy authentic sauna traditions while making a positive contribution to the communities that host them.

Speaking of which, we hope our own temporary presence will help introduce more people to Noblessner as well as other saunas in the area. There’s a regatta arriving on the day we open and you can check out Noblessner’s full calendar of events here.

Our hosts, Kai Art Center and the Kampai restaurant beneath it, are definitely worth a visit. Kampai serves great Japanese food and is one of our favourite new restaurant in Tallinn. Check out the Kampai menu here. While visiting the ZiL-131 SAUN, you can order food and drink from them and other bars around us and take it to our sauna.

There are other saunas in the area too, all of which reflect a unique part of Estonian history. Check out the old public Kalma saun, the underground theatre and sauna club Heldeke, the sauna at Seaplane Harbour Marina behind the museum, and the sauna inside the bar at Põhjala Brewery. We love visiting them too and wrote about them all in this previous article:

We’re happy to promote other saunas because we are all working together to preserve Estonian sauna culture and share good leil with more people from around the world. In fact, you might say all these saunas from the Old Town to Noblessner form a new ‘Tallinn Sauna Trail’.

Our ZiL-131 SAUN has already been featured in media coverage around the world, as well as on the Estonian TV show, Ringvaade, where Anni explained why we should try to make leil (sauna steam) the first Estonian word to enter common usage globally.

On our Estonian Saunas YouTube channel, you can also see how we brought the ZiL-131 SAUN to the European Sauna Marathon here and also how we somehow managed to drive it across Estonia to Tallinn here.

How to book a visit to the ZiL-131 SAUN

Email tere@estoniansaunas.com for private group bookings or just turn up and pay for the open sauna evenings.

Private group bookings are €80 for 2 hours and the open sauna is €12 per person for 1 hour. You can also rent a towel for €4 if needed. A maximum of 6 people are allowed inside at any one time, but there’s a table and chairs outside where you can relax too. The dress code is just a towel or swimsuit during open sauna sessions and when relaxing outside, including when you go to the nearby toilet.

A brief history of the ZiL-131

The ZiL-131 was an icon of its era.

They were produced by Zavod imeni Likhachyova, a major automotive plant built near Moscow at the end of Tsarist rule and opened under the new management of the Soviet Union. For almost a century, ZiL produced the heavy vehicles that sustained the military and industrial might of the Soviet Union, as well as the luxury vehicles used by the Communist Party elite.

A “ZiL” lane in the centre of a Moscow highway.

These vehicles even had their own special ‘ZiL lanes’ with absolute right of way over ordinary people.

The ZiL-131s rolled off the production line in the 1960s as a versatile six wheel drive vehicle designed to do the heavy lifting for the Soviet Army.

Our ZiL-131 was one of the last to roll off the production line in the late 1980s before it was then deployed to Estonia.

As the men who drove it here discovered though, the road of history always has unexpected turns. The military might of the Soviet Army turned out to be ineffective against the Singing Revolution led by mass choirs demanding the end of the Soviet occupation. Estonia regained independence in 1991 and, following 50 years of occupation, Russian forces withdrew in 1994, leaving behind this vehicle which was then seized for use by the new Estonian Army.

The Estonian Army used this vehicle until 2008 when it was finally retired and given a new lease of life.. as a sauna.

We plan to renovate it with additional Estonian design, including a new HUUM stove, and take it beyond our borders to help us share Estonian sauna design, technology, and traditions with more people around the world.

It survives to this day as a celebration of human freedom and Estonian culture, the very things this truck was sent here to prevent flourishing.

Thanks for reading

The ZiL-131 SAUN is operated by Anni and Adam. We’re passionate about sharing Estonia sauna design, technology, and traditions with more people around the world.

In the near future, we’re going to renovate the vehicle inside with more Estonian design, including a HUUM stove, and will use it as a showcase for exports, as well as Estonian sauna culture. You can learn more about us by following @EstonianSaunas on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, & Twitter — or visiting our online shop at www.estoniansaunas.com.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Adam Rang

Adam Rang

1.5K Followers

Saunapreneur at EstonianSaunas.com. Previously Chief Evangelist at Estonia’s e-Residency programme.