The path of history often takes unexpected turns. That’s especially true for this ZIL-131 military truck, which originally belonged to the Soviet Army and was deployed to occupied Estonia in the 1960s.
It remains here to this day, although not quite for the purpose that the men who sent it here had in mind.
The vehicle is still in good condition, although the communications equipment is a little dusty. There’s no one giving orders over the radio anymore and the soldiers who once received them are long gone too.
After the end of the Soviet occupation, Estonia seized some of these vehicles that were left behind and they then remained in service with the Estonian Army until 2008, after which some were auctioned off to the public.
Built to serve an empire that no longer exists, this ZiL-131 then found a new purpose after its new Estonian owner converted it into a cosy wood-burning sauna at his home in Lääne-Virumaa.
Last year, it was then put up for sale. That’s how we first noticed it and wrote an article about it on this Estonian Saunas blog in order to help find a new home for this quirky sauna. No one came forward to buy it unfortunately, but we were still fascinated.
The ZiL-131 was an icon of its era, but we especially loved the fact that this sauna totally subverts the original purpose of the vehicle. The exterior has been well preserved as a brutal reminder of its era, but the interior enables people to celebrate our freedom and cultural identity, ironically the very things that this truck was sent here to suppress.
So we went to check it out for ourselves and tried out both the sauna, as well as how well it still drives.
We were so impressed that we decided to buy it. As it happens, I’ve just passed my driving test so this is actually my first vehicle.
You can check out the full video of us trying out the ZiL-131 for the first time here:
Our plans for the ZiL-131 SAUN
We’re first going to drive our new sauna to the European Sauna Marathon in Otepää, a competition that we sponsor, so that more than 600 people will get to use the ZiL-131 SAUN in just one day there.
After that, we will drive it across Estonia from the winter capital of Otepää to the official capital of Tallinn where we are going to up it up to visitors.
We’re inspired by creative and quirky pop-up saunas in cities around the world that bring together both locals and visitors to keep traditions alive in an unusual way. We’ve even been advised by an Estonian in New York who runs an Estonian sauna inside an old fire rescue truck.
The ZiL-131 is eye-catching, especially for international visitors, but we are not interested in simply encouraging Soviet nostalgia. Instead, we want to use the best of Estonian design inside to provide an interesting and authentic sauna experience based on Estonian traditions. For a start, we definitely want to replace that stove with a beautifully designed HUUM stove made in Estonia.
We believe our country has so much more potential for both sauna exports from Estonia and sauna tourism to Estonia.
This is something we already support at EstonianSaunas.com where we deliver HUUM sauna stoves around the world and also invite people to learn about Estonia’s sauna history, culture and design through our own saunas here. We actually get far more requests to visit than we can handle and that’s why we were keen to invest in another unique sauna that we can have open more regularly.
How you can back the ZiL-131 SAUN
To support these plans, we’ve just launched a crowdfunding campaign through the Estonian platform Hooandja.
Make leil not war inside the ZiL-131 SAUN
Our missionWe're on a mission to teach the world about Estonian saunas.This helps Estonia prosper by boosting sauna…
We’re big fans of crowdfunding. In the past year, we’ve personally contributed to crowdfunding initiatives that support Estonia with similar goals, including HUUM’s expansion as Estonia’s top sauna stove maker, Tallifornia’s production of the movie Chasing Unicorns, and Peter Vesterbacka’s plans for a Talsinki tunnel.
By backing our project, you’ll be helping us open up the ZiL-131 SAUNA to visitors this year after adding more Estonian design so we can then use it to promote Estonia more internationally as a sauna-loving nation. Crowdfunding provides not just the advanced funding, but also the demonstration of wider interest, which is essential to help us form partnerships with businesses who will host our truck.
In return, we have a range of rewards for people and companies based both here in Estonia and around the world that want to help. All backers paying €10 or more will also be given the title of Honoury Saunamaster and have their name displayed inside the vehicle!