The Germans in Estonia – from driving force to loss of power

One may find names of German descent on several memorials and gravestones in Estonia. German words decorate places like archways of country houses, churches, schools etc – an unmistakable indication of a long German-Estonian past.


Baron Carl Magnus von der Pahlen – Painted by the English portrayer George Dawe.

The Teutonic Order established a privileged group of German nobilty in Estonia in the Middle Ages and early stages of modern times. German land owners, merchants and craftsmen formed a community that since the 19th century was called “the Baltic Germans”.


Traditionally, the Baltic Germans dominated in politics, trade and culture, however, their power started to decline only with the Industrialisation at the end of the 19th century. Now, Estonia discovered its national consciousness. At the same time, the structure of the population began to change to the disadvantage of the German minority.


In 1918, Estonia became politically independent for the first time and due to the implemented land reforms, Germans lost their property all over the country.


Herrensitz Palms Palmse mõis
Palmse Manor (Palmse mõis). Former residence of the von der Pahlen family. Today, open to the public.

The influence and number of the Baltic Germans continued to decrease since then until 1939, when Hitler called on them to go “home to the Reich!” Many Baltic Germans saw this as their only chance to survive economically, however, going back proved to be a step out of the frying pan into the fire.


What remains is a number of words of German origin in the Estonian language and the awareness of the similarities, which existed between the two countries. People have learned to approach each other. The remaining 3.500 Germans have fully assimilated into the Estonian society.



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