How did we end up at Hippodrome?

In March 2019, I organized my birthday at the Kaberneeme RMK camp site. I invited 480 closest Facebook friends because it is not possible to invite more than 500 people on Facebook. Less than 10% of the invited people came. Meeting agenda foresaw opening of the grilling season, a tent sauna, ice hole and acro yoga. One of the guests was an old acquaintance, who told that he had not yet managed to visit the gym at Zelluloos. I told him he had two months before the gym was going to be demolished. To his question, “Where are you moving?” the only answer I had to offer was, “Somewhere outdoors.” After hearing that he mentioned his old horse stable, which he didn’t know what to do with.

The next day I went to see the building. A dilapidated and miserable house was staring back at me. All the windows were shut with bricks and inside there were two camp fire places left behind by some homeless people. In the attic there were several small and one large hole in the roof under which grew moss and trees. The owner talked about a small and big fire. In addition, the owner was harassed by municipal police which was fining him for the rubbish and leaking oil barrels in the yard. The building had even gotten into the news because of the youth having rioted there and the police having been sent to disperse them. At a glance I decided that this building would be the future home of Estonian climbing!

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Ronimisministeerium moved into this beauty two months later. When moving from one apartment to another, it seems that there are crazy many things. Taking a climbing hall into pieces and moving it to another address is a war situation! It was necessary to order a truck with a garbage container and let the driver run several laps before all that could be taken was transported. Merciless construction began.

The climbing walls were built in a 5-degree warm, pitch-dark gym, although it was already beautiful spring weather outside. Wall construction ninjas had arrived, in addition to Estonia from Russia and Finland and were able to climb in three weeks. Record time!

Yet, there was nothing else besides walls and mats at the gym. Jarmo, a former owner of the Boulderkeskus, who came to set up the access system, said after a short walk around the building, “This is the strangest thing I’ve seen in a long time.” I gave my best shot to take it as a compliment. After a while, he tried to smooth out his words and said, “This is going to be a better climbing gym than Zelluloos.” It was already clearly easier to hear.

After the wall construction ninjas left, general construction began. I bought 70 liters of out-of-date paint from hardware store with the same discount and rented a paint sprayer for the first time in my life. After 6 hours of painting, the work was done. Powerful tool! The owner of the building had contacts of a small construction company which had poured the floor of the building and done other small things tasks. We shook hands with them on the installation of windows, and the same company also made the best offer on replacing the roof.

Pretty soon, the company’s project manager turned out to be a professional drunk, with his construction brigade being his evening drinking buddies. Immediately after cutting the window openings, the project manager disappeared with his team for a week. Since I didn’t want to pay a guard for sleeping on site, I camped at the gym on a crash pad for a week until another crew installed the windows. Neighbors’ stories about the thieves turned out to be largely unfounded – only a few mornings I found an empty pack of ham on the floor with a cat’s tooth marks.

When the first customers arrived and enquired about the toilet, they were given advice to see where the horses were going and to follow their lead. There were different opinions about sewerage. The CEO of the horse racecourse thought that there might not be a sewer in the building at all, but the owner of the building had a vague memory of doing number two in the building years ago.

A few weeks later, we made sanitary progress by finding the end of a sewer pipe hidden under the concrete pour. We placed the toilet seat on the pipe and connected it to water with a garden hose. Since the toilet bowl was located opposite the entrance, we built temporary walls from foam mats. We did not install a door on the toilet, but instead placed within arm’s reach a Finnish bouldering topo so that a visitor would have something to read or to throw should someone approach at the wrong time. It was time to make a soft launch!

Summer is a low season for indoor sports and there were not many climbers. However, the income left by the few visitors helped a lot because the builders had to be paid. Thank you! A considerable number of volunteers also came by. Not only did the helping hands speed up the work, but they also gave a big moral boost – except for Märt (name changed), who looked around anxiously and said, “Michael, you’re going to die here!” I am still grateful to all of you – except for Märt.

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Finally, the project manager returned tail between his legs and began to dismantle the roof. As I stood at the courtyard looking a few hundred square meters hole in the roof, the project manager came to me and said in a reassuring tone, “Mikael, I’m not going to let you down.” That was the last time I saw him.

Fortunately, a retired electrician who watched the situation sympathized with me and said, “Mikael, I see you are left in trouble. I have also been left in trouble in my life. If you want, I’ll take over the roof project.” You do not have to offer to a desperate person too many times.

Since the electrician did not have his own constrcution team, and the drunken project manager’s drunken builders were present, the electrician told the men, “Today is Friday which is your payday. You’re all waiting for your money, but your boss has disapeared. I’ll pay you half of your salary out of my own pocket and when you come tomorrow, I’ll pay the other half.” Half of the men came back. The other half stayed with the project manager to drink the advance payment given to purchase roofing materials.

Work continued with those who arrived and did not have to be sent home to sober up. I could share unreal stories from the construction – who broke their legs while going to take a leak; who received parole but did not learn from it, and went to prison at the end of the summer; who capsized a rented minitractor; who slipped off the ladder; who gained access to the account of his recently deceased father and discovered that, the sad family event had made him an heir to factories in Russia bringing in 50 000 euros / month, etc. – But let’s move on, because the building is not ready yet.

The roof was replaced and the construction of the changing rooms began. The toilet got proper walls and a door, and at the beginning of autumn the Ukrainian tiling master completed the showers and sauna. For the tiling works he asked me to pay in bitcoins, but quickly realized from seeing my jaw drop to the floor that unfortunately he had to settle with euros. A cleaning company was hired by the end of the summer because the owner was not satisfied with how the CEO was cleaning. Things started to fall in place.

This type of wrestle has groomed Hippodrome into a “Countryside in the middle of the city”-type of gym it is today – with horses and a garden that has become so dear. The owner likes it, but in he also likes to dream of the day when Ronimisministeerium 2.0 will take place, ie there will be a great place for rope climbing in Tallinn as well – but we will squawk about that only after having layed eggs.

Rock hard!