Day in the Life: Tarmo the administrative manager

Tarmo Põldroo setting up for a presentation at the Wittenstein History Centre in Paide's iconic Valli Tower.
Tarmo Põldroo setting up for a presentation at the Wittenstein History Centre in Paide's iconic Valli Tower. Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

There are some jobs where your job title just doesn't sum up what you actually do on a day-to-day basis. What would you call someone whose workday could easily include repairing medieval props on one floor of a nine-storey tower, typing away at a keyboard in a tiny, off-limits office on another, and setting up to DJ an evening event in the Glass Gallery off a third? My name is Tarmo Põldroo, and I am the administrative manager at the Time Centre Wittenstein in Paide.

I am really bad at waking up. I mean really bad. I think I'm on to six alarms at this point. The dog doesn't mind, however. I always have a cup of coffee in the morning, because there is no life without it, and I also always listen to music.

It ends up taking me some 45 minutes to fully wake up.

Thankfully our hours at the Time Centre are such that I don't have drag myself through this process terribly early in the morning — we are open to the public on Wednesdays through Sundays, from 10 in the morning through 6 in the evening, which I love. I am the administrative manager, however, which in practice means there is always plenty for me to do.

My physical place of employment is perhaps on the unique side — an octagonal tower, known as the Valli Tower (Vallitorn in Estonian), sitting atop Vallimägi Hill, amid the ruins of a castle known in Low German as Wittenstein, the namesake of the current centre. The tower was featured on the town crest in the 15th Century already, as it still is today, but the current tower is actually a relatively recent replica, as the previous tower was blown up by the retreating Red Army in 1941.

The hill and the tower may be familiar if you've ever attended the annual Opinion Festival. The new tower includes a lift, which we've dubbed Estonia's first real time machine, taking centre visitors, floor by floor, from prehistoric times in Estonia all the way through the so-called European era, with every major era in between.

Presidential visitors

When I first arrive at work, I start looking over emails and messages we have received since the day before. If any of them require action on my part, that can easily tie me up through one in the afternoon. We cater to different groups of visitors, including various age groups of schoolchildren, but also, perhaps surprisingly, adults as well. We also get groups of foreign tourists. On one memorable occasion, after we had booked a special tour of the nine-storey tower and set up and everything, we got a call from the group we were expecting saying that they were in front of the tower — only it turned out the tower they were in front of was in Tallinn!

Our proper office is located on the second floor, which thankfully isn't open to visitors. It's a little cramped and a little messy, with a desk and computer nestled between stacks of fliers and corkboards with notes and things pinned to them. It's not the most photogenic of offices, but when I've visited other museums, I've gotten to see similar back-room offices as well, and then I can picture myself sitting and working there with ease. We also have a framed photo of former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves there, which was gifted to us after he visited the Time Centre. We're looking forward to being visited by President Kersti Kaljulaid as well.

At some point in the early afternoon I'll have lunch, and then go back to taking care of anything needing addressing on the computer. After that, there's always certainly something around the centre that needs repairing. I am responsible for managing the centre's van, and deliver, pick up, or carry whatever is needed, but in the tower itself, having a lift is really handy, as it certainly makes it easier to haul tools and ladders up and down as needed. That being said, when you're in a hurry, those seconds spent waiting for the lift feel like an eternity wasted.

The repairwork is actually how I ended up with this job. The Time Centre was half-jokingly given my contact info and told that I was a more or less skilled repairman. And so I started to do repairs at the Time Centre whenever I was summoned there. At some point it came up while talking to the centre director that I had some blacksmith skills as well. They had a workshop in Paide and I could do my own thing there, I'd just have to introduce blacksmithing to centre visitors from time to time. Nonetheless, I found myself at the Time Centre itself more and more often, and so I ended up just staying there.

'You got your own party'

But this job is a lot of fun, and I really like it. The team at the Time Centre is very close, and I always come to work in the morning in a good mood; I've never had a day where I felt like I didn't want to come to work. My coworkers and I recently attended tourism trade fairs in Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn representing the Time Centre Wittenstein, and all three weekends were filled with lots of memorable moments; it was the most fun I've had in recent memory.

I like that I am good at what I do, that my opinions are taken into account, and that I am trusted here. As a result, I and my colleagues are also given free rein to an extent, which allows us to put our imaginations to work, whether it's coming up with a new display or organising a new type of event — such as something akin to popular escape rooms, where participants have to complete various tasks on each floor of the tower. We consider ourselves more tourist attraction than museum, as we're very hands-on. Artefacts at the museum are, as a rule, replicas; the valuable items are down the road at the Järva County Museum.

On my own initiative, I began learning more about web design and social media, and as a result I am also now responsible for managing the centre's homepage, Facebook page and Instagram account. This is something I typically tinker with after 6 in the evening, if I still feel up to it; like Tallinn, our homepage will never be completed. I'll also sometimes draft our social media posts for the next day ahead of time. I also design the centre's brochures and flyers.

One of my favourite hobbies is playing dance music, so the Time Centre also hires me as a DJ for events sometimes. One of the highlights of my time working here was also music-related, although it wasn't me playing. A couple of years ago, we organised an outdoor concert on Vallimägi Hill; one of the performers was Hovery Covery. We were all involved in that one, but it was organised on my initiative, and much of my time was spent working on it personally. The event was a hit, and the most memorable moment from it for me was when, in the middle of the party, my boss turned to me and said, "Well, Tarmo, you did it — you got your own party."

Town and country

I was raised in a little Viljandi County town called Kolga-Jaani, where I grew up on a farm in the countryside with my mother and stepfather. I was an only child. Basic school wasn't exactly the happiest place in the world for me, but overall I would say I had a pretty typical childhood.

I don't really recall whom or what I wanted to grow up to be, but if I could tell my childhood self one thing, it would be to take his studies more seriously, as that would help ensure a better standard of living for himself in the future.

Some 13 years ago I moved to the town of Türi, relatively right down the road from Paide, to attend upper secondary school, and have remained in the area ever since.

Growing up in the countryside had a positive influence on my outlook, however, and taught me to care about nature and animals. I appreciate urban life, but I have a very fundamental understanding of rural life. Over the years, I have also learned to take more responsibility, and Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" also had a deep impact on me, as it taught me to really understand how the world around me works.

Some things have changed a great deal during my lifetime, including people's means of communication. When I was younger, we still had rotary phones and envelopes, stamps and handwritten letters. Now we have the internet and smartphones. I actually miss the naivete of my youth to some extent. It is of course positive, however, that people's standard of living has improved so much.

19th Century ahead

As for the future, I'd like to finish renovating my home. In terms of my job, the Time Centre Wittenstein was allocated funding earmarked for the improvement of regional competitiveness, as a result of which big changes lie ahead for us, including exciting opportunities for me.

Next autumn, a new interactive museum of 19th Century life will be opened right here on Tallinn Street that will include various workshops, including a blacksmith's workshop, a woodshop, and a beer hall, as well as the Brasche Pharmacy Museum and Dr. Hesse Treatment Centre. I'm really looking forward to this because it will give me so many new opportunities for self-fulfilment. For example, the blacksmith's workshop and the woodshop will have all the tools necessary to make souvenirs as well as for everyday work, which will give me the chance to improve my skills. I am also really interested in brewing beer and have already brewed some craft beer for my own personal enjoyment, but the new museum will have much better conditions for doing so.

In the meantime, I take Zumba classes, and occasionally hit the gym. During summer I also ride my bike. I try to look on the bright side of things. There is a lot of negativity around us, and I wish people wouldn't spend so much time thinking about bad and negative things.

Perhaps that is why, when I relax on the couch and watch a couple of hours of TV before bed at night, I skip the news for science channels.


Day in the Life is a weekly series by ERR News telling the stories of everyday Estonians, their livelihoods, and their lives. If you know someone whose story you feel should be told, email us at [email protected].

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Editor: Dario Cavegn

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