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Cures and Curious

By Teagan Staudenmeier

In a city where modern meets medieval, an ancient pharmacy has seen it all—from the Black Death to Covid-19.  Raeapteek, or the Town Hall Pharmacy, has been tending to the health needs of Estonians since 1422, making it the oldest continuously-operated drug store in Europe. 

The 600-year-old building is nestled among shops, restaurants, and churches whose façades preserve the urban structure of medieval Tallinn. Yet Tallinn’s Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, remains a lively center of daily life and commerce as is evident by the foot traffic in and out of the old apothecary.

Raeapteek is stocked to meet modern pharmaceutical needs. However, it’s a far cry from the self-checkout at CVS. In lieu of an automated voice telling you to scan your next item, there is Triinu Entsik-Grunberg, the manager of Raeapteek, who answers questions for both tourists and those seeking cures for ailments.  

Entisk-Grunberg has worked at Raeapteek for four years. She says she enjoys speaking to the people who come from all over the world.

“They’re always in a good mood,” Entisk-Grunberg said.

For visitors to her shop, a museum exhibit tells the rich history of the establishment. The longest known owners were the Burchart family, who operated the pharmacy for 325 years between 1582-1911. The exhibit also displays remedies from throughout the ages. It includes many iterations of Vaseline containers, as well as dried toads and a plague mask.

Entisk-Grunberg also makes time for her regulars. Beneath chandeliers that hang from the wooden board ceiling, large glass cases hold jars, bottles, and boxes of medications. But not every local customer is looking for drugs.

“They come in just to talk,” she said.

For those customers, Entisk-Grunberg is happy to provide talk therapy.

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