Tallinn, Estonia

Ungern-Sternberg Palace

The Ungern-Sternberg family has a history of insanity and genocidal rage, and they made their fortune through a unique form of piracy.


Kohtu, 6
Tallinn, Estonia

Built: 1865–1868
Architect: Martin Gropius



59.436869, 24.740827

The Count of Ungru

Otto Reinhold Ludwig von Ungern-Sternberg

Once there was a man named Otto Reinhold Ludwig von Ungern-Sternberg.
Born: August 16, 1744, Vastse-Kuuste Parish, Estonia

His family was going broke, and they were getting desperate and were about to lose their estate on the Estonian island of Hiiummaa. That is where Otto came up with a devious plan.

You see, in those days, if you helped to rescue the crew of a sinking ship, you were entitled to a large portion of the cargo that was on that vessel. So Otto built a signal fire that would lure ships into rocks, wrecking them. The problem with this plan was, the crew from the ships would be able to testify that they were being lured into the rocks by the signal fire, so he would also slaughter the crew.

This went on for a period of time until a Swedish Skipper took notice of Otto’s increasing fortune. In a quarrel, Otto killed the Skipper. This did not go over well with the Senate in St. Petersburg, as due to Otto’s arrogance and lack of self-control, he had many enemies.

The Senate of St. Petersburg charged him as a pirate, took away his title, and banished him to Siberia, where he died.

Otto Reinhold Ludwig von Ungern-Sternberg
Died: August 14, 1811, Tobolsk, Russia

Otto’s deeds have provided rich material for novels, a film, and even an opera.

Other Peculiar Members of the Ungern-Sternberg Family

Robert von Ungern-Sternberg

The genocidal Robert von Ungern-Sternberg (aka the Bloody White Baron)(1886-1921), was an educated but incredibly cruel Russian Cossack officer. He was the commander of the so-called Asian Division in Siberia staffed mainly with Mongols. With that division, he took over the capital of Mongolia from the Chinese in 1921. He wanted to establish a Buddhist world state governed by the Asian nomads. The Red Army imprisoned him and later shot him.

Origin of the name ‘Ungern-Sternberg’

The Baltic-Germans circulated an anecdote about how the Ungern-Sternbergs got their name. According to this propaganda, Baron Sternberg once went fishing with his servant Mati in a boat. The baron fell into the water and shouted to the servant, “Help me out of the water!” Typical of an Estonian, he took his time to think about this for a long time, and finally responded: “Unwillingly, Sternberg” (‘ungern’ in German means ‘unwillingly’). Though he really didn’t want to, he reached his hand out to save him, and as the legend goes, since that time the barons have been called Ungern-Sternerg.

My name is surrounded with such hate and fear that no one can judge what is true and what is false, what is history, and what is myth.Baron Roman Fedorovich von Ungern-Sternberg, 1921

A Palace Built from Pirate Loot

View From Street Ungern-Sterngerg Palace Kohtu 6 Tallinn Estonia

Having amassed a large fortune through his piracy, the family eventually owned almost the whole island of Hiiumma. When Otto’s grandson, Count Evald von Ungern-Sternberg (1824-1899), was elected to the parliament (“Land Council”) as the representative of the nobility of the island of Hiiummaa, he used some of his ill-gotten family fortune to commission this town palace project from the Berlin architect Martin Gropius (1824-1880) at Kohtu, 6 in Toompea. The palace and the gateway building are one and a half stories and were built between 1865-1868. The main building of unflustered limestone and bricks, featuring domed spires, mansard roof, and slender chimneys, is externally based on the French fortress-like palaces of the XVII century.

Interior Moldings Ungern-Sterngerg Palace Kohtu 6 Tallinn Estonia

The decorations of the premises of the main story are exceptionally opulent. The main theme focused on the story of Demeter and Persephone. Polychromatic stucco, marble fireplaces, wall paneling and doors with bronze fixtures have been predominantly modeled after the Italian Renaissance, in 1911-1940 the building housed the Estonian Provencial Museum. It was then that the weathervanes of the XVII century were added to the main staircase.

In 1911, the house passed to the Nobility Corporation and the Estonian Literary Society (1842) set up by the Baltic-Germans, as well as the Estonian Provencial Museum (1864), were given premises there. Both did a lot to investigate Estonian nature and history and worked there until 1940.

Estonian Academy of Sciences

Today this palace is the home of the Estonian Academy of Sciences (Estonian: Eesti Teaduste Akadeemia). As with other national academies, it is an independent group, founded in 1938, of well-known scientists whose stated aim is to promote research and development, encourage international scientific cooperation, and disseminate knowledge to the public. Interestingly, the organization’s website mentions only that the palace was the former home of former nobility.


By Forrest Mallard

By Forrest Mallard

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