Secret police, big brother, and cloak and dagger subterfuge are all a reality at the KGB Museum on the top floor of the Sokos Viru Hotel in Estonia.
It was the late 1960s and after reopening the major Helsinki to Tallinn ferry line between Finland and Estonia, western tourists were beginning to infiltrate the communist country, bringing their western ideas into a city that had been strictly monitored since the final days of World War 2. At the same time, this new income stream needed to be controlled to a level the Soviets were fully comfortable so they didn’t outwardly appear hard line to Westerners. They needed a facility. They needed a luxury hotel.
The Sokos Viru is a Modern Hotel With A Secret
Construction of the Viru Hotel began in 1968. It almost didn’t happen, with its Finnish developers going bankrupt halfway through and a fire damaging the shell. It eventually opened on 5 May 1972. Situated just outside the ancient Viru Gates, the Viru Hotel was Estonia’s first high-rise building. As the only destination offering bars, nightclubs and the latest in Western stylings, it was the first choice for visiting business people, diplomats and distinguished guests. For the KGB, it was a case of putting all the good eggs in the one basket – a first choice destination for intelligence gathering and espionage.
The Secret Floor
Boasting 22 floors of accommodation, 60 of its rooms were equipped with bugging devices, and in some, hidden surveillance cameras. Guests were oblivious to the fact that their conversations were being monitored or their actions filmed. Women were hired to monitor comings and goings on each floor and some worked as potential dates to extract information from patrons at the Foreign Exchange Bar, the one place that outsiders could drink comfortably.
Our Guide Shows How Light Fittings Could Hide Microphones
The restaurant and bars were also fitted with bugs, with hidden microphones disguised as light fittings. The audio from these devices was monitored in a secret room on the 23rd floor. It is here, hidden above the 22nd floor (the lifts only reference 22 floors) where the KGB museum is housed.
The KGB Museum
The museum is admittedly small. It is housed within the couple of offices and monitoring room in what would normally be the motor rooms for lifts, air conditioners and computer servers in most hotels. Old, yellowing posters are lifting and peeling off the walls and pin boards. Old photos and postcards capture what the hotel was like in the 1970s and 80s. A manager’s office has maps and documents sprawled around the desktop and shelves. There’s even a red phone (the hotline?) – which makes it feel like it’s straight out of the 1960s version of Batman.
Even the KGB had a hot line
Are You Listening?
The main attraction is the room where all the audio surveillance took place. It is purportedly in the same state it was left in when the KGB fled in 1991 as the Iron Curtain fell. The space was rediscovered in 1994 and only became a tourist attraction in the last 10 years. Equipment is smashed up to make it useless to anyone. Old stamps, uniforms and even phones are littered around the room. The 1980s-style gas masks and dated analogue machinery take you immediately back to when Estonians lived with the constant sinister undercurrent of fear.
Key Hole Cameras, Exploding Purses, Bugged Phones – Where’s 007?
Our guide is engaging and knowledgeable and for anyone with a more-than-passing-interest in the Cold War, the hotel and its secret museum are worth the admission price. For others, it’s the views that are priceless. As one of the city’s main high rises and its proximity to the Old Town walls means you can get incredible photos of Tallinn and beyond. The Viru Hotel and KGB Museum is a reminder of just how fragile world peace is right now and for that reason alone, we would recommend a visit.
The Viru Hotel and KGB Museum are an exciting way to see what life was like in Tallinn back in the 1970s and 80s.
Viru väljak 4, 10111 Tallinn, Estonia
Tours in English happen twice daily (11:30am and 2:30pm). You can book by phone (+372 680 9300) or email.
For more information, click here.