Published on : Thursday, July 27, 2017
The Hotel Viru is an iconic hotel at the centre of Tallinn, the Estonian capital, where, during the Soviet occupation, many foreign tourists, mostly Finnish were accommodated. The hotel was also a hotbed for the KGB.
This year, Hotel Viru turns 45. From the outside, it looks much like it did when it was built in 1972, but inside, the hidden 23rd floor reveals an eerie past of KGB surveillance. The hotel these days is a symbol of the KGB espionage with its bugged ashtrays and “special rooms” for “special guests”.
Officially, Hotel Viru has 22 floors. The 23rd floor housed the KGB radio centre, where agents were stationed to capture radio signals and relay information back to the Soviet government. Parts of the third floor were used to listen in on the hotel’s most prominent guests, foreign journalists and Estonian exiles.
Today, the radio room is a time capsule of a bygone era. The musty smell of the abandoned room, now a museum, still lingers. Sheets of paper strewn across the room, smashed radio equipment, and an ashtray filled to the brim with cigarette butts speak to how suddenly the room had been vacated on an August night in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
At the height of the Cold War, the room belonged to the Soviet secret police. KGB agents pried on hotel guests through wiretaps placed in ash trays, bread plates and special rooms designated especially for foreign visitors.
After Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944, it had almost no contact with the outside world. Until the 1960s, few tourists visited Tallinn. In 1963, a ferry line between Helsinki and Tallinn finally opened a window to the other side, bringing in 15,000 tourists a year.
To meet the growing number foreign visitors, the Hotel Viru was built. It was Tallinn’s first “skyscraper”, a type of building that had never been seen before in Estonia.
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