DIRTY LITTLE KGB SECRETS IN TALLINN
This is a true story about the Hotel Viru in Tallinn, Estonia.
Sometimes they would spy on people having sex. They being the KGB and those being spied upon were the guests at the super posh Hotel Viru, in Tallinn, Estonia.
Dirty little secrets, in a hidden room, on a nonexistent floor
They used every trick in the KGB spy book. To gather information which could be used to blackmail, extort and intimidate.
It's almost revolting to see what they did now, but you can see it all for yourself, if you visit the historical city of Tallinn and walk just a few metres past the outskirts of its breathtaking Old Town. The Hotel Viru's stark double tower looms above you. It was once the most prestigious address in the city.
The epitome of style and glamour
The hotel represented the epitome of style and Baltic glamour when it opened its doors in 1972. For the KGB, the Soviet state spy apparatus, it presented the perfect opportunity. Estonia was trapped behind the Iron Curtain and at the mercy of its Soviet masters. Those masters needed a way to observe, catalogue and control the citizens of this satellite state.
To that end the hotel design was carefully managed. The Finish construction company was directed to incorporate some unique 'special features' by the Soviet spy agency. Walls carefully hid cameras and microphones. Even the restaurants ashtrays, tables and crockery were modified with listening bugs - to observe the unsuspecting guests.
All of this nefarious infrastructure was controlled from a hidden room, on a floor that did not exist. The citizens of Tallinn could all see that the hotel had 23 floors, this was obvious. One could simply count the rows of floors to the roof from the outside. But within the opulent interior, officially, there were only 22 buttons in the elevator. Anyone arriving at the top floor, via the stairway, if they ever made it that far - was met by a simple sign which read; "There Is Nothing To See Here". And so it was that the KGB busied itself and no doubt its spies were tantalised by, the ordinary and the extraordinary comings and goings of the hotel guests.
All visiting diplomats found themselves at the mercy of the KGB
All foreign Diplomats and guests were mandated to stay at the Hotel Viru. How convenient.
As the network of wires purred with the conversations of hotel guests, the KGB recorded it all. No foreigner had the chance to book any other hotel in the city. They were a captured audience. Of special want, were the sexual endeavours of foreign Diplomats and business people. Film and photographs of the most compromising kind were carefully captured, catalogued and then used for years after to force leverage - on behalf of the Soviet state.
How did you know I needed that?
Visitors were often stunned, when after complaining in the privacy of their rooms that toiletries appeared to be missing, or the towels were dirty, by a knock at the door. To be met by staff holding the very items they had complained were lacking.
As the years slipped by, the Hotel Viru, developed a reputation. Its dirty secret became a very open one and sent a desired special warning to the people who worked there. Fear and paranoia. It all helped the Soviets ensure the captured Estonian populace stayed in their place.
As the U.S.S.R. began to collapse in the early 1990's, the KGB operation at the Hotel Viru rolled valiantly on. But then in April 1991, as it became clear that Estonia was heading towards independent sovereignty, the KGB spy-masters had to make a very hasty retreat from their hidden 23rd floor spy-den. They didn't have time to remove the equipment. They couldn't cleanse the Hotel Viru of its dirty little secret.
KGB agents tried to smash the equipment. Papers were strewn across the floors. Reels of recording tape were left unravelled. But strangely it would be three years before the secrets of the room were officially laid bare.
In 1994, the Finish company, Sokos, took over the ownership of the prestigious Hotel Viru. The new manager began exploring his domain. His staff had told him about the mysterious equipment room high on the 23rd floor. He ignored the sign; "There Is Nothing To See Here" and opened the door.
He was stunned. But rather than remove the equipment and pretend it was never there, the hotel owners decided to leave it as it was. And so it remains today. A reminder of the dark times, behind the Soviet Iron Curtain. Of a country and its people held captive, by a totalitarian regime. It's a way for Estonians and others to confront the past, reconcile wrongdoings and hopefully move forward with lessons learned.
Today, if you visit Tallinn, you can form your own views on what the KGB did at the Hotel Viru. Local guides will take you through the complex and tell you what it was like to live under the Soviet regime.
Plus you can enjoy the spectacular views of the Tallinn Old Town from the floor that never officially existed.
Tips for visiting the Hotel Viru:
The KGB Spy Room Museum tours are conducted in both English and Estonian and last one hour, with an expert guide
Access is available daily at 11.30 and 14.30
Group bookings are welcome at other times
Book tickets in advance at [email protected] or telephone +372 680 9300
Tickets cost €11
Steve Wilde visited the Hotel Viru in Tallinn in January 2017.