In the KGB museum, Hotel Viru

Thursday 22nd October 2015, 12.20pm (day 1,519)

KGB equipment, 22/10/15

I picked my Tallinn hotel, the Hotel Viru, basically at random, so it was interesting to discover its history today. It was the first ‘Western’-style hotel built in the city in the early 1970s when the Soviet Union decided that it would try to attract tourist hard currency. The hotel has 23 floors, but the elevators only go up to 22: the top floor officially did not exist, because it was in a room up there that the KGB installed a surveillance station that, it is believed, relayed information from spies in Finland direct to the 1st Directorate of the KGB back in Moscow. One night in May 1991, just before Estonia achieved independence, they cleared out literally overnight, and now the hotel conducts guided tours of the top floor which, they say, they have left exactly as it was found after their departure. You can see more pictures on my Facebook page if interested.

As well as this room there was a surveillance network throughout the whole hotel, which was also used by Communist party luminaries and celebrities as well as tourists. The two pieces of equipment shown here reflect this. The black apparatus is a camera attached to a tube which could be poked through holes in ceilings to photograph guests in the room below. The pink object on the left, which I found particularly sinister, is a purse that would be left lying around as if it had been dropped by a guest. Hotel employees were supposed to return these straight to lost property; if they opened it, checking for money, it would explode dye into their face. They would then be called into see the local KGB and told that if they did not co-operate with them they would be sent to a labour camp for theft. Nice people.

Of course, these days no government ever spies on its people like this or engages in any underhand surveillance tactics at all.

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