KGB Museum in Tallinn

Tunnel of 100 Beers

We leave the Kök and head down into the tunnel of 100 beers nearby.  They’ve got a hell of a selection (obviously), they’ve even got a Metallica-branded beer I’d never heard of.  The place is pretty dead (I suppose it is the middle of the afternoon), but the music is great. Someone has a Dan Auerbach crush, they play Black keys and The Arcs the whole time.

The bar is a good chance to dry off – the weather could be better.  We’re wet and cold, and our tentative plans at this point had been either to head to Minsk (where the forecast is about the same as it is here in Tallinn), or jump a ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Helsinki.  It’s apparently only a two hour-ish ride and reasonably priced, but the weather there is even worse than here – the seven day forecast is 100% sloppy and not comfortably above freezing.  Also, the travel time in Scandinavia isn’t great…  getting from Helsinki to Stockholm is either a slow boat or pricey.  Hmm.

We start concocting Plan B.  Where’s warmer than this, and rad?  Also, let’s get some more beers in us to help our brain thinking work more good.  Okay, we could book it straight south to somewhere like Italy or Greece, or we could hit Central Europe and work our way down overland.  Maybe we get to Helsinki, fly to Vienna, then onto Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade, then Balkan it up for a while?  The cities of the old Austro-Hungarian empire are generally 2-3 hours apart by bus or train…  Boom.  New plan finalized.  Let’s celebrate with a beer.

We saunter over to where Google Maps says the KGB Museum is, our next stop of the day. This takes us back through the Town Square and main gate in the wall.

Oogie makes a new friend along the way.

Also along the way we pass by a guy trying to solicit us with a good time, “Maybe a strip club gentleman? Massage, rub down, you will see pussy, shiny vaginy”, “Haha no thanks, man.” Shiny vaginy? Guy’s hustling early, it’s just passed noon.

KGB Museum

Directions lead us to kind of a hotel / mall type situation, with a nightclub and a Hesburger – not really anything that looks like the museum.  That’s weird.  Let’s go into the Hotel Viru and be detectives.  The front desk says “It’s right there” and points about thirty feet away.  It’s actually part of the hotel – we can’t just go in on our own though, we have to take the guided tour, fortunately the next one is in 15 minutes.  We sign up and wait over by the elevators by the night club.

A little party never killed nobody? Unless it’s the communist party? (Or any political party for that matter)

Our group arrives upstairs after a few elevators full of us make our way up.  Our guide begins by telling us about the history of the Hotel Viru, and guiding us up some stairs to a hallway with a view of the city’s skyline and historical photos.

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The hotel was built by Intourist (the USSR’s state-run tourist agency) in the early 1970s when Estonia was part of the Soviet Union as a western-style hotel to accommodate foreign tourists.  At the time the region didn’t have the expertise required to build their own skyscrapers so they hired the Finns to construct it – Finland being a neutral, albeit capitalist, nation in the Cold War at the time.  During construction a fire ripped through the building but it was covered up, as was the fashion at the time.

We get into some convos with a few of the other guests – there’s a pair of couples in their sixties from the US (Idaho I think?) and we start getting into what we’re all doing in Estonia.  I tell them we like going to places a lot of other people don’t go – one guy responds “We do the same.  What we really enjoy is going out to the edges of places, the ends of the road, you know?”  Thinking back to my trip the summer before, I asked him – have you ever heard of Tuktoyaktuk?  All of their eyes light up, “Yeah we were there last July.”  “No shit, I would’ve just missed you, I was there in June” (That’s a story for another time).  We get into trading some up-north stories while our guide wrangles everyone up and herds us along.

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The first room we walk into looks like a fairly typical office from the 1970s, with more old photos on the walls, some newspaper articles, phones, a typewriter, etc.  There are two phones – one looks like a regular phone from the era, while the other is a heavy grey box.  The latter was a direct line to the KGB.  The phones are lined with metal to block electromagnetic frequencies, making them secure lines.

Murphy tries one of the lines and finds himself talking directly to Vladimir Putin. They have a delightful chat about US election meddling over some tea.

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These two Estonian-language newspapers are on the desk in front of the phones.  They look pretty similar aside from the photos, right?  The fellow on the left is Brezhnev (leader of the USSR through most of the seventies), while the fellow on the right is Yuri Andropov, who was very briefly the leader in the 1980s.  Both are memorial issues, published after their respective deaths.  Apparently they both exalt the socialist virtues and accomplishments of the leaders – but because Andropov was in power for such a short time (about 14 months), they just regurgitated Brezhnev’s platitudes rather than come up with some new ones, hoping that no one was really paying that much attention.

This room had the only photocopier in the building – anything copied was copied twice, with the second copy sent directly to the KGB.

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To get around the city, guests of the hotel could rent black Volga sedans with a personal driver – the personal driver being a KGB officer.

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Local “ladies of the night” were allowed into the hotel to provide company for foreigners, provided they were also in cahoots with the KGB.

Back out into the hall, we’re shuffled down into a second room.  This is a “secret” room, apparently – on the door is a sign saying “There is nothing here.”

Inside is an array of outdated-looking radio equipment:

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This room was a KGB radio centre.  It wasn’t just for surveillance of hotel guests, it was the center of Baltic regional communications for the agency.  All of the equipment leftover here is authentic – when the Soviet Union started falling apart and Estonia gained independence in 1991, everything happened so quickly they didn’t have time to properly shut their operation down, so they smashed everything instead.

There are a variety of uniforms inside the room; some that were clearly KGB but others as well.  On their way through the hotel, KGB officers would dress in disguise (such as civil officials, like part of the fire service) to keep visitors’ guards down.

All around the room are various espionage-related artifacts.  The building was awash in listening devices, down to microphones embedded in lobby ashtrays, flower vases, just about everything – our guide jokes that the building is made of “microconcrete”; half concrete and half microphones.

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One of the artifacts was a test of the hotel employees’ good behaviour, a boobytrapped purse that had dye packs inside of it.  They were instructed to return lost articles to the manager, but those with light fingers who tried to snag spare cash from the purse would be splattered, shamed and sacked.

Overall the tour was pretty cool – really not much to see, just the two rooms, but the tour guide made it.  I’m glad it was a guided tour and we weren’t able to go in solo – we would’ve been in and out in fifteen minutes tops without a lot of the important context.

Alright, there’s still some daylight left. I think we can get some more exploring in before din din.

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