The KGB’s 23rd floor in Tallinn’s Hotell Viru

  • 2016-02-24
  • Helen Wright

For almost 20 years thFor almost 20 years the 23rd floor of Tallinn’s city centre Hotell Viru functioned as the radio translation room for the KGB. After the Soviet Union collapsed and the room was discovered, it was left alone completely intact until five years ago, when it was turned into a museum.
The Baltic Times spoke to Hotell Viru’s communications manager Peep Ehasulu to find out how the last five years have been.
Currently the small exhibition attracts around 30,000 people per year with the majority of these being tourists and only 10 per cent coming from Estonia.

Ehasalu calculated that about 40 per cent were from Finland and the rest from all over the world.
Visitors can look around only by guided tour, six of which are put on each day in several languages including English and Finnish.
Newspapers and documents still cover the desks and cigarette stubs still lay in the ashtrays, the room is just as it was left in 1991.

Speaking about the draw the museum has, Ehasalu said: “People come here to know more about the KGB. We are not telling some James Bond stories and battles, but about the everyday life in our hotel under supervision of the KGB. And this is what interests people — what it means to live under constant fear of being punished, for example for the ‘mistake’ of talking to a foreigner.
“Yes, even in the hotel it was forbidden to talk to a foreigner; it sounds really absurd and of course personnel talked to them, but officially it was not okay.
“The system was the same also in other Intourist hotels, so the story of our hotel is like a small model of life in the USSR.”

He said that it was important to keep the room as it was to remind people what had happened at the hotel. But it had taken almost two decades for the issue to become less “painful.”
“In 2011 we opened the room and its surroundings as a museum for two reasons: we were confident enough to laugh at this era and to talk about it, and it was not so delicate an issue anymore,” he said via email.
“And people (even local youth) tend to forget the time we come from, so it was necessary to remind them.
“And of course, our foreign guests had lots of interest about this time — most of them don’t know anything about this period.”

In January the museum celebrated its fifth anniversary by allowing guests to visit for free on one day. Ehasalu said this was because tickets, which cost eight euros to 10 euros, are quite expensive for local people.
The exhibition is privately owned by the Finnish Sokos Hotel chain which now owns the hotel, but this means they do not get any financial help from the state.
The hotel also ran more tours than usual in Estonian so older people would have a better chance of visiting.
He added: “We are proud that we have found the right balance between serious fact-based history and the light way of telling the stories of the era.

“This is what our guests really appreciate — we don’t try to terrify them, it is more like amusing stories of the 1970s and 1980s, but after the tour one can really understand the systems that were used to influence people’s ‘normal’ life.”