Tallinn’s Soviet Era Bugged Viru Hotel

February 4th, 2012 → 4:18 pm @ // No Comments

I write about our amusing experiences in the “wired” Viru Hotel during the first visit in 1982 in Chapter One of Coming Home. Here is a related excerpt from “Tallinn’s secret history of espionage” written by Matt Bolton for the BBC.

…there was more to Hotel Viru than met the eye. ‘No, foreign visitors did not know about this,’ says Peep Ehasalu, the jovial manager of today’s Hotel Viru. We’re on the famed 22nd floor and he leads me to an anonymous white door at the end of the corridor. ‘There is no 23rd floor button in the elevator, and yet here we are,’ he says. Through the door, a short flight of stairs leads up to the floor that isn’t there, and the two rooms that Peep has spent years trying to convince his bosses to let him convert into a museum. This January, he finally succeeded in his aim. The first room, formerly a broom cupboard, has been converted to a Soviet-style manager’s office, complete with telephones and a TV from the era, as well as what Peep describes as a musty ‘Soviet smell’. It comes from the original, and now rather yellowed, lino flooring. ‘Everyone who was around in Soviet times comments on the smell,’ he says. ‘This is what Communism smelt like.’

The second room has the blinds drawn tight. The walls are lined with bulky green and silver machinery, an array of knobs with buttons and switches covering every metallic surface. This is where four KGB officers would sit each day, intercepting radio waves from Helsinki and sending cables to Moscow. It was also where information from the 60 or so hotel rooms that were routinely bugged would be processed. ‘Certain VIP guests always had certain rooms,’ says Peep, with a knowing smile. ‘Gaps between the walls allowed the rooms to be wired with equipment like this’ – he holds up a long tube that looks like a bicycle pump – ‘and transmitters were attached to the underside of dinner plates and ashtrays.’ The thick, coin-sized microphones don’t exactly scream subtlety, but they were once state of the art. ‘A lot of the staff knew what was going on up here, of course,’ says Peep. ‘It was quite normal. Surveillance was a way of life in this city.’


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