Exhibitions: Estonia's room with a view into KGB secrets

Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:26am EST
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By David Mardiste

TALLINN (Reuters Life!) - The stacks of metal cases with black knobs and dials look like something from a 1950s sci-fi movie -- in fact they were once highly secret communications equipment used by the feared Soviet secret police, the KGB.

The yellowing batches of wiring plans for transmitters and receivers alongside the dusty plastic telephones are all that is left of a once-powerful top-secret communications hub used by the KGB on the 23rd floor of the popular high rise Viru hotel in the Estonian capital of Tallinn.

Though memories are fading of life in the former Soviet Union the "Viru Hotel and the KGB" exhibition revives the heydays of the Cold War when Soviet tourism agency Intourist directed foreigners to the Viru so the intelligence services could spy on them and sensitive signals were transmitted from the Baltics to Moscow.

The hotel has opened its once-secret rooms and gathered other spy memorabilia -- left over from its days as a flagship hotel for Intourist behind the Iron Curtain and a Kremlin listening post -- for the exhibition which started this year.

"All we have here now is the room as they left it one night in 1991 when Estonia was getting close to restoring its independence," said Peep Ehasalu, spokesman for the Viru, now run by Finnish hotel chain Sokos.

Estonia was annexed by the former Soviet Union and only regained its independence in 1991. It joined the European Union and NATO in 2004 and joined the euro zone this year.

The KGB used a "radio room" on the 23rd floor to relay communications from the Soviet embassy in Helsinki, 70 km (44 miles) across the Baltic sea, and had direct links to Moscow.

There were also about 10 people working for the KGB in rooms 307 and 315. From there they tapped guest telephones, studied hotel personnel files and read the reports of the tour guides working with foreigners.   Continued...