KGB Hotel is part of the Iraq Homecoming Trip Report.
My visit to the Hotel Viru was the most interesting hotel experience I have had since I stayed in the Hollywood Tower Hotel in Orlando, Florida (see The Hollywood Tower Hotel Orlando, a Terrifying Experience).
The front desk was manned by a gentleman who introduced himself by stating that his code name is Pavo. He also claimed that it was his real name.
I was told to go to floor 22 and wait with ‘exemplary patience.’ I would be given a tour of the facilities that would last 59 minutes.
Pavo met us on the 22nd floor. He said he would share a secret. Although the hotel has 23 floors, the elevator only went to 22. Referring to the 23rd floor, he said, “It’s not recommended to go there.” Pavo went on to explain how the hotel was the best hotel in all of Tallinn when it opened 50 years ago on May 5th, 1972. Everyone famous stayed at the hotel including Neil Armstrong, Elizabeth Taylor, and other VIP’s. Back then, citizens of the Soviet Union could not travel to capitalist countries and access to Western goods was very limited. The rare place where these goods existed was in Tallinn thanks to a black market facilitated by those coming to the hotel.
In a stealth move, Pavo showed us the doorway to the 23rd floor and welcomed us upstairs. He noted that behind the gray wall there was a technical room which housed a copy machine. On the copy machine was a meter which counted the number of copies employees made to make sure no one was copying unauthorized books.
TPOL’s Trivia: 42 miles to Helsinki, a bit too close for comfort for Soviet officials.
TPOL’s Trivia: The KGB’s headquarters was not at the Hotel Viru. It was in the old town next to St. August’s church.
Attention to Detail
No detail was overlooked in this hotel. On each floor there was a babooshka who documented when I left and when I returned. This was done for my own safety.
If you’re in need of toilet paper, no need to call the Wherever, Whenever number. Just complain aloud and in only a few minutes someone will knock on your door.
Not all the rooms were bugged. They had about 60 rooms that had microphones in the room for suspicious citizens. Who was suspicious? They looked at the occupation. Politicians, guides who could speak foreign languages, priests, journalists- TPOL.
In the dining room, they bugged the bread plates. The signal went to the ceiling. The restaurant’s office was on the 2nd floor. It was used for spying.
In the bar, they put the bug in the ashtray.
Women of low social responsibility were invited to the hotel. They had to cooperate with the KGB.
During the hiring process, a typical interview question was, “Do you have relatives abroad?” God help those that did. The interview became much longer.
Today, there are only 92 employees. When it opened there were 1000 employees. There was a dentist and shoemaker on site. There were also bell boys who took great care to learn every detail about their guests.
To keep employees from snooping around, the KGB used to set booby traps. An employee may find a ‘lost’ purse. If the employee opened it to satisfy his own curiosity, he would be sprayed with red paint that would not come off easily. This is a new twist on the saying – caught red-handed.
During the old times, there were a dozen or so KGB officers who used to watch the guests. Interestingly, the employees coexisted. Each knew of the other and went about his or her business accordingly. For example, this door says ‘nevermind, nothing,’ a friendly reminder to employees that there’s nothing to see here.
Translated KGB means ‘committee for state safety.’ At its peak in the 80s, the KGB had 200,000 agents. In the spring of 1991 the KGB left the hotel. Interestingly enough, they did it before the collapse of the Soviet Union which occurred in December 1991.
A Room on the High Floor
When it opened, the Hotel Viru was the tallest building in Tallinn.
The KGB said that the view was strategic. From the top floor, they could see the city center and see the elite. On the other side, there was the sea and the port, a strategic object. For this reason, they kept the top floor closed. They were afraid that someone would infiltrate the place and map out the city. That’s why coming to the floor was ‘not recommended.’
Having seen too much, I decided that I was better off staying at the Park Inn. There, on account of my status, I would be safe from any attempts to gather компромат.