This place does feel like home for me even though home is wherever my backpack is.
I returned for a week to see the bits and pieces I missed on my previous trips, in particular the Viru Hotel KGB Museum tour and some more sightseeing. My mum and stepdad joined me in Tallinn to see what all the fuss was about.
Linnahall for Sunset
I bought some cheap Long Drink when I drove to the Latvian border on my previous trip around Estonia and so I cracked them out for sunset at the Linnahall.
This out-of-place Soviet structure was completed in 1980 and called the Lenin Palace of Sport and Culture. It was built for the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games because Tallinn, then part of the Soviet Union, was selected to host the sailing events.
Now it’s called Linnahall, which means City Hall in Estonian (not to be confused with the actual city hall) and it hosted sporting events and concerts until 2009/10. The government is currently renovating it and it may reopen in 2019.
Nonetheless, it makes a great place to chill and watch the sunset and the Baltic Sea.
KGB Museum in Viru Hotel
The tour costs €11 and ideally needs to be booked in advance online, although you can turn up at the stall in the hotel lobby to see if anyone dropped out. Tours in English are at 11:30am daily.
In 1964 the president of Finland visited Tallinn because he wanted to reopen the shipping lanes to Estonia during the Soviet times. The Viru Hotel was required to support the new tourist industry on the horizon.
The Viru Hotel opened in 1972 and 4,000 people applied for a job there, and 1,000 were accepted, even though the maximum number of guests was 800! But nobody could be unemployed in Soviet union.
It was one of the top 5 hotels in the Soviet union and it had everything (so that guests really didn’t need to leave…) Firstly so that more of their money could be extracted from them but also so it’s easier to keep an eye on them. This hotel was like a country within the Soviet Union. There was a decent black market to allow swapping of goods that were hard to come by in Soviet union. Viru bakery cakes had a huge value and it is rumoured that a woman managed to swap ten cakes for a sofa!
The 22nd floor was a restaurant with phenomenal views and eventually the guests found themselves wondering why there was a whole floor above and the explanation was given that there was a lot of electrical equipment.
The bar could accept foreign currencies from its guests but the room couldn’t even have windows to the outside world because the locals were not allowed to even see any foreign currencies.
Viru was the only hotel where foreigners could stay well into the 1980s. The staff all had instructions on how they were allowed to interact with the foreigners. If you weren’t directly serving them then you had to sign an agreement to say that you wouldn’t communicate with them at all. The KGB staff were under cover in lots of staff roles including the car service that would take the guests out to “see the city”. Realistically the guests were shown almost nothing, fed lots of fake stories and then on the return, the drivers were reporting on the questions the guests asked, the types of photos they took, whether politics was mentioned at all.
One employee worked here for 44 years, from the first day the hotel opened. In 1975 he found that there was an electrical issue, he investigated and went up to the electrical floor to check it out and was confronted by a KGB agent when he opened the door. He was told that there was nothing up there and so he left..
The door reads “there is nothing here”
Behind the door is the office. There are two phones, one straight to the KGB headquarters which could be seen from the window. Every day a member of staff walked over to the HQ with the manifest of the hotel guests for that day. The hotel managers phone is filled with metal so that there was no space for any bugs or tampering!
In spring 1991 the KGB left suddenly at the fall of the Soviet Union, a few months before Estonia declared independence.
Old russian ladies sat on every single floor as floor guards and they noticed everything and noted it in their notebooks. They would note who came in with who, how long they were in a room, anything that was overheard, and all this information was handed to the KGB.
Guards kept the locals out – this hotel was out of bounds.
The restaurant menu was fantastic and extensive but in reality there was usually only one dish available so the waiters would recommend the pork and potatoes…
In the 1994 renovations, microphones were found all over the hall where the variety performances were held and also in the foreign currency bar.
The background checks for all the guests allowed the KGB to choose which guests went where. Wireless microphones were already in use and there was a requirement to have a huge amount of transmitters around the building. The plates had wireless microphones embedded in and the tables held the transmitters. Everyone knew that it was just better not to comment on things, not to probe, not to question. The staff were tested, if they found something they were told to hand it in without examining it. They didn’t want curious staff. A wallet was used to test the loyalty of cleaners and waiters. If they opened the wallet they found then an ink bomb exploded and covered them with red dye that doesn’t wash off.
After the tour, you can check out the panoramic views of the city from the balconies.
We took a stroll on the city walls, with entry tickets costing €6 per adult including climbing the towers and visiting a cool museum.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral viewed from the Tallinn City Wall
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and City Wall viewed from Kiek in de Kök Tower
Mum posing with a Monk at the city wall
St Olaf’s Church in Tallinn was once the tallest building in the world and it had been hit by lightening at least 10 times and had burnt down three times, so they decided to create the slightly more modest spire that we see today.
Spire of St Olaf’s Church
We spent a morning visiting the Telliskivi (Creative City) area of Tallinn and had brunch at the best cafe, F-Hoone.
F-Hoone Cafe in Telliskivi
I found my wings here
If Tallinn feels like an unfinished story it’s because I know I’ll be back here again and again.
But for now, you’ll never guess where I’m going next…
Well actually it’s a sightseeing day trip from Tallinn to Riga, but after that…