The Soviets may have moved out but there are still some traces of them left in Tallinn for those who would like to experience a little of what life was like before 1991.
Located on Narva mantee is the Narva Kohvik, which was established in 1947 and has continued serving up bread and pastries. The decor is still very Soviet – dark wood, basic decoration, functional design, bad photos on the walls and so on. It is still very popular with the locals. For those who did not experience the Soviet cafe experience at the time this cafe is a nice little throw back.
Narva Kohvik from the outside
There were similar style coffee shops and eateries across the Soviet Bloc.
Behind the Hotell Viru and the shopping centre lies another gem from the Soviet era, the Energia Kohvik. It has the same style wide windows as the Narva, so that nothing could be hidden from view and everyone could watch everyone else. Inside it is like a blast from the past with small open face sandwiches on display, calorie-laden cakes and hot drinks. It is a very basic place with cloth covered dark wood tables topped with a glass protector. Standard issue seating and coat stands complete the look. There are lots of mirrors which I suspect were so everything could be seen from around the room and from outside. The staff, like in the old days, gather behind the counter.
A truly unique Soviet-style cafe on Kaubamaja 4.
Going into these two cafes reminded me of my experiences living and working in the former Czechoslovakia back in 1992. I used to eat and drink in places like this and thoroughly enjoyed the trip back in time.
THE KGB MUSEUM AT THE HOTELL VIRU
The Hotel Viru was the first modern hotel built in Tallinn and, at the time of construction in the late 1960s, the tallest building in Tallinn. Even today it stands out and can be seen from across the city. When it was built it was a lonesome building but today has a shopping centre bolted onto it, which rather reduces its majestic appearance.
For anyone who would like an insight into the strangeness that was the Soviet rule over Eastern Europe this is the place to visit. Constructed by Finnish builders and adapted by the KGB, the Hotell Viru was where foreign visitors were allowed to stay.
Why were they allowed to stay there? The answer lies in the 2nd floor currency bar and the mysterious 23rd floor. The KGB bugged the bedrooms, the 2nd floor cafe and the 22nd floor restaurant. The lift shows 22 floor because the last one was a secret floor where the KGB had their listening equipment.
For 8 Euros you can join a jolly and fact-laden guided tour of the KGB rooms. The guides tell you all about the need to keep the foreigners inside the hotel so that they would not go speaking to the locals and find out what life was really like. There are two telephones in the office: a cream one which is filled with metal so that no-one could bug it and a red one which was a hotline to the KGB headquarters in the town.
From their eyrie the KGB had an excellent view of the port, the coast and the old city. Inside the hotel they had the rooms bugged and spies everywhere keeping an eye out for anyone dissing the Soviet Union or giving away secrets.
In the second floor bar you can see a nice film about the first foreign visitors to Tallinn since the occupation and the gradual opening up of Estonia to foreign visitors and influence.
Left behind when the KGB ran back to Moscow are these two KGB telephones.
RUSSIAN WAR MEMORIAL AND CEMETERY AT PIRITA
If you take bus 34A from below the Viru shopping centre you get a nice tour of the outskirts of Tallinn. The bus goes along past the Song Festival site, along the coast on Pirita Tee, passed the Russian war memorial, passed the Convent of St Birgitta, along country roads, passing the TV tower and then you come to several cemeteries in the woods. Some of these are for Russians killed during the war. The graves are very different to those we have in the UK and providing an interesting insight into another way of life.
Taken from bus 34A, a cemetery in the woods
The Soviets may have gone and the monuments removed or, in the case of the Bronze Soldier, resited but the Soviet can still be experienced for the time being.