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Workin the World The 4 month trip that lasted 5 years .. all the adventures from Workers final year o/s and the trip back to Oz.

Locked Up in Estonia

ESTONIA | Thursday, 2 August 2007 | Views [4525] | Comments [4]

“Yeah this place is good, but it was much better 10 years ago”. “I was here before all the tourists, it was much more authentic then”. When travelling you hear lines like this often, sure they usually come from 50yo, Thai dye, Teva, wearing hippies, but they frustrate you none the less. If only, just once, you could be the person who discovered something, the one who could say “I remember how cool it was before the tourists”. Welcome to Patarei Prison, Workers Thai dye, Teva moment.

Situated in Tallin, Estonia, Patarei was a former KGB prison. Closed in 2002 as Estonia was pushing for inclusion to the EU it remains, to this day, in the same condition it was left in. I had actually not heard about it prior to arriving in Tallin, in fact I didn’t read or see anything about it until my last night there.

Firstly however, a bit of background information, for those of you who have never been to Tallin, or indeed Estonia, it is listed as the best-preserved medieval town in Northern Europe. Just 80km from Finland it was occupied by the Russians in 1938, annexed by the Nazis in 1939 and then returned to the USSR after the second world war. Amazingly, or thankfully, the city itself was spared as each retreating army left so quickly they had no time to implement their respective scorched earth policies.

Having gained their freedom peacefully in 1991 and now one of the newest entrants to the European Union, Estonia, and specifically Tallin, are thriving, yet despite this the locals remain friendly (the service is second to none) and the prices cheap!

Right ... now lets get back to the story at hand, for my last night in Tallin I thought it would be nice to go watch the sunset over the medieval ramparts. Whilst sitting alone, a nice German couple began speaking to me and after a few minutes a strange lady, with a crazy look in her eye, butted in and began talking about the KGB; how they treated people, where they locked them up, how they had a file on her etc etc. As the story unfolded it gradually became clear that this women may actually be speaking the truth, she advised if I wanted to see the real Estonia I should do a tour of Patarei Prison, where the KGB held, tortured and killed political prisoners. I was sold, I took down the details and was advised any hostel in town could tell me how to get there.

My ferry was booked for 4pm on the last day, leaving me a few hours to tour the prison before heading back to grab my bags and leave Estonia. No one appeared to know what I was talking about but a nice lady did point me toward Patarei Bay, eager to discover the prison I set off on foot however I was soon to find there are no signs or directions. I wandered around aimlessly for about 90 minutes before I decided to give up and head back for my ferry. The end

Nah only joking, I turned the corner to head back into town and spotted some barbed wire with an observation tower, I had found it. Arriving at the gate I was already feeling a little edgy, there was no ticket office, just the main gate was left slightly ajar. I decided to wander in anyway so I could at least take a snap, at which point I spotted some movement, there were a few people about 100m away inside the prison so I went down to see if this tour did indeed exist. An old lady came out to greet me and proceeded to advise I would need to pay around £3 to do the tour (well she yelled at me in Estonian, I worked out the price by looking at the ticket). I advised her I could not speak Estonian but she ploughed on regardless, fortunately I nice Finnish bloke arrived, translated and we were in. When I say fortunately I really mean it because, having done the tour, there is no way I would do it on my own!

The tour is self guided, there are a few signs put up telling you what a particular room was used for but you basically enter the prison and stroll around on your own. When the prison was vacated in 2002 they lead the prisoners out and shut the doors, leaving behind clothing, bedding, hospital utensils, posters on walls, shoes, old wheel chairs etc etc.

The first floor included the hospital where the operating bed still has blood stained sheets on it complete with used scalpels in the trays 9as you can see from the above pic). There are cells left as they were lived in, with bedding, books, clothing, shoes, toiletries etc, you seriously feel like someone is about to jump out at you. The solitary confinement cell has carvings of crazy ranting, the wooden sledge hammers those on hard labour used are also left lying around. In fact I spent the entire time with my emotions wavering between sheer disbelief and terror, it didn’t help that my friend and I were the only people in there at the time and he decided to advise me we need to be quick as some people have actually been locked in there over night if they don’t get out in time.

An empty cell

Blood stains on the sheet to match the utensils above (hint check the tray)

An old wheel chair look sover the bay

Having gone through all 3 levels including the gym, theatre, barber, officer rooms, library we made our way back out to the courtyard, I was just happy to be out in the fresh air. To see the conditions prisoners were held in by the KGB, and indeed the Estonian government once the Russians had left, was appalling, however worse was to come. As I was about to leave I spotted a little green arrow (the sign of where we could actually go) the sign outside read hanging room, walking through a dark tunnel we came out into a small room and the sight was quite incredible. There in front of us was the room where prisoners were executed, complete with ladder, removable floor, an old prisoners jacket (not sure if he was a victim) and a few switches. Now I must stress here there is nothing made up about this tour ie they have not dressed things up, the room and the ladder are left exactly as they were last used, the ladder lying propped up against a wall as if kicked backwards. My friend and I could not believe this was the actual hanging room but after speaking to the old lady out the front and watching her make a hanging action, it was confirmed.

Hanging room entrance

The henaging room

So there you have it, my shot at the travelling big time, although now I have posted this I am sure people will write in saying they have been there. If you have not however, I can not encourage you enough to do it now, before it either gets cleaned up or closed down. Though I’ll remember how cool it was before the tourists invaded it, right then where’s my Teva’s.

Photos to come!

Tags: Misadventures



Lucky escape if you ask me sweetheart, just think you could have ended up there, seen a few cells in my time but none like these. Amen

  The true king of ireland Aug 21, 2007 1:16 AM


You write really well, Stu. I enjoy reading your blog ;). Keep it up....

  Mirjam Aug 21, 2007 11:48 PM


Let's have an Estonian prison party for your London farewell! Hope you stole some KGB outfits

  O Aug 25, 2007 1:09 AM


I just returned from Estonia and we went here as well.
When you walk though the prison, it is 100% spooky and you get a curious/ weird/ 'this is historic' / 'I'm a bit scared' kind of feeling. They weren't giving tours on Sunday, so my friend and I walked alone through most of the parts above. With two wacko teens goofing around a few rooms behind us, it was disconcerting to say the least.

Your photos came out amazing. We never saw the gym or theater...and some of the props in your photos seem to have been removed (no more ladder in the hanging room, no more holding vice on the operator's table)...however, the red stains are there...they're both blood and iodine. The view from the guard's tower on the grounds gives you a whole...I'm looking down at cages a la "LOST" feeling. It's definitely worth the detour. Good find.

Question though...other than the old woman...how do you know it was a former KGB prison?

  Texan Jun 24, 2008 11:47 PM

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