Thursday, January 03, 2013

Secret Attractions

If you are a Cold War buff like me, there are several cities in Europe where you can view buildings connected with that long period of history, which lasted roughly from 1947 when George Kennan wrote his famous "X" article in the journal Foreign Affairs to 1991 when the Soviet Union was dissolved.
I had hoped to add to this post a picture of the large yellow building in Moscow known as the Lubyanks, but on checking I discovered that I took the picture in 2007, before I switched to a digital camera. The building itself is unremarkable and not far from the Kremlin, just a short walk to the northeast. It is still the headquarters for the Russian Security Service (FSB/SVR) and during Stalin's time was the dreaded destination of many of those arrested for crimes against the people. In some cases it was a final stop, in others just a way station en route to the gulags in eastern Siberia. Rumor has it that there are many storeys of prisons and torture chambers underneath the building.
In St. Petersburg, Russia the so-called Big House of the security services is located at the intersection of Liteiny Prospect and the Neva River, at the start of the Liteiny Bridge and just across the river from the Finland Station, where Lenin arrived in 1917 to take charge of the Bolshevik Party and lead the Revolution. The building is far taller than most other buildings in the city center.
 I stayed in an apartment just a couple of blocks from the Big House for a couple of weeks, and walked past it a few times not knowing what it was. I thought it was probably a utility building of some kind, but never ventured in to try to find out. I did notice that the streets nearby were usually very quiet, with few pedestrians around.
To get an idea of how the East German security service known as the Stasi operated, today you can actually visit the Stasi Museum in East Berlin ( The admission charge is a modest 5 euros, and the museum is located near the Magdalenastrasse Ubahn station. I have not visited this place, but it looks interesting if antiquated, with typewriters and reams of paper files.
In London, it must be hard to miss the huge new headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service on the Thames River. (Not, in my view, very secret.) The former headquarters of the service, called in some spy novels the Circus, is rumored to be located at Cambridge Circus in the west central section of the city. It's fun to walk around and try to guess which building it could be.


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