The House on the Corner – the KGB are here!

posted in: Latvia | 15

This is a nickname for a building on the outskirts of the centre of Riga (also known ‘The Corner House’), this building was the most chilling and scary building in the whole of Latvia during the occupation of the Soviet Union from the 1940’s until 1991. This building used to be the home of the KGB who were the state security for the Soviets. Locals used to make a joke about this infamous building which is located on the corner of Stabu iela and Brivibas iela, that the balconies on the building were the only ones in Latvia that offered a view of Siberia. This was because thousands of Latvians entered this building and to which most were exported to Siberia. We looked at the sign outside the main entrance. It states ‘During the Soviet occupation the state security agency / KGB / imprisoned, tortured, killed and morally humiliated its victims in this building’.     

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum
The gang exploring the museum (with Ollie on the right)

We were about to enter the building which has only been opened to visitors since 2014 and is occupied by the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia 1940-1991. We were about to see ‘real, dark history of Latvia’ and we were fortunate to get the last places of an English-speaking tour of the day (there are Latvian speaking tours but our advice is to book online for tickets which are not expensive to afford disappointment). There is an exhibition about the building in the room next to the ticket office which is free of charge and worth checking out but it’s the guided tour of the dreaded cellars where locals were tortured which is the highlight.

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum
The exhibition (which can be seen for free).

The tour started in a small room, we were locked in by the tour guide. The bunch of keys and the slamming of the door sends chills down our backs. The tour starts off about the history of the building and then we are moved into the corridor where there was a huge door of which used to be the main entrance to the building. Our tour guide (we have forgotten his name so we shall call him Sergi), explained that he was in the army during the Soviet Union in the 1980s and was stationed in the building to which he saw many things happening but would not say to us what he saw.

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum
Fancy ceiling at the entrance hall of the building

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum

We saw the jail cells which were cold, gloomy and had no natural light. The conditions were horrible and were told that these cells sometimes had up to thirty people shoved inside them. Sometimes disease would follow because of these conditions. We also saw the strolling areas (the only time inmates would get to exercise), dungeons, office workspace and the interesting interrogation room.

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum
One of the cells we saw.
Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum
Another jail cell
Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum
The outside room where inmates can walk around and breathe fresh air.
Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum
And another cell…so many of them

Since the building reopened for tourism, it has been a sign or a revelation for young people and visitors like ourselves to visit this building, which is basically a memorial for those who have suffered within the walls. It is the most vivid symbol of the totalitarian regime for over five decades when the Soviets occupied. It remains as a reminder of the last century, the crap which went one inside the building, the mass repression and the genocide, which was not just happening in Latvia but all over the Soviet Union. Opening the doors to visitors is a great way to learn about the lives and finding out the experiences within the walls and give younger people a greater understanding (and also acknowledging) what happened in the past and hopefully we never ever happen again. We don’t want to give away too much information on the former secretive place but we can honestly say we came away with a better understanding on how the KGB worked and were all ears when we were hearing about the harrowing experiences which happened here.

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum
Buildings surrounding the courtyard

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum

Latvia, Riga, KGB Museum

Located: Brivibas 61 (on the corner with Stabu iela). For prices and information go to the website.

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15 Responses

  1. This is wild Danik. Really fascinating stuff. I just finished watching the FX series The Americans on TV. The couple is covert, 2 KGB spies planted in America, doing the best American impersonation of any spy in human history. I am floored by this idea; the KGB is/was clever as can be.

  2. Yes, this is a living history, too well known to my own family and nearly every family in Latvia. Will the history repeat? We are worried that “yes” and hope that “not”.

  3. Marquita

    This very interesting! I cannot imagine how it felt to be inside of there and wandering the halls of a former jail. It sounds like it was a good experience and thanks for sharing!

  4. This type of museum is so important, it’s so easy to look a photo on the other side of glass and say “oh how sad” and move to the next exhibit, but walking around real places where these things happened you cant help but pay attention. Really good summery of the options, I’ll definitely be making a visit when I am in Latvia.

  5. Wow so much history for the house on the corner!! I love history so really enjoyed reading this!

  6. I sometimes wonder how America would react if it was occupied and had a police force like the KGB present? The horrors and intelligence gathering would definitely leave a mark. You always hear about places like this but it never seems real unless you see it in person.

  7. It depresses me to look and hear about places like this…places of atrocities.

  8. It is fascinating to get a view into history. In this case, to find out that the Corner House used to be the KGB headquarters. A tour to see the detention cellars would definitely bring the horrors home. The cells looked like horrible spot. They reminded me of our visit to the Pribram Uranium forced labour camp in the Czech Republic. Good to look at it as a memorial and reminder that these things happened such a short time ago!

  9. Wow. So much history. So much suffering. So much to learn within those walls. I haven’t been to Riga (yet) and this will for sure be on the to experience list

  10. That is certainly chilling. Just calling it the house on the corner is creepy. Thank you for the insight. Hopefully, those times and crimes will not be repeated.

  11. Really interesting post about Latvia and those dark days of Russian rule. This is one of those topics that needs to be seen and heard even though the results of those five decades of rule was terrorizing for probably hundreds of thousands. Good job of explaining what you saw and heard on the tour.

  12. Visiting a place with a dark past is something exciting for me, even though it sometimes sends chills down my spine! Especially jail cells, they’re so dingy and hearing stories about people being tortured and killed is intriguing, though really dark! Looks like KGB House is also a place I’d like to include in my itinerary, should I ever get myself to Latvia.

  13. I find it very difficult visiting places like this, but you’re right, it should serve as a stark reminder of what happened in the past – with the hope of avoiding it in the future. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be imprisoned in those tiny cells. A dark time in our history for sure.

  14. This is fascinating. cold-war-era history seems so relevant again today. Although I’m not sure I’d call the place where people were tortured “the highlight…”

  15. I’m not really clear what this place was exactly. A jail? You say people were tortured in the building. But how did they end up there in the first place? I had to go look up a little more information, since I don’t know very much about the KGB, and figured out people that were thought to be opponents of the regime were interrogated at this place.

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