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