Prague has just seen the opening of a new and rather unusual tourist attraction – a former secret police observation post recently discovered at the top of a bell tower in one of the city’s gothic churches. For just under four decades – from the 1950s to the 1980s – the tower was home to a detachment of communist secret policemen who’d spy on the foreign embassies below. Rob Cameron climbed to the top to have a look.
Prague is known as the city of a hundred spires, but this is a spire with a difference. This is the bell tower of the St Nicholas Church in Prague’s Malá Strana district, and I’m being taken up it by Zdeněk Novák, from the company that administers the tower, ABL. And it’s tiring work.
So we’ve reached the top now. How many steps are there do we think?
- Ah, 306 I think.
306 steps. That’s quite a walk. It really is a magnificent view.
- I think the best view from all the towers.
In front of us you can see the garden of the U.S. embassy.
So before 1989, the StB – the secret police – would have, what, cameras and telescopes aimed at the doors of these embassies?
- Yes, movement in front of the doors. Who’s coming in, who’s coming out. In the Old Town there were maybe 60 or 70 secret observation posts. Secret flats, secret views.
All watching diplomats and dissidents and any ‘enemies of the state’. Did they know that there were cameras here, and people were watching them?
- No. It was totally secret. Nobody knew about it.
ABL said they only discovered the observation post when they took control of the tower’s administration last year. They’ve faithfully recreated it to make it look exactly as the StB left it in 1989 – and also make it safe for tourists to wander around.
So this was the observation post, the original observation post, showing the kind of furniture they had and even the old newspapers here – Rudé Právo, that’s Red Truth isn’t it.
- Yes. And here you can (knocks the window) see the embassies.
OK, so through this window you can see the embassy of the United States, the embassy of what was the Federal Republic of Germany and the embassy of Italy, so a very, very good position really.
OK, the toilet, very important, because these guys would be doing 12 hour shifts.
- Yes, 12 hours at least.
The StB agents who manned the secret post – nicknamed ‘Kajka’- were mostly recently-retired agents looking for ways to pass the time. Those still alive today must be amazed to learn that their cosy nests are now being invaded by hordes of western tourists.
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