Dodging the throngs of tourists on Wenceslas Square, the Jalta Hotel’s entrance can be hard to miss. Opened in 1958, it was the premiere hotel of the communist era; built especially for top communists and visiting dignitaries from the West. The hotel held more than a few secrets though and in November the Jalta opened those secrets up to the public.
As Sandra Zouzalová, PR manager for the hotel explains, the Jalta was built in a space bombed during World War II.
“Already in 1954, when the hotel was being planned, the communists were thinking about what would happen if there was another war,” she said. “The hotel was a disguise for a bunker.”
Something like a fallout shelter being built elsewhere would have raised a few eyebrows, but as construction was going on anyway, no one was the wiser about what was happening where the new hotel was being built. And the bunker held another more sinister room, one dedicated to a little bit of eavesdropping.
Located 20 meters below ground, the hotel has left the space pretty much as it was originally designed and have never rebuilt or redone it. Thick walls hide 200 square meters of safety space – enough to keep about 150 people comfortably alive for up to two months. The bunker was designed with its own ventilation and energy source and underneath it there’s a massive water tank. A state-of-the-art (for the 1950s) hospital room was also included.
Entering the bunker, a hose hangs in the entryway, prepared for decontamination purposes. There’s an escape tunnel, which puts you out on Wenceslas Square in front of the hotel. Interestingly, there were actually two separate bunkers, connected by another tunnel. The second space also had an outdoor escape route, which today would put you in the neighboring casino.
Until 1989, the existence of the bunker was a closely guarded secret. According to Zouzalová, hotel employees knew something was happening ‘down there’ but had to sign a document swearing them to secrecy. It was still a state secret until 1998, when the Ministry of Defense decided they had no use for it and gave it to the hotel. The Jalta celebrated its 55th anniversary last year and decided to open the bunker to the public.
In addition, they have converted a few rooms into a Cold War Museum, giving visitors a glimpse into the tight-fisted control authorities kept at the time. The hotel cooperated with the civic group Ceskoslovenské ozbrojená složka, whose members donated items from their personal collections to be put on display. Everything was cleared out from the bunker before it was handed over to hotel management, so while the items on display aren’t original to the bunker, they are authentic from the time period.
The first room has been redesigned as a border guard’s office. A fairly severe looking mannequin has hit the jackpot – searching through some poor soul’s suitcase, he’s found a hidden stash of jewelry. An old safe, typewriter, files – it looks like a movie set. The next room is a police office; different uniforms hang on the wall, handcuffs and some jumbo walkie talkies and other wacky looking communication devices can be examined.
The third room gets a bit more interesting. A numeric pass code must be dialed (yes dialed) in order to be buzzed into the room. This was the black heart of the bunker – the listening post. A large wiretapping device sits along one wall with a color-coded floor plan to the hotel hanging above it. Guests in the red rooms were monitored the most closely. The device was only connected to the phones and a large tape recorder sits nearby in case an interesting conversation is overheard. The rooms weren’t neglected from little ears however; check out the clothes brush with a tiny microphone concealed inside.
Zouzalová says the hotel plans to expand the museum to use all the rooms in the bunker. In the next month or so another room will open, by mid-year, they hope to complete a recreation of the hospital room and have the first section completed by the end of the year.
Tours are offered twice a week from 5pm-8pm, by reservation only and cost 75 CZK. They are only in Czech, but an English text is provided.