A former overlook that used to monitor Western embassies has been transformed into a museum
Resembling a scene out of a low-budget James Bond movie (the ones with Roger Moore), 1970s spy equipment litters the room. There is a camera hidden in the buckle of a lady’s purse, miniature tape recorders and cheery period pop music is piped in, while large grainy photos of people standing on sidewalks decorate the walls.
Climb a set of stairs and you are in a small cramped room, furnished only with a simple wooden desk, TV and telephone. Three small windows let in some light and give view to the streets of Malá Strana below. You’ve climbed 301 steps, so the view is a good one. Welcome to Kajka, a former observatory post of the communist secret police located in the St. Nicolas Church tower on Malostranské námestí.
In August 2009, ABL a.s. took over from Prague Information Service the management of six towers in Prague, along with the mirror labyrinth on Petrín Hill. In the months since, the firm has transformed the tower into an attraction after discovering the observation room while doing routine safety checks on their new property.
“We first searched the archives for information about what this room was and then worked with the architectural and preservation authorities to get the work approved,” says Zuzana Fryaufová, a spokeswoman for ABL. “The tower was previously open to visitors, but only to the level of where the church displays are now. It wasn’t well-visited, but, with this observatory, it’s a reason to go up to the top.”
Your blast to the communist past begins outside, where a typical period Czech police car is parked, along with a properly dressed “police officer.” Known at the time as Public Security (Verejná bezpeznost, or VB) they fulfilled regular police duties. All staff are dressed in period uniforms, including a startling “”officer”” stationed in the observatory room. Entering the narrow staircase, you slowly begin the curving climb, on narrow wooden steps, past rough stone walls. At almost the halfway point, you can stop for a break. This was the end of a previous visit to the tower; a couple rooms with simple Baroque church displays. It’s also your first chance to get a glimpse of the view. Soldiering on, you’ll come to a better scenic overlook. Stepping outside affords you a 360-degree vista of the city.
“”For me, it’s the most beautiful view in Prague,”” Fryaufová says.
And, finally, the Bond gear. The large photos, taken by the secret police of “”people of interest”” are accompanied by texts detailing the state secret police, officially known as State Security (Státní bezpeznost, StB). The group’s official stated goal was the protection of the socialist establishment, but activities routinely included wiretapping and monitoring people. This was handled by the Surveillance Directorate, which operated these observation posts. The tools it used in its work are on display, including radios, ID cards, a piece of equipment used to check the authenticity of such IDs and a submachine gun. Other photos show additional tools of the trade, including a baby buggy with a hidden camera. Fryaufová says the items came from the Czech Police Museum and the State Security Archives.
Another set of stairs brings you to the actual observatory room. Here, older StB agents, past their prime and no longer fit for more taxing missions, would while away the hours ensuring public security by monitoring the plethora of “”unfriendly”” embassies in the area. The room was actually nicknamed Dedkárna (Old Geezers’ Room) or Dedkostroj (Old Geezers’ Machine) because of the people stationed there. Three portals give a bird’s eye view to the embassies of France, Japan, the United States, (West) Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Fryaufová says they located photos of the room and have kept it almost exactly the same. The photo hanging on the wall shows that the room back then did indeed contain a TV, small wooden desk and chair, telephone and a set of curtains that any 1970s TV family would be proud of. Newspaper clippings of football teams are still pasted to the wall, along with a kitschy cloth calendar from 1977.
Reconstruction took about three months, with the most difficult part being the rebuilding of the stairs to the actual observatory room, plus installing needed electricity and lighting.
“When we took over, there was a small bed and the walls left, as well as a urinal, but there was no actual plumbing,” she said. “The observatory was quite well-preserved; we really only needed to clean it.”
“Kajka” was the nickname given to the post, named after a type of sea duck, the eider. While there were more than 70 of these types of rooms under communism, Kajka is the only one now open to the public.
It’s enough to make Roger Moore proud.