Patarei was first built in 1840 as an imposing Russian sea fortress. Getting a bird’s-eye view of the complex in all its severely structured glory remains a testament to its militant history. From 1919 onwards, Patarei was used as a prison, entering its most notorious period in the 1940s when it became a Soviet prison. Patarei the Prison finally closed its doors in 2004 and since then, things have gotten bizarre.
Today, Patarei is just plain weird. Now called a “cultural park”, the former Soviet prison is advertised as a venue for music festivals, art exhibitions, workshops, concerts and more. And that’s not even the strange part.
The prison itself – cells, watchtowers and medical wards included – are now something of a museum. But a stroll in Patarei is not what you would expect from a museum. You buy a ticket at the entrance booth, yes, but from that point on, you’re on your own.
The imposing penitentiary has been left as it once was – literally. In Patarei, you’ll find none of the comforts you’d expect from a conventional museum. There are no display cases or explanatory signs doling out useful facts and stating important dates. What you will find instead are rolls of rusty barbed wire and abandoned cells sprouting wildflowers and weeds. Beds have been left unmade and books torn of their shelves. If this desolate scene isn’t enough to send shivers running down your spine, a visit to the prison’s abandoned medical ward and operating room will surely do the trick.
The lugubrious mood of the prison is today complimented by splashes of young Estonian creativity. The upper floors of the penitentiary currently host an off-beat art exhibition. Here, walls of abandoned prison cells now are covered with huge murals displaying images of World War Two, global warming and beyond.
The cherry on top the strangeness that is Patarei is the “beach bar” tucked away behind the prison. This quirky little cafe offers seaside views and is in all its strangeness the perfect place to regroup and unwind after a tour at Patarei. As perplexing as the place is, Patarei is well worth a visit. The place offers visitors a unique glimpse at the harsh realities of a Soviet prison as well as a bizarre take on history itself.