Kaliningrad region: Russian enclave with German roots

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Main facts:

  • Administrative center: Kaliningrad

  • Federal District: Northwestern

  • Language(s): Russian

  • Population: 994,000

  • Timezone: UTC+2

  • Main religion: Orthodoxy

Top 10 attractions:

Sights map of Kaliningrad region

Travel around Kaliningrad region

Kaliningrad region is a relatively new territory for Russia. At the end of World War II, the former German fortress town of Königsberg, which was annexed to the USSR, was renamed to Kaliningrad, and the northern part of the territory of the former East Prussia fell to the Soviet Union and was called the Kaliningrad region. Up until 1945, this entire territory was part of the German lands on the Baltic, which they, in turn, conquered from the Prussian people in the 12th century.

Since the 5th century AD, the tribes of Prussians, who professed paganism, lived in the territory of the modern Kaliningrad region. However, in the 12th century knight-crusaders invaded the territory of the Prussians under the auspices of Poland and the Teutonic Order, whose task was to force the Christianization of the population. Since they were superior to the local population both in numbers, armament and skill, the entire territory of the Prussians was seized and converted to Catholicism for 50-70 years. Retaining power and control over these territories, the Teutonic Order managed to assimilate the local population, as a result, almost all of it spoke German and lost national traditions. To protect its territories from its invader neighbors - Poland and Lithuania - the Teutonic Order built many military fortresses and ancient settlements, the ruins of which can still be seen around the city of Kaliningrad. Yes, and in the city itself a whole system of defensive forts has survived, which was maintained by the Germans until the end of World War II.

The border of the lands of the Teutonic Order with the Lithuanians passed along the bank of the Neman river, and communication between the states was carried out through the border town of Tilsit. At the beginning of the 20th century, the most beautiful Bridge of Queen Louise was raised in it. Next to it there are several defense fortresses and castles, now lying in ruins, including the Tilsit castle. The city of Tilsit (now Sovetsk) played a great importance for this territory, and therefore more than once was subjected to military conflicts and destruction. Today it is a quiet and peaceful place where the border between Russia and Lithuania lies, and the Queen Louise Bridge continues to be one of the most beautiful places in the city.

Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) was one of the main strongholds of the Teutonic Order, and later Prussia, in these lands. It was a city-fortress, which was repeatedly strengthened and rebuilt in favor of the military "fashion". Thus, the largest reconstruction of the city occurred after the Napoleonic wars, when, thanks to the French Contribution, the German government received a large amount of money, which it decided to spend on building a huge defensive system around Koenigsberg, the most powerful and modern in those times. So were founded 12 forts of Koenigsberg and 3 more additional fortresses, called "Königsberg fortifications". An interesting fact: several million German marks were spent on the construction of all fortifications, but as a result, NO ONE FORT could not withstand a long siege or did not accept the battle at all. The thing is that as a result, today most of the forts are in a deplorable state, and this is not due to the Soviet bombings in 1943-1944, but because of time and lack of care. Today, most of the forts are destroyed or mothballed, they are gradually being destroyed. Only in two there are works on reconstruction, including the one by the expense of philanthropists and with the help of volunteers (fort No.11 Dönhoff). They have an excellent excursions about the place for all the tourists, which I highly recommend to visit.

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The city-fortress Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad from the time it was incorporated into the Soviet Union, but most of the buildings here still have German roots. Although the city was badly damaged during the war (for example, part of the city on the island of Kant was completely destroyed), today throughout the center here and there you can find the skeletons of ancient fortresses and fortifications. For example, the eight gates of the fortress still adorn the streets, massive brick towers and bastions are raising into city parks and even used for university buildings, and in one of the bastions is located the famous Amber Museum - the main museum of this mineral in the world. All is because of the best masters in jewelry from amber, the main part of which is mined nearby, on the Baltic coast, worked precisely in Königsberg-Kaliningrad.

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The city has preserved entire areas built by German architects before the war (for example, Amalienau). However, the city was largely rebuilt after the war. Thus, the Königsberg Cathedral on Kant Island was rebuilt. It is there where the tomb of the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant, who was born and worked in Koenigsberg, is also located. Also nearby is the restored "Fish Village" district in the German-style half-timbered houses. Today, this is more of a chip to attract tourists than a tribute to the historical heritage of the city. The Museum of the World Ocean, which represents one of the best collections of Russian and foreign seafarers and ocean explorers, was also built along the bank of river Pregolya. One of its branches is located in Svetlogorsk and is dedicated to the aboriginal tribes of Oceania - I strongly advise you to look there. Also in the center of Kaliningrad, on the embankment, is a museum of naval and military equipment, which is extremely interesting to see with your own eyes, and also the main farce of the city - House of Soviets. The history of this building is as comical as sad.

After the destruction of Königsberg Castle during the war, the Soviet authorities decided to build a building for the city and regional governments in its place. In 1970, construction began, but due to problems with soil instability, the project had to be changed and edited more than once. As a result, by 1985, when 95% of the building was ready, the construction was completely stopped due to lack of money for the final stage. In 1995, the city administration decided to attract investors to complete the construction of the building, eventually transferring it from state property to private ownership. The established joint-stock company went bankrupt a few years later and sold its “asset-long-term construction project” to the “Protostroy” company. But the name of the company did not play into its hands, and it had problems with the city administration regarding the legality of the purchase. And the House of Soviets, meanwhile, became a local legend: the guided tours for fans of urban extreme is started there. In 2010, the transaction was declared invalid, as a result, the building returned to the city administration. And today it is absolutely incomprehensible what will happen next. Meanwhile, this is the tallest building in the city in its very center, which is impossible not to notice. In addition, it has become even the "unofficial symbol of the city," and the local population does not allow it to be demolished. I can only say "to be continued...".

Kaliningrad region is not only about ancient fortifications and a fortress, but also about the famous resorts of the Baltic Sea. Well-planned during the times of the German burghers, the Baltic Sea coast has not undergone significant changes and today it receives tourists (mostly Russian) on its beaches. In my opinion, in Riga or Gdansk, the sea is cleaner, the water is warmer, and the infrastructure is more comfortable and interesting, but if you cannot go there, then the beaches of Svetlogorsk or Zelenogradsk are an excellent way out. In these resort towns there is everything for a relaxing sea holiday: quiet streets with shady avenues, well-groomed promenades and many beautiful German-style buildings. The water in the sea is cool, but in summer it is not hot - about +25 degrees. And yet, if you get bored with city life and want a natural flavor, then not far away is one of the best and most beautiful national reserves in Europe - Curonian Spit. This spit stretched for 98 km is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and it is absolutely deserved. Here is the purest air and unique flora and fauna. Here you can see the real sand dunes and the "dancing" forest, stroll along the endless deserted white sand beaches, and even meet wild animals - foxes, hares, wild boars, elks, etc. Here is a place for those who seek harmony and solitude with nature. Moreover, still not far from Kaliningrad is located the largest base of the Baltic Navy of Russia. If you want to visit the most western point of Russia ("Northern pier"), see the ancient fortresses, Russian naval military equipment and swim on the white beaches - you should visit the city of Baltiysk.

 

In general, in my opinion, the Kaliningrad region is noteworthy for several reasons: here are the most deserted and clean beaches of the Baltic Sea (on the Curonian Spit), many historical monuments and ancient artifacts (forts and fortresses), as well as several unique museums (the World Ocean Museum, Amber Museum, etc.). And, of course, from here you can go to explore the neighboring countries of Europe: Lithuania, Poland or Belarus. Come to the Kaliningrad region - Russian enclave with German roots!

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