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German remnant: Kaliningrad's cathedral 

Kaliningrad is one of the world's ugliest cities. It is full of crumbling communist estates, with glinting neon hoardings. Maintenance is unheard of and faulty wiring hangs across dank, filthy socialist avenues, each wide enough for three tanks abreast. Entertainment of a sort exists at the five half-empty "Euro" malls, where things are seldom bought. There is a Karl Marx Avenue, a Felix Dzerzhinsky Street and a Lenin Prospect, just like anywhere else in Russia. A new yet tasteless church, a white slab of golden domes, is in Victory Square. There is a regular mist, which, because of the pollution, tastes a bit like toast. It is almost impossible to believe this misery was once a beautiful German city known as Königsberg, where Kant thought, Herder wrote and Prussia began. 

It is now Russia's outpost in the heart of Europe. The Kaliningrad Oblast (regional administrative area) is cut off from the motherland and sandwiched between the EU member states of Lithuania and Poland. The Kremlin regularly threatens to station short-range nuclear missiles here to cajole Nato into abandoning expansion or defence plans. Today, its population is almost entirely Russian, but its history is anything but. Prior to its capture in 1945 by the Red Army, it was known as East Prussia. Stalin renamed his prize after his blind lackey, Mikhail Kalinin, who sent his own wife off to the Gulag and never deigned to visit. 

This quintessentially German town was founded in 1255 by the Teutonic Knights. Here, the kings of Prussia were crowned and the virtues of order and militarism instilled for centuries. Expansive aristocratic estates surrounded old Königsberg. A great Lutheran university emerged, whose idealist philosophy would determine much of the course of Western civilisation. But the city was also cradle to an expansionary militarism that viciously denied Eastern Europe's ethnically mixed realities. Persecutions in East Prussia did not begin with the Nazis. In the late 19th century, forced Germanisation and discrimination against a large Polish minority attracted international opprobrium. 

When the province was detached from the fatherland by the Versailles Treaty, racism thrived. In the infamous 1933 election, the Weimar Repubic's last, more than 55 per cent of votes were cast for the Nazis. For Goebbels, this was "Fortress Königsberg". 

But "Fortress Königsberg" would become the first German city on the Red Army's relentless march westwards. Hitler's nightmare of the great Dark Age migrations of starving Germanic hordes began to come to life. Survivors recall that you could hear the frontline edging ever forward. Eight million Germans were ethnically cleansed from the territories formerly known as Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia. These territories had been German for longer than Bordeaux has been French. As Soviet forces bombarded the city from all sides, British bombers detonated phosphorous bombs on the civilian population. The combined effects upon Königsberg would be the equivalent of a small nuclear bomb. Today, these measures against non-combatants would be classed as war crimes. 

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Anonymous
July 9th, 2013
9:07 AM
But "Fortress Königsberg" would become the first German city on the Red Army's relentless march westwards. Hitler's nightmare of the great Dark Age migrations of starving Germanic hordes began to come to life. Survivors recall that you could hear the frontline edging ever forward. Eight million Germans were ethnically cleansed from the territories formerly known as Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia. These territories had been German for longer than Bordeaux has been French. As Soviet forces bombarded the city from all sides, British bombers detonated phosphorous bombs on the civilian population. The combined effects upon Königsberg would be the equivalent of a small nuclear bomb. Today, these measures against non-combatants would be classed as war crimes.

murnau
April 26th, 2010
8:04 PM
Superb article , as we all know nothing destroys so completely as socialism.Konigsburg was one of the most beautiful cities of Europe and part of the great state of Prussia,it is now a third world slum. 'Hilfe fur euch' is a charity for Russians and Germans coming from the Volga. Can it be returned to its former glory?

Anonymous
April 7th, 2010
4:04 AM
Memel, or Klaipeda, Lithuania, took much better care of its Germanic roots than Konigsberg to the south. Klaipeda is the furthest northern ice-free port in the Baltic, thus Kaliningrad is also ice-free, thus defying the last sentence of this article. I for one have grown sick and tired of the anti-Russian, anti-Eastern quality of the reportage from the West. I used to live in the East and couldn't help notice how many uniformed, slanted and sophomoric "journalists" were running around trying to relive the glory of the NATO years. This piece, unfortunately, treads precipitously close to that line. I don't know if we'll ever see Germans living in these East Prussian havens again, but along those lines, I sure would like to see Greeks living in Constantinople again, and Armenians climbing Ararat. Why don't we turn all borders back to the 15th century and start over again -- or at least till the end of WWI and a slightly different outcome.

Anonymous
April 5th, 2010
1:04 PM
"7,000 Jews were marched into the sea by the German Army." What an absurd legend.

Bill Corr
March 27th, 2010
4:03 AM
Until Willy Brandt's 'Ostpolitik' the Federal German government printed maps showing Germany in her 1937 borders. Will Germans ever return to Marienbad, Danzig, Memel and Koenigsberg? To live, I mean.

Anonymous
March 26th, 2010
3:03 PM
A very insightful account of a lost world, with a remarkably immersive style. More like this standpoint!

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