Thursday, 3 May 2012



Kaliningrad is a seaport city and the administrative center of Kaliningrad Oblast, the Russian exclave between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. The territory, the northern part of the former East Prussia is geographically separated from the rest of Russia.

Originally named Königsberg in German, the town was founded in 1255 by the order of the Teutonic Knights in honour of the Czech king Přemysl Otakar II and was part of Prussia and then of Germany until 1945, but was largely destroyed during World War II. Its ruins were occupied by the Red Army in 1945 and its German population forced out. 
At the end of the war in 1945, the city became part of the Soviet Union. 

Victory Square with the Cathedral of Christ The Saviour
Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 after the death of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Mikhail Kalinin, one of the original Bolsheviks. The survivors of the German population were expelled and the city was repopulated with Soviet citizens. The German language was replaced by the Russian language. The city was rebuilt, and went through industrialisation and modernisation. As the westernmost territory of the USSR, the Kaliningrad Oblast became a strategically important area during the Cold War. The Soviet Baltic Fleet was headquartered in the city in the 1950s. Because of its strategic importance, Kaliningrad was closed to foreign visitors.

In 1957 an agreement was signed and later came into force which delimited the border between Poland and the Soviet Union.

Today, there is some debate about changing the name of the city back to "Königsberg" in the same way that several other Russian cities have reverted to their pre-Soviet names, e.g. Saint Petersburg and Tver, which were known in the Soviet era as Leningrad and Kalinin, respectively. "Kyonig" (Кёниг, a shortened form of "Königsberg" via Russian) is often used in advertisements for tourism companies in the region. Another possibility would be to give it a Russian name similar to other historic Slavic names, such as "Korolevets". 

Kaliningrad Oblast used to be the most heavily militarized area of what is now the Russian Federation, and the density of military infrastructure was the highest in Europe. It was the headquarters of the former Soviet Baltic Military District. Kaliningrad also functions as the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet, circled by Chernyakhovsk (air base), Donskoye (air base) and Kaliningrad Chkalovsk (naval air base).

During the Soviet era, access and control to the Baltic Sea was imperative because of Soviet perceptions that this meant that the hegemonic power had "influence on European and global affairs." Russia had replaced Sweden as the hegemon since the 18th century. At any point in time during the Soviet Era, there would be at least 100,000 troops stationed in Kaliningrad (though there are some estimates that run up to 300,000). Therefore, the population of the city was fluid and almost always temporary. Many military officers and their families would refer to the Kaliningrad Oblast as "the West". The Soviet Union also kept nuclear weapons for use in case a war were to occur. 

The oldest building in Kaliningrad is the Juditten Church (built before 1288). Also worth seeing are the former Stock Exchange, the surviving churches, and the remaining city gates. In anti-clockwise order these gates are: the Sackheim Gate, King's Gate, Rossgarten Gate, Attack Gate, Railway Gate, Brandenburg Gate, and Friedland Gate. Apart from the Dohna tower, which houses the Amber museum, the Wranger tower also remains as a reminder of the former Königsberg city walls. Only the gate of the former Friedrichsburg Castle remains.

Juditten Church
If you are seeking an ‘up and coming’ city break destination, Kaliningrad could be just what they’re looking for. Kaliningrad is little-known in the UK. A lack of flights and strict visa restrictions has also made it difficult to travel to. However, in 2008,Russian airline KD Avia  launched a daily service from Gatwick, taking just over two hours. A recent relaxation in visa rules means visitors from the UK and EU can now bag a 72-hour visa at the airport rather than in advance.
Though it can’t compete with more glamorous counterparts such as Moscow, it’s much cheaper and offers a different, less-trodden experience at a time of rapid change. The local government is investing in environmental, active and cruise tourism and a growing number of English-speaking information centres. The city is also ‘rediscovering’ its historic, German roots in a bid to lure visitors.

Having fallen on hard times with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the exclave has undergone a recent recovery, having been given special economic status by President Putin. Many historic buildings were lost or heavily damaged during the Second World War. However, the Königsberg cathedral has been restored and other buildings are being overhauled. Soviet-era curiosities include ‘The Monster’, an unfinished and disused building from the 1960s.

And it’s certainly a sign of the times when the city’s Lenin statue is moved to make way for a new Russian Orthodox cathedral.

Kaliningrad has its own vodka and beer brands, Stari Konigsberg and Ostmark respectively. Since the early 1990s many new restaurants have opened in the city. These restaurants offer culinary specialities of former East Prussia, like Königsberger Klopse, but also many fish and salad dishes, Italian pizza and sushi, which is as popular in Kaliningrad as in the rest of Russia. Königsberger Fleck, a bovine tripe soup and yet another culinary specialty from former Königsberg, no longer belongs to the eating culture of Kaliningrad.

The people of Kaliningrad generally imported their respective culinary traditions to the region when they settled in the area after 1945. Borshch and okroshka may be served as in the rest of Russia. Many Italian and Asian restaurants (or fusions of both traditions) are in operation all over the city. Pizza and sushi are amongst the most popular dishes today. 

                                                        Kaliningrad’s Top 5:
  1. Kaliningrad Cathedral is a Brick Gothic style church on an island in the Pregel (Pregolya). The island was called Kneiphof in German times. The cathedral was built to replace a smaller cathedral, after Johann Clare, bishop of Sambia, insisted on the construction of a bigger building. The smaller cathedral, situated in Altstadt, was subsequently demolished and materials from it were used to build the new cathedral on Kneiphof. The construction of the cathedral on Kneiphof is considered to have begun in 1333. The soil on which the cathedral was built was marshy, and so hundreds of oak poles were put into the ground before the construction of the cathedral could begin. After the relatively short period of almost 50 years, the cathedral was largely completed by 1380.  The cathedral originally had two spires. The spires (one north and one south) overlooked the entrance (west side) of the cathedral. But in 1544 the two spires were destroyed by fire. The south spire was rebuilt, but the north spire was replaced by a simple gable roof. In 1640 a clock was built underneath the rebuilt spire, and from 1650 the famous Wallenrodt Library, donated by Martin von Wallenrodt, was situated underneath the gable roof.
  2. Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is the largest church of Kaliningrad Oblast. It is the dominant building of the inner city and is situated near the central square, called Ploshchad Pobedy (Victory Square). The Russian Orthodox cathedral is 70 meters high. Its construction was completed on 10 September 2006. A small wooden chapel stands nearby. The church's architect is Oleg Kopylov.
  3. The Kaliningrad Amber Museum is a museum devoted to housing and displaying amber artworks. It is located in the city center, on the shore of Lake Verkhneye. The museum opened in 1979 and houses over 6,000 individual pieces. The museum occupies part of a reconstructed Teutonic castle, originally built by Karl Friedrich Emil zu Dohna-Schlobitten in the Napoleonic wars. Among the exhibits are the world's second-largest piece of amber and a 4-foot-tall (1.2 m) vase named The Abundance, as well as a collection of over 3,000 amber inclusions. Construction on the museum began in 1972.
  4. Juditten Church of St. Mary (Kirche von Juditten) is the oldest building in Kaliningrad . It was built in the late 13th century as a parish church of Juditten, a district now known as Mendeleyevo. The early Gothic church, first documented in 1288, was frescoed a century later. It had an organ from 1840, a Baroque altar, a cathedra from 1686, and a medieval statue of Madonna, which was reputed to work miracles. The local graveyard contained the tombs of Erhard Ernst von Röder (an 18th-century war minister), Hans von Lehwaldt (a Prussian Field Marshal), Stanislaus Cauer (a 20th-century sculptor).   It was there that Johann Christoph Gottsched was baptised. The church remained in use until 1948 but quickly fell into ruin after the arrival of the Russians. It was reconsecrated in October 1985 as a Russian Orthodox church and was eventually restored to serve as the main church of St. Nicholas Orthodox Convent.
  5. The King's Gate  is one of the former six gates that were built during the 19th century around Kaliningrad. The gate was designed by Friedrich August Stüler. The west facade has three sandstone statues, made by sculptor Wilhelm Stürmer: nine metres above the ground to the left the Bohemian king Ottokar II is depicted, who was Königsberg's namesake. Frederick I of Prussia, Prussia's first King, follows as the middle statue. To the right Duke Albert, Prussia's first duke and founder of the Albertina university, holds an eye over the city. Above the sculptures the coat of arms of Samland and Natangen are shown. The gate was damaged during the Second World War. Furthermore, as a first victory celebration, Soviet soldiers decapitated the statues. With the celebration of the city's 750 year existence in June 2005, the gate was renovated. Even a few months before the beginning of the festivities, the gate was still in a desolate condition. Within a few weeks, however, the gate was restored to its condition before the war. Fully restored statues replaced the decapitated ones on the gate with this renovation.

    King's Gate

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