Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Russia - Kaliningrad (Konigsberg)

Konigsberg, a Prussian city with an illustrious history of nearly 700 years was amongst the most beautiful in Europe. That was until it was raised to the ground by RAF air raids in 1944 and then subsequently during three months of fierce fighting as the Red Army advanced in the spring of 1945. Any surviving Germans were killed or deported, Stalin then annexed the territory into The Soviet Union. In 1946 the city's name was changed to Kaliningrad in honour of Mikhail Kalinin a leading party member and original Bolshevik who had recently died. Stalin populated the city with ethnic Russians; any memory of Konigsberg was airbrushed from history as Stalin wreaked revenge by reconstructing the city in the most insensitive and hideous way possible. A photograph of Konigsberg City Centre (1939) with the Cathedral (Dom) at the centre

Same view as above photograph. (1949) - the shell of the Cathedral is the only building left standing

Konigsberg Castle in ruins - (1949)

Demolition in 1968

Back to the present day. Due to its sensitive military nature (Soviet Naval base - with the only ice free access to the Baltic Sea in winter) Kaliningrad remained a closed city until 1991. Even today I had the pleasure in meeting no tourists due to the city's image and access problems. Looking north along the vast Leninsky Prospekt
Soviet sterotyping..... fountains, Lenin and lashings of concrete

Amongst the depressing Soviet new builds the odd Prussian building that remarkably survived on Leninsky Prospekt

Old postcards testify to the architectural splendour of Konigsberg - a lost city with the mythical resonace of Atlantis. Grunen Brucke (Green Bridge) was one of seven bridges spanning The Pregel River connecting the old city with several islands. Euler famously devised a mathematical puzzle where it was impossible to cross each bridge once and arrive back at the starting point. Grueken Brucke survived the war but was demolished by the Soviets along with Kraemer Brucke (Shopkepper Bridge) to make way for Leninsky Prospekt as it rises onto stilts (below) bisecting Kant Island.

Today! - Same view as the postcard above - little wonder ethnic Germans are reduced to tears when they return and see what happened to their city

The Stock Exchange - the one building that survives in the above postcard - recently been given a facelift restoring itself to its former glory

Pregel River with Kant Island (The Kneiphof) on the left. Just beyond the Stock Exchange was another of Euler's Bridges, Koettel Brucke (Guts Bridge) sadly destroyed in the war

Kant Island and Kaliningrad's main tourist attraction, Konigsberg Cathedral. This majestic Gothic Cathedral dating back to 1333 was left in ruins after World War 2 until German funding helped rebuild it to its former glory during the 1990s. The cathedral used to be hemmed in with narrow streets and imposing Prussian buildings. Now the cathedral feels rather isolated amidst the overgrown parkland of Kant Island.....

Nearby Fish Village is a crass attempt to recreate some of the city's destroyed architectural heritage. The Russian oligarch comes to mind when exploring the recently built mock Prussian riverside buildings

Holz Brucke (Wooden Bridge) is one of the three bridges that still exist. Alas nothing else in the postcard still survives.....

Holz Brucke today! More than six decades later crumbling tarmac tantalisingly exposes a throughfare of Old Konigsberg. Cobbles along with original tramlines mark the line of a road leading to the bridge

Centrepiece of the Old City! After conquest by The Teutonic Knights in 1255 Konigsberg Castle was built, a residence for Grandmasters of the Teutonic Order and later Prussian kings. In 1945 all that remained were the walls of a burned out shell. These remained in place until 1968 - Brezhnev ordering the ruins to be dynamited out of existence (see earlier photograph) as The Soviets did not want it to been seen as a symbol of Prussian militarism. Check the next series of photographs to see what was built in its place!!!!!

The House of Soviets!!!!! A central administration building designed to be the focal point of Kaliningrad was built at the site of the eastern moat of the castle. Construction began in 1960 but abandoned in the 1980s leaving a half built concrete box described as the ugliest building on Russian soil - some going believe me! Foolishly they did not predict that it would sink into unsound soil and collapsed subterranean tunnels of The Castle which run as far as the Cathedral - locals call this 'Revenge of The Prussians'. Absurdly prior to the visit of President Putin in 2005 the building was tarted up with a coat of blue paint and windows installed even though the interior is unfinished and the monalith will never be used

From the sublime to the ridiculous!!!!! Same view as in the postcard!

Seventy years ago I would have been standing inside the castle courtyard. Instead I had the dubious pleasure of standing on decaying fountains of Tsentralnaya Ploshchad littered with the empties from alcoholics and the odd hyperdermic syringe. Beyond packs of stray dogs barked and wailed from the fenced off confines of The House of Soviets. However ugly and desolate one is mermerised by images past and present
Portacabins and their trashy signs further desecrate the site of The Castle

Grey blends into grey blending into more grey! The vast openness of Tsentralnaya Ploshchad gave the feeling of being lost and alone in a Soviet vortex! The cobbles here are probably the remains from the grounds of the castle. I was rapidly realising anywhere I went I was walking over the grave of Konigsberg with foundations and warrens of cellars just a few feet below me- in a way a modern day Pompei!

Castle Pond with a view of The Castle. This postcard evokes images of a thriving medieval city jostled up against the walls of The Castle

Again I located the same viewpoint as taken in the postcard. Castle Pond is now known as Prud Nizhny. Join me in admiring 'The Castle' in the background!

Soviet kitsch - nearby - a broken world clock decked out in socialist attire.....

The entrance to the Bunker Museum. This was the German command post during the three month battle for the city in 1945.....

The remains of the bunker was used as a storage area for the Soviet Army until the 1980s. Later it became a museum

9th April 1945: Soviet troop envoys negotiate surrender terms with General Otto Von Lasch - head of German forces in this room

General Von Lasch's study - here the surrender of Konigsberg to Soviet troops was signed later the same day in this room. Von Lasch remained in prison before being sent back to Germany 10 years later

Nearby is the statue of Immanuel Kant, an 18th century German philosopher - Konigsberg's most famous resident. The statue was badly damaged in 1945 and restored in 1992

The next to the statue was a staircase choked with rubbish and beer cans - closed over with wooden boards. Peering through gaps I suspect this was a blocked entrance to another unexplored section of the bunker complex

The History & Art Museum - propaganda from Soviet times highlighting a 'bumper harvest'

Churchill called Konigsberg 'a modernised heavily defended fortress'. This was partly due to several defensive rings around Konigsberg including 13 city gates. The reconstructed Dohna Tower, a bastion now houses The Amber Museum

Statue of Vasilevsky, Soviet Chief of General Staff who coordinated the assualt on Konigsberg

Back near the former site of the castle, Moskovsky Prospekt is the city's major boulevard running East to West. Both sides are blighted with swathes of brutal Soviet architecture. Looking west

Same vantage point. Looking east
Moscovsky Prospekt.....

Ploshchad Pobedy - Victory Square at the centre of Kaliningrad. Lenin's statue used to proudly stand here, now moved to a less illustrious site. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a recent addition as Russia catches up with its religous past

HQ of The Russian Baltic Fleet. The statue of Peter the Great (2003) honours the fleet's founder. As well as scarring Konigsberg with monstosities the Soviets planted their alien species of fir tree by the thousand all over the city

Its our city now! The Hammer & Sickle adorn a building
Another stirring Soviet monument. The Cosmonaut Monument honours Kaliningrad cosmonauts Alexi Leonov, Yuri Romaneko & Alexander Viktorenko.....

Take a stroll along Prospect Mira heading NW from the city centre, one comes across charming old German neighbourhoods that somehow survived wartime destruction.....

In the late 1940's ethnic cleansing would have been rife in this leafy neighbourhood as surviving Germans would have kicked out of their houses and city to clear the way for incoming Russian and Ukrainian refugees. One house nearby had the date 1821 inscribed on it giving an indication of the age of the area

It was fascinating to walk around the centre of Kaliningard and stumble onto sporadic evidence of Old Konigsberg. Here on Ul Frunze was the shell of a war damaged building still standing. Amazingly on close inspection it was possible to make out a faded sign 'Kreuz - Apothiehe' , probably a shop in the 1930s. A banner on the gable end indicated the facade was to be incorporated into a new apartment building..... sounds like they're learning from their mistakes!

Immediately across the road! Unbelievably this was once 'The Royal Way'

Two worlds collide! - however visually repulsive the great irony is a city that just grows on you
At the head of the 'Royal Way' (Konigstratte / Ul Frunze) is the King's Gate. The postcard shows a pre war view

Fortunately King's Gate (1834 -50) looks much the same today. Prussian Kings would take ceremonial parades through The Gate and along Konigstratte to Konigsberg Castle

Walking down towards Moscovsky Prospekt another Prussian era building was found

Back on the soulless Moskovsky Prospekt .....

A surviving Prussian church alone in a concrete jungle. The large cross at the front indicates that its now a Russian Orthadox church

Approaching Holz Brucke from a different direction - yet another vacuous square - not surprisingly dominated by a stunningly grotesque Soviet war memorial - not quite sure what it represents.....

River running parallel to Moskovsky Prospect

A city rediscovering its past! Another Prussian church near The Zolotaya Hotel getting the restoration treatment


  1. Fantastic site! Are you eventually going to put up photos from the rest of the journey from the Baltics to Prague?

  2. Fascinating! Just listenied to to Memories of Germany on BBC and so welcomed your wonderful if tragic visual tour on the old city and what has become of it. I had no idea of its founding by Teutonic Knights and how central it was to Prussia and also German identity..

  3. My Grandparents were from Insterburg which was left relatively intact - good for the poor Russians that were fortunate enough to get one of the German built housing structures.
    Upon returning for a sad visit they were horrified to discover all the tomb stones around the Prussian Union Protestant church had been removed and pulverized for gravel. They could estimate where family were interred but that gave no solace b/c they were informed by an elderly Russian woman that the Red Army would dig up graves to loot wedding bands and other valuables. Hopefully one day more people will discover the old beauty of this part of Europe and once again East Prussia will become a crossroads of cultures and learning.