A Long Walk around Kaliningrad.
“A city finally coming to terms with its past.”
It’s a good day for a long walk, surprisingly warm. Our guide today is Boris Bartfeld, the President of the Association of Kaliningrad writers. We meet on Zheleznodosozhnaya Street, south of the river. Julia tells me “This is where my grandmother lives, over there in those old German buildings.” We are standing near a metal plaque which commemorates three heads of the Albertina University. It also marks the location of the German cemetery. To one side, on the other side of the petrol station, we can see surviving German buildings, which look in relatively new condition, and the Brandenburg entrance to the city (which is being restored). The Brandenburg Gate is one of seven surviving city gates. Originally built in 1657, its current form dates from restorations in 1843, when the sculptures of Field Marshal Hermann von Boyen and Lieutenant-General Ernst von Aster were added. Anastasiia says, “There was a castle nearby, it is long gone.”
We walk instead to the South Railway Station. First opened in 1929 as Königsberg Hauptbahnhof, the trains depart in the directions of Malbork, Berlin, Baltiysk, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Minsk, Kharkiv, Anapa and Bagrationovsk. Badly damaged in 1945, it was only restored in 2003. In the buildings to one side there is an unusual shop, full of collectibles, models, all kind of novelty stuff. We pass through the entrance hall of the station, under the chandeliers, along the platforms and emerge of the far side.
Next stop, the Friedland Gate, one of the remaining ramparts, the formidable defences of the old city, its present configuration dating from the Prussian builders of 1857-62. Above us, a statue of Siegfried von Feuchtwangen, Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, founder of the Middle Castle in Marienburg (Malbork in Poland). This gate was restored in 2005. There is a small museum here about these knights and the story of these defences. The museum is one of the organisers of the international knight festival held annually in the large park behind the gate. At the end of the 1980’s there were the South Park was restored and in the bottom of the park ponds, many objects were found – which went onto to form the base for the collection. On Also the edge of the park a mosque is under construction – in recent years there have been many Muslim migrants from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, working in small shops, the markets, or manual labour. It is only partially completed and on hold because of various disputes with the city council. The walks along Alleya Smelykh are being restored, with an obligatory piece of public art – a statue of an animal.
We walk along Dzerzhinskogo street toward the river, past the tram lines, a plethora of garages, under the freeway. Elements of the old city sit alongside the more recent past, cobblestones and concrete, and there are many new constructions in progress along the river front. We cross the High Bridge and pause to hear the legend of the ‘mini-castle’, which is at one corner. Baron Munchhausen reputedly lived there for a time. Now people walk their dogs and fish. The area around the Kant Island is, like many other cities with an underused riverfront, under development – new living and leisure facilities appear, the potential for tourism is explored with a new Fish Quay.
We are told that for many years there was no planning control – the city council, lacking money, accepted any development, and it is only recently there has been an international competition of significance to create a cohesive architectural plan for the future of the area.
After the end of the Second World War, Kaliningrad was a closed city to foreign visitors until recent times due to its strategic importance in the Cold War. David Conway, considering the Jewish heritage of the place, puts it this way: “The town and province became a military enclave to which no Westerners were admitted -thus, Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad vanished from the notice of the world until perestroika.” There’s some footage of the area prior to 1945 here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMyVO2GQXwg
At the end of Fish Quay, we pass over the Honey Bridge to Kant Island (formerly Kneiphof), visiting the cathedral. This whole area was destroyed by Allied bombing in August 1944 and the cathedral was hit. It remained a burnt-out shell and the island was made into a park with no other buildings. The cathedral itself was not restored until the late 1990’s, but many of the stained glass windows were never replaced. A mausoleum adjoining the northeast corner of the cathedral holds the tomb of Kant.
Image of the cathedral in 1988 by Yuri Syuganov
The Honey Bridge is covered in locks as tokens to undying love. There is a tradition that newlyweds add a lock and throw the key into the river. But we also hear the legend of the man who divorces his wife and tries to get the key to the lock back from the troll who lives under the bridge. This bridge originally dates to the 16th century and one of the few that survived the war intact. As for its name, you’ll find the explanation here.
Looking north across the river from the island we can see the Dom Sovetev – House of the Soviets – the only architectural monument to be built by the Soviets in the enclave. Constructed in the mid-80’s on the site of the ruins of the former Royal Castle (which was completely demolished in 1967), it was never used, as the ground was riddled with caves and tunnels, making the building unstable. It has stood vacant and unused ever since. In Max Popul’s book on the city, ‘Parallel Memory’, he writes: “The idea of the creators was that it should be symbolic of the new city, but instead it became the symbol of stagnation and everything reactionary that characterized the Soviet regime. The same destructive principle that gave birth to Dom Sovetov, in reality buried it.”
Behind Dom Sovetov is Ulica Frunze, go along this to the right and we will find King’s Gate, where there is another museum located. In the middle of the 19th century, these old gates were demolished and rebuilt – which is what we see today. From here, we take a wooded path running parallel with the moat and walls of Grolman Bastion, coming to the remains of a Jewish cemetery. The only tomb visible is that of 19th century scholar, Rabbi Israel Salanter. He was a native of Lithuania and a Russian subject; in the 19th century he founded the ‘Mussar’ movement, whose ideas left a considerable impact on the nature of Jewish religious education in Russia. Salanter proposed devoting primary attention to texts on ethical conduct, order, love, and justice in the study of sacred scriptures. He died in 1883 in Konigsberg and was buried here in the Jewish cemetery, where victims of the Nazis during the Holocaust also were buried. In the 1960′s, monuments were removed from these cemeteries, and later until the end of the 1990′s ‘with the tacit blessing of an indifferent society, all the coffins in the cemeteries were dug up in a search for gold teeth… and this is not a metaphor’ as Max Popov tells us. The run-down cemetery was restored in 2001 and the grave of Salanter found and rededicated, though it was soon to descrated by vandals, who destroyed the headstone and drew swastikas. Apart from a plaque on a wall there is little to indicate this is a cemetery.
To quote Max Popul: ‘In Konigsburg the events of the middle of the 20th century left emptiness, both material and metaphysical which still undermines the cultural landscape and peoples’ souls. We see only the empty stage and the myths in the background, from the castle hill and towards the direction of Altstadt and Kneiphof…’
The 19th century upgraded city fortifications consisted of 12 large and 5 small forts, the inner defensive ring running for 12 kilometres, the outer perimeter for 40 kilometres. Though Hitler had claimed that the defences meant that the city would be a ‘Night Featherbed’ for the citizens, after four days of intensive fighting the Red Army took the city on April 9th, 1945.
Despite the onslaught, the huge complex of defensive barracks of Kronprinz still stand. Originally built in 1843-60, in the 1930’s they then housed police and other city services. Mostly empty now, some of the buildings are now being utilised by the University, others as venues for night clubs (such as ‘Amsterdam’). Some of the buildings are promised to become a Centre of Contemporary Arts, a centre for co-operation between Russian and foreign artists.
Passing though a housing complex onto the far side across the bridge over Lower Pond (Schlossteich was its German name, Нижний пруд in Russian – one of the two artificial lakes) we soon come to the park where there is a statue of the most famous resident of Konigsberg. The Immanuel Kant statue stands outside the university.
In this park you will also find the Bunker museum, where the city’s last German commander, Otto van Lasch, capitulated to Soviets from this buried command post. It now houses informative presentations about East Prussia during the war.
As for the Kant statue, it has an intriguing history. The original sculpture, by Stanislav Rauch, dated from 1864, and on the eve of the storming of Konigsberg in 1945 was hidden away. A replica existed after this. Many years later, in 1990, Marion Dönhoff, a descendant of Kant, told of the location where the statue was supposed to be hidden, but it turned out that it had been turned into scrap shortly after the war. In 1992, a new sculpture by the German H. Haack was placed in the park upon her initiative. She was made an honorary citizen of Kaliningrad.
Kant University was previously called Albertina, and was severely damaged by Allied bombing in August 1944.
We leave the park and we cross the busy Leninskiy Prospect, past a shopping mall and go through another housing estate – past the Liceum 23 to our left running parallel with Moskovskij Prospect to the Botanical Gardens. Just near here existed the Zoological Institute, and others buildings once part of the Albertina University. Here is a wooded hillock with the grave of Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, astronomer and mathematician, and a little circle dedicated to the Professors of Albertina University, alongside lines of blue and white construction fencing, as much renovation is in progress in this area.
From here, we down through the woods to the cenotaph to Soviet War dead of The Great Patriotic War, and across Gornaya Road, a memorial dedicated to ‘The heroes of the First World War from Grateful Russia’. Here our walk ends.
While I am surprised by the amount of green space on our walk, others feel that it is still a city without colour. Marta tells me she expected more: “It’s a capital city after all. I thought it would be brighter and more modern but it’s very grey with lots of concrete.”
A Very Long Walk on a Fine Day Around Kėdainiai
Our guides are Audronė Pečiulytė and Rimantas Žirgulis. We start at Didžioji (Great) Street. This is one of the oldest and longest streets of the Old Town, the old merchants’ route to Samogitia and the Baltic Sea. In the 17th century, the Town Magistrate issued orders that stone buildings should be constructed here and the streets paved. Upon the order of Jonušas Radvila, each person entering Kėdainiai had to bring a stone. Here there is a wall display, a project by the museum, showing ‘40 Years of Change’, photographic images of buildings from decades ago side by side with an image of the building today.
Opposite this wall display is the old Carmelite Monastery which now houses the Regional Museum. At the beginning of the 18th century, Carmelite monks (white friars) came to Kėdainiai and stayed for over 100 years. They constructed a monastery and St George’s church, established charity associations, a primary school and a shelter. After the 1831 uprising against the Russian Tsar and consequent repression, the monastery was closed down. In 2000, the Museum of Kėdainiai region moved into the reconstructed premises of the monastery. The museum houses a unique display 21 carved wooden crosses by Vincas Svirskis (1835-1916), who was the creator of around 250 crosses in his lifetime. Originally placed at roadsides, or at the corner of homesteads these sacred crosses stand four to five metres high. The museum also has a room full of furniture made from horns, which was originally housed in Apytalaukis manor, and a large bear.
At the end of the street, on the corner with Senoji street, there is an old building which was once a Jewish bank which has artworks fixed on the façade and in the windows. These were made by a made artist Feliksas Paulauskas and represent the history of the town, particularly its multicultural background, a marketplace of six nations as it once was – Scottish, German, Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, Jewish.
As we walk between Didžioji and the square, we are told how this was once a flourishing Jewish district. The only sign today a Star of David high up on a building which was once a synagogue. Audronė Pečiulytė tells us that between the two world wars of the 20th century the town was 60% Jewish. (An article by Rimantas on the Jewish history can be downloaded here…)
The Great Market Square (Didžiosios Rinkos aikštė) is one of the oldest squares in Kėdainiai. Dating from the 16th century, it faces the river, and is bordered by the former houses of key merchants. On the corner of the square, at 5 Radvilu street, is a house that belonged to a burgher’s family of Scottish nationality. Jurgis Andersonas (George Anderson) served as town mayor and became one of the richest and most influential local citizens. The ground floor housed shops, the first floor living rooms and the basement was used for storage. Before the Second World War the house belonged to a Jewish family. After the war it was left empty and derelict, though later there was a wool combing shop operating here. A little further along Radvilu is the Arnets House, also built in the 17th century for another Scottish merchant Jonas Arnetas (George Arnets). Unique in Lithuania, it has retained its original interior layout, over 300 years avoiding any substantial reconstruction. The building was transferred to the museum in 2006 and it is planned to create new exhibition space here as well as workshops with traditional handicrafts. (The wood carving workshop will be held here.)
The house of merchant Šafleris was one of five German inhabitants here in 1604. Rimantas tells us that sometimes the yellow house of Scottish tobacco store standing near Town Hall is mistakenly called the house of Šafleris. Actually his house was on the corner of street and was rebuilt into school about 1625 and after into the town hall in 1654.
In 2007, a bronze and granite monument to the Radziwill family was installed by Algirdas Bosas in the square. It has many symbols connected to the town history and Lithuania: the coat of arms of Kėdainiai, the bust of Janusz Radziwill (Great Hetman of Lithuania), the soldiers of the Lithuanian and Swedish troops. The two hands symbolise the Kėdainiai Union, signed in 1655 between Lithuania and Sweden in Kėdainiai. This agreement, signed during the ‘The Deluge’, when Swedish armies invaded and occupied western Poland and Lithuania, put these territories under Swedish protection, aiming to break up the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
The decision of the Radziwiłłs to negotiate with the Swedes was the result of the 1654 Russian invasion, as Janusz Radziwiłł accused Poles of not helping the Lithuanians with the defence of the Grand Duchy. The Russian capture of Vilnius (in 1655), and the subsequent slaughter of its residents convinced Lithuanian nobility that Swedish protection was the best solution.
After the Deluge, the Commonwealth turned into a cultural desert. Poland and Lithuania lost 67 libraries and 17 archives. Major cities were razed to the ground by marauding armies – only Lwów and Gdańsk were not destroyed. As a result of the Swedish invasion, few pre-Baroque buildings remain in Poland.
At festival times in Kėdainiai, you will find the Scottish flag of St. Andrew flying here. The Scots served both in the army and his Personal Guard of Prince Radziwill, and were treated as a privileged group, as Protestant believers and as contributors to the town’s economic life. They were one of the largest groups of migrants in the region between 1630 and 1750. The historian Kaminskas recorded: ‘The Scots are still arriving, And settle near the Big Market, They settle for a long timne, as walls of a house, Are thick, strong and smell of stability’. Eleven out of nineteen of the main market square’s large houses were once owned by Scottish merchants. As the Scottish settled so their names adapted – Anderson to Andersonas, Bennett to Benetas, Dickson to Diksonas, or Gordon to Gordonas. In the 17th century, Scots took up positions served as mayor, court members, clergymen and academics. However, by the 18th century the Counter-Reformation forces in the area led many of these Scots to leave and settle in ports such as Prussia’s Konigsberg (now Kaliningrad.)
The 17th century town hall on the square is one of only three that remain in Lithuania. It originally housed a Magistrates court and shops. The basement was formerly a prison and also held archives. Today it hosts cultural events.
From here we walk round the corner to the Evangelical Reformed Church and the Radziwiłł Mausoleum on Senoji Street. Work began on this church in 1631 by sponsored by Duke Krzysztof Radziwiłł (Lithuanian: Kristupas Radvila) and was completed by his son Janusz Radziwiłł (Lithuanian: Jonušas Radvila) in 1652, who had decided that they needed to cast their lot in with the Swedes. This is one of the oldest and largest Protestant churches in the former Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth. It was constructed during the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants. (One - or perhaps more – of the impressive chandeliers came as war booty from Smolensk in 1663). A sign tells us ‘The Church has preserved a Renaissance-style oak pulpit that is abundantly decorated with oak panels.’ In the basement of the Church, you will find the Mausoleum of the Radziwiłła’s – six members of the family interred there in Renaissance and Baroque style sarcophagi, which were restored in 2001. In Soviet times, the church was used as a sports hall, mostly for basketball. Today the church is a branch of the Museum, though there is a small Calvinist community who gather for monthly services.
A few hundred metres away is St Joseph’s Catholic Church on Radvilų Street. When the Carmelites arrived in 1703, hostility to them building a church meant that this building did not take its present shape until 1766. It underwent restoration in 1856. Under the Soviets, it was closed and used as a warehouse. It was not until 1991 that the church was once again restored, consecrated and services returned. There are numerous wooden crosses in the church grounds.
From here we walk to the west side of the town, to the Holy Transfiguration Church, on the corner of Gedimino and J Basanavičiaus. The orthodox parish of Kėdainiai was established in the mid 17th century, when Janusz Radziwiłł married his second wife Marija Lupul, who was an Orthodox believer. A wooden church was originally constructed, which belonged to the monastery. After the monastery was destroyed by fire in 1771 the monks moved to Vilnius and the church was used less and less. The current brick building was given to Orthodox believers in 1854, which was rebuilt as a church. In 1913, Piotr Stolypin - Minister of the Interior (1906) and Prime Minister (1906-1911) of the Russian Empire paid for masters from St Petersburg come and paint the walls and the floor of the church. There are valuable icons and a mural of the 20th century in the church. On the 21st of September, 2012, a memorial plaque was opened in memory of the most famous Orthodox community member Piotr Stolypin – Minister of the Interior (1906) and Prime Minister (1906 -1911) of the Russian Empire next to the Church. The monument was designed by Arvydas Urbelis. The bas-relief was made by the sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas.
A few hundred metres away, on the same street, can be found the Vytautas Ulevičius museum of wooden sculptures in the premises of a local government building. This museum was established in 2004. The exhibition contains more than 50 works of art, including a giant chess set, made by master carver Vytautas Ulevičius, who was born in 1934.
Walk further along this street, past the petrol station with the one euro hot dogs and you will find a small hill on the right with Vokiečių Street on top. Here you will see The Evangelical Lutheran Church. With a single nave, this church feels more like a chapel. It was constructed in the 17th century by the German community who had settled here. Germans settled in Kėdainiai in the 17th century. The original mural paintings were recently uncovered in the church. The Apostles Peter and Paul, the Evangelists John, Luke, Matthew, and morgues are portrayed in the murals. During the years of the First and Second World Wars, German soldiers were buried in the cemetery next to the church. During the Soviet times, the church was initially used as a warehouse for salting animal hides, later as an exhibition hall. In 1999, the church was returned to the community of Evangelical Lutherans.
Then we return to the centre of the old town, where the Old Market Square and Synagogues are. Use of this old market square dates from the 15th century. When the Jewish community settled here in the 17th century, the territory of Old Market Square was reserved for them. They were not allowed to live in other places of the town. The first synagogue was built here in the 17th century and by the end of the 19th century there were seven in the town. Here you will find you can find two synagogues – the larger baroque building (the Great Summer Synagogue) dating from 1784 has been converted for use as the art school in 2004. Ten teachers work in the school with classes in drawing, painting, composition, textiles, ceramics, graphic design, and the history of art. Classes are open to all members of the community. Next door, the Little Winter Synagogue, dating from 1837, has been a Multicultural Centre since 2002, in which these workshops are taking place.
The upstairs of the Multicultural Centre has an exhibition which tells of the history of the Jewish community and its destruction in the Holocaust. On August 28th, 1941 local collaborationists led by the Nazis killed more than 3000 of their fellow Kėdainiai citizens on the outskirts of the town. The Great Synagogue was then used by the Nazis as stables. The exhibition also tells of the 2700 Lithuanian citizens who chose to resist the Nazi inhumanity and save the lives of Jews, more than 830 of them recognised by the state of Israel as Righteous Among the Nations. In 1993 the Great Synagogue was returned to the Jewish Community, and in 1998 it was presented to the Municipality, who funded the restoration.
On the outskirts of Kėdainiai, there is a unique building – a minaret built by a Russian General. Of course, the minaret is surrounded by various legends and rumours. The count had a mistress and the minaret in Kėdainiai was built in honour of her. The minaret was built by Eduard Ivanovich Totleben, a Baltic German military engineer who rose to prominence in the Crimean War (1853-56) and after his campaigning in the Balkans in the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78) he was awarded lands around Kėdainiai. Here he built this minaret to commemorate his victory over the Turks. From the minaret he used to show his guests the splendid views of the park and his properties.
Additional hints: Under the oldest pine tree by the road
Our guide into the forests near Sejny, Piotr Malczewski, greets us at 5am or thereabouts near the village of Giby, under the cross on a small mound by the roadside. Marcin, who has driven us here and will act as translator today, explains that this site commemorates the ‘Augustow Roundup’ of July 1945, a military operation by the Soviet forces in the area against the anti-communist partisans and sympathisers who resisted the Soviet take over. More than 2000 Polish citizen were arrested in this region and taken to Russian internment camps, some for over ten years. Many of them, at least 600, never returned – they ‘disappeared’. A stone inscription reads: ZGINELI BO BYLI POLAKAMI/ Died for Being Polish.
We are going into the woods, deep into this primeval forest somewhere near Jezerio Serwy. We follow paths where a string of inter-linked lakes and waterways run towards the border with Belarus in the east, or towards the larger lakes at Augustow in the west. This is part of the biggest forested areas in Poland, one of the oldest surviving ecologies in Europe. Many kayaking, hiking and biking trails run through it.
Though we are complaining about the early start we soon come to understand that we have gone into the forest early because the mosquitoes get unbearable as the heat of the day rises. The Lithuanian group liberally spray each other with insect repellent – it doesn’t seem to do much good. Piotr seems impermeable to the biters. We will walk for hours before stopping for breakfast.
Piotr explains the ecology of the forest, points out evidence of the work of the woodpeckers and beavers, herbs and healing mosses used as an antiseptic and for insulation of the traditional wooden houses of the area. Once the preserve of royal hunters in the 16th century and foresters supplying wood to the Baltic ports, many of the villages in the vicinity date from the 17th and 18th century, when tar, potash, birch tar and charcoal were produced here.
During our trip, we will leave specially crafted clay boxes made during this week at Krasnogruda, which contain geocaches. Julia logs the co-ordinates for the geocache web site.
We have breakfast at Piotr’s house in Buda Ruska. The village was founded in 1784 by Old Believers – these were Russians who disagreed with the reforms of the Orthodox church introduced by the Patriarch of Moscow, Nikon. They fled their homeland to avoid reprisals, adding their own original traditions to local culture – particularly sauna baths -“bania” or “banja”, and the decorative wood ornamenting art. Over 200 were still living in the village in the 1920’s, who were then deported to the Soviet Union in 1940 – though a few Old Believer families still live here today. Piotr and his family live in a traditional wooden house, where Old Believers once lived. After breakfast on the back porch he shows us round, pointing out the style of ornamented porches, shutters and roof edgings and farm buildings made of clay and straw. He has converted the farm building at the back, which once housed a pig stye, into a photographic gallery where he stages exhibitions and slide shows. He shows us work from his travels in Mongolia, and takes us to a field at the back where he has a genuine mongolian yurt and, nearer to the river, a russian style bania.
After breakfast, we walk over several fields to an abandoned graveyard, almost disappearing into the landscape, and then further on to the Old Believers graveyard. The last burial here was in 1993, the oldest graves are deep in a thicket in the woods, not so accessible. Nearby to here we leave another geocache.