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All roads lead to Kaliningrad

Frederick Lauritzen

8th July 2022


Kaliningrad is typically European. A forgotten economic wasteland with a great history. It is the only Baltic port of the Russian Federation which is not blocked by ice in the winter. It is enclosed by a lagoon on which the German writer Thomas Mann, famous for Death in Venice (1912), had his holidays. His summer house is now a museum in Neringa in Lithuania. Kaliningrad used to be known as Königsberg and was the capital of Prussia. In 1947 Prussia ceased to exist by treaty (US, UK, FR, URSS). All the population (predominantly German) abandoned the city. Half of Prussia is today part of the Russian Federation including Kaliningrad.

Prussia is now a mythical name, in good and bad, but few are interested in historic reality. The Prussians were originally a Slavic people who settled the area around this lagoon. They spoke a language extinct which did not survive the arrival of German speakers mainly in the 13th century. One forgets that the reason for the arrival of these settlers was the destruction brought by the Mongol expansion which stretched from Korea to Legnica (Leignitz) (on today’s German Polish border) in 1241. The wasteland created by these invasions was subsequently filled by German settlers along the Baltic shores.

Prussia became a catholic monastic state administered by knights, the Teutonic knights, in 1224. This state existed until the head of the chivalrous order decided to abandon celibacy, get married, and become ruler of Prussia by becoming protestant in 1525 (Prussia was the first protestant state). He asked for help from his uncle, the king of Poland. Prussia was strongly connected with all countries with which it bordered. There were many contacts and contaminations within the Baltic area. Kaliningrad today is an isolated monument to a transplanted people: the modern inhabitants are Russian.

The annihilation of Prussia in 1947 was not combined with a solution for the area. Today we are yet again living a ‘Prussian’ problem. We do not look at the past and yet continuously live with it, and suffer from our lack of curiosity of the origins of peoples, places, and countries.

Konigsberg (Kaliningrad) was important from 1224 to 1701. From then it lived a slow decline. Berlin became the centre of Prussian power, even though every ruler was crowned in Königsberg until 1701. The ruling family of Prussia, the Hohenzollern, promoted studies that indicated that the Goths, when they left modern day Sweden, settled in Prussia and then went on to attack the Roman Empire, defeating the western half and creating the first kingdom of Italy with capital in Ravenna in 476. Their king, Theoderic, created some of the famous mosaics there. It is for this reason that the Hohenzollerns brought some of them to Berlin and Potsdam where they are in display today. Prussia was a European region. Kaliningrad is historically a crossroads east-west but also north-south. It cannot survive on its own but needs unfettered interaction with neighbours. Kaliningrad needs open roads to and from it.

Creating an island of Russianness in 1947 was short-sighted. Kaliningrad can only thrive as part of the European Union. However, the EU prefers to recreate a scenario which will lead to war. Kaliningrad should not become a new Danzig (today Gdansk). The Free city of Danzig (also in Prussia) was the casus belli for Germany on 1st September 1939. The technical reason was the protection of the corridor connecting Germany and Danzig through Polish territory. In a short sighted move the EU is proposing a corridor for Kallingrad (the Siwalki corridor).

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